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The Pros and Cons of Weight Machines

Weight machines can be a good choice, especially if you’re just getting started with strength training. In fact, many beginners start out using machines because:

  • They’re supportive. Most machines provide support, which is great for people who need help when learning new exercises. It can also be good for people rehabbing injuries or those who want to lift heavy weights without a spotter.
  • They’re easy to use. Because most machines work on a fixed path and have instructions and diagrams posted, it’s easier to use good form.
  • They save time. It usually doesn’t take as much time to change weights on machines as it would for many free weight exercises.
  • They’re too supportive. Because you have so much support, you use fewer muscle groups at the same time. This means you burn less calories and work the body in a less functional way.
  • They’re limited. Most machines offer one exercise for one part of the body, which means having to use multiple machines for a total body workout.
  • They don’t allow you to work on weaknesses. Many machines require you to use both arms or legs to move the weight, so if one side is stronger than the other, that side may do more work than the weaker side.
  • They don’t allow the body to work naturally. Because many machines work on a fixed path, there’s not much room for working the body throughout different planes of motion..

The Pros and Cons of Free Weights

Free weights are probably my favorite way to strength train because they offer effective, time-efficient workouts. Other advantages include:

  • Versatility. Free weights can be used for a variety of exercises for the entire body, so you don’t have to move from machine to machine to work different muscle groups.
  • Functionality. With free weights, you’re able to move the body through natural motions as well as through a variety of planes allowing you to mimic movements you do in real life like squatting, lifting things over your head and rotating the body.
  • Building whole body strength. Because you’re supporting your own body, you can work on specific muscles while involving smaller stabilizer muscles that can get neglected with machine training…this can also help you burn more calories during your workout.

Like machines, free weights also have some disadvantages:

  • They’re hard to learn. Using free weights requires skill and coordination, so you may need some instruction when using them for the first time. Good form is harder to achieve without the added support from machines, so there’s a higher learning curve with free weights.
  • Risk of injury. Because there isn’t a fixed path when using free weights, it’s easier to put your body in the wrong position, which could lead to injury. There’s also the risk of dropping the weights, especially if you’re lifting heavy.
  • Confusion. With machines, you know exactly what exercise you’re doing and what muscle you’re working. With dumbbells, there are so many exercises you can do, it’s easy to get confused about where to start.
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