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Machines vs Free Weights?

Hi again Dr Darden,

What is your personal preference - machines or free weights? You describe both alternatives in “The new HIT” and the books featuring 30-30-30 and 30-10-30. I use machines as I’m training by myself, but consider some changes in order to produce a different load.

In your experience, is there any specific excercises better suited for free weights in terms of produced result?

If I were to guess, I would probably say as Jones did in a seminar, that both “is a barbell with weights”…

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In my home gym I have 6 Nautilus machines, an old Bowflex machine, two barbells, and a couple of dumbbells.

Can you speculate how I would rank my equipment?

Being that there are so many potential choices May I ask which six machines you chose to include?

I would assume the Nautilus machines is a force to be reckoned with! Hard to beat, if you ask me.

I’ve got about 5 or 6 Nautilus machines I use and several that I don’t . A pulley pull down / row, a curl cable machine I converted to a row machine, a chinning /dip stand , a rack of dumbbells , and a concept 2 rower that I use. The funny thing is I only use a few of the dumbbells as most are too heavy for me. Yea like I can use 100 pound dumbbells, hah! I mostly use my machines.


I have the following Nautilus machines: leg curl, leg press, chest press, pullover, compound rowing, 4-way neck, and multi-exercise.

The pullover machine is one of a kind! I am lucky to have it at one of my local gyms. Nothing beats that feeling. I think Dorian Yates favoured the pullover, which says a lot.

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The pullover is my fav machine, has been since I first used one in the late 80s

Yes, the Nautilus pullover is a rare gem…you don’t see them in very many gyms anymore…too bad because a lot of guys are missing out…I have one in my personal gym along with a Nautilus leg extension and multi exercise…I also have Icarian cable crossover, lat pulldown and row with barbell, dumbbell and free weight benches

I love my pullover as well! The one I use is a red one maybe a second gen? It’s really smooth and even. My son likes my first gen plate loader. It fits him better. My next favorite is my plate loading bicep tricep machine and next is my 2nd gen lateral machine. Then comes my rowing torso and my home made seated row. It’s like a nautilus but I like mine even better. Next would be my BNTA but it doesn’t work to well because the gears clunk to much when doing 30 second negatives. I need to reoutfit it with cables but I hate messing with such a cool machine. Then my pulley pull down and dumbbells. Last would be my abb clam shell machine.

So how would you prioritize these vs dumbbells and barbells?

I believe you would put the multi-exercise first, because I think you’ve said before it is the most versatile piece. Then I’d say the leg curl and 4-way neck because they are somewhat unique.

I think you’d put the leg press toward the bottom, because in an another thread, you said you do belt squats on the multi exercise.

Compound row and pullover seem somewhat redundant, you’d probably go with the pullover because of your nautilus heritage.

Maybe the chest press goes above the compound row and pull over, because you could do rowing and pulldown exercises with either the bowflex or the multi-exercise?

Your ranking is pretty much the way I’d do it. Good job.

If the question is which is best for HIT, I’d vote for machines:

  • safer to go to failure
  • with a restricted path of movement and minimal safety concerns, fixed cadence reps, slow reps, and failing negatives are easier to perform.

For me, the choice of machines vs free weights depends on where I train, and what is available. When I trained at a big box gym, I used both. Training at home, there is no choice: free weights are the only option, due to cost and space constraints.

I’d say further that how I train is determined in by the equipment I have.

  • With good single joint/isolation machines, I tend to use a single set to failure.
  • With a compound machine, I gravitate toward drop sets: I’ll do the top set heavy with a lower number of reps just to expose the muscle to high tension. Then, on the drop set, focus more on pristine form, good mind-muscle connection, and inroad. I could probably skip the heavy set if I was trying to be strictly orthodox HIT, but I’m not concerned with that.
  • With big compound free weight movements, I don’t go to failure. I prefer to stop a rep or two short, and use more sets: drop sets if I’m time constrained, and sets across if I have more time to rest.

Machines over free weights for me…like you said, safer to use especially when training alone

I prefer nautilus over any other, but will say that xforce machines are my new preference, too bad they are not available for everyone to experiment with

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MAchines vs free weights: You can hammer in a nail using a rock or a crescent wrench. A claw hammer will be an improvement. A nail gun better yet. If you see a nail that is already nailed in, no idea what tool was used. They all got the job done. But the better the tool, the less chance of bending the nail or hitting your thumb. Or conversely, the worse the tool, the more skill needed to avoid doing so. Perhaps nail gun faster but I’ve seen some great carpenter really skilled with a hammer.

All things being equal i would go with free weights , due to the majority of exercise machines being sub-standard.
If I could choose the machines, then that would be my choice.


== Scott==
I remember feeling very much the same about Nautilus when they came out. I had to have them! Of course I could not afford even the cheapest machine so I had to be consoled with going to a gym to use them and I didn’t like doing that. Then many years later I found for whatever reasons you could get them for next to nothing. I don’t know much about X Force but I’m guessing it’s not comparable to how Nautilus was in its dominance of exercise machines? Does XForce have a Arthur Jones type leader? Anyway it will be interesting to see if in 20 years or so if you’ll be able to pick up an XForce machine for $150 when somebody comes out with the Cryodimensional Phase 11 Triangular Muscle Generator series machines. Ha ha !

Do train at a actic gym?

What’s an actic gym?

Yes, I do. Actic is the chain of gyms in Sweden (Scandinavia/Europe likely) that used to be called Nautilus. Are you also based in Sweden xforce56?

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