Healthy Debate: Free Weights vs. Machines

When it comes to using your gym, there are a few never-say-die debates that consistently float around like icebergs in the Arctic Ocean of health.

Today’s debate: free weights vs. machines? Like most of these philosophical fitness arguments, a decision on what works best for you has to be made based on knowledge and understanding of the subject.

To speed up that process, we break down the pros and cons of free weights vs. machines and how to incorporate that information into what works best for YOU.


Free Weights

Free weights are amazing because they are a virtual playground for your body – if you know how to use them properly. Two dumbbells, for instance, carry infinite exercise possibilities by themselves, let alone when you incorporate benches or BOSUs into the mix.


  • Works extremely well with your body since the “fixed” positions are minimal, allowing your body to move the way it wants.
  • You work more thus burn more while improving your balance in the process.
  • Provides more realistic everyday functional training over machines, since the outside world is one big free weight. There’s no pulley system for carrying groceries or hoisting your kid off the ground.


  • There is a risk of injury if you don’t understand how your body works and how muscles move. It can be REALLY easy to take a simple free weight exercise and do it completely wrong since you have no “guidance” from a machine.
  • Increased time in the gym, i.e. if you’re doing exercises that provide a lot of plate loading and unloading or are hoping to use the 10-pound dumbbells when everyone else is the building also wants to use the 10-pound dumbbells.
  • Certain exercises can be dangerous without a spotter, and sometimes getting help with your workout can be near impossible.


The awesome thing about machines: If you’re looking for a quick workout to maximize your time, they sure do the trick!


  • Easy to operate. Most machines have a visual diagram and explanation on how to use, so it’s easy to set up, select the weight, and get to it.
  • Reduced risk of injury. Since you are essentially on a “guidance” system, you’re less likely to go outside your body’s comfortable range of motion, which is where a lot free weight injuries occur.
  • Great for injury recovery. Machines are great for making sure you can still resistance train while minimizing additional injury.


  • Just because you are using a machine and there is reduced risk of injury doesn’t mean injury is impossible. You can still load up too much weight and strain/tear a muscle or develop pattern overload injuries, which occur through repetitive motions.
  • Limited potential. There is a “glass ceiling” so to speak when it comes to working out strictly on machines. If your body becomes used to something with little need to improve itself, it will milk that situation to the fullest!
  • Lack of functionality. Lifting something in the “outside world” and lifting something on a machine are completely different.

Bottom Line

While machines are great for a quick, easy workout blast (especially for those with injuries!), you’re limited in functional improvement. My opinion: You can’t beat free weights! They’re much more functional, and if done right, will increase your quality of living, strength and balance, and reinforce your infrastructure much better than machines.

What about you?

Do you think free weights or machines are better?

Tell us in the comments below!

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Josh is a massive weight loser. A journey that started when he was very young and battling depression, eating disorders, and bullies. His life’s mission is to always have an arm outstretched to those who are looking for a helping hand. He leads with the most important tools he has: heart and soul.