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Weight Lifting Machines vs Free Weights – Why Both Are Good

Weight Training in the form of weight lifting machines or free weights play a huge part, for men and women, in helping to lose body fat, keeping it off and improving overall health, especially as we age and both have their advantages.

It isn’t something that should be feared, even though it can seem intimidating, especially at first. It isn’t just about the guys you see in the gym lifting the biggest weights. Any weight, no matter how small, is a form of weight training.

Everyone has to start somewhere and I promise you, even though those guys, or girls, in the gym can look scary to approach, virtually every one of them will help you out with a spot (helping you to lift a weight that you may struggle with for safety) or the use a machine if you ask. People are seldom keen to ask for help in a gym, usually through embarrassment or ego, but when they do, others are most willing and encouraging. It has been the same in almost every gym I’ve been into over the last 20 years.

For those of you, especially women, who are worried about becoming big and muscly after lifting weights, it simply won’t happen. I mentioned this myth in an earlier post. If your aim is to get big and muscly you can, however, it will take a lot of hard work, dedication and a structured diet (you will most likely underestimate how many calories you’ll need to consume to get bigger).

This post looks at weight training using traditional weights you would find in the gym or at home. Free weights and machines. We’ve already talked about some of the benefits of strength training. Here we’ll expand on this and not just for fat loss.

Benefits of lifting weights:

  • Boosts metabolism
  • Helps fat loss
  • Gains bone density
  • Improves posture
  • Aids better sleep
  • Lowers inflammation
  • Builds confidence
  • Can help mental health
  • Improves balance
  • Can help keep blood sugar healthy
  • Transforms your body

Machines

Machines can sometimes get a bad reputation but they are a good means of improving oversell strength. Here are some benefits of training on machines over free weights:

  • Safety. You can push yourself harder on the machine with less fear of injury due to falling weights. Often used after finishing with free weights for this reason.
  • With machines, you can control the path and range of motion more easily and target specific muscles without stressing other muscles/joints. This can be of particular use for beginners or people coming back from injury.
  • Can be less time consuming, very easy to quickly change the weight or do drop sets (go until the muscle is fatigued i.e until you can do no more, then drop the weight and go again)
  • less intimidating for people starting out. The sight of big plates, heavy dumbbells or the sound of a heavy barbell dropping onto the floor can put people off.
  • Some machines, like ones with cables, offer resistance in the horizontal plane which free weights can’t do. They only offer resistance in the vertical plane – gravity.

Free Weights

Machines should not be the only means of strength training, free weights are just as important, if not more. Once you are comfortable lifting weights they should be your primary way of strength training. Benefits of free weights over machines:

  • They’re functional. They have you moving through different planes of motion which helps replicates everyday life. Machines will often have you in one position moving through one plane of motion that is not reminiscent of day to day activities.
  • They’re efficient. By lifting free weights you don’t just use one muscle, you use other smaller core muscles to control and stabilise the movement, which again carries over and helps with daily activities and helps prevent injuries. (It also helps with image so that when you start to notice improvements in your body shape you will have a more all round athletic look to you.)
  • Improves balance. As mentioned above, because you have a lot of muscles working together to control, support and move the weight, it vastly improves balance and coordination over just using machines.
  • They burn more calories. Leading to greater fat loss. Not only are you using the smaller muscles to help support the bigger ones but you can use free weights to do big compound movements which work your whole body. (Think squatting/lunging with weights into an overhead press as an example)
  • Cheaper and take up less space at home. One set of dumbbells can be used for many different exercises and take up very little space in the cupboard or under the bed.

If you are interested in weight training, a lot of the equipment you see in the gym you can now get for home use. Budget (some are very expensive) and space will play a big part in determining if anything is suitable. The increase in home gyms has gone through the roof with people turning spare rooms or garages into their own personal gym’s.

Dumbbells

For home use you have to weigh up practicality and safety. Some have a weighted plate, or plates, you screw onto the end of the bar (barbell). The most common for versatility and are often made out of cast iron.

For safety you can get fixed weight dumbbells where the end weight is covered in rubber. Helps protect the floor and possibly your toes! The downside being you will need several sets to cover a range of weight and the cost can add up, as well as the space required.

What has been very popular in recent years are the adjustable weights in the form of dumbbells and kettlebells. These look like a single dumbbell (or kettlebell) and take up the same space but are in fact several dumbbells (or kettlebells) in one. You just select what weight to use just by turning the selector on the end.

If you want to compare some of the different types they are mentioned on The Get Started at Home page

Kettlebells


Kettlebells are another form of free weight and are also excellent at burning the fat off. They look like a cannonball with a handle attached to the top. Often referred to as a ballistic exercise that will combine both cardiovascular, strength training and flexibility at the same time.

They will usually be performed in combination with a larger number of reps and by the nature of the exercises, tend to work many muscle groups at the same time. This can make it more similar to HIIT training than traditional weight lifting. In that aspect that is why they are very good at burning calories (estimated around 20 calories a minute or 400 in 20 minutes!). It is important for beginners to get the correct technique otherwise injuries can happen. The grip is important as is the correct weight because the exercises can involve a lot of bending. It is a very good core strengthening activity.

 

Machines

Machines for home use are less common. Not because they are any less capable of doing the job but because they tend to be more expensive, especially for the better quality ones. They take up more space and need more upkeep (more moving parts that need to be maintained).

In these multi-home gyms below,  you’ll need about 2.5×2.5m space, for the one in the first picture, to use it comfortably, and a ceiling height of approximately 2.3m to fit it in. You’ll be looking at around $500. The second one will take up a similar amount of space but will set you back over $2,500 and is more like one you would find in a gym. From personal experience machines for home use, unless you have a lot of space and can afford the best don’t get a lot of use, simply because as you progress you’ll start either going to the gym or building up more of a free weights area or body weights area with resistance bands to supplement it. (for some of the more expensive pieces of machinery there is the option of leasing them)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Building your own home gym:

There has been a big upsurge in people building their own home gyms in their garages or spare rooms since COVID-19. They’ve realised its not as expensive as they think. Any room you have a piece of exercise equipment in is a home gym. It’ll mean you can spend more time training rather than travelling. Also it gives you the opportunity for a quick workout when you haven’t much time, or without having others around you.

 

You just have to plan it out and build it up over time. A home gym can cost as little as $100 or up into the ten’s of thousands, its up to you. Everyone will have different ideas about their gym and what they need. Some of the equipment to start off with can be really cheap or you could even make your own (like a pull up bar). Others pieces can be in the thousands.

There are many places to get started with a home gym, Amazon have an endless list or you can check out specialist shops like Power Systems who I recently did a review on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James

2 Comments

  1. We have been slowly but surely building our own great home gym with lots of free weights.  Weight machines are a bit too big but I do understand the usefulness of them for people who go to public gyms.  They are definitely safer and easier to use, and some of them are designed to hit lots of different muscles.  I’m also glad you mentioned kettle bells, those are great and very versatile.

    • Hi Max, well done on building your own home gym. It can take time as new dumbbells, barbells, plates, kettlebells  etc.. all add up. Yes unfortunately machines can take up a fair amount of space and you can do a lot with free weights. The only thing we can’t really work is in the horizontal plane with them as they always act with gravity. Do you own resistance bands? They are a good way of getting around that and don’t take up any space. Good luck

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