Many of my clients ask me which is better: free weight or machines? I say both! When it comes to packing on muscle, there is nothing better than the good old barbell and a pair of heavy dumbbells. On the contrary, there are some great machines, which are ideal for isolating a lagging muscle and getting a good pump at the end of the workout.

Free weights are ideal for building muscle mass, since most of them are basic core lifts like squats, bench press, deadlift, rows, presses, all of which engage numerous muscle groups. As a result of this you get the most “bang for your bucks”! Free weights allow for maximum muscle activation as well as performing a movement in a full range of motion. It is a known fact, that training with free weights builds a more athletic and solid body frame, which is often far more functional and powerful, when compared to machines. One of the primary advantages of free weight over machines is the fact that barbells and dumbbells are way easier and versatile to use – with dumbbells one can perform hundreds of exercise variations. The same hold true for barbells. Machines, however, are almost always fixed and built for a specific exercise or moving pattern. To put it simply, one can make a perfect workout with dumbbells and a barbell only, while you would need at least five or ten machines in order to do a similar routine using solely machines. Another great advantage of free weights is the fact that they engage a lot of supporting/balancing muscles, which additionally boosts the cumulative effect of the training.

Machines on the other hand are ideal for isolating a muscle and bringing back a lagging body part. Some of the most modern equipment is engineered very efficiently to match the natural moving pattern of the human muscular system. A big advantage of machines over free weights is the fact, that they minimize the risk of injury. Thus, they are a preferred choice for all people who have disabilities or chronic injuries and free weights are not an adequate choice for them. I would recommend focusing on machines only if one is training for general fitness, recovering from injury or unable to perform core lifts safely.

My advice: Make free weight the core of your routine. I personally use around 80% free weights and 20% machines in most of my training. I suggest doing the first 2-3 exercises of a muscle group using heavy free weights and the remaining 1-2 exercises to isolate the targeted muscle group on a machine. I suggest using machines with free weights on them (hammer-strength type), since most of them are also good for building muscle mass. When approaching the end of the workout, focus more on isolating the muscle and getting a good pump – machines are ideal for this. If you are an athlete and want to train in the gym for getting additional strength for you sport, than I suggest you focus only on free weights, since machines create a non-natural lifting pattern and will decrease your mobility and functional strength.

Here is how to efficiently structure a sample chest workout using both free weight and machines:

Bench Press (4 working sets, 5-6 reps, Free Weight)
Incline Dumbbell Presses (4 working sets 6-8, Free Weight)
Chest Press (4 working sets, 8 reps, Machine)
Chest “Pec Dec/ Flye” (4 working sets, 8-10 reps, Machine)

To get a complete and personal workout split, click HERE!