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Free Weights Versus Machines

Aug 8, 2008
Free weights and machines are the two main methods most people use for gaining muscle mass, but which one is better? There is some debate about which of these training aids maximally impacts your muscle mass. Most seasoned experts agree that there is value to some degree in both methods, so the question becomes: Which one will suit your individual needs the best?

The examination below of the advantages and disadvantages of free weights and machines will help you decide which of them will best fulfill your goals.

MACHINES

The first thing you see when you walk into a gym is row upon row of complicated looking machines. This heavy emphasis on machinery has a lot to do with the clientele of the gym rather than its effectiveness. Much of the gym population is made up of new users - most of who won't stick to working out regularly. Machinery is appealing to these new users because it offers them a way to exercise in safety. More new users will replace them when they decide to quit (sadly, as they often do), and the cycle continues.

Machines always come with idiot-proof instructions to help people avoid injury. This means that even the most inexperienced lifter can adjust them to find a safe, comfortable, body position from which to exercise. The way most machines are built makes it difficult to do the exercises improperly, and the sense of mastery new users get from this can be enough to start them on the road to becoming a great lifter!

For more experienced machine users, the versatility and the flexibility machines offer are what make them great. Simply put, they offer resistance in areas of the body that would otherwise be unsafe or difficult to exercise. Some machines offer ways to imitate the motions of some sports, which is advantageous if you play golf and want to improve your swing!

FREE WEIGHTS

One of the biggest advantages of using free weights, or dumbbells, is that you can use them to great effect in compound exercises. This means that even though you might be targeting a specific large muscle, several smaller muscles will be worked simultaneously as synergists. Free weights are efficient in this way, because exercising multiple muscles at once will save you time on your core routine.

For serious lifters, free weights offer more flexibility and are less restrictive than machines. Once substantial muscle mass is built, your ability will exceed the weight limits of the machine. The weights on most machines go up in increments of 5 or 10. Free weights allow you to add weight in smaller 1lb quantities - which will reduce your risk of injury, and over time steadily increase your muscle mass.

Many free weight advocates enjoy using them more than machines because they add another dimension of control. By changing the angles of weights, different muscles can be isolated - which adds to the versatility and variability of the exercises.

After examining the redeeming features of free weights and machines, it is easy to see value in both. For those just starting out, machines get you into good habits, but for experienced lifters looking to increase muscle mass, free weights seem to be more effective.
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