Due to the numerous health benefits that resistance training has to offer, it is becoming an increasingly popular method of exercise in today's society. Not only does resistance training strengthen your muscles and tendons, it also improves bone density and posture over time. The major debate now surrounding resistance training relates to free weights and machines, and which method of training is more beneficial.

Both methods of resistance training - utilizing free weights or machines - have their pros and cons, leaving you to decide which method, or mix of the two, will be most effective and enjoyable for you.


Workouts that utilize machines are very good for those with little resistance training experience, as well as the elderly. Because machines track the resistance for you, there is no risk of dropping weights during the exercise. There is also adequate assurance that the joints will be guided through the proper range of motion as, once again, each machine tracks the motion for you. Many machines also have properly positioned seats and pads that drastically reduce the risk of an individual losing their balance or falling during the execution of an exercise. Because of these designs, machines are extremely safe.

Another great aspect of machines is that they allow for extreme isolation of muscle groups. Each machine has a set range of motion that its levers and pulleys allow, and therefore the individual is not required to recruit stabilizer muscles to assist in the movement produced. This isolation can help break through strength plateaus and increase overall strength more rapidly.

Finally, machines allow individuals to perform exercises in different positions (such as the seated chest press) than conventional free weights (the flat bench press). This is very beneficial for all individuals, especially pregnant females, as some individuals are not supposed to perform strenuous exercises while lying on their back in a supine position. Differing angles and the smooth motion of machines can also be beneficial for overall joint health, as machines do not place as much strain on joints.

Machines do possess some negative characteristics. The "tracking" characteristic that is often a benefit can also be a negative factor, as everyone's body type differs slightly. Machines do not take into the account that some individuals have shorter arms or longer legs, etc. Machines are built to a "one size fits most" standard; therefore, individuals that are extremely tall, short, big, or small, may have trouble harnessing a machine's true potential.

Free Weights

Free weights are great for individuals with more advanced resistance training backgrounds. Free weight exercises allow for creativity and total body muscle recruitment. Exercises such as cleans, snatches, and clean and jerks, recruit muscles from nearly every region of the body. This allows for a high intensity workout that develops muscle more quickly throughout the entire body, and also burns more calories.

The "free" characteristic means that advanced lifters can adapt exercises to their personal needs and ranges, making isolation of specific muscles possible. Individuals can adapt any free weight exercise to meet their needs for comfort and muscular development.

Finally, free weights recruit stabilizing muscles and require the individual to carry the load they are lifting. During a bench press, not only will your chest and triceps be worked, your shoulders, lats, and core will also contract to help stabilize your body during the movement. Similarly, heavy squats require the individual to hold the weight on their back, therefore improving the bone density and joint strength of the legs, hips, and knees over time.

Just like machines, free weights also have some negative characteristics. Many free weight exercises require a spotter. For some individuals who train alone, this is difficult to come by, therefore making machines a more viable option. The biggest concern by far with free weights is safety. Many of the moves, if performed without proper form or focus can lead to serious injuries. This is exactly why machines are best for beginners. Machines will allow individuals to build up their strength and advance to the free weights section when they are ready.

Putting It All Together

A mix of both machines and free weights will be best for nearly all individuals once they are past the "beginner resistance trainer" status, as employing both disciplines helps keep workouts fun, variable, and interesting. This variability also keeps your body from adapting to its workout regimen, further improving your total strength gains over time.

Depending on your overall experience with resistance training, your current fitness level, and also your future goals for health, the amount of free weight and machine exercises you should perform will greatly vary. Take into consideration the above tips and characteristics when determining how to structure your next resistance training workout, and have fun in the gym!