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Ask the Trainer:What is the difference between weight machines and free weights?

Nov 6, 2018

Christian Agudelo, ACSM - CPT

The difference between weight machines and free weights is simply functionality versus structure. Free weights work as a functional exercise because it helps to create load in the stabilizing muscles and allows for better movement through different planes of the body. This allows the body to gain more strength in different and more isolated areas. Free weights are also typically harder to do because of the lack of control that a novice individual will experience. Because you are able to target more muscles and stabilizers through free weights you can achieve more structural gains as well. Machines on the other hand are fixed positioned and generally are used to target just a certain muscle group. Machines are great for structural growth because you can really load up the muscle in question and allow it to work harder and more isolated. Machines are also great for beginners because it allows them to control the load without losing control and they can really focus on the muscle they are targeting. Free weights and machines can work hand in hand in a training program because both bring similar and positive differences to a training program. Depending on what your goals are always be aware of what works well for you and don’t be afraid to try a handful of exercises both machine and free weighted.

Earvin Bahena, NSCA - CSCS

Weight machines and free weights are extremely important when it comes to an exercise program. Whether you just started working out or you’ve been doing it for 10 years, you are bound to use both of these and it is important to understand the difference.

Weight Machines: This equipment is anything that you can sit on while you push or pull through a specific range of motion. Someone who is beginning their weight lifting journey will typically start by using machines as machine are structured and easier to use to get the proper movements. With machines you are able to isolate/target specific muscles you want to work on.

Free Weights: Any equipment that you can pick up and hold. Free weights make your body work against gravity in order to move in the correct direction. With these weights you are able to use various different muscles at the same time in order to do a movement, muscles that stabilize you as well as those doing the actual movement. The movements you do with free weights are also more applicable to real life situations. You do not move in one specific plane in “ real life” so using free weights allows you to move in various planes to get stronger in every way possible.

Spencer O'Neil, NASM- CPT

As a general rule the majority of our programs are based around free weights. This is because the we want to learn to control the load by properly stabilizing and controlling the plane of motion throughout the rep. This makes the movements more functional which better imitates the movements of our day to day lives. Machines are awesome tool that allow us to isolate certain muscle groups or to act as a regression for exercises.


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