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Free Weights Or Machines: Which Is Better?

What To Do? Free Weights Or Machines In The Gym?

One question I field quite often as a longtime personal trainer as well as gym owner, is, which is better, free weights or machines? That’s a pretty tough one to answer, generally speaking, as everybody is different, and has different needs, of course. The truthful answer, is that it depends on what you are trying to accomplish, what imbalances you may have, your level of expertise in the gym, etc.

If, for example, you are an older person who has no real experience working out in a gym setting, machines would likely be the better choice for you. Machines are stabilized for you, while free weights, obviously are not. That could be all the difference between having something fall on you, or have you lose control of it in any other way, or simply having to set it back down in it’s predestined position. Taking the overhead shoulder press exercise as an example, if you were to use a seated shoulder press machine, and were struggling to complete a rep, you simply set it back down. The same could be said for an overhead press with a barbell or dumbbells, but the difference is that if you fail, the machine just returns to its proper setting, but with free weights, you now have weights above your head that are out of your control. Not only can you smash yourself in the head, or elsewhere, but you can easily rip a labrum, tear a supraspinatus, etc. That unnecessary risk would be avoided by simply using machines as opposed to free weights.

Let’s say you are an experienced weightlifter and are pondering the free weights or machines dilemma, your answer wouldn’t be as cut-and-dried as it would be if you were lacking both experience, and the proper muscle stability in order to control the weights. In this scenario, the answer usually is both. With my personal training clients, we often employ the free weights as well as the machines, depending upon what we are doing, how the client is progressing, and of course, what the end goal is with the client. If it is a client who is competing in powerlifting, machine use will be limited and be at a bare minimum for the most part. If, on the other hand, the client is a professional bodybuilder, we will use free weights or machines depending upon where we are in the season, imbalances and tightness’s, as well as what areas we need to bring up on the physique.

When I’m asked by professional athletes such as basketball, baseball, hockey, or football players whether free weights or machines are better, their answer is usually both as well. Free weights have to be stabilized by whomever is lifting them, where as there is a built-in stability when working with machines. There is an advantage to both. If you use a bench press machine, as opposed to the standard bench press apparatus, you can push harder, change the parameters of your range of motion, and push yourself all the way to failure, even without a spotter. If you fail on a machine, as I mentioned, you simply set the weight down, or worst case, it falls down. Either way, you escaped with an injured ego, but with your body intact. If you try that with a real bench press and the weight falls on you, it goes without saying that it can be extremely dangerous.

For most anybody wondering which is better, free weights or machines, I would suggest that they try both, depending upon their ability levels, as well as their goals, of course. There is a great advantage to free weights, but there is also a great advantage to using the machines. As with most things in this world, variety is not only the spice of life, but also the best way to meet your goals. Especially in the gym.

Free Weights Or Machines: Which Is Better?
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Free Weights Or Machines: Which Is Better?
longtime Austin personal trainer and owner of the Austin Fitness Center, Andy Bruchey, answers the oft asked question of which is better, free weights or machines?
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Andy Bruchey-Austin Fitness Center
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