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Free Weights vs. Machines

Beginners as well as experts can benefit from machines as much as from free weights.

Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but as a trainer I strongly recommend that you include free weights to your training routine. Why? Because training with barbells and dumbbells allows us to work coordination, balance, and muscular strength (1). Once we have improved these three physical abilities, we become more proficient in sports as well as daily activities. The desire to move then comes more naturally. We must also not forget all the other benefits related to regular exercise, such as better health and weight management.

Chart of advantages and disadvantages




Free weights
  • Can reproduce sports moves and daily movements
  • Many possible movements and variations, which brings variety to your training
  • Less expensive, can easily be used at home
  • Work stabiliser muscles
  • More complete and balanced muscular work
  • Increase strength gains (1)
  • Improve balance and coordination (1)
  • Usually quick and easy to use
  • More possibilities of “cheating”
  • Higher risks of injury and poor movement execution
  • Require more practice, coordination, and balance to master
  • Often require more supervising or help from a partner
  • Machines
  • Safe when used correctly
  • Suitable for beginners (the movement is guided by the machine to be correctly performed)
  • Require less practice and supervision
  • Can isolate working muscles, which is useful to correct a specific weakness
  • Cables, automated and compressed air machines (Keiser) are quick and simple to use
  • With compressed air machines (Keiser), the weight is hidden from other people, giving more privacy to the user
  • Not adapted to very small or very tall people
  • Usually can’t reproduce sports moves or daily movements
  • Less possible variations (monotony in the long term)
  • Don’t work stabiliser muscles
  • An often isolated muscular work can lead to neglect of other important muscles
  • Some very popular machines can be used so often that is becomes hard to use them during your training

1. Spennewyn KC (2008). Strength outcomes in fixed versus free-form resistance equipment. J Strength Cond Res. 22(1):75-81.

Mathieu Rousseau

Free Weights vs. Machines is a post from I'm taking charge. I'm taking charge is a blog that aims to help people in their journey to fitness through articles on training, nutrition, motivation, exercise and healthy recipes.
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