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Should you use free weights or machines?


Free weights or machines? That is the question! Really, no one option is better than the other, it’s all dependent on your goals and what you’re trying to achieve. Both have their pros and cons to building muscle so if you really want to take full advantage of their positives the best thing to do is just use both! Ultimately it comes down to your personal opinion and the range of equipment you have access to.

We’ve broken down a list of advantages and disadvantages for you to get your head around – see if you agree!

Weight Machines


  • Machines typically involve one movement and therefore are made simple and easy to use. Whilst some machines may seem a little confusing, most are very readable with instructions clearly labelled on the side.
  • In comparison to free weights machines are much safer. There are few issues with maintaining correct form and many machines are often designed with added safety features built in, not to mention they’re fixed track and sturdy.
  • When working with heavy weights a spotter isn’t really required, making them perfect for working out alone.


  • If you don’t have access to a gym, chances are you’ll be looking for your own equipment. Machines can be very expensive and take up a lot of room. Also, if you attend a smaller gym you’ll often find yourself waiting around, taking turns for machines because there aren’t enough to go around.
  • Machines only tend to target a single muscle group as opposed to covering several like free weight exercises do. Whilst this is fine depending on your goals, if you want your body to be bigger and stronger overall, or even lose weight, it’s by far the least effective way to go about it.
  • Everybody’s body is a different shape and size and therefore your body may not anatomically match the movement of the machine. If this is the case then repetitive use over time may damage your joints, leading to injury!


Free Weights (Dumbbells and Barbells)


  • Certain exercises allow you to target several muscles from different groups. For example, whilst the deadlift is predominantly a lower-body exercise working glutes and leg muscles, the required movement also has considerable impact on three core back muscles – the iliocastalis, the longissimus and the spinalis.
  • Free weights are also a great way to improve your coordination and posture as it requires skill to move and hold the weights whilst retaining the correct form. For instance, when performing squats you must steady and balance yourself with each movement, requiring strength and control.
  • Each person can tailor free weight training to suit their own anatomy, compensating for any injuries or restrictions such as issues with shoulder joints.


  • If you’re serious about building muscle then a pair of decent free weights will cost some money, with the only other option being joining a decent gym where the popular equipment isn’t always readily available.
  • Some of the most beneficial free weight exercises can be very tricky to master and therefore seeking out some initial guidance is probably a good idea if you want to be able to complete your workouts in the correct form.
  • Many free weight exercises are performed standing and therefore there is a safety risk, be it through injury or dropping the weights on yourself or others. Many novices begin with too much weight too early and that’s when accidents start. If you’re not confident by yourself always train with a buddy.