Weight Machines Vs Free Weights – Which Is Better?

How many times have you heard someone say that weight machines are better than free weights?

In fact most big chain clubs purposely start their new trainees on the weight machines for this very reason!

Check out your local fitness center and chances are you’ll see circuits of equipment, lined up in order, all targeting different muscle groups. When you join a club as a new member, you usually get one or two ‘free’ run-throughs of these machines with a trainer.

But are weight machines really better than free weights?

Oh man, where to start with this long standing fitness myth!

I’ve got a lot of issues with exercise machines, especially when it comes to new trainees. As far as I’m concerned, it’s totally backwards that people new to exercise first use weight machines.

The conventional wisdom is that by using machine weight you’ll gain a base of strength and then after a period of time you can progress to free weights. That’s plain old wrong and here’s why…

When you use a machine, even the fancy variety with multiple moving parts, the weight for the most part follows a guided and controlled path. But when you use free weights, YOU must control and guide the weight every step of the way.

So here’s what happens: you join your local gym and start using machines and soon you become fairly strong. So you figure it’s time you go hit some free weights. But then what?

Well now you must stabilize the weight, control the path, and call upon intrinsic musculature that hasn’t really been used yet. In essence, you’ve disrupted the organic balance of strength between the large prime moving muscle groups and their smaller, yet equally important stabilizers.

One such group that comes to mind is the rotator cuff muscles that stabilize and help support the shoulder joint. So now you may be able to lift heavy dumbbells, yet you can’t control them?

This can potentially lead to a serious injury and means other muscles have to play “catch up”. In fact making the leap from machine chest presses or leg presses to their dumbbell or barbell varieties can be downright dangerous. You’ll be unbalanced, unstable and have disproportionate strength.

I’ve actually seen this first hand. I’ve seen trained people, both men and women, that are rock star trainees on weight machines, yet put a set of dumbbells in their hands or take them from a seating to standing position and it’s amazing how weak and out of shape they feel.

As I always say, “you don’t get in shape sitting down”. Think about it for a moment. You sit in your car, at work, at home and you join a gym to get fitter and healthier? So does more sitting sound like the answer to a healthier, fitter body? Of course not!

Not to mention that sitting down while using a machine total negates the need for core strength. It’s no wonder so many people that only use the circuit have poor core stability.

I’m not saying weight machines don’t have a place in your routine – they can. After a few sets of free weights, when your stabilizers are tired, you could hit a few machine sets of various exercises to really blast a muscle group. And if you have injuries that prevent you from using traditional free weight movements, machines can be a safer option to prevent further injury.

Plus if you’re a bodybuilder looking for maximal muscle growth, using machines to target and isolate a smaller muscle group can be helpful. Ditto if you’ve got a weak area, like the lower back, or your biceps fail on pull-ups, then hit the machines to build up a bit.

I’ve certainly used many machines in my day and achieved terrific looking results. But for people who want to increase their fitness, health and overall improve the quality of how their body functions, body weight and free weight exercises are the way to go in my opinion.

There’s really no need to use weight machines if you’re healthy and have no limitations. The foundations of your fitness and strength should be rooted in you using your body, – The Ultimate Machine! Got it?

My suggestion is this. Start small and build your way up. In other words, if you can’t perform one proper body squat, don’t even bother stepping under a bar with weight on your back. Use light weights on all exercises until you KNOW your form is spot on, and remember to lift the weight, not your ego (guys you listening?). If everything is right, your risk for injury will be slim and you’ll naturally progress in strength and fitness.

So are machines safer than free weights? Heck no – I think they’re potentially more dangerous in the long run! This one’s definitely a fitness fiction!

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