Free weights or machines – which is better?

Free weights or machines – which is better?

For every muscle group that you can train, there is now a machine that can replace the free dumbbells – if you want to. In this article, I’ll show you the advantages and disadvantages of both types.



With free weights, exercisers can learn movements quickly. In contrast to machines, concentration and control are required here. In addition, high demands are placed on the body’s ability to coordinate and stabilize.

Tight bench press with free weight.

A big advantage of free weights is the unrestricted movement amplitude and the possibilities compared to machines and devices. In this way, exercisers can optimally learn correct movement patterns through free weight training, which should be adopted in everyday life. Deadlifts or squats are an example: The techniques of these two exercises should be used by lifting heavy things in everyday life with optimal technique and thus preventing overload or even injuries.

Free dumbbells are particularly suitable for lower repetition ranges, as they occur in maximum strength or hypertrophy training.

In addition, the intermuscular (interaction of various muscles) and intramuscular coordination (the internal neural control of the muscles) are used and improved. The trainee experiences an all-round development of strength, also with regard to stabilization and balance. In addition, free weight training is effective for building muscle, as a continuous increase in the training stimulus is possible through variable weights.

The training with free dumbbells is also suitable for beginners, who should have already experienced or improved their muscle control, for example through machine training. Of course, you can also start with free dumbbell training right away, but you should proceed carefully here: The movements should first be practiced and consolidated with very little weight and above all under the instruction of a good trainer!


If you perform exercises that are too complex for your level of training, or if you choose too high weights, you will not be able to implement the technique properly. Incorrect or overloading through (unconscious) evasive movements can be the result.

Beginners can also find it difficult to concentrate on the muscles because they grasp the movement, but not the muscle to be used.

Machines or devices


Overhead press on the machine.

In contrast to free dumbbells, the Training on machines, no stabilization necessary. As a result, exercisers need to focus less on movement, which enables better concentration on the target muscles. There is a further advantage in terms of safety: machines can be adjusted axially and the execution of the exercise is easier to control. As a result, exercisers can concentrate better on correct breathing.

Because they require less concentration than with free weights, machines are very good for strength endurance – but not only. They are an effective training tool as they meet all weight requirements and can be used at all performance levels.

Those with no training can quickly grasp the movements that are easy to perform on the machine. In this way they learn better to control the muscles because – as described above – the complexity of the exercises is not high.


Due to the partially restricted range of motion (e.g. during exercises on the multi press), the movements performed are very far removed from everyday life. More complex movements that could be used well in everyday life are not learned in this way. As an example, she mentions the bench press on the multi press: Here only an absolutely linear sequence of movements is possible. With the free dumbbell, however, the result is a somewhat more curved (curve linear). As everywhere, however, there are good and bad machines with regard to the movement amplitude.

As mentioned, less concentration is required for movement on machines. The disadvantage of this is that it takes longer to memorize movement. The central nervous system is less active here than with free weight exercises.

What would Arnold do?

Now that the advantages and disadvantages of both types have been discussed, the question arises, how to exercise. A popular strategy among pumpers is to ask: “What would Arnold do?” I found the following quote from him on the Internet: I used to love doing the clean and press, because you get the traps, the front deltoids, and the side. I also liked to do the dumbbell press […]. A commitment to free weight training.

But – the quote goes even further: […] but I can’t do either anymore. So now I just do my presses on a Smith machine, which is safer on my shoulders because it’s on a track. But I have to say, it’s so fantastic to see the development of all of these machines. It allows you to train around your injuries […] These machines allow you to isolate your muscles without the risk of hurting yourself.

And that’s exactly what it’s all about: Whether you train with free weights or machines, it depends on your goals on the one hand, but also on your physical requirements on the other. For example, you could do a standing one-legged calf raise while holding a dumbbell.

However, you will hardly do this if you can instead use machines that allow you to move more weight – for example, the multi or leg press. For other exercises, however, as has been explained, free dumbbells are better.


As a bodybuilder, you will probably switch between machines and free dumbbells – depending on how you do it can train the corresponding muscle best. With free weights, movement patterns can be learned better and the body is challenged more holistically, which is also important in terms of everyday aspects. A disadvantage is the safety aspect when using weights that are too high and training levels that are too low.

Muscle feeling can be better developed on machines by making it easier to concentrate on the target muscles. However, this is at the expense of the full range of motion. As in many other areas, the following also applies to this topic: Whether you use machines or free dumbbells depends on you or your physical constitution and your goals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *