|Free weights are time consuming but yeild better results.
A: When working out to build muscle and strength, is there a difference between using free weights or machines; is one any better than the other?
-T. Wolfe, Trabuco Canyon, CA
Q: Free weights provide a more complete workout. However, they also require more expertise in their use. When lifting free weights like barbells and dumbbells, not only is the prime mover or agonist (a contracting muscle that is resisted by another muscle) being worked but all the muscles responsible for stabilizing the joint. The result is to increase the strength of the stabilizer muscles. Other advantages of free weights are that they build better balance and coordination and will help strengthen any muscles imbalances. Free weights also work your muscles in a way that matches real life and they allow you to strengthen muscles and tendons that wouldn’t get much work when using machines.
Some disadvantages are that free weights may be more difficult for beginners because they require more balance and coordination and you can get injured easier. Greater care is required when using free weights. Improper technique can result in injury to the user or bystander if the weights are dropped. It is important to remember to have a spotter whenever heavy free weights are raised over the head. A spotter's responsibility is to insure the safety of the user during the execution of the exercise. A free weight workout will also take more time than a machine workout
Advantages of machines are that they provide a safer workout than free weights because you don’t have to worry about balancing the weight as much as free weights. Machines also specifically target a particular muscle automatically. It's harder to cheat during an exercise by incorporating unintentional muscle groups. However, since lateral movement is generally restricted, machines do not provide as complete a workout. When lifting overhead with machines, a spotter is not necessary since the weights are confined to a rack and not directly overhead. Machines don’t require much coordination so they are great for beginners because they are safe and easy to use. If time is an issue you can get through a workout faster using machines than free weights.
A few disadvantages of machines are that it is difficult to notice any muscle imbalances due to the fact that machines guide your body through range of motion, for example if one arm or leg is stronger than the other; the stronger side will over compensate for the weaker side. Machines don’t build as much balance or coordination. Machines don’t fit everybody and can be hard to adjust so they can put your body in a bad range of motion. They are not adjustable for height or length of limbs on an individual basis. This can cause poor fit and even undue stress on joints when the supporting pressure is incorrectly applied.
In summary, using any kind of workout modality is great. They all will have their pros and cons; however between free weights and machines, free weights provide the best workout when a spotter is available and proper lifting techniques are used. In contrast, machines provide a better workout than could be safely achieved using free weights when a spotter is not available.
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