Are Free Weights or Machines Better Strength Training?

Are Free Weights or Machines Better Strength Training?

I am a firm believer that everybody should be doing some form of strength training. That is going to look different for everyone, and there is a lot of ways to go about getting stronger. Traditionally in any gym, you are going to be using free weights or machines. Both are great tools for developing strength. Which is best for you?

Free Weights

Free weights are weights that are not locked into a set movement pattern or range of motion (ROM). Typically you will see free weights in the form of dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells, just to name a few. All these choices make it great for us because it gives us the freedom to work almost any muscle and lets the body function how it is designed to work. Not having a set ROM or movement pattern benefits our overall strength as it allows us to control our movement. Having to control the flow of movement means that a higher amount of muscles have to work to help stabilize the weight and your body.  You are also able to lift much more weight with free weights as well, and in return, get stronger. There is more weight available to you than on a machine or because the movement itself allows you to move heavier weights.

Though the amount of control required for free weights is excellent, it can also make the movement a little trickier. If you are someone brand new to training or maybe don’t have the strength to fully control your body when under load, then free weights may not be right for you.


Machines are also an excellent tool for developing strength. Unlike free weights, machines will have a controlled movement pattern and set range of motion making it so you do not have to stabilize as much through a movement (You still do, just not as much). Machines are typically better for beginners and useful for developing a base muscular fitness level (though I believe there is still a time and place in everybody’s training to use a machine no matter how advanced).  Machines will are broken out to work for specific muscle groups, and you will have to use multiple machines to end up working your whole body.

The most significant difference between free weights and machines is the amount of body control (stabilization) you will have to perform. If you are someone who has been using machines for a while, then try incorporating some free weight exercises if you don’t know how then talk to a trainer. Free weight lifters don’t forget about machines. They are still an excellent tool for developing muscle and strength.


Eric Thompson

ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist

ACSM Certified Personal Trainer


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