Machines vs. Free Weights: Which Is Better for Building Muscle?

Machines v Free Weights

Machines or free weights. There have been two camps since the dawn of weightlifting…or, at least, since the invention of weightlifting machines. One is machismo and universal, while the other is practical for muscle group isolation and safety. But is there a clear winner in weight machines vs. free weights in terms of muscle gains?

MUTANT wants you to become an absolute beast, so we’ll dive deep here to give you all the info on free weights and machine weights and whether one is superior to the other. It’s time to compare and contrast.

Machines or Free Weights

The Benefits of Machines

Machines are, for the most part, simple to use and easy to track regarding weight and progressive overload. They can be found in almost every commercial gym on the planet, and you can isolate plenty of body parts on various machines. What’s more, most gym machines have built-in safety mechanisms so you don’t wreck yourself while lifting heavier weights. 

Smith Machines Vs. Free Weights

Machines can incorporate some free weight accessories as well. One example is the Smith machine, which is the bar connected to a rack so that you can load up the bar and rack it at specific intervals. You can safely rack the weight and escape if you’re ever stuck at the bottom of a movement. 

Other machines include the Hammer press and chest-supported row. All three of these machines use barbell plates as the load, allowing you to incorporate a bit of both worlds while getting potentially better stimuli due to stability support.

The defining factor between free weights and machines: Machines help stabilize the weight, while free weights require you to keep things in place while also lifting heavy. There are pros and cons to both. Machines allow you to lift heavy without thinking about joint health as much. Free weights train your muscles and joints at full capacity, making you a more injury-proof human.

Shoulder Exercise

The Benefits of Free Weights

Free weights have been around for a long time. Lifting with free weights gives you access to some of the most epic lifts mankind has conceived, such as bench press, squats, deadlifts, shoulder press, and isolated dumbbell curls. With the weights being free – either dumbbells or barbells – you can experience a natural range of motion while being able to load the movement as much as you want or can.

Free weights also activate your core and other stabilizer muscles more, involving more coordination and muscle recruitment than machines. Free weights are best for functional fitness since most everyday tasks, such as moving furniture, require balance and stability. 

In addition, if you travel a lot, most hotel gyms will be missing specific machines but almost always will have access to dumbbells, allowing you to get an effective workout on the go. 

Although machines are generally safe, you can make free weight workouts less risky by opting for moves that don’t require as much form or the need for a spotter, such as dumbbell curls. In any case, you can lift extremely heavy with dumbbells, barbells, and weight plates.

Weight Machines vs. Free Weights — The Verdict 

So which one is better, weight machines vs. free weights? The answer is: It depends.

A blend of weight machines and free weights will lead to the most comprehensive workout strategy. Free weights for compound movements such as squats, upper body presses, and deadlifts are superior to their machine counterparts in functional fitness and building brute strength. However, isolating a muscle group fares well with machines to strengthen a lagging muscle group. 

If you travel a lot or want something simple and effective in a workout routine, opt for free weights more often. If safety is your number one concern, machines will become your best friends. But for those who can do both, focus on progressive overload in all your exercises.

When you blend free weights and weight machines, you can become one hell of a physical specimen who isn’t afraid to achieve anything and be the ultimate strength mutant.

Article by Terry Ramos