My thoughts on machines vs. free weights

You guys probably don’t know, but I have a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology. I do not currently work in my profession, but I have been in the fitness and health industry for many years. I have always enjoyed fitness and I hope I will continue to enjoy it until I’m too old and weak to move on my own.

While I do have a degree in the field, I do want to mention that this post is strictly my opinion. It is based on years of experience and study, but my opinion is strictly my own. Please consult a physician or certified personal trainer if you are interested in a fitness program suited for your specific needs.

machines vs. free weights
I remember when I was in University, using the machines was way more popular than using the free weights. Everybody did it and you wanted to be seen using them. Crazy, huh? While I do believe they are useful and beneficial, I don’t think they’re necessarily the ideal choice for everyone.

Here is who I think should use the machines at the gym.

  1. Someone who is new to lifting weights. It can be overwhelming to remember the correct techniques for all those new exercises. Using a machine takes some of the guess work out and makes it easier for you to lift weights safely. Most of the machines now even have a picture on them with step-by-step directions on how to use them properly. So it’s perfect for the newbie fitness enthusiast.
  2. Someone who wants to isolate a muscle group. When you are sitting at a leg curl machine, it is made in such a way that only the muscles you wish to train will be working. They have been isolated to receive the most attention possible. That is true for most other machines in the gym. If you want to target a specific muscle or muscle group without recruiting the neighbouring muscles, this is the way to do it.
  3. Someone who lifts very heavy weights. The advanced bodybuilders can lift such a heavy load that it can become very dangerous. Most of them use spotters to help them in the event the weights were to slip or fall. They are there to make sure they don’t get hurt. Using a machine vs. free weights in this instance could be beneficial because they often have a safety back-up. A lock or a safety latch you can turn in the event the weights were to drop. A way to stop the the weights from falling on you if they slip. They can protect you from getting hurt. When you don’t have a spotter, this is a great option.
  4. Someone with an injury. If you have an injury to a specific muscle, you may need to control the exercise and make sure the wrong muscles aren’t recruited. This will also ensure you do not overdo it, twist or sprain your muscle and make things worse. I guess these people can also fall into category #2!


So that’s who I think should use them. I believe most of the general population should use free weights instead of machine. Or at least, we should use free weights more than we use the machines. Why? Well that’s a good question.

Lifting free weights is comparable to your activities of daily living. It’s more similar to what your body is used to doing on a daily basis. Lifting grocery bags, babies, and laundry baskets. Picking up toys, vacuuming, chopping wood, cutting the grass, and gardening. Playing soccer, baseball, football, basketball, swimming and tennis. We are using movements that are familiar. But there’s more than that.

Remember I said that using a machine will isolate the muscle or group of muscle you want to train? Well, using free weights will not only train the “isolated” muscles, but it will also work the stabilizer muscles around them.

When we run, we don’t only use our legs. We also use our glutes, abs, back, chest, shoulders and arms. That’s right, we use our whole body! Imagine that! These muscles all work simultaneously to make you run. So why not train them simultaneously as well?

The same goes for when you’re chopping wood. You’re not only swinging your arms and using your shoulder and arm muscles. You’re also engaging your core, back and leg muscles. Your whole body works together. Are you starting to understand a bit better why there’s an advantage to working your body in a way that uses multiple muscle groups at the same time? Those stabilizer muscles and “helper” muscles get ignored when you’re sitting at the inner thigh machine. Plus, if you solely relied on machines to work every muscle in your body, you’d waste countless hours in the gym. I don’t know about you, but I have better things to do with my time.

As a bonus, there are also health benefits to doing multi-joint exercises. You can read more about them here.

Here are some great multi-joint exercises that will give you a full body workout in a shorter amount of time. It uses both upper and lower body movements. Weights are optional and you can simply use your body weight if you want to. Plus, they’re fun and you can do them anywhere with minimal equipment. Bonus!!!


Compound It

Functional Fitness

The Secret To a Killer Core

Medicine Ball Workout


Plus, here’s a little bonus for a reader who is currently working on her pull-ups. Enjoy!

Mastering the Pull-ups in 4 Easy Steps


The weekend’s here. It’s time to have some fun and sweat a little. Go get fit!


13 thoughts on “My thoughts on machines vs. free weights

  1. Haha! Clicks on mastering the pull ups. 😉 Ugh I am so terrible at those. I did get one today, yippe! Then my 12 year old ran in and did 3 in a row, laughing at me, the stinker! Thanks for this post, loved it!!


  2. Yay! Thank you so much for this! It all makes perfect sense! I am heading on over to check out the Pull up link! I’m so very glad you did this post after our conversation, it will benefit many people just like myself! I’ll also be sharing this several times! 🙂 Thanks Isabelle!


  3. Enjoyed reading your post. I have never belonged to a gym so I don’t have any experience with machines since I don’t own any either. I love using free weights and have various ones for different workout dvd’s I use. Stopping by from Fitness Friday link up


    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Now you know you never needed to belong to a gym in the first place! You’ve been doing great all along!!! Thanks for stopping by. I hope to see you again! 🙂


  4. This is such a great post! I personally LOVE using the free weights, and back in 2013 when I was at the gym most every day, that was my go-to area. But now that I am just getting back to the gym after a pregnancy followed by a year of doing no lifting, I am back on the machines. Just so that I can get a little stronger and work on my form. I know that once I have that back to where I want to be, I will be back in the free weight area. Also, in the gym I am in now, there are mainly guys in the free weights and women/older people on the machines–so it can be a little intimidating to go into that world, so I for sure want to have my form down so I feel more confident.

    Thanks so much for linking up this great post to Fitness Fridays on Drops of Learning. Hope to see you back again tomorrow!


    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Our local gym is a lot like yours. The bodybuilders mainly occupy the free weights section and it can feel a little intimidating when you enter that area with your little 5 lbs. weights. But that’s ok. The free weights section is just as much for you as it is for them. Enjoy your return to the gym and have fun! 🙂


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