Free Weights or Machines: Which is Better?

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I am sure you have all heard the best way to train is with free weights and machines are only for wimps. In my opinion they both serve a valid purpose in training depending on your goals and training capability. Let’s look at some reasons why.



Newbie to training

No matter what your goal is with training, building up a solid foundation of strength first is very important. The stronger you are the faster you will notice things happening from a body composition and performance standpoint. For anyone new to the gym if you haven’t taken the time to build up a solid base of strength in the 5 basic movement patterns its time to start over or get yourself a new trainer as these are the most bang for your buck exercises.

The 5 Basic movements being:


  1. Squat
  2. Hip Hinge (example = dead-lifts, kb swings)
  3. Weighted carry
  4. Push
  5. Pull


Yes, starting off it will take longer to perfect each of these movements, which seems like a lot more effort than going in and being able to jump on a machine and train away. In the long run that extra time you have spent learning each movement will pay off when you start out-lifting your friends and your results are speaking for themselves.

Not only will you get stronger and respond quicker using these movements you will also develop the much-needed motor skills to master quality range of motion and mind muscle connection. If machines are used as your base to get strong as a beginner your movement patterns will solely be governed by the machines, which can lead to bad posture. Also when using machines there is nowhere near as much mental effort compared to using free weights, meaning your ability to develop that much needed mind muscle connection is compromised.


Mobility issues

 If you are someone who has extremely poor mobility and you find it hard to perform the 5 basic movements or have discomfort doing them, this is something that needs to be addressed. Instead of neglecting this work on your mobility in order for you to be able to perform these movements pain free.

Usually the main reason for people finding it uncomfortable doing some of these movements is due to bad posture and tightness due to years and years of sitting down and developing bad habits or even previous injuries.

Take the time to address these areas that are tight and work towards being able to move freely and perform each movement comfortably. We were designed to be able to squat and move freely but due to years of bad habits it has created tightness for many people, which will then hinder certain movements they can perform.


Working around injury

Having to train around an injury can be extremely irritating.

Being injured can hinder your training in two ways. Firstly, the injured muscle will be out of the question. Secondly, any other muscle groups that rely on the injured muscle will also be out of the question which can really limit you to what movements you will be able to perform. When using free weights, the amount of musculature and joints used in the body is much greater compared to when you are using machines. For example, if you broke your leg, this would put all lower body exercises out of the question.

However, your upper body would still be ok to train. Exercises like the overhead presses, chin ups and bench-pressing would all be out of the question to do safely. This is where you can add in machines that are safe to do and still allow you to get some work in while you are injured.


What are your goals?

If you are training to compete in power-lifting or Olympic lifting then yes, free weights are going to be your primary movements as they will carry over to your end goal. You would never see a powerlifter giving it everything as his main movement on a leg extension as this simply will do nothing for him come competition day. Yes, machines are good for assistance work here after your main free weight movements.

If you are training as a bodybuilder or physique athlete then, your training will be built up of both free weight and machine work as they both have a great purpose here. Your free weight training will come in useful for building up your strength and the machine work will be great for bringing up lagging body parts as they will allow you to get a lot more volume in without the added risk of injury.


(So which one is better)

Both free weights and machines have their purpose in training. Always evaluate what your goals are and what you’re looking to get out of your training before you decide which is best for you. Build up a solid base of strength and take the time to learn each movement, first making sure your mobility is on point before you jump to conclusions.