So what’s best, strength training with free weights or machines? It’s a debate that has been going on for years. Now also consider strength training through body weight only exercises or the use of tools such as heavy ropes or a TRX. Now what’s best? The answer may depend on the individual and their personal goals. Machines are great for the experienced body builder looking to build size but machines are also great for the beginner exerciser, or older adult as machine exercises are easy to learn and implement. Anyone rehabilitating an injury can benefit a great deal by using weight room machinery first and moving into body and free weight exercises as the rehab progresses. Athletes benefit a great deal from functional free weight and body weight exercises but will also do well using specific machine based strength training.
Why choose strength training at all? Many reasons. To improve bone density. To help maintain a healthy body weight. To help reduce overuse injuries from other activities. To aid in the execution of everyday chores. To improve your sport. To maintain strength and range of motion about a joint. To keep you looking, feeling and acting young! If any of these reasons motivate you to begin a strength training program be sure to train smart. Start slowly, progress gradually and seek advice if necessary.
If you are new to it, machine strength training in a gym is the place to start. A gym should have a variety of equipment as well as qualified staff to help you begin the process. This will increase your chance of success and reduce your risk of injury. Weight equipment in a gym can look intimidating at first glance but once you are introduced to it, it is relatively easy to use. Machines ensure correct movement for an exercise which makes them easier to use, safer and prevents cheating when muscle fatigue sets in. A circuit of machine based exercises creates a time efficient, effective workout, especially for a beginner. Machines also are efficient at isolating specific muscle groups. This can be beneficial for injury rehab as well as body building. Athletes duplicating moves required for their sport by using machines that add resistance to the move will increase their strength and endurance for the activity. For example a runner doing hip flexion exercises on a machine will improve strength in that area more quickly that by only running and therefore reduce his chances of fatigue during a race.
Free weights add many more aspects to an exercise. Now you are adding stabilizing muscle groups to the exercise as well as improving balance, co-ordination and core strength. Free weights are very versatile. A wide variety of exercises for many muscle groups can be done with a set of dumbbells. Free weight exercises can more closely match movement patterns used in sport or occupation therefore making the exercise more functional. Working with free weights does require more attention to form and technique. Some personal training sessions may be beneficial. What to choose, free weights or machines? Perhaps a combination of both is the best way to strength train!