Free Weights vs. Machine Weights

What is the difference between free weights and machine weights? They both can increase muscular strength and endurance as well as tone and define. So, which is better? Free weights (dumbbells) are a more advanced way of weight training while machines control your movement and limit your range of motion. The greater and more difficult the range of motion, the more effective the exercise is, due to the fact that your body has to work harder to perform that specific movement. Depending on the goal of the exercise, you can determine whether free weights or machine weights are more beneficial.

If your goal is to limit your range of motion and perform a controlled movement, then machine weights are the way to go. This controlled movement allows you to focus on the specific muscle, but does not allow other muscles to engage most of the time. Again, it all depends on goal. Free weights are rather more difficult and advanced movements, but they allow a full range of motion and engage other muscle groups as well.

As a trainer, I recommend starting with machine weights and then progressing to cables and free weights. This allows for the individual to become familiar with the process of working out as well as the comfort level. By advancing to cables and free weights over time, you will provide modifications, prevent boredom, and allow for different types of movements and ranges of motion.

Below are examples of a barbell chest press, cable chest press, and a free weights (dumbbell) chest press. Each of these movements are similar, but they each require a little different range of motion and different muscle recruitment.

So, I recommend:

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