How To Find The Right Weight Lifting Equipment

Pros and Cons of two different training methods

With the popularity of resistance training significantly increasing  it is becoming more evident that there are two typical methods of resistance training available in almost every fitness facility. These methods of resistance training would include free weight and machine based exercises, of which are often carried out to develop strength capabilities.

Both  training methods have different characteristics.

man training with free weights of pure strength by TechnogymFree weight exercises, including equipment such as barbells, dumbbells, medicine balls or body mass, involve simultaneous muscle activation from multiple muscle groups.

Resistance machines however, are often isolated targeting specific muscle groups individually.  Free weight exercises are useful for ballistic or explosive exercises in addition they can be differentiated to replicate performance specific movements that can be later implemented into a sporting context (functional training). They are suggested to be most beneficial for performance development however it is essential to have a balance of both deepening on the sport and desired outcome. With this considered, if  a performer wanted to improve their vertical jump ability,  sprint or swimming speed, throwing velocity or  running economy, a carefully selected group of free weight exercises would be beneficial, although these will differentiate depending on the component of performance that is targeted.

Due to free weight exercises often being compound, requiring multiple, large muscle groups in a significant benefit can occur allowing a considerably higher energy expenditure, aiding in the development of body composition and general health  and well-being.

However, resistance machines also have numerous advantages in order to increase muscle mass and strength. Particularly, some machines offer resistance through a greater range of motion as opposed to free weights (e.g.  Bicep curl) and stimulate a greater increase in the muscular size, so they seem to become more advantageous  when looking to achieve hypertrophy compared with free weights, yet an even balance between both methods of training will optimise the desired outcome.

woman training with a pure strength weight machineAmong the disadvantages of free weights, we can mention the fact that they seem to be more likely to generate injuries among inexpert and distracted clients. On the contrary, machines appear generally easy and safe to use.  Considering this, beginners should prefer machine based exercises  respect to free weights when they are starting.

Overall, some studies have shown a greater increase in strength with resistance machines as opposed to free weights, but other investigations have reported contrary results. With this contradiction of findings it is important to note that both methods of resistance training, provide significant benefits if performed appropriately. Any difference in strength improvement is mainly associated to a difference in intensity, volume or rest period adopted during the training. Considering the features  identified above, the ideal solution is to adopt both of them. Neither modality of workout has  demonstrated absolute overall superiority: free weights and resistance machines should be considered complementary methods of training, since each of them have specific benefits.

References:

  • Gregory G., Roundtable Discussion: Machines Versus Free Weights. National Strength & Conditioning Association (2000).
  • Schwanbeck S., Chilibeck P.D., Binsted G., A comparison of Free Weight Squat to Smith Machine Squat using electromyography. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Association (2009).
  • Cotterman M.L., Darby L.A., Skelly W.A., Comparison of muscle force production using the Smith Machine and Free Weights for Bench Press and Squat exercises. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (2005).
  • Fisher J., Steele J., Bruce-Low S., Smith D., Evidence-based resistance training recommendations. Medicina Sportiva (2011).