T Nation

Machines vs. Freeweights


Okay, I pretty much don't use machines at all except for maybe the lat pulldown and the tricep pushdown to warm up my elbows before I bench. I powerlift, so I don't really have much use for machines. But it does make me wonder: what exactly is the difference results wise between using machines and free weights?

I know that obviously freeweights use more stabilisers, and some machines like the smith machine are bad for your knees. But in terms of building muscle mass, why the preference to freeweights? I mean as far as I know stabilisers are fairly small muscles, and aren't going to make a large contribution to muscle mass. So what gives?


bump, I'm also interested


I think machines are going to be useful if they are simply integrated into training that involves freeweight compound lifts.

I think it has been mentioned on here before that using only machines, leaving the stabilizers underutilized, will leave you prone for injury if you are involved in heavy real world exertion.

As usual, I'm no expert...


I don't use machines much at all, but I think one regular argument is that machine work does a really good job of isolating a particular muscle to do the lifting, thus getting a more concentrated, intense contraction in that particular muscle.

Does that make the muscle bigger as a result? Not sure, opinions vary - I know several bodybuilders who swear by it to get size. As for me, I use machines for exactly that - isolation of the muscle - but I tend to use it for the therapeutic 'pump' after compund free weights, etc. But that is pretty rare - usually only if I have some time to kill and I want to flush the muscle with blood.


However, you are more likely to see more advanced pro bodybuilders or competitors on more machines because they have already put the time in on free weight exercises. Their goals at that point are to build up specific areas. Machines have a huge place in bodybuilding. There just needs to be a distinction made between what a beginner or intermediate needs to do compared to what someone more advanced can get away with.




Freeweights, always


I sometimes use machines as a 'finisher' just for variety. I don't use them much, but I think they have their place if your program is build around compound freeweight excerses. My gym still has a pullover machine that I use fairly regularly at the end of my workout. I sometimes use machines for rows as well, again after deads or barbell rows. I don't consider cables to be machines though.


I agree with pretty much everything mentioned so far. My workouts consist of roughly 75-80% free weights and the rest machines. The only machines I truly find indespensible are the cable machines. Pulldowns, seated rows, neck pulls, pull throughs, wood choppers etc are all in my lifting plans.

Did anyone else notice Charles Poliquin's tip of the day a week or two ago? He mentioned that Olympic speed skaters base their leg workouts around the leg press machine rather than squats. I have pretty much ignored leg press until I started learning front squats recently. I'm working on my wrist flexibility right now and can't comfortably front squat enough weight to tax my legs, so I have been following them up with some leg press. I have seen some good quad hypertrophy, and believe that the leg press is mainly responsible. Thoughts?


you dont have to balance the weight whilsit using machine weights meaning ur stronger muscle will always ddo more work for example if ur right pec was bigger and stronger it would continue to grow bigger and stronger.


All Paul Dillet claimed he did was leg presses. I have Dexter Jackson's training video and he focused largely on leg presses. Again, there is a rather HUGE difference between what a newbie should do and what someone with quads at and over 30" can do.


Actually, that would be more common in those who rely only on the barbell bench press. Many HS machines allow each side to work individually.


I would imagine that anyone with a bad back/spine issues could benefit from using the leg press over squats.

I dont care how perfect you perform your squat, there is still quite a bit of tension on the back/spine, regardless of form.

Whats your take on that X?


My take is you do whatever works. Newbies should understand that what they need to do wouldn't be what some guy who has been training 15 years needs to do. Squats are great. They aren't great for everybody.


I like to use both. They both have their place,though I tend to use machines more for a certain bodypart if I feel its lagging behind. I found that this works really well and it doesn't take long to bring something upto snuff.


I find alot of the machines uncomfortable and often cause strain and stress I never feel with the bells. I use the ones that seem to 'fit' me ergonomically as finishing sets when I don't have a spotter. I admit I usually get a good pump out of them in the target muscle. I wish my gym would place more emphasis on purchasing racks and bars than in the latest gadgets but I'm at a Gold's so that's about as likely as Valerie Waugaman stopping by and accidently sitting on my face. Now that's a Powerful Image!


not in this country


On a machine you can use heavier weights and thus more overload the muscles.

Free weights you have to pull back beforehand for safety's sake. A machine you're all buckled in so there's a far less chance of injury.


All you have to do is look around at the people who use mostly free weights or mostly machines to decide which should make up the bulk of your routine. The people I see moving from machine to machine are usually clueless and/or fat people who always do the same machines and always look the same from year to year.

Sure, I see big guys using machines, but that's usually after doing a lot of free weights. For years, I worked out doing stupid shit while watching the big guys do stuff like weighted dips and chin-ups... and it never clicked until about a year ago.

Is this really true? Take an exercise like the bench press. Would you really rather have a person using a chest press machine using huge weights? Sure, you get stronger in that plane of movement and you may be less likely to be hurt in the gym.

However, I feel like it would be more likely that the person would be injured doing other activities such as sports, because the person's muscle development has surpassed their stabilizer, tendon, and connective tissue development.


Actually, in this country as well. That is why when newbies ask the best exercise for them to do when one side is significantly weaker than the other, the best advice is dumbbells, not barbells. This is because it allows each side to work on its own.