Monday, 10 January 2011

Free weights or weights machines?

What do you prefer - free weights or weight machines? When I used to have a gym membership a few years ago I preferred using the various weight machines. There seemed to be  machines designed to target just about every muscle in the body! So I'd pick out the half dozen or so machines that I liked (or thought were good for me) and worked my way around them, gradually increasing the weight and number of reps as I got better. I have to admit I got a little bored with this routine and so I engaged the services of a personal trainer to see what else I could be doing.

He introduced me to free weights and various other non-machine dependent exercises explaining that these were better and more effective than weights machines. He said that the problem with weight machines was that though they ensured you isolated the target muscle to exercise it, they also prevented any of the smaller muscles supporting it getting any exercise at all. Whereas with free weights exercises, providing they were done correctly, not only targeted the required muscle but also ensured that you engaged all the supporting muscles as well, including core muscles - so basically you were getting more for your money.

I became a free weights convert after that! Free weights are just so more versatile. Unfortunately for my personal trainer I didn't feel the need to continue paying for a gym membership anymore as I know longer needed access to weights machines!

Here's an exercise I particularly like, taken from Loren Christensen's book, Fighter's Fact Book:

Lie on your back on the floor (or on a bench if you have one). Hold a comfortable weight in your right hand (3kg is optimal for me at the moment). Hold your arm in a chamber position (as if you were going to punch) with your palm facing towards your head. Push the weight vertically upwards (as if punching) and rotate your wrist round so that your palm is now facing your feet. In other words mimic a punch. Push the weight up as quickly as you can but return it to chamber slowly. Make sure you are using your arm muscles to lift the weight up and not thrusting it up with your shoulders. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Repeat 10 times with each arm.

Why I like this exercise:
  • It exercises biceps and triceps, not to mention forearms muscles, strengthens wrists and probably various other muscles in one go. All sorts of muscles are engaged to keep your arm balanced and the weight steady.
  • It helps improve your punching technique.
  • Punching out fast helps increase fast twitch fibres
  • Returning slowly builds muscle
It's an all round arm exercise tailored for the karateka and any other martial art that involves striking.

So is it free weights or weights machines for you? Let me know which you prefer and why....


  1. Absolutely free weights for me (although like you I initially only did machines). It wasn't until my DH discovered and their fabulous exercise database (you should take a look if you're not already familiar with it) that I really converted to free weights.

    We too have cancelled our gym membership and are training at home now. I might have to consider investing in that book!


  2. Free weights when I used them years ago; now I have fifteen pound dumpbells I use to supplement.

    Free weights as you described as to why they are a bit better is why I would use those in lieu of machines BUT machines as a supplement to the free weights is also good.

  3. Free weights, if you count my body as a weight. Why? Cheap. Simple. Easy. My body doesn't charge a gym membership.

  4. Combo for me. I like that the machines isolate specific muscles (like my pecs and deltoids, which were really weak after reconstructive surgeries) while helping with the old flexibility - without a spotter. Free weights let me do things that the machines won't (lunges, for example) while forcing me to control the weight after the lift which builds strength. My gym membership is super cheap ($10 a month) - and I really need to go as I don't have a treadmill (hard to run outside in the snow - which is all we got this time of year), bench or mirrors at home.

  5. Definitely free weights for me. Especially for the martial arts, where all of the supporting muscles, balance, and coordination become very important.

    Funny, I just blogged about this today! :

  6. It seems that free weights are most popular - thanks for all the comments.

  7. Great post! It’s something I have never thought about, really, but it makes a whole lot of sense.
    free weights


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