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Free Weights or Machines: What’s Best?

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

There are many types of equipment that can help you achieve your fitness goals, however, there is often a debate about which is better: free weights or machines?

In this article, we will explore the advantages and disadvantages of each type of equipment to help you decide which one is right for you.

Which is Better: Free Weights or Machines?

Free Weights vs Machines

One of the best things about working out with free weights is that it allows you to have more control over your movement. You aren’t restricted to one motion but instead have the ability to work on your form and isolate muscles.

Examples of free weights include the likes of dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, and weight plates, so what makes this advantageous and, what are some of the downfalls of training solely with these?

That being said, here are some of the most common free weights vs machines pros and cons.


#1 Functional Training

Free weights provide a functional training experience that can help you improve your daily activities, they aren’t restricted and thus by mimicking everyday movements, free weights can help you develop strength and flexibility in a more versatile way that machines cannot.

#2 Variety

Free weights offer a variety of exercises that can target different muscle groups.

This variety can help you avoid boredom in the gym, meaning you aren’t training the same compound movements day in, day out. They provide you with the opportunity to progress in different muscle groups by having the ability to isolate smaller muscles for bigger returns.

#3 Core Engagement

Another one of the key benefits of free weights vs resistance machines is that free weights require you to engage your core muscles in order to stabilise your body during the exercise.

While you can still stabilise your core during exercise on a machine, the importance of this when using free weights is more apparent.

Essentially, there is nothing to take the slack for you when using free weights, nor is there the safety net that resistance machines typically bring. So, this can help you develop a stronger core and improve your balance.


#1 Increased Risk of Injury

Since weightlifting with free weights allows you to move in any direction, it can be a contributing factor to the risk of injury. It is important to use proper form and work on technique to avoid injury, particularly if you’re lifting heavy weights.

#2 Beginners may Struggle

Free weights require proper technique to be executed correctly, which can be difficult for beginners, plus, it can be a little intimidating if you’re new to the gym environment.

However, free weights can start as low as 1kg dumbbells so start as low as you need to perfect the movement then, move up weights when you feel ready.

Having a trainer or coach to guide you through proper form and technique can be incredibly beneficial to know and understand if you’re doing the movements correctly.

#3 Limited Weight Selection

Some gyms may not have a wide range of free weights available, which can limit the amount of weight you can lift. However, this isn’t often a huge problem, this is only apparent typically at peak hours in the gym when much of the free weights are being used.

It would be a good idea to begin working with free weights during the quieter hours in the gym if you’re initially intimidated, or asking for help from a trainer. You then might feel more confident in moving up weights should you need to in peak hours.

Machine Weights vs Free Weights

Resistance machines are exercise equipment that use weight stacks or other forms of resistance to provide a controlled movement.

Some examples of resistance machines include the likes of leg press, chest press, and lat pulldown machines, so here are some advantages and disadvantages of resistance machines:


#1 Reduced Risk of Injury:

Resistance machines provide a controlled movement that can reduce the risk of injury during exercises that may have been too strenuous without the machine’s assistance.

The whole movement is guided by the machine, which ensures that you are using proper form and technique.

#2 They’re a Good Learning Stepping stone

Resistance machines are easy to learn and use, making them a good option for beginners. The machine provides guidance on proper form and technique so you can carry this technique learned through to free weights.

They help you build your strength before using free weights and give you the tools to learn how to do it alone.

#3 No Requirement of Balance / Stability

Since resistance machines take the slack and have a direct range of motion that doesn’t move, there is no requirement for you to overly concentrate on your stability and balance.

While you should always remain engaged, the necessity isn’t as apparent as it is when training with free weights.


#1 Limited Movement

Resistance machines only allow movement in a fixed plane, which can limit the muscles used and the range of motion.

While this isn’t a huge disadvantage, you’re only working the muscles that the machine allows.

#2 Limited Variety

Resistance machines offer a limited variety of exercises compared to free weights, which can lead to boredom and lack of interest in your workouts.

This is something that you should try to avoid, try to incorporate a mixture of both machine work and free weights so you can keep your workouts enjoyable.

#3 Less Functional

Since resistance machines do not mimic real-life movements in the way that free weights can, they may not be as effective in improving your daily activities.

Though overall strength and improved cardiovascular health will indeed improve daily activity, the functional movement found within free weight exercises are likely to be more beneficial.

Free Weights or Machines: Which is Better?

The bottom line is that whether you choose free weights or machines is subjective to your fitness goals, experience level, and personal preference.

So how can you decide?

If you are a beginner or have limited experience with strength training, resistance machines may be a good option for you. They are easy to use and provide guidance on proper form and technique, which can reduce the risk of injury.

They also work as a great stepping stone to an improvement in confidence in the gym.

Even if you’re not a beginner, if you want to target specific muscle groups or have an injury that requires you to rest certain muscle groups but work others, resistance machines may be the better option.

However, if you have a goal of improving your functional strength, free weights may be the better option.

Free weights allow you to mimic real-life movements, such as squatting, lifting, and carrying, which can improve your daily activities at home or in work.

Ultimately, the best approach is to use a combination of both free weights and resistance machines in your workouts. By using both types of equipment, you can benefit from the advantages of each and avoid the disadvantages.

It is also important to remember that proper form and technique are crucial regardless of which type of equipment you use. If you are unsure about how to use a certain piece of equipment, ask a trainer or instructor for guidance.

Before You Go…

Don’t forget that by using a combination of both, you can benefit from the advantages of each and create a well-rounded workout routine. But, if you need help in planning your routine, why not get some guidance from Infinity Performance? Find out more here, or stay in the loop by signing up to our mailing list below!


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