Resistance machines vs free weights – which is better?

by Alec Graves on Saturday 11 March 2023

3 min read

If you’re new to the gym, you probably have 101 questions about all the different equipment in the weight room. Don’t worry – we’re here to help.

When it comes to lifting weights and resistance training, there are two major categories most equipment falls into: free weights and resistance machines.

Which is the best workout for you and your fitness goals? Let’s take a closer look at what free weights and resistance machines are good for, and how to make the most of the facilities at Virgin Active.

What are free weights?

Free weights are ‘free’ in that they aren’t attached to anything – think dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells and other bits of equipment you can pick up and move around. They’re great for exercises where a greater range of motion is needed, and they’re super versatile.

Because free weights are supported by you (and only you), they require a bit of additional work to keep stable through a repetition. This is usually held as one of their key advantages over resistance machines, as this stabilisation work can translate to improved coordination and overall strength.

However, free weights put an additional emphasis on good form, as a lack of control and improper lifting can result in injury. So particularly with free weights, we always stress the importance of learning good technique in each exercise before pushing any limits.

What are resistance machines?

Resistance machines as a category includes cable machines, leg and shoulder press machines, and leg extension and hamstring curl machines. Notice that all the names are quite specific – each machine is designed to let you work one particular movement in a controlled way.

Resistance machines are excellent for learning exercises safely and at your own pace, which is always good, but especially if you’re just starting out. Gym equipment in this category can also be a go-to for advanced weightlifters looking to target or ‘isolate’ a specific muscle group.

If you have limited mobility, or an injury, you can benefit from the added support and control a resistance machine offers. This helps unlock the benefits of exercises you they might be able to do safely yet with free weights.

Which is best for you?

Ultimately, both free weights and resistance machines have their advantages. The biggest thing to get right is choosing exercises and equipment that match your goals. We encourage you to embrace a mix of the two, using a combination to build well-rounded workouts.

If you’re wondering how to strike that balance, let a Personal Trainer be your guide. From helping you with the fundamentals of weight training, through to advanced routines and advice on your progression, our team can do it all. Get in touch to find out more today.

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