Free Weights vs Machines, Which is Better?

There has been an ongoing argument about the best option between free weight training and training with machines for years. Bodybuilders and strength coaches will tell you that more muscle fiber is recruited when lifting with a free weight, because of all the stabilizing muscles required when lifting a weight in a three dimensional space.

Machines movement when training is two dimensional and the movement would be limited compared to free weights but is this a good thing or a bad thing? The sports scientists tell us that it is all about structure and function. If we want to change the structure (size and shape) of a muscle, we have to change the function to get results.

The confusion starts when we compare the ability of machines to isolate a muscle or muscle group very effectively, compared to the three dimensional planes that require all the stabilizing muscles to perform the movement correctly when doing free weights.

It may sound strange but bodybuilders can use machines very effectively to help them break through a training plateau because the machine is able to isolate the targeted muscle more effectively so as to increase tension and volume. Although this type of training will not change the function of a muscle or muscle group, it will help a lot in creating neurological pathways increasing separation shown.

When starting off as a bodybuilder training with machines will get you familiar with the movement so that you can start developing some strength. The fact that no stabilizing muscles are going to be recruited when working with machines does not mean that the muscle will not grow, it just grows a bit slower.

Machines are an ideal choice for rehabilitation or working with handicapped people because doing the movement will not require the co-ordination needed for lifting a free weight. Probably the best advantage of using machines from a bodybuilding point of view is the ability to isolate a muscle or muscle group.

In conclusion machines can help a bodybuilder a lot when the objective is muscle gain. The factor limiting the effectiveness of free weight training is that the stabilizing muscles will reach the point of failure before the prime movers will. This means that a bodybuilder can use machines after working with free weights.

A good example would be to squat first using a free weight and then after completing your sets of squats you move onto leg extensions. This combination would be taking the prime movers as well as the stabilizing muscles to the point of failure.

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