T Nation

Freeweights VS. Machines

Okay T-Nation, An old friend of mine has started working out and the dimwitted personal trainer has got him on almost nothing but machines. I think the only exersises he uses dumbbells on are bicep curl and kickbacks, and no bars. She’s got him squatting in the smith!

This guy needs help. Of course I’ve told him about T-mag, but he doesn’t have a computer.

So I know that there are other threads on machines, but I wanted to give the current population an opportunity to vent about the dumbness of machines or rave about their usefulness. When you’ve given your opinion, I’ll print the thread and give it to him. BTW: his wife has started training too.

I think that, while machines may have a place in some programs, (like rehab), they should be avoided like a case of the clap!

Tell me what you think so I can educate a newbie. Thanks.


Normally i go with with free weights for most of my exercises but i have ben know to use a machine from time to time for variety. The only machines i use are Hammer Strength and thats it. I also use machines when working around an injury

Machines have three uses: 1. Rehab 2. Bodybuilding/variety 3. To sell gym memberships. And I suppose a forth could be specialty machines for certain purposes.

Note these do not include cable exercises.


I think you also need to look at the people who walk into the gym who have never ever seen a weight in their life…For these highly uneducated people who do not know how to properly perform freeweight exercises, teaching them on machines and then transfering them to freeweights once they get the hang of the movement is not a bad idea…

…my bad, I forgot to post my opinion…Personally, I only use freeweights, but I’ve been in the game for several years now…

Smith Machine=Piece Of Crap

Maybe I’m making a mistake here, but I recommend beginners to use the machines. I do this for two reasons:
1.) It helps them use good form. - It’s not as hard to balance or coordinate your body that way.

2.) It’s less intimidating for them. - If they walk into the free weight room, they feel like they need to compete with…well…us. If they’re new, this only leads to discouragement.

While I agree that free weights are the best way to go, I don’t think we should write off machines altogether.

Well the way I see it, is if they have never touched a weight, they are in rehab mode. But at the same time, if they have been sedentary, stabilization will be key in the ‘rehab’ process. So of course machines are weak in that respect. Usually when I get new clients that have been sedentary or new to the gym, I use bodyweight exercises mixed with free weights. The only machine they ever even ask about is the “butt blaster”, but after I show them it’s no better than deads and lying hip extensions, they have no more interest in machines at all. But this is just my experiance.


only machines I ever use, are the cable cross (for abs though, lol), the smith machine for ballistic bench, and, um, maybe a leg curl machine once in a blue moon. Other than that squat rack, bench, and free weights.

He can afford a personal trainer but he has no computer?

Friends to let friends train like estrogen-soaked losers.

Show him how to deadlift,

I ran across the Q&A article below on T-mag and it
explains why free-weights are better than machines;
take it for what it’s worth…

Q: I always used a weight machine to bench press, but
I want to start using free weights. Any tips?

A: Hmm. I think I read another version of this
question in “The Playboy Advisor” once. It went, “I’ve
always used a rubber vagina I got from an ad in the
back of Hustler for sex, but I want to start sticking
my weinie in a real-live snatch. Any tips?” But
seriously, folks, it’s a legitimate question.

The fact is, nobody should start out on machines,
unless they’re 70-years old and arthritic. Many health
club chains and thousands of personal trainers start
novices out on machine circuits. The only benefits are
to the clubs and the trainers. It’s fast to shuttle
members and clients from one machine to another, and
very low-risk from a liability standpoint. You don’t
have to worry about putting weights on and off bars,
or transporting dumbbells around. There’s very little
risk of injury, at least in the short term.

If you read Paul Chek’s article, Pattern Overload, you
know that machines have the disadvantage of
overloading the same exact movement pattern each time
you use them. There’s never any deviation from the set
“track” that you use on that particular machine. Over
time, this can lead to debilitating injuries in the
knees, rotator cuff, and elbows. So much for machines
being safer than free weights!

Another problem with starting out on machines is that
you never learn any balance and coordination. The
instability of free weights is what makes them more
difficult. It’s why a 200-pound barbell row is much
harder than a 200-pound cable row, and it’s much
easier to perform lat pulldowns with the equivalent of
your bodyweight than it is to do chin-ups. Free
weights are the core of resistance training. Machines
are an excellent augmentation once the beginner phase
is over and the trainer has mastered the basic
exercises like the squat, bench press, deadlift, row,
and dip.

Starting out on machines is like learning advanced
conjugations of French verbs without even knowing the
basics of the language first. A good personal trainer
who isn’t trying to rush a hundred clients through the
gym in a day will take the time to teach the basic
free weight movements. Everyone should begin training
with free weights for at least the first year if they
truly want to improve size and strength. If someone
tries to tell you differently, look at his or her
motivations for doing so.

Finally, I’ve received e-mails from people accusing me
of ripping apart letters to every other magazine but
T-mag. In compliance with the Fairness in Blasting
Magazine Advice Columns Act of 1986, this comes from
Ian King’s “Heavy Metal” in paper issue number three
of Testosterone.

Ryan, The crappy trainer just hands out a generic program to any new members. I should mention the she and her husband are the owners.

What do you feel about the lack of stabilizer use with machines, then using free weights with next to nothing for stabilizers. Asking for injuries?


I was in a conversation with somone about this same argument and they pointed out people the knew who trained primarily on machines, and its not that they didnt get any resluts off them, but like u said with lack of any stabilizer muscles they might start squating or benching twice what they started at, but they they go to do any kind of sport and pull a muscle due to never having used it besides in that one scripted motion…but hey if the trainer said its good it must be :slight_smile:

For chicks some machines are good I think… they certainly help me… especially assisted dips and chins… I’m just not quite strong enough to lift my own body weight and I find with the machine I can squeeze out sufficient reps with perfect form!

A “solid machine” is not very useful as it limits the range of movement.

However, using a cable machine is sometimes superior to training with free weights.

An example: The medial deltoid is a penniform muscle, and responds well to loading all through its range of mothin. The classic lateral raise imposes peak loading at the top (arm parallel to ground), however, a lateral raise places the same load on the penniform muscle all through its range of motion. This is a very good “rounding off excersise” for a delt-centric workout.

Besides which, it adds variety, and it’s easier to train with your girlfriend.

I wouldn’t say machines are copletely worthless, but the majority of a workout should be free weights.

I haven’t used any machines in a while, unless you consider the standing calf raise to be one.

What do you feel about the lack of stabilizer use with machines, then using free weights with next to nothing for stabilizers. Asking for injuries?

It strikes me as roughly equivalent to wearing shorts with boots that go up to the knee in winter. Sure, your legs are fully covered, but you’re really half-assing it. Why would you train the prime movers with machines and the stabilizers with free weights when you can cover both with free weights in half the time? Moreover, by training prime movers and stabilizers separately, you’re building strong prime movers and strong stabilizers, but you aren’t developing the motor knowledge to put them to work together. All in all, it strikes me as an extremely bad idea.

Show Ian King’s paper No 227 to the trainer !

The coochy squeeze machine is a pretty good machine in my opinion.

Actually, the hammer strength machines are good for really loading the sumbitch up with weight and not having to worry about smashing your skull (insert other body parts as required) in…as long as you don’t use them as a brace and neglect your free weight work.

Machines suck.

Think of it this way:
The body responds best (whether your goal is strength, size, whatever) when you train it by using it to do what it was designed to do.

Did the human body evolve in nature to be efficient at pulling down a moveable bar attatched to a cable and pulleys from a seated position (lat pulldowns)? No, it evolved to be efficient at pulling itself up and around a fixed object (chin-ups).

The same can be said for leg press or smith machine vs true squats, machine vs barbell curls, or anything. If you’re not using free weights, then you’re not training the body in a functional manner. If you don’t train the body to exert force in a functional manner, none of your strength will carry over to real-world situations. If real-world strength is something you don’t care about, then Think about it this way: if you’re not using the body to for what it was designed for (in the gym), then your not stimulating the musculoskeletal or nervous systems to their fullest potential, and your results will be minimal. But anyway, according to Satley’s “Periodization that Works”, strength is foundational to all other training goals, so it’s definately something you should care about. And being strong only on machines will only hurt you in the long run.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here.