Is it Better to Work Out with Free Weights or Machines?

Is It Better To Work Out With Free Weights Or Machines?

If you are just starting your weight training journey you will probably ask yourself which one is better – free weights or resistance machines?

To help answer that questions, we are going to provide a complete lowdown on free weights vs machines so that you can decide which one to incorporate into your workout regimen.  

Is There A Difference Between Free Weights And Machines? Aren’t Both Weights?

Machines vs Free Weights

Free weights and machines are different in the sense of how they work and provide results.

That said, both these training methods are used to achieve your main goal, i.e., to become fit and strong.

To understand the main difference between free weights and machines, let’s look at them separately:

What Are Free Weights?

In simpler terms, free weights are any fitness tools that consist of weights such as barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells.

They are moveable, which means you can shift their position (in whichever way you like) and perform exercises freely.

This type of training equipment is useful for trainers of all skill levels.

Free weights are versatile and allow you to practice a wide range of exercises. The most common types of free weights are:

  • Dumbbells
  • Kettlebells
  • Barbells and plates
  • EZ-bar
  • Sandbells/sandbags

What Are Machines?

Lat Pulldown

Unlike free weights, machines are fixed in their position. In order to exercise with the machines, you will need to stay in one particular place.

These machines are large, heavy, and move in a specific direction. While free weights come in many varieties, resistance machines have two main types:

  • Pin loaded
  • Plate loaded

Both these types are effective but offer limited movement.

As heavier equipment, machine weights need more power and are usually not fit for beginners since you’re either lifting too light or too heavy for your strength levels.

It is also slightly easier to adjust to machines as opposed to free weights.

However, machines are less convenient. If it’s a busy gym, you may not find spare weighted plates to stack onto a plate loaded machine.

Because of this, you may have to wait or need to head out to another gym.

Advantages Of Free Weights

Free Weights Are Super Versatile

Woman Working Out

Free weights come in many forms (dumbbells, kettlebells, etc.) because of which you can perform a wide variety of exercises.

In fact, each type of free weight comes with its own set of versatile exercises.

For instance, there are a plethora of dumbbell exercises, such as lateral raises, biceps curl, tricep kick-backs, lunges, and many more.

Similarly, there are unique kettlebell exercises for all kinds of gym-goers, including squats, kettlebell lunges, kettlebell swings, and so on.

Allow Full-Body Movements

As we said earlier, free weights allow your body to move in various directions. You can stand anywhere in the gym and easily perform free weight exercises.

Comparatively, free weight training tools are smaller and portable, and thus, allow for freedom of movement when working out.

Work More Muscles at One Time

Free weights work various tiny muscles you don’t even know you use on a daily basis.

For instance, squats help build the quads – the muscles on the front of your thigh (yes, the quads aren’t exactly “small muscles,” but you get the idea).

Other than that, squats, especially doing them with dumbbells or barbells, help engage both your inner and outer thighs.

Disadvantages of Free Weights

Difficult for Beginners

Free weights can be a bit challenging for beginners. They can feel heavy and easily be dropped on your hand, foot, or head.

As a result, the misuse of these weights could lead to severe injuries. To safely use free weights, you need control and strength.

If you don’t possess these two traits already, it may take a while to get a good grip on free weights.

Need a Spotter

Bench Press Workout

Some of the best free weight exercises such as squats, bench press, and others, require you to train under the supervision of a spotter.

You need to follow a particular technique to perform each exercise correctly. For example, when lifting weights, you need to maintain proper form and use controlled movements.

Having a spotter by your side will help you learn these basics quickly and perform the exercises the right way.

But as a beginner, trying to practice free weight exercises all by yourself can be a little daunting and dangerous nonetheless. You may also end up damaging the equipment.

Easy to Mess Up

Again, for beginners, free weight exercises can seem complex.

A lot of movements are involved, and if you don’t have enough practice or a spotter to guide you, you may end up suffering from serious injuries.

For example, if you perform a plank drag, you should stand in a straight yet raised position with your hands on the ground.

You have to ensure your body forms a straight line from your heels to shoulders.

On top of that, you will have to place a kettlebell a little further from the reach of one hand and pull it toward the other side and then repeat the process with the other hand.

This is a hardcore exercise, and one tiny mistake can end up injuring you badly.

Advantages Of Machines


Woman Working Out

One of the best qualities of working out with machines is that they are perfect for beginners.

If you are new to the gym, you can easily use machines. They often come with instructions, so using them all by yourself will be no trouble at all.

Some of the machines you can use as a beginner are a leg-press machine, rowing machine, cable biceps bars, chest press machine, hanging leg raise, treadmill, arc trainer, and lots more.  

Do Not Need a Spotter

Another great advantage of using machines is they are easier to learn, so you don’t necessarily need a spotter to train you.

All the work out machines are nicely structured and have one way to get around.

For instance, a treadmill comes with direct instructions that you can follow and make the machine work.

Even if you go through the trouble of asking a staff member to help you out (which they are always happy to do), it will only take a few minutes to learn the right technique and crank your reps up!

Safe and Secure

Pecs Workout

Unlike free weights, machines are a lot safer. You simply need to know the right technique to work a machine, and you are good to go!

Machines also have safety mechanisms built in, so if you make a mistake or find yourself in a dangerous situation, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be harmed as a result of your actions.

Disadvantages of Machines

Not Available During Peak Hours

If you go to the gym during the busy hours, such as in the morning or evening, you may not find machines available for use.

You will probably have to kill time and wait for your turn or maybe even move to free weights if you don’t want to waste your time.

Often, this is the case with small gyms that accommodate only a few machines.

Restrict Your Motion

Machines allow a limited range of movements. Plus, the movements you do when using machines are not as natural as those performed with free weights.

Additionally, not all machines cater to people of all sizes and shapes. For example, some machines may not be accommodating to people who are either too short or too tall.  


Another common disadvantage of machines is that they are super expensive. Investing in just one machine can cost you hundreds and thousands of dollars.

This is why most people avoid getting machines for personal use and find it better to use them at the gym.

What is best for you?

Choosing between free weights and machines is a personal preference.

Some gym-goers/trainers prefer free weights because of the freedom of movement they offer, while others use machines for how easy they are to use.

Given both the pros and cons of free weights and machines, you can choose the one that suits your needs the best.

Keep in mind that free weights give an all-round workout as they work a lot of muscles at a time.

If you’re an experienced trainer or gym-goer and want to indulge in a hardcore workout session and build strength, agility, and muscle mass at a faster rate, go for free weights.

However, if you’re simply a beginner and want to acquaint yourself with the basics of gym training and prefer slow but steady progress, machines will be ideal for you.

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