The American Heart Association recommends strength training at least twice weekly. Benefits include: increased muscle mass, more efficient metabolism, reduced risk of injury and greater bone and muscle strength. Are there advantages to training with machines rather than free weights? Read on to learn about the pros and cons of each.

Weight Rack. Gym weights. DumbbellsBenefits of training with free weights

  • They provide a fuller range of motion. You are not locked into position as you are with machines
  • They provide an approximation of moves you normally use. For example, a bicep curl is much like the motion you use in picking up a grocery bag.
  • Free weights promote and encourage full body stabilization. Free weights can support functional fitness because lifting safely requires that you engage your core to maintain balance.
  • They are comparatively inexpensive and easy to use at home. You can buy a few free weights at a time to get started on your home strength training plan with minimal up-front investment.

Disadvantages – When it comes to weight training there is nothing more important than form. Poor form can make it difficult to effectively isolate the muscle you are targeting. In worst case scenarios, poor form can also lead to injuries. Perhaps the biggest con of using free weights is the learning curve. Pay close attention to form to minimize this disadvantage. Injuries related to lifting weights that are too heavy without the support of a machine or a spotter is another big con of free weights.

Weights on machineBenefits of training with machines

  • Machines provide stabilization which makes it easier to focus your training on large groups of muscles simultaneously without worries about maintaining balance.
  • There is no danger of falling weights, which can provide an added measure of safety for new users or heavier weights.
  • Step by step diagrams may make it easier for users to learn how to manage the equipment.

Disadvantages – because users may feel safe to lift heavier weight there is an increased risk of injury. Be sure to lift based on your current strength level and ability and build from there. Also, unlike free weights machine weights must be adjusted appropriately for your body size and strength. Do a test run using a lower weight to make adjustments. Additionally, focusing on larger muscle groups may cause injury owing to neglect of smaller muscles and tendons.

Ideally, your weight training plan will incorporate some combination of free and machine weight exercises. If that is not possible, you can develop a well-rounded program that imparts all the benefits of weight training with just free weights. No matter which program you choose you want what best fits your lifestyle and fitness goals so that you are more likely to stick with it.