written by Phil Slater
The first thing to note here: there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s all about personal preference. I know, it seems like a copout when you’re just looking for the internet to give you the right answer, but we’re all snowflakes. There just simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to working out.
We are going to compare the two, and hopefully give you a bit more information to chew on in making decisions on how you want your workout to go. We’ll give you the info, but your best bet is to give them both a try and see what works for you.
The Cost of a Workout
You’re going to be hard pressed to find anyone recommending a machine over a free-weight here. Even the current late-night all-in-one invention from a former martial arts superstar won’t hold a candle to free weights. They’re going to be cheaper in almost every way.
Machines tend to be expensive. Usually, but not always, the better the machine is for you, the more expensive it will be. There’s a big difference between the cheapest weight machine you’ll find in a big box store, and what pro football players are using.
Free weights also tend to be more flexible. Even when you buy an expensive all-in-one machine, you still can’t do as much with it as you can with a set of free weights.
It might seem obvious that a machine is better at targeting specific muscles. However, it’s not quite that simple. It really comes down to how you use the machine. If you’re not using the machine correctly, it won’t make much of a difference here. That said, if you’re looking to target a very small group of muscles, the machine has you covered.
Specialized machines are generally set up to stabilize your body in a specific way, and they really work on one set or group of muscles. The downside to this is that it’s extremely unnatural to only work one group of muscles with a machine. Your body strength, or core, is built best when you’re pushing things together. You need to use more machines to hit all the groups.
If you’re going for looks, machines are great. If you’re looking at overall strength, you’re better off with free weights.
Everyone will have an opinion on which one is more dangerous or causes more injuries. The truth is, they can both be problematic. If you don’t know how to use a machine, it can be extremely dangerous. Usually with free weights, the injuries that do occur are less severe.
Machines can be extremely powerful. If used incorrectly you can lose a finger, break a bone, or get concussed. No kidding—it happens. Injuries from free weights usually occur when there’s no spotter, or with incorrect technique. Free weight injuries might be less severe, but they’re more frequent when you’re using them incorrectly.
As with all gym equipment, learn how to use it, and both will be great for beginners or experts.
Building Muscle is Boring
Boredom is one of the top reasons people stop working out. It’s monotonous. It’s tedious. It’s just not fun. This is where machines really fall short. The variation is limited. Most gyms only have one or two dozen types of machines. Often only one type of machine for one muscle group.
With free weights, there are literally hundreds of different exercises you can do to work similar muscle groups. If you’re working biceps, there are dozens of ways to gain some muscle with free weights. When you get bored of one exercise, mix it up. You’ll find a new exercise works the muscle just differently enough to make it interesting again.
Resistance is Key
The bottom line is that machines and free weights all functionally do the same thing: provide resistance. It really comes down to how comfortable you are with the way you like to work out. Don’t get caught up in the hype of machines, they’re just fancy free weights.
Machines become really beneficial if you know how to use them. They can make your workouts more fun, help you target muscles more directly, and give you the proper technique to make an impact.
The best choice is the one you decide is best for you and your goals.
Phil Slater is a blogger, coach and fitness expert who writes about all things relating to health and fitness. Over the years Phil has helped many of his coaching clients live happier lives by helping them achieve their fitness goals.