When you first enter a gym, it’s common for your eyes to instantly be drawn to free weights, the most common form of strength training equipment and oldest. Typically, you’ll see men and women doing various workouts and using the same free weights for many exercises, making them highly versatile. Scattered about the floor usually are rows and rows of machines, some foreign in their use upon first glance and others more straightforward. Most have instructions and small diagrams to help would-be users if they have never utilized them before. The question remains to this day, “which is better, free weights vs weight machines?” Since the dawn of the modern gym, this question has been asked but has never been fully explored. The short answer is, make a choice that best suits your needs and experience level. 

The short answer is always easy to dole out; it’s ambiguous and leaves it up to the reader to determine the best on their own with no information. That being said, let’s dive deeper into the pros and cons, as well as the differences you’ll experience.

Free Weights

free weights vs weight machine

The tried and true methods of working out; dumbbells, barbells or any weight that can be freely moved in any direction, are considered free weights. One could argue they have always existed in some form since the dawn of humans, carrying something heavy from one place to another with repetition. When making your selection of free weights over machines, you must consider:


Free weights utilize more muscle groups than just the focused group. Anytime a weight is lifted, there is no form of outside stabilization; thus, other muscles are recruited to maintain the activity. Since stabilization muscles are used, a total body workout can be obtained in a shorter amount of time. 

Freedom of movement is allowed when using free weights, allowing you to perform a broader range of exercises than the fixed position of machines.


Free weights cause a large portion of gym-related injuries in various manners. We must consider that the likelihood of getting hurt while utilizing them can occur by weights falling, over-exertion and attempting to lift too much. 

Poor form is the likely culprit of injury and can be avoided if care and attention are maintained during your exercise. 

Weight Machines

free weights vs weight machine

As of the late 1950s, the weight machine as we know it was introduced into gyms for the masses. This machine allowed users to shift between stacked weight amounts with ease, speed up their routines, and minimize the amount of space needed to exercise. 


Weight machines allow us to exercise a heavier load than we could with free weights. Since we are moving the weight, typically in a vertical motion from a stack, the risk of injury is much lower than free weights when making overhead motions. 


Weight machines operate in a fixed motion, so you are limited to only a single, sometimes two, exercise per. Since a cable or a belt system suspends the weight, your body no longer needs to recruit stabilizing muscles to conduct the exercise. As a result, you focus on a single muscle group while the rest are neglected, often resulting in an imbalance.


The truth is there is no “best” when comparing free weights vs weight machines; it all comes down to what you need. When exercising, your personal need should dictate the equipment you choose, and I recommend using a combination of the two for a balanced body. There does not have to be one or the other; use what you like. If you are looking for exercises that use each head on over to our workout section!

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