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Workout Showdown: Free Weights vs. Weight Machines

Lifting weights not only helps you build strength, but it also allows you to increase stamina and endurance. You can either use free weights, such as dumbbells, barbells and medicine balls, or weight machines designed to target specific muscle groups. The differences between free weights and machines are quite varied, and some weight lifters may choose to utilize both forms of lifting. Before you make a decision, learn about the pros and cons of both types of weights.

Free Weights

Weight Machines


AffordableLess affordable


Free range of motionControlled motion

Customizing Weight

Weight changes can be fast or slowWeight changes are often rapid


Multiple muscles are worked togetherMuscles are worked in isolation

Free Weights

Advantages of Free Weights

  • Lower cost - Free weight sets are often much less expensive than machines, and you can also buy individual pieces and slowly grow your collection over time to avoid a large up-front expense.
  • Free range of motion - Since you are not controlled by the cables and bars of a machine, you can move more naturally and comfortably.
  • Efficiency - With an expanded range of motion, you can work multiple muscle groups in a single exercise.
Limitations of Free Weights
  • Higher injury risk - Without a machine to guide your motions, there are more ways to incorrectly perform moves and potentially injure yourself.
  • Slow weight changes - If you're using a barbell for exercises such as squats or deadlifts, you'll need to change out the weights on each side of the bar every time you modify your lifting weight.
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Weight Machines

Advantages of Weight Machines

  • Isolates muscle groups - Weight machines are designed to work a specific muscle or muscle group, so you can focus your workout on a target area as well as avoid working muscle groups that are hurt or susceptible to injury.
  • Lower injury risk - While injury is always a possibility, you are less likely to hurt yourself due to improper equipment use with the controlled motions of a weight machine than with free weights.
  • Fast weight changes - If you need to change the weight that you're lifting, you can easily change it by switching the settings on the machine instead of swapping plates around.
Limitations of Weight Machines
  • Higher cost - Weight machines are often significantly more expensive than free weights.
  • Controlled motion - Weight machines are designed to work specific parts of the body depending on the machine and the exercise.

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