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Free Weights v Resistance Machines

We were asked the question what is better Free Weights or Resistance Machines when training, so we thought we’d break it down for you!

We took our time to look at the benefits of Free Weights compared to the Resistance Machines. Using research and spending time with several strength and conditioning coaches as well as some highly skilled Personal Trainers (PT’s) we looked at which is best for the body and the mind.

In 2008, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning published an article explaining that they had seen improvements in a group of athletes taking part in a strength training program (twice a week for over 3 weeks). Improvements in; Sprint time (40-metre, Sprinting Velocity and Acceleration), all using Free Weights.


So here are the benefits;

– Less injuries are occurred when playing for athletes using Free Weights to Resistance Machines.

– They offer you a better Range of Movement (ROM) when training, resulting in more muscles being worked each time.

– The more muscles we use will result in more calories we burn.

– The versatility of the free weights is worth its weight in gold. You can work different muscles just by adapting the angles of your exercise.

– The feel of holding a dumbbell or barbell feeds the alpha male inside you and can make you feel that you are training properly.

– You require a lot more balance and coordination when using the free weights. Your muscles not only have to work to lift the weights, they need to keep your stability too (Core).

– Day-to-day activities require groups of muscles rather than individual ones.


Though, with these in mind, are the resistance machines a hidden gem in the gym? Whereas the Free Weights have the look of a workout the resistance machines are more scientifically training your muscles. A study back in 2008 from the University of Saskatchewan (Canada) put a controlled group of athletes through an eight-week training programme using the resistance weights only. The results were startling;

– Knee extensor thickness > 4.9%

– Strength >13.9%

– Testosterone > 21%


These results showed that the Resistance machines do have a place in our training program. Give them a go and you’ll be shocked. The Resistance machines isolates muscles into small groups or individuals (in some cases) and helps develop the muscles in isolation.


So here are the benefits;

– Excellent when starting a training program and looking to build a base level of strength.

– Develops the correct technique when developing exercises like squats and lunges.

– Isolates particular muscles when exercising, ideal for rehabilitation programmes as it controls the exercise whilst slowly adds resistance.

– Don’t need a spotter when doing the heavier weights.

– Weights can slip easily, especially when exhausted whereas the Resistance Machines maintain the technique throughout and can easily be saved when fatigue kicks in.


To conclude…

Though there is no right answer, it all comes down to where you are on your development pathway (early, middle, late) or if you are coming back from an injury etc. Both the resistance machines and free weights have a place in your training program and both should be considered. Think about how you can isolate a muscle then make it work again in a group, how will this work the other muscles and how will it affect your performance long term?

2nd July 2018
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