Free Weights vs. Machines

When you first walk into a gym it can be overwhelming… so many machines and weights. What should you be using, and how does everything work? Let me help.

Broadly speaking, you have two options when it comes to strength training. You can use a machine or you can opt for free weights like dumbbells.









Free weights engage more muscles, which will burn more fat. So, if you are looking to lose weight, I recommend focusing on free weight training (with cardio, stretching, and of course a clean diet). There are more options with dumbbells. When you use a machine, you’re pretty much locked down to use the machine for whatever exercises it was built for. When you use free weights, you can easily progress or regress an exercise depending on your fitness level.  Free weights also incorporate your core more. When you stand to do an exercise and don’t have the support of a machine, so the demand placed on your muscles is higher. Your core has to work hard to maintain proper posture and control your movements; your legs and arms have to support the weight you are carrying. When more muscles are involved in an exercise, more energy is used. When the body uses more energy, more fat is burned.

If you are looking for isolated strength training machines are for you. Different machines work different muscle groups. The shoulder press machine puts you in a seated position with your back supported, and all you have to do is press a certain amount of weight over your head. This will strengthen your shoulders, but very few other muscles are working. So, that’s a good thing if you are trying to build your shoulders up. But, if your goal is total body toning and not hypertrophy in a specific muscle group, then you may want to step away from the machine. Every machine simulates an exercise that can be done with free weights. A shoulder press can easily be done standing with dumbbells. That option will not only work your shoulders, but your core and back as well.

I prefer training clients and myself with free weights. Most people are not looking to work out for the sole purpose of making one specific muscle bigger. I also find training your muscles in isolation can be dangerous. You never want to focus too much on one muscle group, as that can throw off your alignment and put yourself at risk for a potential injury. On the flip side, if you don’t know what you are doing with free weights, there’s always the possibility of injury there as well. That’s why it’s good to ask questions and get help from someone who knows what they are doing like a trainer at your gym (or me!)



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