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Free Weights VS. Weight Machines: Which is Better?

Two common modalities of resistance training are free weights and weight machines.

A free weight is a weight that is not attached to a machine, such as a barbell or a dumbbell.

Weight Machines have a fixed or variable range of motion. They use gravity and a load to provide resistance.


Benefits of free weights include the following:

  • Free weights are less expensive and take up less storage space.

  • They may be more practical in a home gym.

  • They are more versatile.

  • Exercise can target any muscle group with this simple equipment.

  • Free weights help develop greater power, as compared to machines.

  • Working out with free weights is a more efficient way to reach most fitness goals, including increasing strength and muscle size, changing body composition, and weight loss.

  • Exercises done with free weights better mimic neurological patterns of actual fitness and sports skills than those done on a machine or with a fixed ROM.

  • Free weights recruit more of the smaller synergist and stabilizer muscles.


Drawbacks of free weights include the following:

  • Changing weights on barbells and dumbbells is time-consuming and poses a hazard if they are not secure and slide off during an exercise.

  • Using free weights requires more physical space. This is a safety issue if several people are using free weights in a small space.

  • It is not always possible to completely isolate an individual muscle with free weight exercises.


Benefits of weight machines include the following:

  • Certain machines are much better at isolating a single muscle or group of muscles for the purpose of generating progressive overload.

  • Machines make more efficient use of space in a gym where there are many people working out at the same time.

  • Working with machines may be faster.

  • Changing the resistance is more efficient and quicker.

  • With a proper introduction and guidelines, novice resistance training clients may find machines to be safer.


Drawbacks of weight machines include the following:

  • The movements done on a machine are not as natural as those done with free weights.

  • It’s more difficult to recruit stabilizer and helper muscles with machines, especially when seated.

  • Many machines have limited positional adjustments and do a poor job of accommodating people who are shorter or taller than average.

  • The repetitive motions used when working out with a machine can lead to overuse injuries.

  • Most weight machines are specialized, which means multiple machines are needed to get a full-body workout.

  • Weight machines can be cost-prohibitive, even for many gyms.

  • High-speed weight training for power is far more difficult to do with a machine.


Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and the best way to train will depend on what the client wants to do.

In many cases, both types of training are used in a periodized program to introduce training variability, promote progressive overload, vary intensity, and avoid boredom.



My name is Steven Goldstein

With over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry, I have worked with clients of all ages and fitness levels. From professional athletes to individuals aiming to lose weight, I have helped countless people achieve their goals and improve their overall health through customized training and nutrition plans.

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Hundreds of clients of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities have put their health in our hands over the years and achieved truly remarkable results. 

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