Free weights – barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine ball, and even your own body (when used for body weight exercises such as push-ups and sit-ups) – are much more versatile than machines, and can provide you with an enormous range of exercises with a relatively small amount of equipment. Let’s look at the pragmatic advantages of putting free weights into your strength training routines.
Inexpensive. Free weights are extremely inexpensive in comparison to machine weight training equipment. That’s because you’ll need only a moderate amount of relatively small pieces to work all muscle groups. An equivalent workout done exclusively with machines, would require the purchase of several bulky and expensive pieces of equipment whose total cost could easily exceed $10,000.
Simple. Free weights are virtually impossible to break or wear out with regular, non-abusive use, and you don’t have to worry about whether you’re too tall, short or otherwise physically incompatible with a strength training machine. On the other hand, machines often require maintenance as parts (such as cables and pulleys) can wear or break, particularly with regular, heavy use. They also require some expertise in adjusting angles and heights to make the exercise comfortable and provide correct form.
Portable. If you’re going to travel but want to continue your strength training program, it’s easy to take some of your free weight equipment with you. This is obviously much more difficult or even impossible with machine strength training equipment.
Versatile. Free weights are extremely versatile. They allow you to perform a full range of strength training exercises with a small set of dumbbells and a barbell. Free weights can be gripped in various ways (palms facing out, palms facing in, palms facing up, etc.) in order to facilitate many different exercises with the exact same piece of equipment. Alternatively, machines are usually designed for a specific set of exercises (or even just one single exercise). This can add up to a lot of expense and space requirements very quickly.
Now in terms of results, free weight strength training is favored by experienced strength trainers and athletic trainers for one main reason:
Incorporation of stabilizing muscles. When you strength train with free weights, your body will be forced to work stabilizing muscles in order to maintain its balance and alignment. When using a machine, the path along which the weight travels is fixed. It’s impossible for the weight to fall out of its predetermined path so you don’t need to work any stabilizing muscles to keep the weight and your body in alignment.
Since you’ll be working your stabilizing muscles while exercising with free weights, you’ll get a better workout overall than by performing the exact same exercise with a machine. The specific motions you’ll perform with free weights fairly closely match the movements required in various sports. On the other hand the rigid and predefined motions used in machine routines are rarely used in real world activities. With free weights, your body automatically makes gains in balance and coordination, two attributes that are extremely valuable not only to athletes, but to anyone who uses their body professionally.