Free Weights or Machines for Building Muscle
I always workout with headphones and music, but…
When I sense a “bro talk”, I secretly turn the volume down so I can monitor conversations.
I hear the funniest stuff.
“Dude… you gotta take protein powder if you want to get big. Food will only take you so far. Protein powder mixed with water makes your muscles absorb more protein.”
“Chalk allows you to generate more force to the bar. The secret to a big bench is lots of chalk.”
Nothing against protein powder or chalk.
…but Chalk-Bro gets chalk all over our gym.
He’s about 25 and annoying in a lot of ways.
Him and his pals are like White Walkers.
You’ll get infected with white chalk if you exercise too close.
It feels like I’m training “beyond the wall” at times.
*I’d like to give a shout-out to the Game of Thrones fans.
*AND all the sexy ladies in the house 🙂
This article now feels like a cheesy concert.
Enough with the nonsense!
Let’s discuss free-weights vs machines.
But first a vintage 1979 machine-themed song.
A little more nonsense?
“You know I hate to ask, but are friends electric? Only mine’s broke down, and now I’ve no-one to love.” – Gary Numan
Little machine hating chalk-bros weren’t born that way.
Hating machines is a learned behavior.
Here’s how it happens:
When a little bro is 14-15 he feels sort of awkward in the gym.
He gravitates towards the machine area, because the free weight area seems intimidating.
One day he works up the courage to lift free weights.
He begins feeling like a “real bro”.
Over time he gets obsessed with free weights.
He realizes that the free weight area isn’t a scary place.
A new world of free weights has opened up to him.
…but now the pendulum has swung too far the other way.
This bro shouts the message of free weights from the rooftops.
…and when he is done with his set it sounds like the weight was also dropped from a rooftop.
He believes “machines are for beginners and the timid”.
He becomes so anti-machine that he strives to train in a place that looks like a dirty boxing gym from a Rocky movie.
The louder, dirtier and smellier… the better.
- Let’s wear a hooded sweatshirt like Rocky
- Lets tape the bar like some sort of Olympic athlete
- Gotta bring in my chalk
- Where’s the spit bucket and smelling salts
I honestly think there are people that would love to have a live chicken they could chase for exercise.
“Screw the treadmill! Where are the chickens?”
Okay, I do think that would be hilarious.
“Chicken chasin’ is how we always used to train in the old days. You catch this thing, you can catch grease lightning.” – Mickey
Many bros mistakenly believe that they have some sort of inside secret to getting big and strong.
“Hey bro, to looked jacked you should only use free weights.”
I’m not trying to be too critical.
…but many of us have been doing this for a LONG time.
Chasin’ chickens before Chalk-Bro’s parents even met.
Free weights are great.
You can get solid development with free weights.
…but mixing with machines provides additional benefits.
Cue an 80’s synth tune…
“Another hope, feeds another dream. Another truth, installed by the machine.” – Propaganda
The main benefits of adding in machines to your workout?
It is a hassle free and efficient way to add in additional work to a muscle group.
There is zero setup time.
Since you don’t have to balance the weight, you can focus 100% on contracting the muscle and generating force.
Some machines provide resistance at points in a lift that are impossible to duplicate with free weights.
You get a better workout by combining machines & free weights.
The interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.
You just have to combine the methods in a way that emphasizes the strengths…
…and minimizes the weaknesses.
The biggest plus of free weights is that it forces you to balance and stabilize the weight when you work a muscle group.
It takes time to load the bar or find dumbbells.
Sometimes the smaller stabilizing muscles get fatigued before the larger target muscle group gets worked all the way.
What about machines?
Fitst… a classic MTV video with jacked up machines.
[They used to play this video on MTV non-stop, back in the day. I forgot how creepy this was.]
The biggest strengths of machines?
- Fast setup times.
- Can push to failure without needing a spotter.
- Can provide resistance throughout a movement in ways that are impossible with free weights.
Machines don’t force you to stabilize and balance the weight.
If you ONLY use machines this can be a problem.
Another weakness is the fact that you are forced to lift into the path that the machine is setup for.
This can cause overuse injuries if you use the same machines… without mixing in other movements.
So what is the best way to combine machines & free weights?
One last 80’s synth-pop tune first.
(This one isn’t about machines… just a favorite of mine.)
I’ve found workout magic in doing exercises in this specific order.
- Dumbbell Exercise
- Barbell Exercise or Body Weight
- Machine Exercise
You are working from unstable (free weights) to stable (machines).
Dumbbells are the least stable exercises typically. Barbells and Body Weight require a moderate amount of stabilizing. Machines don’t require you to balance and stabilize.
If you are working chest for instance?
- Incline Dumbbell Press
- Barbell Bench Press or Dips
- Machine Flyes or Machine Chest Press
What if you only use two exercises per body part?
Just remove one of these, but keep the order the same.
So a chest workout could be Incline Dumbbell Press followed by some sort of machine chest exercise.
You could reverse the order.
…but I like to use machines as a finishing exercise.
Machines require less concentration than free weight exercises, so they lend themselves to the second or third lift for a muscle group.
I almost forgot…
One last MAJOR benefit of machines…
Totally Chalk-Bro free!
The machine section of most gyms are empty now.
People are too busy deadlifting in the free weight area with Olympic bars they steal from the bench press <—a rant for another time 🙂
As a former fitness coach to fashion models, I can teach you how to increase muscle definition without adding size.
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