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How to Decide Between Free Weights and Machines for Strength Training

Updated on September 1, 2017
Tim Truzy info4u profile image

Tim Truzy is a former wrestler and 10K runner who works out several times per week.

The author holds a dumbbell
The author holds a dumbbell | Source

Thinking About Strength Training Activities

Whether at the local gym or if you decide to workout at home, there are options to consider. One of those choices will be pertaining to whether or not to include strength based exercises as a part of your regular routine. Strength training is considered anaerobic exercise. This means strength training involves high intensity motions coupled with short spans of time to lift a weight. In any case, thinking about exercises focused on strengthening your muscles, you have a choice of free weights or working with machines. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.

However, I’ve found switching between the two tends to give me the best results; but that doesn’t have to be what you prefer. This is because your exercise should be individualized, focused on your needs and your goals. Regardless of your ambitions for your workout, strength training offers several benefits.

Some Benefits and Terms Used In Strength Training

Strength training helps the body with burning fat and calories. Strength based exercises also have been found to increase the body’s resting metabolic rate according to several studies. Beyond the positive effect of possibly improving one’s overall body shape and look, strength training will help you deal with more activities of life – for example, yard work, cleaning your house, and carrying all sorts of items. In essence, strength training can help people carry on with daily living activities whether a person prefers machines or free weights.

In truth, choosing to use resistance machines or free weights is not an either or situation. Machines are better for some types of exercises. Free weights offer the best option for others. Each will provide you with benefits because the body was meant to move; our muscles were meant to be worked. Strength training is great for developing lean muscles. In spite of all of the rewards you may obtain from lifting weights, be sure to check with your doctor before starting any exercise activity which you will do regularly, including cardiovascular exercises or using machines and free weights for strength training.

As you start with your strength training program, here are some frequently used terms and expressions which may be useful to you:

  • Form – Moving the weight safely with proper body mechanics is what this expression means. Because you will gradually increase your strength, your “perfect form” may change. This is especially true with the use of free weights.

  • Repetition – This word is often abbreviated to “reps.” This word refers to the single time you actually move the weight. This movement is done through pushing, pulling, or in any safe manner the weight was meant to be used.

  • Set – This word refers to the total number of repetitions a person may do as a group. (For example: He did ten reps for 1 set at 20-pounds, and then he did another set.)

  • Structure – This has to do with exercising to change the muscles in the body, usually, making them more massive. It’s related to body building.

Free Weights

Free weights can be thought of as any objects which are not attached to other devices, apparatuses, or tools. Using this broad definition, logs, boulders, and buckets, and other items can be thought of as free weights. With free weights, you are able to use the full-range of motion of the muscle with the exercise. You may have barbells, dumbbells, and/or medicine balls at home, but they are common at gyms as well. (A picture of a dumbbell is shown.)

Barbells and dumbbells have important advantages. First, they are relatively inexpensive. They can be obtained at most sporting goods stores or through many retailers. Next, these free weights do not require very much room for storage. Finally, dumb bells allow the user to isolate a particular muscle, such as with the bicep curl. If your goal is to increase your muscle mass (body building), then working out with free weights is a superb choice. Most body builders prefer free weights for the diverse exercises which can be done with them.

Here are some more details about dumbbells and barbells:

•Dumbbells - Dumbbells allow you to use one hand, giving you the freedom to work one side of your body at a time. Dumbbells utilize lighter weights than barbells normally.

•Barbells – Barbells require both hands to hold the bar with the weights on each end. But you can use heavier weights than with dumbbells. You can change the weights on the ends of the bar as you need to during your workout.

Resistance Machines

There are a wide variety of resistance machines available. Such machines were originally developed to focus on a particular muscle group. Some of these machines include the bench press and the leg press. However, many modern machines are designed to work more than one muscle group. Various companies make a vast variety of equipment related to strength training. You can find these machines in gyms throughout the world. They are also advertised on TV and the internet.

Without question, resistance machines offer you certain advantages if you decide to use them in your workout. This is because resistance machines have characteristics which can make them your favored exercise equipment. Primarily, because these machines have a set mechanical motion, form becomes a nonissue. Next, machines may be safer to use for you because of medical or other conditions which would make free weights a dangerous choice. Also, resistance machines will allow you to work with heavier weights on average than you could with free weights.

Nevertheless, resistance machines can be expensive. Although they are becoming more compact, they require space for storage. You may have to conduct your strength training exercise at a gym, and that could be another disadvantage to working out with resistance machines. Regardless of whether you choose resistance machines, free weights, or a combination, use a “spotter.” Not only will having another person around help you if there are safety issues which may arise, but the spotter can provide you with encouragement.

Which way will you approach strength training?

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