Do You like to Use Free Weights or Machines?
A big time hot topic around my gym and among body building in general relates to the topic of free Weights vs machines. Guys that I know who lift regularly have very strong opinions about this. I thought it might be kind of interesting to create a post to explore this topic and get the input of folks who visit this site regularly. I am going to first try and define the term “Free Weights” and then offer a definition for “Machine”.
Free-weights include dumbbells and plates that are typically loaded on to the end of a barbell. Free-weight exercises are performed usually on utility benches or squat racks. In most all cases, free weights require the lifter to self-balance when conducting a given set of repetitions. An example might be someone doing the bench press. Balance of the weights rests solely on the lifter (unless a spotter is used to assist). Free weights are often used for the purpose of pyramiding a workout.
Machines can be defined as an apparatus that is designed to mimic free weights and aid with balance. Machines often have cables and pins, attached to some type of adjustable weights. Machines can be used to pyramid a workout and can be used for progressive overloading.
Some machines allow the lifter to engage in isometric exercise, which is a 25 center term for an exercise that is a static muscle contraction involving no movement. An example might be a stretching machine used for resistance. There is some debate regarding isometric exercise as a way to build strength. Simply put, I have read that it is not helpful.
A lot of people don’t realize that your strength level is not just determined by how big you muscles are, but also by your nervous system. Nerves adapt to resistance training just like your muscles do. Their structure and function change to allow you to lift more weight. Due to free-form involved with training with free weights, it is likely that the stimuli to the nervous system is greater than with machines. Still, I do think there is a place for the use of machines for body builders and gym enthusiasts.
My own thought is that a hybrid approach, using free-weights during one workout and machines during the next can help a person involved with strength training break-up their workouts while also preventing the dreaded muscle plateau scenario. Progressive overloading is important with both approaches.
I personally use a training journal for each and every workout. I try to write down what exercises I am doing and if I used a machine or free weights. To help me better understand that training session, I typically rate the workout on a level from 1-10 (10 being excellent and 1 being crappy). Most days I rate a 7. I’ve noticed that on days I use free-weights, I rate higher (not sure why).
What is your approach at the gym? Do you free-weights or machines or both? What have you found most helpful when choosing to decide?