Strength training equipment is generally divided into two categories: free weights and machines. Beginning strength trainers often ask the same question: free weights or machines, which represents the best equipment for strength training? The answer is that both machines and free weights have their own advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, you can expect to use some mix of machines and free weights during your strength training career. Becoming comfortable with both is a great way to enhance the variety of your workout – and to ensure that a solid total-body workout is no farther away than the nearest gym, no matter its equipment.
Strength training machines are usually designed to facilitate a limited number of exercises with a fixed range of motion and a limited number of weight choices. Even most advanced bodybuilders who train with free weights will utilize machines to target certain angles across the various muscle groups. As your strength training program develops, you may develop a preference for either free weights or machines. Keeping an open mind and trying the different types of resistance equipment is the best course of action for all strength trainers.
Free weights, however, are much more versatile than machines, and can provide you with an enormous range of exercises with a relatively small amount of equipment. The two most common types of free weights are barbells with weight plates and dumbbells. Other examples of free weights include kettlebells and medicine balls. Your own body can also be considered a free weight in the context of body weight exercises such as push-ups and sit-ups.
Free weight equipment typically appeals to experienced strength trainers who have a solid understanding of how to perform various strength training exercises with the proper form, and who have built up a base level of strength that allows them to lift the weights as intended without a significant risk of injury. However, even beginning strength trainers can take advantage of free weights for certain exercises, immediately after starting a weight training program.
Your decision to focus first on machine training or free weight training will likely come down to factors such as personal preference, affordability, accessibility (does your local gym offer free weights, machines or both?), experience and your exercise goals. If you plan to train primarily from a home gym, you may find yourself gravitating toward free weights simply because they take up less space and are more affordable than machines. Then you may even reconsider your decision after trying both types of equipment for yourself. However, understanding the advantages and disadvantages of free weights we discuss in the next couple of posts should assist you in making your decision.