1. Health
It may seem a little strange, but there are plenty of controversies when it comes to strength training. Go out and ask ten different exercisers about the best way to lift weights and you'll probably get ten different answers. One reason for that is because there isn't any one right way to lift weights, but it can be confusing if you're just starting out, especially when it comes to choosing equipment. Should you stick with machines or use free weights?

The short answer is that both have a lot to offer, so I usually recommend incorporating both, though I do have a preference for the more functional exercises you can do with free weights. To learn the pros and cons of both, check out my latest article, Free Weights or Machines? to find out what each has to offer. If you have a preference for one or the other, feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section.

September 27, 2006 at 12:21 pm
(1) +renee+ says:

I love free weights. I am female, 42 yrs old and have been working out since my 20′s. I use Karate/inline skating for my aerobic work outs and lift weights. I love deadlifting, squats & dumbbell bench presses. The machines that I always use are the lat pulldowns, cable rows, cable triceps extensions & cable rope crunches. Plus, for all of the women who think they will get muscle bound if they lift weights(I wish!)- That takes huge amounts of work. I am strong for my size. (deadlift-230, squat-190, bench-180). When I started, I could only bench the bar. Progess really does happen when you workout. Thx for the forum & keep up the good work!!!

September 27, 2006 at 12:59 pm
(2) exercise says:

Thanks so much for the comment, Renee. And thanks for pointing out that strength training doesn’t lead to big bulky muscles – I think that’s often a concern for women. Your strength is very impressive!

September 27, 2006 at 3:08 pm
(3) Lee says:

I’m a 32 year old male and I use a multi-function machine like a Bowflex almost exclusively. I have been lifting on and off for 15 years and have used free weights and machines. Here are some conclusions I have come to in my experience. Machines are good if you work out alone. They allow you to work near your max without the fear of dropping weight on yourself. Dumbells could also offer the same benefit but they have limited use [you can't leg curl a dumbell (effectively)]. I am getting the results I want from my machine. I have gained overall strength and I am building lean muscle. The problem with machines is that the “weight” you push on a machine does not translate into the same weight when lifting free weights. Basically, my machine tells me that I can lift more than I can actually lift. You may also “outgrow” your machine. I have had to come up with creative ways to overcome the limited resistance of my machine such as doing one-legged presses. If you are aware of these limitations and you can get the results you want anyway, then a machine is the way to go in my book. The most important tools are motivation and persistence.

September 28, 2006 at 4:14 am
(4) william mcelhannon says:

I started to work out on Nautilus machines at age 46. I doubled the weights I used in 6 months.l gained 3 inches in my chest and lost 20 pounds of bodyweight and 3 inches in my waist in 6 months. Since then I have tripled the weights on many of the machines.

I am now 74 years old and still work out 3 days a week.

The Nautilus type machines are much more efficient than free weights because the are built with a cam that orovides a resistance that is proportional to one’s strength through yhe full range of motion.

They are also much safer than free weights.

October 2, 2006 at 2:20 pm
(5) tyciol says:

The ‘limited’ to two limbs thing is wrong. You can, for most machines, choose to do them with a single limb. You just have to brace yourself slightly differently. That’s what I did when I tried out the thigh adductor and abductor machines and maxed them out on my first try, just braced one leg against the ground and started opening half the max weight and then slightly more with the other leg.

The ‘more muscle groups’ thing is simply not true with freeweight exercises, either. Some exercises, sure, but just as many use isolation as with machines. It depends on the movements, mostly.

The only real advantage to freeweights is that it teaches useful biomechanical neurological adaptation, whereas the ones learned on machines are not transferrable to as many activities. They’re still worth doing though, since you can handle more weight, and are safer, and to add variety.

October 2, 2006 at 2:39 pm
(6) Keira says:

I use both (though I prefer free-weights) for the main reason that the body is very adaptable and doing the same routine/exercises may lead to a plateau.

I find, for me,incorporating both leads to ever increasing gains in strength and gains (not to mention shaking things up a bit for variety’s sake :)

October 2, 2006 at 3:55 pm
(7) Heather says:

I am 22 yrs old, and I have been doing the gym thing now for about 2.5 yrs. I find that after cardio one of the best things to do is sit down on a machine and just go to town with all the different ways you can take advantage of those machines. Free weights are something that I think personally could be done at home in between days going to the gym, I figure do what your paying for in those gyms. Also for those who are doing it at home, lifting weights, free weights are the best because they are cost effective and more you build more deep strength.

October 2, 2006 at 4:51 pm
(8) KEVIN says:

I use kettlebells and bodyweight exercises with just a few dumbbell exercises. As a martial artist(Judo/Aikido)I found that kettlebells & bodyweight exercises provide the best all round effect,in that you can cardio and strength train at the same time. I am 52 years old and am stronger now then I was when I was in the U.S.Marine Corps.

October 4, 2006 at 12:28 pm
(9) edgar says:

I agree with Heather. I go to the gym 3 days a week and do cardio and weights on the machines, hip abduction, hip adduction, leg press, leg curls, etc and then 3 days at home with free weights for stuff like bench, squats, inverted rows, dumbbell curls, etc. By doing it at home I don’t have to try and rush off to the gym before it closes. This way my busiest days are used for free weights at home.

November 17, 2006 at 11:23 am
(10) Kwesi says:

I am not saying that I am a professional but I really like working out and the results that I have had from varied types of training seems to suggest that machines give a more complete workout in a shorter period of time. Also, I am able to concentrate on what I am doing and not not on the weights and that I believe weighs heavily in favor of better results. I can go crazy heavy or I can use light weights, increase the reps and work at a faster pace. There are still some exercises that are better done with weights, because of the ease of movement but results seem to favor the machine for me. I must add though that the machine is readily available for right now and psyhcologically I am able to turn off and on just to work on few body parts, in maybe 10 min intervals. I even improvised on a few of the exercises that I do to work my abs and lats back shoulders triceps and calves with great results. The machines work and the muscles (cuts come easily) seem to prove it.

March 23, 2007 at 3:17 pm
(11) Joe says:

Free weights work better for you…By doing free weights it will build and work more muscles in a particular group than doing machine weights!

April 12, 2007 at 4:05 pm
(12) dumbbell routine says:

Free weights are better, machines are too controlled.

May 24, 2007 at 6:38 am
(13) Dave says:

I am 16 and have just started using the gym to build muscle and lose weight but i do not know how much to do do and which machines to use, can somebody help please?

October 7, 2007 at 10:05 pm
(14) kris says:

yeh i have the same problem as dave ive been going to the gym for about 5 months i am 14 but i feel that after a workout i feel i could have done more and dont know how to get that extra motivation to push myself to failure points (i want to build mass and muscle) i need a good way to push myself that extra bit to gain the muscle dave or anybody near my age email me so i can learn different things from different people my email is : URB4NLUVA@aol.com thanks people

November 12, 2008 at 2:03 pm
(15) Ash says:

right, Kris occasionally i have the same problem im 17 and been gyming it for about a year now. I play at quite a high level of rugby. But one piece of advice is watch videos of the best. So Ronnie Coleman or Jay Cutler people like that on youtube they’ve all got motivational videos on there. Another good idea is play really fast paced and motivational music one of my fav’s has to be firestarter it just gets me in the zone and you go to the point of failure.
Hope that helped

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