Should I use free weights or machines when I go to the gym?

There are benefits and drawbacks to both machines and free weights, and some exercises tend to be more effective when using one or the other.

Hand weights are inexpensive, portable, and readily available for purchase in just about any department store. Keeping them in your living room or office will allow you to exercise whenever you have the time.

The benefit of a resistance machine is that it will allow you to focus your mind on the effort, as opposed to the mechanics of the movement. But, unless you have enough space for a machine in your home, you’ll need a gym membership.

The primary difference between free weights and machines, however, is the fact that when using free weights, you can move your body in three dimensions: forward, backward, horizontally, and vertically. This is important, because this is how your body normally moves in daily life.

When you use free weights, you therefore end up using more muscles, as you have to work to stabilize the weight while lifting it. The only drawback is that you’re at an increased risk of injury unless you maintain proper form. Always use a lighter weight to get the proper form first before graduating to a heavier weight.

Machines are fixed to an axis that will only allow you to move in one or two planes. If machine are only used, this could lead to a lack of functional fitness, which may lead into injuries outside the gym.

For functional fitness, dumbbells and free weights are far superior than machines. I use both machines and free weights in my routine. If I had a choice to do a dumbbell bench press or a machine bench press, I would chose the dumbbells. The dumbbells give me a greater range of motion which results in greater muscle recruitment.

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All in good health,

Paul Nam