The simple answer is both. In any strength training programme, both have a great deal to offer, though you should also take into account whether you are an absolute beginner or closer to intermediate — advanced level.
For women who are just starting a weight training programme for the first time, machines have the advantage of requiring less coordination. For a novice trainer, machines support your body in a fixed position so it requires less skill to guide you through the repetition from start to finish in one easy movement. As machines tend to focus on one specific muscle group rather than multiple muscles as with free-weights, they almost guarantee correct training technique without fear of injury for a beginner.
Many women feel intimated using free weights as they are usually positioned near the bench press and squat racks in the male-dominated section of the gym. Free weights also require far more skill, coordination and stability.
I suggest hiring a personal trainer in the gym to teach you correct form and technique when using free-weights (dumbbells and barbells) as you can easily cause yourself injury otherwise. A personal trainer will also help you build your ‘Gym Confidence’ in the free-weights section of the gym so you will be able to eventually train alone with confidence with a health and fitness routine that combines both machines and free-weights for a balanced overall gym workout routine.
Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of free-weights vs machines will assist you in creating a varied weight training routine that works every muscle group from various angles.
Free Weights: Advantages
— Allows a natural range of movement from start to finish
— Increased effort and multiple muscle groups used when working out which means you’ll burn more calories.
— Free weights incorporates other muscle groups into one movement as well as the muscle that you are specifically working.
— Teaches coordination, stability and muscle balance since the exercise isn’t in a fixed range of movement as with machines.
— Are inexpensive, portable, versatile. Can be used at home, gym, office or on taken on vacation.
Free Weights: Disadvantages
— Requires skill, coordination and muscle stability. For a novice, supervision is required as the risk of injury is greater.
— It is easy to get carried away with the momentum working out with free weights particularly when you start to use heavier weights. Bad posture by haphazardly swinging the dumbbells or barbells can quickly lead to injury. Make sure you work out in front of a mirror so you can adjust your posture if training alone.
— Requires you to have strong stabilizing muscles i.e. lower back and abdominals for certain exercises like barbell squats, overhead presses and bench chest presses.
— Training alone might become problematic when lifting heavy weights. You may require a spotter or personal trainer to lesson your risk of injury.
— Ideal for a novice trainer as it requires less supervision with a fixed range of movement that lessons your chance of injury and bad posture.
— For absolute beginners who haven’t increased their strength in the stabilizing muscles such as the lower back and abdominals, machines are perfect as they provide support with a front or backrest.
— Good for rehabilitation and less intimidating for a female beginner in the gym.
— Are expensive to buy or repair and can only be used in a gym or home gym.
— Allows for less improvement for balance, stability and coordination since the range of movement is fixed within the machine’s range of movement.
— Not functional for everyday movement as it only usually targets a specific muscle rather than multiple muscle groups. Because of this you will require a large variety of machines to effectively work your entire body.
Amazin is a Prana Samyana meditation Yin Yoga teacher and performance coach having trained Olympic athletes to special forces. She is also a former natural competitive bodybuilder and the first Vietnamese internationally published health and fitness author and DNA fitness trainer. For more info, click on amazinlethi.com