If you visit any fitness website today, chances are you will find this topic mentioned at least once. In all honesty, I believe that for a well-balanced fitness routine, you should be using any and all options you have available to you, not limiting yourself to one type of exercise. However, to settle some doubts and clear up any misconceptions, I’ll talk a little bit about the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Long before technology permitted us to create beautiful, ergonomic, and scientifically refined fitness equipment, we had to use free weights or “low-tech apparatuses”. These include things like dumbbells, ankle weights, medicine balls, barbells and even the human body itself! Free weights are often considered to be more difficult than machines, due to the fact that there is the added challenge of balancing the weight as you attempt to lift it straight up. However, it’s a little more complicated than that. Let’s get into it!
Possibly the greatest benefit to incorporating free weights into your workout is that they are the most versatile way to exercise, and to see both structural and functional gains. Structural is concerned with the physical construction of your muscles while functional is concerned with the ability of those muscles. Free weights are also ideal for those looking to develop real-world strength, typically for athletes. Real-world strength means you are developing muscles in a way that they will help you in a real-world situation. For example, if a football player does dumbbell curls, he is not only increasing the strength of his biceps, but he is training his muscles to stabilize and control that dumbbell in all planes of motion. In a real-world situation, this would typically be the goal.
With that being said, free weights can be more difficult for people who are new to exercising. For example, exercises like the deadlift and squats are unforgiving to people who don’t use the proper form and often times, many beginners will injure themselves trying it the first time unless shown the proper way by a fitness expert.
Although machines have had a shorter history than free weights, they have still had an outstanding impact on the fitness industry. With technology advancing at such a fast rate, we’re seeing a lot more fitness equipment that is scientifically designed to make our exercises more productive and enjoyable. Unlike free weights, machines are designed to isolate muscle groups, and are more friendly and appealing to someone who has just started working out.
Most modern machines have a label on the side telling you exactly what muscle groups you are working and how many reps and sets you should do. In addition, machines don’t require as much prior training as free weights due to the fact that you aren’t controlling the weights in a full 3D space, simply in one direction. This nearly eliminates the need to train your form or have a fitness expert nearby at all times. However, this doesn’t mean that beginners should only use machines while the experts use free weights. Whether you use one or the other should mainly depend on what your goals are. If you are training to be on a sports team, focus more on free weights then top off your exercise with some machines to target your core muscle groups. If you’re new to free weights, however, never be afraid to learn and practice your form without weights before adding any.
At the end of the day, there should never be controversy over free weights and machines. Each one has its purpose and can benefit or hinder people in different ways based on their level of training, and what their short and long-term goals are.
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