Both free weights and machines encompass massive benefits for resistance training. If your fitness goals include adding strength, size to your frame, a combination of both, or simply toning up your muscles, using free weights like dumbbells or machines like cable weights and circuit equipment is a tremendous way to hit your target.

So which is better – free weights or machines? The answer comes down to more than just personal preference. Once you reach a certain fitness level, how you choose to work out and the equipment (or lack of equipment) you opt for will always remain your choice. In the meantime, especially for those just beginning a resistance training regimen, training on machines or cable weights is a good starting point.

Form is key in exercise. Your body must go through the proper sequence to achieve maximum results. Therefore, when you begin a workout program you need to ask yourself two questions:

“How comfortable am I with keeping perfect form?” and “Do I have any injuries?”

If you answer “yes” to either, you need to work out on machines. Machines are designed to help you maintain proper form. They are so ergonomically correct that you don’t have much opportunity to perform the exercise improperly. It is still possible to lose form on a machine, but it is much harder than when using free weights. Machines are also designed to help slow down momentum, so as to avoid too much momentum and possible injury. Speaking of injury, if you have any kind of recent or current injury, be sure to stay on a cable or circuit machine until you are fully healthy. The machine will aid by helping you regain strength in a safe and effective way.

If you are fully healthy and able to perform exercises with superb form, using free weights is a great way to mix up your workout routines and expand your arsenal of exercises. Cable weights and machines are beneficial for all the reasons listed above, but they do have some negative effects. If you spend all your time training on machines, your body will lose stability. In other words, the machine acts as a stabilizer against your body, which limits stability. Your larger muscles are trained effectively, but the tiny stabilizer muscles are left out. Using free weights engages many other muscles in the body, particularly the tiny stabilizer muscles needed to maintain form as you perform the exercise.

The best course of action would be to utilize both free weights and machine, or cable weights. Focus on a stability dominated regimen and you will see amazing results and meet all your fitness goals.