Free Weights vs Resistance Machines
Free Weights Workout

A workout with free weights has advantages over using resistance machines, but the machines can be ideal when you're first starting out says personal trainer Nicola Glanville

Free Weights vs Resistance Machines

By wlr Personal Trainer, Nicola Glanville PTI REPS L3

Free weights training requires the use of a combination of muscles, making the exercises more functional.

Free weights come in all shapes and sizes, including dumb bells, barbells, medicine balls, kettle balls, cardio bells and body blades. Free weights are my preferred type of equipment for resistance workouts for many reasons.

Many resistance machines, on the other hand, work fewer muscles as the machine itself is used to support the position of the body during the movement.

For example completing a Shoulder Press using free weights challenges the core muscles in addition to the shoulder and back muscles, whereas using a machine to complete the same exercise usually involves adopting a seated position, which limits the use of the core musculature.

Free weights workouts challenge more muscle groups, increase coordination and proprioception (awareness of the position of the body), and they are relatively inexpensive.

Free Weights Exercise Examples

Exercise: Military Push and Press

  • Equipment: Medicine ball
  • Muscles: Core and Upper body

Start position: Stand with your feet shoulder distance apart and soft knees (don’t lock your knees out). Hold the medicine ball in both hands drawn into your chest. Draw in your abdominal muscles to support your posture.

Movement: Keeping the medicine ball at chest height, extend your arms pushing the ball away from your body; then draw it back in towards your chest. Then push the medicine ball away from your body again but this time raise it as high as you can without leaning backwards. Return to the start position. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Exercise: Medicine Ball Squat

  • Equipment: Medicine Ball
  • Muscles: Core and Legs

Start position: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and the medicine ball held in both hands in front of your chest. Your arms should be bent so that the ball is touching your chest. Draw in your tummy muscles to support your posture.

Movement: Keeping your back straight, bend forwards at the hips until your upper body is at a 45° angle. Then lower your bum as if you are trying to sit down. Return to the start position. When you squat down your knees should not travel forwards over your toes.

Exercise: Shoulder Press

  • Equipment: Dumbbells
  • Muscles: Shoulders and Upper back

Start Position: Stand with your feet hip distance apart and your knees soft (not locked out). Holding a dumb bell in each hand, raise your arms as if in a ‘surrender’ position. Draw you shoulders back and your stomach in so that you are standing tall.

Movement: Press the dumbbells up above your shoulders so that they almost meet in the middle. Return to the start position. Repeat.

Using Resistance Machines

Although I favour training my clients with Free Weights, Resistance Machines do have their uses.

If you are new to resistance training the movements and techniques involved can be challenging, so machines can be a good starting point.

Many beginners are intimidated by free weight exercises as they are relatively technical and require good postural awareness.

Resistance machines on the other hand are easier to master as many of them operate in a single plane of motion i.e. forwards/backwards, up/down. Also your position and posture are often supported by the structure of the machine.

For more information about resistance training see my Guide for Beginners

Track Your Training

You can track your training, with the Weight Loss Resources exercise diary and database. You can see how many calories you burn and how many you consume. Try it free for 24 hours.

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More Resources

Beginner Strength Training Workout on Machines - this is a great video to get started with, unpretentious and very informative. One commenter said "Great sample beginner workout for a novice. You kept it simple and hit all the body parts."

17 Min Strength Training Workout for Beginners - Beginner Workout Routine at Home for Women & Men - this video is presented by a very helpful male/female team. A commenter says "I've never done weights before - this was a superb lesson for the beginner."

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