Free Weights vs Machines, Pros and Cons

free weights vs machines

Free weights vs machines

Free weights vs machines is one of the doubts that most people have at some point of their training path.

Is it more effective to train with free weights or machines?

I believe that, even if we don't want to hear it or admit it, we all kinda know or think that free weights are better, don't we?

If this was certainly true 20 years ago, we also have to remember that in the last years technology has improved drastically, and machines have become more and more advanced and effective.

Years ago machines were just made of cables and weight stacks, but now we have all sorts of advanced equipment: the resistance is often generated by air or fluids, and even the movements can closely replicate those of the exercises with free weights.

Electronic is a great part of modern machines, so much that they can provide constant resistance throughout the full range of motion.

All this is making it hard to choose between free weights vs machines!

Free Weights vs Machines, Let's Compare Them

Free Weights: Pros

bench press

There is no doubt that exercising with free weights means training several auxiliary muscles

  • They are definitely more effective for improving strength in all the aspects (maximum, explosive and rapid)
  • The are much more suitable for the development of muscles and especially stabilizers
  • They are less bulky and cheaper than machines
  • The allow movements very close to those of sport activities

Free Weights: Cons

  • The resistance changes depending on the angle (imagine chest flys: the first part of the movement is much harder than the last part)
  • You need to be very careful because it's easy to get injured
  • It takes longer to figure out the perfect weight and increments may be too big for small muscles (for example lateral shoulder raises: to go from 25 to 30 lbs it is a big jump)

Not let's talk about machines so we can have a better comparison of free weights vs machines and which ones you should use (I have a feeling it will be a mixed combination!).

Machines: Pros

lat machine

For some exercises like pull ups, the lat machine is very useful when one can't perform at least 7-8 pull up with just the body weight

  • Allow you to maintain a more constant resistance throughout the whole range of movement. The level of effort feels the same start to end
  • Facilitate the isolation of specific muscles
  • Are easier and faster to use, and adjust

Machines: Cons

  • They are less effective for the development of strength
  • Don't really help develop stabilizer muscles (because they help isolate muscles, as seen above)
  • The movement is pretty much guided
  • To train the whole body and all muscles you would need too many
  • They are too expensive and take much more room than one can usually afford (basically you find them only at the gym)

After all these facts, like you could have guessed, it's once again really up to you to decide the free weights vs machines winner .

Looking at the pros and cons of each, if you want to do a good job you should use both.


Free weights are more recommended for compound exercises, so you train stabilizer muscles at the same time, while machines are a better choice if you want to target one specific muscle.

And remember that for some exercises, machines can lower the risk of injuries, especially when the load is really heavy.

I usually use both during my workouts, and if I used free weights to train a muscle group in my previous routine, I switch to machine in the next routine.

Normally I'd say I prefer free weights vs machines, but I have to be hones, there are days that I only use machines because I am either lazy (no time to load/unload barbells etc.) or I didn't get a good sleep and I know I would be prone to injury myself.

As far as results and effectiveness, yeah, I prefer free weights.

I can also feel a different "healthy" pain the next day, which means I worked out very well.

Now it's time you share your thoughts and tell us what you prefer and why.

Free weights vs machines, what's better?


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