The Path to Strength: Free Weights vs. Machines in Training
By: Brandon Richey, B.S., CSCS
Owner: Brandon Richey Fitness
When looking at how to devise an effective plan for building your strength and advancing your physical prowess you want to make sure to examine all of your resources. A common question many like to pose concerning the approach to building a strong body is whether to use free weights, or machines? Today I’m going to dive into this in a way that attacks this question with answers that stand in logic.
The Incorrect Question
One observation I’ve made time and time again these days since the advent of social media is how people will tend to make statements and paint out solutions with a broad brush when looking at trying to seek answers for certain questions.
The problem here is that besides making the mistake of painting with a broad brush more often than not people tend to ask the wrong question in the first place. After all, if you don’t know what you’re asking for then why ask the question…and then make it worse by coming up with a solution that paints with a broad brush?
To clarify my point in the context of this discussion the common question that people ask is…Which is better for my training…free weights OR machines? This is not even the correct question.
Asking which one is better is already a failed question because the truth is that both serve a purpose and offer many benefits to individual trainees for a given situation. Therefore, asking which is better is a moot question. The question MUST be corrected before a viable solution can be offered.
Correcting The Question
So when looking at correcting the question the question should be What are my goals and which training implement(s) will work best for my personal situation? This is a more sound question and it addresses what needs to be addressed as it pertains to your training needs.
The point here is that you need to slow down and think about what you want before inquiring about what your training should entail. This is something that is commonly forgotten when examining the benefits of free weights and machines.
So What Is the Difference?
To be fair there are some valid differences when it comes to training with free weights and training with machines. The important thing to understand is that both methods serve a purpose and both methods can assist you when it comes to advancing your physical needs.
For instance, if I use myself as an example I prefer using free weighted equipment to machines in order to derive and sharpen a more athletic type of mobility. Now even though this is the case some machines can be leveraged for this same purpose, but overall free weighted movement will better serve me for these needs.
I am also able to access free weights and truly enjoy maximizing mobility work with the use of kettlebells and bodyweight. This has been a preference of mine and the availability and knowledge of leveraging this model happens to be something that I’m in a position to take advantage of pursuing. Now having said this someone else may have a different approach.
The truth is that if you’re focusing on your needs then a number of factors will influence what you can do in order to train. Availability of equipment, resources, etc. will all play a role in determining what kind of plan you can formulate for yourself.
Knowledge is also a determining factor. In other words, if you are limited on knowledge and ability then a machine based form of training may better serve you in the beginning of your strength training journey…at least until you are able to seek out professional help to advance your physical development.
As a strength coach I certainly want to strive to teach everyone how to go about acquiring an optimal level of physical function, but the truth is that sometimes time constraints and resources will tend to dictate and steer the direction of your training in a different way.
One example of this may be that if you travel a lot for work and live out of hotels then you probably don’t have access to the type of kettlebells, barbells, and dumbbells that you may normally prefer within the walls of a well-stocked weight room.
If this is the case then you may have to rely more on some machines, bodyweight training, or a combination of both. The key here is being able to apply quality movement to your training.
Whether you’re using a machine, bodyweight, or free weights you still want to be proficient in making sure you can perform a given movement with a quality range of motion (ROM).
Being able to focus and effectively apply tension at end ranges throughout a given ROM is key to allowing you to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to training regardless of what equipment, or implement(s) you are choosing to take advantage of in your strength development.
When trying to decide whether to use machines or free weights don’t necessarily make the assumption that one is better than the other. Instead of viewing it this way make the distinction based on which one is better or worse for your needs and personal situation.
For optimal gains in using either machines or free weights make sure you focus on understanding to how to perform quality movement and a complete ROM. Work to master creating proper tension at the end ranges of the movement in order to maximize the benefit of the exercise.
Train with a balanced model and don’t spend all your time performing the same movements. Work to master the basics and then vary your movements after you have gotten a handle on the fundamentals.
To learn more about Brandon Richey and his online coaching programs check him out at http://brandonricheyfitness.com/
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