Free Weights Versus Machines

Over my many years of training people I’ve been asked many times which is better, free weights or machines.  Both have their pros and cons so let’s take a closer look at free weights versus machines.

Free Weights Versus Machines

Free Weights

  • Variation in exercises with minimal equipment.

Free weights offer and almost endless variety of exercises.

  • You can train anywhere.

Anyone can buy a few sets of free weights and use them anywhere – no need to join a gym if you don’t want to.

  • Mimics real life movements.

With free weights, you’re free to move however you need which allows you to move the way you would in real life.

  • Forces you to use your smaller stabilizing muscles.

When you use free weights you have to depend on your own body to stabilize you.  This means that you’re getting even more bang for your buck during your workout

  • Takes skill.

You need to learn proper technique in order to use free weights effectively.  This means hiring a trainer or at very least reading up about proper form from proper resources.  You can’t necessarily mimic what you see others doing in the gym or on YouTube, you actually need to learn proper lifting skills.

  • Higher risk of injury.

If someone doesn’t know proper technique they can end up really injuring themselves.

  • You need a spotter if you want to train really heavy.

If you’re training heavy with free weights you need a spotter to keep you safe for exercises such as squats, bench press or shoulder press. 


  • Easy to learn.

Because there is a fixed range of motion for each machine you don’t really need anyone to show you how to use them.  Most machines have a picture with instructions on how to use them.  This is not to say that it’s impossible to misuse equipment but if you’re sensible you won’t have a problem using it properly.

  • No spotter required.

If you want to lift heavy but don’t have a spotter a machine will allow you to do this with a much lower chance of injury than if you were to train heavy with free weights.  You still need to be careful and make sure you really have your technique down before you start loading on the weight though.

  • Allows you to isolate muscle groups better.

The machine keeps you stable when you’re performing the exercise so all you have to focus on is the primary muscle group that you’re working.

  • Great option for anyone who’s doing rehab and/or is quite unfit.

If you’re recovering from an injury machines will allow you to work specific muscle groups without aggravating a healing injury.  For those who have very little experience with fitness, machines will teach you how it should feel to work specific muscle groups.  By isolating muscle groups you can build up strength quickly and then be able to progress onto free weights.

  • Stabilizing muscles get neglected.

There are some benefits to isolating muscle groups but if you continue to ignore your stabilizing muscles you run the risk of joint injury.  When you strengthen your larger muscles without strengthening your stabilizers you can end up creating weakness around the joint.

  • Movement is non-functional for the most part.

Using machines will help make you stronger but the movement pattern doesn’t mimic real life range of motion.  This means that you’ll be stronger but not as functional for your sport or everyday activities.

  • False sense of security can lead to injury.

Because the machine assists you to some extent some people make the mistake of thinking they can pile on way too much weight.  You can still easily injure yourself on a machine if you push too hard too soon.

  • Sometimes inconvenient.

If you rely on machines for your workout you may find yourself doing more waiting than working out during peak times at the gym.  Buying your own machines for a home gym is not an option for many people due to cost and the amount of space they take up.

Machines Or Free Weights?

Both have their pros and cons.  Personally I use both and find that by doing this I help create a good balance of strength in my body and I don’t get bored.  If you’re brand new to fitness and don’t want to hire a trainer start with machines and then work up to using free weights.  If you’ve been going to the gym for years mix it up for variety which is good for both your body and your mind.  Train hard, train smart 😉