A man performing an exercise using a free weight.

Free weights vs machines — pros, cons, and which one reigns supreme?

Are you a free weight fanatic or do you enjoy the structured routine of using resistance machines? No matter which camp you fall into, we can all agree that both free weights and machines are essential in the pursuit of building strength and improving overall health. 

From enhancing bone density to increasing muscle mass, these training tools are powerhouses of physical benefits. 

But if you're ready to dive deeper and explore the nuances of free weights vs machines and which is better suited for your training goals, keep reading!


Free Weights Vs Machines: What’s The Short Answer? 

When it comes to building strength and muscles, both free weights and resistance machines are a match made in heaven, especially when used together. But which one should you focus on? It all comes down to your fitness goals.

If you're new to the muscle-building game, machines should be your go-to option. Not only do they help you master the correct form, but they also limit the risk of injury as there is a controlled method to perform the exercise.

However, if you're looking to optimise your muscle growth and functional fitness, free weights are the way to go. During an exercise, free weights engage more muscle groups, leading to more muscle growth and overall strength.

And here's the best part: free weights are more accessible than resistance machines, especially for a home gym setup. So, no matter what your fitness goals are, incorporating both free weights and machines can help you achieve them faster and more effectively.

What’s The Difference Between Resistance Machines & Free Weights 

When it comes to the debate of resistance machines vs free weights, there are significant differences in both how they work and the results that can be achieved with each. 

First, what are free weights? And what are resistance machines? 

Free Weights 

When it comes to strength training, free weights like barbells and dumbbells are the OGs.

Unlike machines, free weights are not connected to any pulley system, allowing you to move them in any way you choose and personalise your workouts.

But the benefits of free weights don't stop there. 

They're also excellent tools for building control and stability as more stabilising muscles are recruited to ensure balance during exercise. This is something that machine exercises simply can't replicate.

However, one downside of free weights is that they can pose a greater risk of injury, especially for beginners who haven't mastered their form.

It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of lifting heavy weights, but if the correct form isn't adhered to, it can lead to serious injury. So, make sure to start with lighter weights and master your form before moving on to heavier loads.

A photo of dumbbells on a weight rack.
Free weight dumbbells are a great tool for building muscle but they do have their drawbacks.


Resistance Machines  

Resistance-based workout machines are great muscle-building tools, featuring exercises like the leg press and the lat pulldown. There are two types to choose from: the plate-loaded and the pin-loaded machines, each with its own unique advantages and disadvantages. 

The key benefit of weight machines is that they offer more control and safety. This is especially important for beginners as it helps build confidence in performing resistance exercises without the need for a spotter.

Likewise, machines can allow for better isolation of target muscles - as stabilising muscles are no longer required to perform the movement. This can be particularly useful when rehabilitating from a previous injury. 

On the other hand, a significant con of resistance machines is that they only allow for fixed movement, this removes the creativity to perform certain exercises, limiting the muscle-building potential during your workouts.

An image of machine weights in a gym

Machine weights are just as effective as building muscle as free weights.

But Do Free Weights Or Machines Build Muscle Faster? 

Here's the million-dollar question: Which is the ultimate muscle-builder - free weights or machines? 

The answer lies in how your muscles respond to each workout method. Generally speaking, free weights are the clear winner as they engage more muscles than machines. This means that in the long haul, free weights will help you build muscle faster and more efficiently.

But wait, don't ditch the machines just yet! 

Especially when your muscles are fatigued, machines can be your go-to accessory tool to target and isolate specific muscle groups. This is especially beneficial for those weaker muscles that are hard to target with free weights. By using machine weights, you can squeeze in that extra volume and prevent any isolated muscles from lagging behind.

So, how can you maximise your muscle-building potential? 

It's all about finding the right balance between free weights and machines. For instance, on leg day, focus your effort on squats with a barbell, and then switch to hamstring curls using the machine. This combination of both free weights and machine weights will give your muscles a comprehensive workout to optimise muscle growth and help you achieve your dream body.

When Should I Use Free Weights Or Machines? 

Now back to the original question: Machine weights or free weights? The answer is still - it depends. But don’t be disheartened, we’ve put together a few examples to help you understand when best to use free weights or machines. 

When it comes to building bigger arms, machines are the way to go: While free weights are great for compound exercises like the squat and bench press, they can be tricky for isolation movements. When performing a bicep curl with a barbell, for example, it's easy to cheat and use your legs and back to generate momentum, taking away some tension from the bicep. This is where machines come in handy. With machines, you can perform isolation exercises like bicep curls with strict form and ensure that each repetition is performed correctly.

But if you're looking to build more overall muscle mass, free weights are the way to go: When you use free weights, more stabilising muscles are recruited and trained during exercises like the squat and bench press, giving you more bang for your training buck. So, while machines are great for isolating specific muscle groups, free weights are better for building overall strength and mass.

A picture of a man on a chest fly machine.

Despite the debate, both free weights and machine weights are crucial for building muscle in the gym.


Are machines safer than free weights?

Safety is a top priority when it comes to strength training. In general, machines are considered safer than free weights because they are designed to guide your movements and provide support throughout the exercise. 

With machines, you don't have to worry about balancing the weight, which can be particularly beneficial for beginners or those with injuries. However, proper form and technique are crucial regardless of the equipment you use.

Do free weights or machines burn more calories?

If your goal is to burn calories, both free weights and machines can be effective options. However, free weights typically require more stabilisation, which means they engage more muscle groups and therefore burn more calories. 

That said, the number of calories burned depends on factors such as the type of exercise, the intensity, and the duration. So, it's best to choose the equipment that you enjoy using and that challenges you the most.

Can you build more muscle with machine weights if you can lift more than free weights?

Building muscle is about challenging your muscles to adapt and grow, regardless of the equipment you use. Whether you lift free weights or machines, the key is to progressively increase the weight or resistance over time. 

While lifting heavier weights with machines may be easier due to the added support and guidance, it doesn't necessarily mean that you'll build more muscle. The most important factor is to push your muscles to fatigue, ensuring that you're using proper form and technique. 

Ultimately, the best approach is to vary your training routine with both free weights and machines to optimise muscle growth.

Take A Look At Exersci’s Selection Of Free Weights & Bars!

Great! You’ve reached the end of this article. Hopefully, you’re able to determine the pros and cons of free weights and machines and how to effectively implement both into your training program.

If you’re ready to up the intensity of your workouts, then check out our range of free weights and bars. We have a great selection of dumbbells, and barbells to add to your home gym. And no home gym setup is complete without high-quality bumper plates and weight plates to ensure you have everything you need to sculpt your dream body.

If you have any questions about our selection of free weights or need any assistance finding the right product for you, don’t hesitate to contact us at contact@exersci.co.uk or call us on 0330 175 6260. We're always here to help you reach your fitness goals.

View our free weight selection here!