Free Weights vs. Machines

Free Weights vs. Machines

by Doug Walker

The following is based solely on my opinion and 40+ years of weight training experience with free weights and machines.

How to use weight lifting straps Weight lifting straps are used to enhance your grip on heavy exercises like deadlifts, shrugs, cable rows, etc. Straps are normally used on back and trap exercises but can also be used on exercises like heavy dumbbell presses or curls. It takes some practice to get the hang of using weight lifting straps, but it is worth the effort. Straps can dramatically improve your grip, which will allow you to better hit the back and traps. Most people can shrug more weight than their grip will allow. How to use Weight Lifting Straps: Wrist straps are usually a long strip of fabric (nylon, cotton, leather or suede) with a loop on one end. Place one end of the strap through the hole at the other end, the 2 straps should mirror each other. •How to use weight lifting strapsPut your hand through the circle made by the strap. •With your palms facing up the straps should lay between your thumb and index finger on both hands. •Snug the strap tight around the wrist. •Place your hands on the bar with the strap hanging towards the floor. •Pull the strap under the bar and back over the top, repeat. •Twist the bar towards you to tighten the straps. Tip: Strap in your least coordinated hand first. Wrist straps can be beneficial in your training, but be careful not to over use them or you will end up with a weaker grip. Because of the risk of injury I would only recommend wrist straps for the more advanced lifter.Which are Better, Free Weights or Machines?

Exercise machines were invented to make exercising easier, more convenient. Hmm?

What started out as good intentions with Nautilus & Universal machines has evolved into a billion dollar industry of fads, gimmicks, quick fixes, bun & thigh rollers, ab lounges and infomercials.

Now you can lay flat on your back in front of the TV for 10 minutes a day, 3 times a week and lose 30 inches in as little as 3 weeks.


Machines are for toning and free weights are for bulking up. – Right?


Any resistance exercise which includes; machines, free weights, push ups, pull ups, etc. can be used to tone and/or build muscle.

Muscular development is determined by many factors which include but are not limited to:

  • Level of resistance
  • Repetition scheme
  • Training intervals & duration
  • Workout intensity level
  • Training Frequency
  • Caloric intake
  • Genetic disposition
  • Hormone levels
  • Overall health

So, which is better, free weights or machines?

Free weights are better.

Free weights involve more muscle fibers and more contractions, because you use stabilizing muscles not used when exercising on a machine, there for free weights are more effective. That doesn’t mean, never use machines, any good workout routine should include both free weights, machines and any combination of exercises.

What proved it to me.

Years ago I had a falling out with the owner of the gym where I’d been training and I was forced to find a new gym, but that’s not what I found. I found Ballys.

What a totally different world. This was no gym, too bright, too clean, too foo-foo. I tried to keep on training as usual, but their free weight room wasn’t the same, so I drifted into the machine area. It was huge compared to the free weight room. Since when did free weights have to get there own room, I thought they went in the gym. Well to make a long story short, I started doing more and more machines, lifting the stack on almost everything, 250, 300 lbs. easy.

After a couple of years training hard (so I thought) I had the opportunity to open my own gym and the minute I had enough equipment and weights, I began training in my not yet complete gym.

Then what I found out blew me away.

My 1 rep. max. on the bench press was only..

185 lbs.


It took over a year before I was back to my previous 1 rep. max.

Bottom line

Use both free weights and machines and everything else; don’t just focus on one or the other. Exercise should only be “easy” when you are a beginner.
Think of a person who’s physique you admire. Do you think they developed their physique using something they bought off of an infomercial? Stop looking for ways to make exercise easier, it defeats the purpose, find ways to make it harder, more challenging.
Don’t fall for that next gimmick or fad, just exercise. Any exercise is better than no exercise.

Just like Nike says “Just do it!”.