T Nation

Free Weights vs. Machines


...The Debate That Never Ends.

Which of you posters utilizes one or the other exclusively and who mixes them both in a routine?

I am currently using a 5x5 program, I do a lot of my big lifts in a smith machine due to space and limited equipment constraints at my gym.

I do a barbell flat bench in the smith and squats too unless i can get the power rack for a few minutes where I'll do squats. I still bench in the smith though because i hate not being able to touch my chest with the bar due to pins on a power rack. It might only be an inch off and inconsequential, but it feels weird.

The only drawback I can find regarding a smith is that it neglects supporting muscles.

I compliment my bench with dumbell shoulder presses and dumbell incline presses though and feel those two excercises are good enough to develop my rotator cuff and other supporting systems so as not to cause injury.

I also do lunges and on cardio days often work on plyometrics.

The smith allows me to comfortably push myself with heavier weights knowing I can hook the bar if I need to. I definately make gains in size and strength with the smith and in a way like the way it forces me to move the bar in one plain, depending on how I situate my body, I can really concentrate on my pecs, shoulders or triceps.

Anyways, what does your freeweight/machine mix look like and how do you feel about machines in general?


I use free weights as much as possible because I do oly lifts. Then, I use my bodyweight in dips and chins. However, I find machines useful especially when doing leg curls.


Free weights predominantly with some machine and cable work thrown in for me. Provided they are stimulating the gains one wants, as in your case, I say keep doing what works. For me however, I have always felt free weights in regard to benching and squatting have proven more effective then machines.



Nothing replaces free weights for the big 3. I find the only time I'd use machines are after I finish my workout with free weights. Usually leg extensions, pulldowns, cable rows, etc. Also, sometimes my gym is packed :frowning: and if I am in a hurry and can't wait for the bench or the rack, I'll resort to using machines.


I have to use a lot of machine work in my training because when I set it up I didn't have partners and going to failure isn't the safest thing. Now that I do have partners though I'll slowly move towards working back in the free weight presses and things.


The only "machine" type training I utilize are lat pulldowns, seated rows, leg extensions, leg curls and some triceps pushdown variations.

I have a home gym and it's mainly free weights (see photos in my Magnum profile - I recently uploaded new pics of the gym).




If we're counting cable setups as machines, I use them for every upper body workout. Lat pulldowns, rows, and sometimes pushdowns. Once in a blue moon I'll hop on the leg press, leg curl, and leg extension stations.

All of my pressing is with free weights. I'll never use a shoulder press machine because they put me in a funky movement pattern that messes with my shoulders. Horizontal press machines don't bother me, but barbell benching is more fun.


Free weights mostly, though I consider cables to be almost as good. Machines are usually used as supplementary work or as a change of pace if necessary. There is nothing innately wrong with machine work as long as you understand it's limitations. (fixed plane of movement, less activation of supporting musculature, etc.)


As of now i'm about 80% free weights besides the leg press and this smith/hybrid bench i have at my house.


When I first started lifting, my college house ONLY had free weights. This forced me to learn and exclusively use free weight exercises.

Now that I'm working out in the university gym, I still use mostly freeweights, but supplement with some cable exercises.


Why don't you just use a spotter?


I work out alone and at the hour I go my gym partners are senior citizens and soccer moms.


A power rack makes a sufficient spotter. :wink:


Yeah and I use one from time to time. I still like the smith better. If i snooze in the morning and hit the gym when it is crowded I do have people spot me but still use the smith if I have to wait too long for an open bench.

Either way, I make gains just as quickly as I do with free weights. Preventing injury is my main concern and whether or not db incline and military presses are enough to keep my supporting systems in line. My strength and size develop fine.


I use both and both for the same body parts at different times. I will hereby confess that I like the Smith machine if properly utilized. There are those I have tons of respect for who will maybe stone me for this viewpoint, but I get great benefit out of my cheap crappy Smith machine. This is not an either or thing.

I do free squats and I use the Smith sometimes. Mine has a gentle angle that I find much better than a completely vertical one. I also use it for overhead presses and some chest pressing here and there. It is also the only way I have to train calves and it works great for standing and seated raises.

I use my high and low cable outfit all the time for all kinds of stuff. For my goals anything that loads the muscles is fair game. If I were training primarily for strength for instance the Smith machine is useless as are cables.


I'm against benching on the smith machine not because of some anatomical stuff about how benching on the smith machine is bad for you. I'm against it because its so hard to line up the bench with the bar and get completely symmetrical.

Free Weights are superior to Machines. There's no argument there. But Machines can find a place in any athletes or bodybuilders program. That place is at the end of the workout.

After you get done with your Squats and Split Squats Some High Rep Hack Squats or Leg Presses are a good way to get some blood into the legs. After your Barbell Bench, Dumbbell Bench, and Tricep Work the Chest Press is a good way to get into some blood into the muscle.

Your Primary move of the day and your secondary move of the day and the isolation exercises you do should be with free weights. Machines that use compound exercises are good finishers to workouts. They're usually "dual-axis" or hammer-strength or if you're lucky they're Magnum Brand Machines and they match the natural plane of movement for lifts better than isolation exercise machines.

I think isolation machines are just silly.


I only ever do single legged overhead smith machine squats on the BOSU ball.


GOOD GOD MAN! With no ankle weights?!?!?!?!?

Go to your room.


            Ditto, the home gym never fails us does it Nate?!! No waiting, no idiots hanging/drooling at chicks while sitting on a nice hammer strength etc...no lame "trainers" waiting to give you dumb advice...lol..

          The home gym is the shit.
    Having said that though, one person can never have all the variety of a decent gym...but with enough money you can have some downright awesome shit to train with.