According to most sources, there is an interesting trend developing in the world of bodybuilding. It seems that those big fancy weight machines are not as popular as they used to be. More and more gyms are cutting down on these machines in favor of old-fashioned free weight training. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Let’s take a look at both sides of this argument and see if we can settle this question.
The Case For Free Weights
Those who prefer the free weight approach will often point out some of the inherent problems of workout machines. The evidence seems to suggest that at least some of these criticisms are valid. For instance, let’s take a look at a study that compared bench press/squat performance between free weights and a Smith machine.
In that study, we see that the free weights were found to be superior in nearly every way. Those who used the Smith machine were unable to match the performance of the free weight group, and they gave several reasons for this comparative lack of performance. First, they said that the machine felt awkward and that it kept them from exerting their full strength. The data clearly shows that the Smith Machine does not offer the same workout intensity that free weight provides. When you are using the Smith machine, it does a lot of the work for you. You still have to lift the weight, but you aren’t using any of the muscles that keep you balanced and aligned.
Free Weight Training Targets More Muscle Groups
The most significant advantage of free weight training is the fact that it offers you the chance to work a larger number of muscle groups. The human muscular system is a complex thing, and it is meant to work as a unified whole. Although some muscles work against each other, they are still part of the same team. When you use a weight machine, you will generally be isolating one muscle or muscle group. When you use free weights, all the control and motion has to be created by your body.
Free Weight Training Exerts More Power
There is a significant body of evidence to show that free weight exercise has a greater power output than machine training. This is a good thing because it means that you get a harder and better workout. After all, an easy workout is just a waste of time.
Let’s look at this study as an example. Two groups of weightlifters were told to do a series of power cleans. Their force output, maximum strength, and total velocity were measured in a variety of ways. The results tell us two interesting things. First, the free weight group showed a significantly higher level of strength and force output. Secondly, the machine group showed greater velocity. We conclude that the machine lift is faster because you aren’t using as many muscles, which is why it also doesn’t require the same amount of force.
The Case For Weight Machines
Those who prefer weight machines also have some excellent evidence to offer. They point out the problems of free weights, most of which we discussed at the beginning of this article. Free weights work by using the natural resistance of gravity, but there’s just one problem with that: Gravity only pulls in one direction, and that direction is straight down. With a weight machine, you can potentially get resistance from any direction. For instance, think about doing cable curls for your biceps. You cannot duplicate that particular kind of resistance with free weights.
Weight Machines Are Much Safer
Weight machines also offer some advantages in terms of safety. You don’t generally have to worry about injuring yourself with a workout machine, as the weight itself is contained and controlled. Unless the machine itself happens to fail, you have much less chance of injury when compared to free weights. How big is the difference? Based on this article, and the study upon which it was based, the difference is quite significant. When the researchers examined all the documented weight training injuries from 1990 to 2007, they found that about 90% of the injuries occurred during free weight training. About 60% of the total injuries resulted from free weights being dropped. The other 30% were mostly over-use exercises.
Weight Machines Increase Your Maximum Lift
Workout machines also seem to allow most people to lift a greater amount of weight. The evidence does seem to show this trend consistently, and there are two possible explanations. One explanation is the idea that a workout machine isolates specific muscles, allowing them to be used more efficiently. The other theory says that the machine is merely reducing the strain and making the workout easier. Either way, it is a fact that people can generally lift more weight on one of these things.
Which Method Is Better?
After examining both sides of this debate, we conclude that this contest is a draw. Some will disagree with this conclusion, but we are not simply refusing to make a decision. Based on the evidence we see, free weight training does seem to be superior in many ways. For those seeking maximum results and high-powered gains, the free weights can’t be beaten. Thus, we will conclude that free weights are better for the advanced lifter.
At the same time, machines offer a huge safety advantage that should not be ignored. As we saw earlier, 90% of all weightlifting injuries occur when using free weights. Thus, we will conclude that weight machines are a better choice for the beginner. Apart from the reduced risk of injury, weight machines force the beginner to use proper technique.
We believe that we have answered this question and settled this argument in the best way possible. Our analysis has been entirely neutral, and we hope that you have found it to be fair and accurate. If so, please follow us on Facebook, where you can see more of our work.