A debate has raged for years about which strength training equipment is best to use to develop strength. Should you use loose weights or should you use machine weights? The obvious answer to this question is “it depends”. It depends on what you want to be strong for, it depends on the limitations you bring to the weights room or gym and it depends on your age and experience. Each method has as many things going for it as it has against. So let’s take a look at some of these pros and cons.
If you are new to strength training, machines offer a very easy way for you to get started.
Most machine based strength equipment are simple to use, your movements are controlled which makes it safe to use.
Machine weights generally don’t intimidate people. There is usually a diagram which explains what the machine does and which muscle it exercises.
Most machine weights are about training muscles therefore, you can isolate certain muscle groups and train them very specifically.
If your training is to strengthen movements, machine weights are not for you. Under normal circumstances, when we move, as well as the prime mover many other muscles groups are activated to support the movement. Machine weights limit the activation of these supportive muscles. Our strength therefore is not synchronized.
Another disadvantage is that your body position is locked into the limited range of movement of the machine. For example, if you use the “Smiths” machine to squat – as you lower yourself in a squat your back and shine angles should be about the same. The Smiths machine forces you to maintain an upright trunk position which is not normal when squatting.
Loose weights give you the versatility for more exercise choices. You are free to create exercises which solve very unique strength problems.
With free weights you are forced to utilize more stabilizing muscles which works well for a better overall improvement of strength.
For the untrained or novice sports person free weights can expose you to a greater risk of injury. This is due to your stabilizing muscles not coping with the load.
If your lifting form (technique) is off, using free weights will not only expose you to a greater risk of injury, it will also make you less efficient. Lack of efficiency now means that the muscle groups you were targeting are not the group of muscles that are being exercised.
Which Strength Training Equipment Is Best?
Well, I look at it this way, if your aim is to strengthen a muscle for example, if you are rehabilitating a limb after an injury, then the use of a fixed weights machine will be your best option. However, if you want to strength a movement which will benefit you in a sporting situation, then it has to be free weights.
Both free and machine weights have their place in a well-rounded strength improvement program. You just have to work out the type of strength you need and which of the strength training equipment will give you the greatest bang for your buck!