Machines and free weights can benefit in different ways. If you want to get stronger, some kind of resistance training is the way to go. So when you walk into the gym, should you start loading plates onto a barbell or should you just walk up to the first easy-to-use machine you spot? Let’s compare both of them. This ultimate guide to weight machines vs. free weights will help you achieve better results.

Free Weights

Free weights force you to use more stabilizer muscles to balance the weight. This can help you to build more overall strength, because the stabilizer muscles are crucial for major muscles groups to produce the most force.


Research has shown that exercises, such as the free-weight squat, burn about 50% more calories than machine exercises, such as the leg press.

Stronger stabilizers equal better lifts, which equal bigger muscles. Machines also have their advantages. In fact, research shows that machines can build strength as efficiently as free weights.

Free Weights include dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, and anything else you can pick up and hold. They make your body work against gravity to pick up the object.

For certain exercises, you may need a bench to sit or lie on, or other equipment such as a squat cage to conveniently and safely work with the weight.

Weight Machines

Machines include anything that you sit in, or on, while you pull or push a lever through a specific range of motion.

For example, a leg extension machine or a chest press machine. Typically you’re holding onto handles that use pulleys to lift weights from a stack; you put a pin into the stack to select how much weight you will work with.


The fact that machines use less stabilizer muscles is also a benefit, because it helps you focus more on the targeted muscle.

One study from Illinois State University (Normal) reported that when subjects performed free-weight bench presses, they used more front- and middle-delt muscles than during machine bench presses.

The researchers reasoned that this is likely due to the need for the deltoid muscles to stabilize the shoulder joints to balance the bar when pressing a barbell.

Because the machine is on a fixed path, the shoulders don’t need to stabilize the shoulder joints. Less involvement from the delts means you can place focus more on the pecs for greater muscle growth.

Easy to Learn with Machines

Before you rush out and pick up the nearest barbell, remember that you need to know how to work those things! Good form is essential to prevent injury.

If you try to deadlift too much weight, and you don’t know how to keep your back straight, you could hurt your back. You really need a trainer or an experienced workout buddy to help you learn the right way to lift.

However, this ultimate guide to weight machines vs. free weights is great and have different benefits.


As far as the belief that free-weight exercises will make you stronger than machine exercises, there is research that actually disproves this.

Valdosta State University (Georgia) researchers found that when subjects trained on a free-weight bench press or a machine bench press for 10 weeks, both groups increased their strength by about 10% on the free-weight bench press, which was used to determine the subjects’ strength both before and after the 10-week study.

Do not avoid machine exercises, always employ as many training tools as possible to maximize your results. That means using both free weights and machines. Focus on free weights earlier in your workout, and then, as your stabilizer muscles fatigue, go with machines later in the workout.

This method allows you to continue working the target muscle with maximum intensity without the stabilizer muscles holding back your training.

I also like machines if I’m doing an “easy” day at the gym, or if I’m having trouble working up the gumption to do a really tough exercise.

What is your favourite machine for workout? Comment Below.