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Free Weights vs. Machines: Is One Better Than the Other?
Health Benefits of Resistance Training
- Increased muscle strength, power, and endurance
- Stronger connective tissue
- Increased bone density
- Reduced body fat
- Increased rate at which calories are burned
- Reduced risk of injuries
- Improved balance and coordination
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 need to make adjustments to use the 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 http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca
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Mazzetti SA, Kraemer WJ, et al. The influence of direct supervision on resistance training and strength performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2000;32(6).
Newton, RU, Hakkinen K, et al. Mixed-methods resistance training increases power and strength of young and older men. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2002;34(8).
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 May 15, 2014.
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 May 15, 2014.
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. Published October 7, 2009. Accessed May 15, 2014.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 05/2014
- Update Date: 05/15/2014