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Free Weights vs. Machines: Is One Better Than the Other?
Health Benefits of Resistance Training
Build a Program
- Machines—Machines are designed to apply resistance in a restricted manner. They place your body in a fixed position, providing stability and balance, and allowing only the targeted muscle(s) to be worked. Exercises on machines can be learned easily and don’t require a lot of coordination. In addition, there is minimal opportunity for error and low risk of injury. Machines are often favored for people with injuries because they control range, motion, and speed. Machines have disadvantages, as well. For example, if you are shorter or taller than average, you may have trouble using a piece of equipment properly.
- Free weights—Proper form is more challenging with free weights than with machines, because you must incorporate balance and stability in order to isolate the proper muscles. They also require control and coordination. Free weights accommodate various body types and sizes and provide unlimited exercise options. However, there is more room for error and increased risk of injury. But free weights can be much more versatile and affordable than machines, which is important if you plan to work out at home.
- Cable systems—These are a hybrid of free weights and machines. Some pulley systems are designed so that multiple exercises can be performed on a single piece of equipment, allowing a full-body workout.
Supervision Enhances Performance
Using Your Body
(Especially) Not Just for Jocks
American College of Sports Medicine http://www.acsm.org/
National Strength and Conditioning Association http://www.nsca-lift.org/
Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology www.csep.ca/
Public Health Agency of Canada Healthy Living Unit http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/pau-uap/fitness/
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Nelson ME. Strong Women, Strong Bones. New York: Perigree; 2000.
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Stone M., Plisk S, et al. Training principles: evaluation of modes and methods of resistance training. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2000;22(3).
Cheema BS, O'Sullivan AJ, et al. Progressive resistance training during hemodialysis: rationale and method of a randomized-controlled trial. Hemodial Int. 2006;10(3):303-310.
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Selecting and effectively using free weights. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/selecting-and-effectively-using-free-weights.pdf. Accessed July 13, 2012.
Selecting and effectively using home weight machines. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/selecting-and-effectively-using-home-weight-machines.pdf. Accessed July 13, 2012.
When strength training, is it better to use machines or free weights. American Council on Exercise website. Available at: http://www.acefitness.org/blog/68/when-strength-training-is-it-better-to-use/. Updated October 2009. Accessed July 13, 2012.
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD
- Review Date: 07/2012
- Update Date: 07/13/2012