Which is better
for your body building routine-free weights or machines? Exercise
machines have been engineered to target specific muscles with
the utmost precision-but people have been using some version of
free weights to get fit for thousands of years. In a head-to-head
contest, which training method will give you a better workout?
is that both free weights and machines have benefits and drawbacks,
and both have a place in a well-rounded body building routine.
Here's an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Weights: The Benefits
build mass more effectively. Free weights don't just work
the muscle you're targeting. They require balance and recruit
multiple muscle groups in order to lift the weight. When you perform
a squat with free weights, you're not just using your leg muscles-you're
using the muscles in your thighs, butt, back, abs, and arms to
perform the exercise. Targeting multiple muscle groups will help
you build sheer mass more quickly than using machines.
are more versatile. They allow a wider range of motion than
machines, which lock you into a single position. You can perform
far more types of exercises with a single set of barbells than
you can with the average exercise machine, even if the machine
is designed to be versatile. Free weights allow for more variation
of movement, and they require greater coordination of muscle groups
with each exercise.
are more accessible. Every gym has a set of free weights,
but not every gym is fitted out with the latest, most state-of-the-art
exercise machines. If you're looking to build a home gym, you'll
be able to afford free weights much more easily than a single
home gym machine. Free weights are easy to find and easy to buy.
Dangers of Free Weights
to do it wrong. Free weights allow any range of motion your
body can perform-which can be a benefit if you're an experienced
body builder. If you're not, however, it's easy to use them with
less-than-perfect form. In the best case, you might not be getting
the most out of each rep you perform. In the worst case, you could
put yourself at risk for injury. In general, it's usually best
to hire a trainer to get you started in the right form before
you get stuck in bad habits.
can be dangerous. Try to lift more than you should with free
weights, and you could get in over your head. There's always a
risk that you could get stuck under that weight-and if you drop
it, you could face serious injury. Those using heavy weights are
generally advised to work with a spotter, especially for exercises
such as squats or bench presses.
are safer. Machines lock you into controlled, precise movements
that isolate specific muscle groups. They also typically don't
require much balance. While this limits the results you get from
machines, it also protects you from injury. Machines are generally
recommended for people who are recovering from injuries, as well
as pregnant women, because they allow lifters to target healthy
muscle groups while protecting more sensitive areas of the body.
to have perfect form with a machine. With a machine, it's
tough to break form. Most machines include diagrams that illustrate
the correct form for each exercise, and the machine itself often
locks your body into position. With free weights, any imaginable
movement is possible-which allows for plenty of mistakes. With
machines, you're often locked into the best position for the exercise.
If you don't have a trainer to guide you, it may be better to
start with machines.
need a spotter. If you're lifting heavy free weights, you'd
better have a spotter-or you could risk serious injury if you
drop your weight. With machines, it's unlikely that you'll injure
yourself this way, no matter how much weight you lift. If you
want to pump heavy iron and you don't have a partner, machines
can allow you to work solo without risking your safety.
Drawbacks of Machines
don't use all your muscle groups. This means you won't get
as much out of each exercise you perform with a machine. With
free weights, you're never using just one muscle group-every exercise
you perform requires full body participation. This stimulates
your nervous system to a greater extent, encouraging your body
to build more muscle. With exercise machines, you don't get the
same amount of stimulation-and you won't see results as quickly,
especially if you're in the beginning stages of your body building
routine and you're looking to build muscle mass.
don't fit every body. Today, most machines are adjustable
to a certain extent. But even so, most machines aren't ideal for
every body type. If you're very short or very tall, you could
find that exercise machines are a terrible fit for your body-and
they don't adjust enough to accommodate you. If the machines don't
fit, they won't be able to lock you into the best form for the
exercise. At best, you won't get good results from using the machines.
At worst, you could risk injury.
and free weights have their pros and cons. Which is right for
you depends on your fitness goals, your body type, and your health.
If you want to build mass efficiently or your body doesn't fit
most machines, free weights are probably a better choice for you.
If you're looking to isolate a certain muscle group, you're at
added risk of injury because of your physical condition, or you
don't have a trainer or spotter to support you, machines may be
better. However, both can be incorporated efficiently for a healthy
workout-so while you might prefer one method over the other, in
most cases you can use both.
Jean Lam is the webmaster of Body
Building Resource which provides articles on weight training,
nutrition and fitness, body building book and DVDs.
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