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Free weights vs. Machines – Which one is better for muscle development?

Many people that are new to the gym are quickly impressed by the amount of machines available to help them achieve their bodybuilding goals. Machines have their advantages, however free weight exercises are superior for developing muscle size and tone. Machines are great for isolating and building strength for a specific muscle.

Why free weights?

One of the biggest advantages with using free weights is that they allow you to complete the exercise through a natural range of motion and it incorporates more stabiliser muscles. Free weight exercises usually incorporate compound movements, which use more than one muscle. It’s good because it maintains the balance on the muscles being used and gives your body a more balanced look. For example, if you are using dumbbells for a curl movement, you will incorporate the biceps and triceps, which will give a balanced look to your arms. Mike Chang from Six Pack Shortcuts explains the benefits of using machines and free weights in the video below.

Drawback to using free weights.

Many people that are new to using free weights immediately assume that the heavier the weight, the more their strength will develop. This is true only when the right technique is used. When using heavy free weights such as dumbbells and barbells, the person increases their risk of injury if their technique is poor. Furthermore, they won’t make any muscle gains because they aren’t contracting their muscles correctly.

Machines can help prevent injuries by forcing the person to perform one movement. For example, people that use dumbbells to perform rows will often overextend, use weights that are too heavy and use their lower back muscles which leads to strains and injuries. By switching to a chest rowing machine, the only muscles that are incorporated into the movement are the upper back muscles.

Arnold Schwarzenegger mentioned in an interview with Muscle and Fitness that machines have helped him maintain his training despite his current injuries. He mentioned that since his rotator cuff surgery, he’s been unable to do power cleans and presses, which he believes builds the front deltoids, traps and the side. By using the Smith Machine, he is able to train around his injury and still do shoulder presses by isolating the muscle.

Drawbacks to using machines.

Machines take the stabilisation and compound factors out of the movement. For example, the leg press machine will work the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings. However, doing barbell squats will also incorporate abdominal core strength as well.

If given the choice between the two, free weights is definitely the best for muscle development. However, machines shouldn’t be completely disregarded as well. There are several machine exercises such as the lat pull-down and cable-cross which are very good for muscle development. Keep in mind that you will benefit from the use of free weights if you the right technique is used and you can perform the movement without the risk of injury. If you do have an injury, then using free weights to work around the muscle will be your best option. You can view the range of machines and free weights available from Little Bloke Fitness.

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