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Weights vs. machines. What is sensible?

In many gyms you will find free weights and machines of all shapes and sizes. The range is enormous, but which one is good for you? You can read below what the main advantages and disadvantages of using free weights and machines are, so you don't  have to waste time and go straight for your goals!

Exercise with free weights

Dumbbells, barbells and weight plates belongs to the free weights. Compound exercises such as the squat, deadlift and bench press in particular are often done with free weights. For this, a barbell (possibly with weighte plates) is used to increase the intensity. Isolation exercises can also be done with free weights. Dumbbells are used for this often. Think of the biceps curl or dumbbell fly.

Benefits of exercising with free weights

Several muscles are addressed

With free weights you address multiple muscles, because in addition to the agonist (the muscle that is mainly responsible for the movement), one or more synergists (supporting muscles) are also stimulated. In addition, to keep weight and movement under control, there are stabilizing muscles that are not stimulated in such a way that this results in growth, but which are sufficiently stimulated to improve balance and coordination.

Increase in functional strength

Many movements that you do with the help of free weights are very similar to the movements that we do in daily life. So you can benefit from this outside the gym.

Training sport specifically

With the help of free weights you can train specific sports more easily. This way you can train on explosiveness, such as improving your sprint speed and jumping power. In addition, you can emphasize a small part of the total range of motion (range of motion) if this is beneficial for your sport.

Disadvantage of training with free weights

Greater risk of injury

Training with free weights contains more risks than training with machines. Because you use a movement pattern yourself, the chance of incorrect execution is greater, especially when you train with too heavy weights.

Training with machines

Usually you will find machines in the gym that you can set with one or more weight plates, the so-called “plate loaded” machines and machines that you can weigh by inserting an iron pin into the desired weight. A well-known example of a plate loaded machine is the Smith machine, often also called the 'fixed bar'. An example of a machine that can be adjusted with an iron pen is the leg extension.

Advantages of training with machines

Less chance of injuries

Training with machines is recommended for beginners, because machines use the correct movement pattern. This significantly reduces the risk of injuries, because the body is not maneuvered in unnatural movements and positions.

Ideal method for training during injuries

With the help of machines you can train muscles in such a way that the injured body part is spared. This allows you to stay in shape during a recovery process.

Ability to easily do a superset or dropset

Training with machines gives you the opportunity to easily do a superset (compound exercises) or a dropset (several sets in quick succession, each set with less weight). You can easily go from machine to machine to do a superset. In addition, you can easily change the weight when you want to do a dropset with both plate loaded machines and machines where you have used an iron pen.

Disadvantage of training with machines

Limited stimulation of muscle (s)

The synergists and stabilizers are less present during training with machines than when you train with free weights. Obviously this is at the expense of the effectiveness of the exercise as only the agonist is addressed.

What about cables?

Training with cables is more effective than training with machines because some space is given to create a movement pattern yourself. This means that multiple muscles (synergists and to a lesser extent stabilizers) are addressed, but this cannot compete with training with free weights in terms of the effectiveness of the exercise.

In short

Using free weight as well as machines and cables can help you achieve your goals. For beginners, machines are a solution when it comes to learning a correct movement pattern and for injured people, machines are a solution to stay in shape. However, it is advisable to train as much as possible with the help of free weights because this appeals to several muscles. Guidance from a fitness instructor can help you, especially in the initial phase, to perform an exercise correctly. This allows you to exercise responsibly with free weights.