Free weight equipment typically appeals to experienced strength trainers. For one thing, they have a solid understanding of how to perform various strength training exercises with the proper form. And for another, they have built up a base level of strength that allows them to lift the weights as intended without a significant risk of injury.
Still, even beginning strength trainers, aware of some of their problems, can take advantage of free weights for certain exercises, immediately after starting a weight training program. Here’s what to look out for:
Risk of injury. Because working out with free weights requires you to rely on your own strength and coordination in order to keep the free weights from falling out of balance, their use also exposes you to an increased probability of injury – compared to using machines to provide the balance. Beginning strength trainers who often lack both strength and coordination will be more likely to lose control of the weights and drop them. This danger presents itself most obviously when the free weights are lifted over the body.
Hard to isolate specific muscle groups. When lifting free weights, the secondary muscle groups supporting your targeted muscle group will be forced to perform work in order to keep the weight balanced. While this assists in providing a better total body workout, it makes it harder to exclusively target a specific major muscle group. So, if you only want to increase muscular mass in a certain muscle group while leaving other muscle groups alone, using free weights may not be the easiest way to go.
Free weights have momentum. Strength training experts agree that most weight lifting exercises should be performed with slow, steady, and deliberate movements to work best. In other words, spending more time performing a single rep will result in larger muscular gains than if you performed that same rep very quickly. While it is certainly possible to do with free weights, it’s real easy be carried away by their momentum into a faster, less effective pattern. Machine strength training equipment isn’t as affected by these physics since the various working parts of the machine do cause some friction.
Need for a spotter. For the largest gains in muscular mass, density and strength, you need to work your muscles to the point of failure. You can do this safely if you use a spotter – somebody to provide a some help if you lose your grip or your balance – or if you reach the point of failure sooner than expected. From a safety perspective, if you don’t have a spotter available that day, you would be wise not to work to the point of failure or to choose a machine workout. Machines never require a spotter because the machine guides and stops the trajectory if you lose control of the load.