Free Weights vs Resistance Machines (Which is Best?)

By Mark / a couple of weeks ago
free weights vs resistance machines

Some bodybuilders swear by free weights, some love resistance machines. But which delivers the best results? Check out the pros and cons and choose the best muscle-building option for you.

The Barbell or the Squat Rack?

In this gym showdown, free weights and resistance machines are going into the ring. Some say you should only work out with free weights while others think resistance machines are superior. In this edition of gym showdown the advantages and disadvantages of free weights and resistance machines will be examined.

Free Weights – The Advantages

Free weights come in the form of dumbbells and barbells and they are entirely powered by you. This allows your strength training sessions to be more challenging, help you use more muscle groups, allows you to do exercises that will help you perform real-life movements and provides you with a greater amount of exercise choices.

Free weights are more challenging because you are doing all the work. When you perform a bench press with 200 pounds, you are lifting all of that weight alone.

This translates to greater gains in strength and muscle and it has been proven in a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Participants engaged in strength training sessions that involved free weights and resistance machines.

At the end of the study, the group using free weights were stronger by 58% than those using resistance machines and they also had a 196% increase in balance.

When you train with free weights, you are always using more muscles. In the bench press example, you are using the chest muscles, but you also need to use stabilizing muscles as well if you want to get the weight up and keep it up for reps.

Free weights help your muscles grow, but they also help you perform better with natural body movements. The human body is meant to move in a variety of ways and free weights allow you that freedom of movement.

If you are using dumbbells, you can turn your palms inward or outward, and perform a different exercise that targets your muscles differently. When doing sports or just going about your daily life, you have the freedom to adjust your movements to help you perform better.

As stated, free weights allow you to move naturally and with this advantage comes the ability to perform a wider range of exercises. You can take a set of dumbbells and use them to perform squats, bicep curls, tricep presses, rows and the list goes on and on.

This versatility not only lets you exercise the muscle from different angles, it also helps keep your workouts more enjoyable.

Free Weights – The Disadvantages

The main disadvantages with free weights are the possibility of injury. When using free weights you need to make sure you are using an amount of weight that you can control. If you lose control of that weight, there is the possibility that you can drop the weight incorrectly or drop it on yourself.

Resistance Machines – Advantages

While free weights come with a long list of benefits, there are some benefits to using resistance machines as well. Resistance machines are generally easier to use, target specific muscles, come with built-in safeguards, and you can easily adjust the weight.

When compared to free weights, learning to use resistance machines usually requires a shorter learning curve. With free weights, it’s mandatory to learn proper form and start off with low weights. Resistance machines will allow you to increase the weight faster because the machine is helping you lift that weight.

If you want to target specific muscles, then resistance machines will allow you to do that better than free weights. Resistance machines travel along specific paths that will allow you to focus on a specific muscle like your biceps.

This limited range of movement not only helps target specific muscles, but it will allow you to work out safely if you are recovering from an injury.

The Smith Machine is a great example of a strength training machine that comes with safeguards. If you want to perform squats on the Smith machine, you just need to rotate your wrists and the bar gets settled back onto the machine.

With one flick of the wrist, you can get the load of weight off of you and back onto the machine.

The last big advantage of machines is the ability to easily adjust the weight. Most machines just use a pin that lets you increase or decrease the weight.

In 10 seconds, you can go from 50 pounds to 70 pounds. This is a big difference from free weights. If you want to add or decrease the weight with free weights, you have to add or remove weight plates.

Resistance Machines – The Disadvantages

The disadvantages of using machines are mostly reflected through the advantages of using free weights. Resistance machines don’t allow you to perform a variety of exercises.

The movements aren’t natural, so they may not help you much if you are training for sports or just seeking to be more functional in your daily life. You’ll also burn fewer calories and you won’t be able to increase your strength as well as you can with free weights.

Weighing Up the Pros and Cons

The match is over and you must decide the winner. Free weights will help you get stronger, burn more calories, and let you perform a variety of exercises, but you have to be careful not to injure yourself. Resistance machines are great for beginners, let you lift more weight and will target specific muscles.

However, you won’t get as strong as you will with free weights. It’s a hard choice to make, but depending on your goals, you must choose one that works best for you.

About the author


Hello, I'm Mark. I'm a bodybuilding champion and have been active in the industry for over 10 years. I created this website to provide fellow bodybuilders with useful information to help them achieve their dream physique.