This question has been getting thrown around in weightlifting forever. There are people that swear by one or the other which may leave some people wondering which one builds more muscle. Let’s take a dive into this question and look at some of the pros and cons of each in order to determine which one is better.

Stability

The instability of free weights help build stabilizing muscles which will improve your:

  • Balance
  • Athleticism
  • Coordination

Machines have you placed in a fixed position and that takes instability out of the lift, so those stabilizing muscles will not get as much work as they will with free weights.

This doesn’t mean that machines are bad, the stability of machines are actually perfect for times when you may have a minor injury or going through rehab, as they are able to isolate certain muscles and avoid injured areas much better than free weights.

Learning Curve

Free weights require you to learn to perform the exercise with the proper form in order to avoid injury and get the most out of the lift

The fixed movement pattern of machines make for a much smaller learning curve, making them great for beginners and elderly people

Restrictions

The bar path is more natural when using free weights, so you can follow a bar path that comes natural to you, this makes free weights great for mimicking functional real life movements

Machines are made for the averaged sized person in attempt to make them more usable for people of all shapes and sizes, but with a fixed position and limited adjustment options machines can restrict the range of motion and make the movement pattern uncomfortable for some people that don’t properly fit the machine

So Which is Better?

It really just depends on the person. The way to build muscle is “progressive overload” which means gradually building your strength by lifting heavier weight over time. Your body does not know the difference between a machine and free weights when it comes to progressive overload.

However free weights work more muscles than machines which would lead to faster muscle growth over time and probably an overall better physique. Free weights are also great for improving your balance, athleticism and coordination because of the instability. So you will get more bang for your buck with free weights over machines but machines may be a better option for some because of they are much easier to learn and put less stress on your body, making them great for beginners or elderly people. Just choose what is right for you.


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