Machines vs Free Weights – which is better?

There are many benefits to working out using free weights and machines, but which is better? It all depends on your expertise level and what you want to achieve from your workout, amongst other things – but fear not, at Fitkit, we have broken down the advantages and disadvantages, so you can assess which will work better for you. 


What are free weights?

Free weights are an equipment type that you can use when strength training, and they are designed to provide resistance on certain muscle groups, depending on the motion you perform. The term ‘free’ indicates that the equipment is not attached to any machine and can be picked up and moved around. 

Designed to tone and build muscle, you can use free weights at any level, but they are scalable, and you can intensify the exercise by lifting heavier. You can explore the selection of free weights available at Fitkit within our functional fitness section. 

woman squatting with kettlebell

What counts as a free weight?

Equipment that can be classed as a free weight includes: 

What are weight machines in the gym?

Weight machines in the gym allow you to focus on one particular muscle group on a fixed piece of apparatus. The range of weight machines available on the market is extensive, and you can find machines that work various muscles within our strength training machines range. You can scale the difficulty of your exercise up or down depending on the weight you select on the machine, and you don’t have to worry about your form as much as you would if you were training with free weights. 

Advantages of free weights

What are the advantages of using free weights, and how can they help improve your fitness, form and endurance? 

Increased muscle strength

Training with weights can help to improve your muscular strength, and whilst it may seem like an obvious advantage to weight training, it should not be overlooked. We tend to lose muscle strength as we age, so ensuring our muscles are strong can help with daily activities.

Free weights help strengthen your muscles as you lift them due to the contraction and resisting force applied. There are two main types of resistance training with weights: 

Isotonic strength training: The contraction of your muscles through a range of motion as you lift or complete a movement. 

Isometric resistance training: The contraction of muscle groups against a nonmoving object. An example of this would be planking with a weight attached to your back or simply with gravity. 

Burn calories efficiently

During a workout with weights, your body continues to burn calories as it returns to a restful state. When working with weights, your body and muscles exert energy; increasing this output can help burn calories during and after the workout. 

The more effort and energy you exert during the workout, the more calories you will burn after the workout, which is a process called “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption”. 

Helps you to keep weight off

Training with weights helps to boost excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, and it can also help you to lose weight more than simply training cardio or an aerobic workout. This keeps your metabolism active for longer, so you can lose weight and keep it off. 

Lean muscle is constructed of more active tissue, and having a larger muscle mass means you burn more calories even when resting. You can build muscle mass through weight training, making it more beneficial for calorie burning. 

Woman working out with dumbbell at home

Help better your form 

One advantage of using free weights compared to machines is that the free element of the weight not being attached to a machine allows you to perfect your form. If you start with a light weight, you will find that you can master the form of the exercise you are trying to achieve. 

As your muscles develop, you can continue to scale the weight and ensure that you keep the form. Not having the guidance of the machine allows you to activate muscles and muscle groups that you wouldn’t be able to with the movement limitations of a machine. Allowing yourself the full range of movement, utilising the full movement potential of the joint rather than the limited preset trajectory.

Scalable potential

Unlike machines, you will find that you can scale the weight that you lift when performing a free-weight exercise. This is particularly important for those at either end of their fitness journey – if you are starting, you can reach for a weight lower than the preset options of a machine. Alternatively, if you have “full-stacked” a machine and want to go heavier, you can lift a heavier weight than the stack available on a machine. 

Disadvantages of free weights

Free weights have their advantages, but what are their drawbacks? Handling free weights and not being aware of your limits can be dangerous. Watch out for these things when deciding whether to opt for free weights or a machine. 

They can be heavy

This is an obvious disadvantage, but it is a particularly important consideration when choosing whether free weights should be in your workout routine. When reaching for a starting weight, some gym go-ers overestimate their limit and choose a weight that is too heavy for them. Lifting a weight that is too heavy can be dangerous and cause injury, including muscle tears and, in some cases, the weight falling on the individual. Knowing your limits when weight lifting is important, and we always suggest warming up with a lower weight to determine how heavy you can scale the weight lifted in the exercise. 

Man working out with dumbbell in the gym

Form and technique can slip with free weights

To get the most out of your free weights exercises; you must ensure that your form is correct. As you begin to lift heavier, you may find that your form and technique when performing the exercise slips. This can result in injury; in some cases, you can activate non-intended target muscles. Ensure that you keep your technique and form correct and only move to a heavier weight once you feel comfortable. 

You may need assistance or a spotter

If you plan on lifting heavier weights, you may need assistance to ensure that you perform the range of movement accurately and safely. If you like to train alone, this will be a drawback because someone may not be on hand to spot your movement. Always train with a weight you feel comfortable with if no one is around to help you. 

Advantages and disadvantages of using free weights

Advantages of free weights Disadvantages of free weights
Increased muscle strengthCan be heavy 
Burn calories efficiently Form and technique can slip 
Helps you keep weight off You may need a spotter
Help better your form 
Scalable potential

Advantages of machine workouts

Weight machines can be a great place to start training if you are new to the gym, or they can help you to work muscles that you don’t frequently train. What are the other benefits of using weight machines at the gym instead of free weights? 

Safer to use

The guidance and support of a machine reduces the risk of injury compared to free weights. Typically weight machines are on a pulley system and will guide your course of movement when completing an exercise. This allows you greater safety when operating making them the ideal starting point. You are less at risk of over or under-extending your joints when working on a machine due to the guidance and limits in place.

Time efficient 

Machine workouts take less time to set up and execute than free-weight circuit training. They are ideal if you want to spend less time setting up equipment and circuits in the gym and more time working out.

Less intimidating

Stepping into the world of free weights can be scary. It can often scare clients or gym users that they/you are performing the movement incorrectly. Machines eliminate fear since the movement is already established, and the individual doesn’t have to set up equipment. This is particularly important if you are new to the gym and want to train alone. It can give you the confidence to master movements before attempting any free weight exercises. 

Mastering form

If you want to master the technique of a specific movement, you should try it on a machine before training the free-weight version of the exercise. Performing this movement will give you a baseline of what the movement should feel like and allow you to activate the muscles and form you need before transitioning to a free-weight exercise. Completing the baseline movement can support rehabilitation after an injury if you are strengthening a muscle because of an injury. 

Man working out with rope machine

Disadvantages of machine workouts

There are some drawbacks to using machines when working out; they can limit your range, not provide the weight you need and can be hard to get on when the gym is busy. Other disadvantages of using machines during your workout include: 

Designed for the average person

Typically, weight machines cater to the masses, which means that if you are shorter or taller than the average person – you may find them difficult to use. These limitations can make it difficult to access the machine, and a free-weight counterpart exercise could be a better solution. 

They can be hard to get on when gyms are busy

We’ve all had the stressful, busy gym experience where every machine you want to go on is taken. If you want to stick to a plan, this can be frustrating and lengthen your time in the gym. Finding alternative moves to perform that still target the muscle group you want is easier when sticking to free weights, but it can be difficult when exclusively working with machines.

Predetermined weight settings

Another drawback of weight machines is that the stack of weights available to lift on the machine is predetermined. You can increase the weight load in variations of typically 5kg, up to the machine’s limit. But once you reach this limit, you cannot go further. Unless you are an advanced gym user who lifts heavy, this won’t be an inconvenience for you – but it is still a limiting factor of weight machines.

Advantages and disadvantages of machine workouts

Safer to use than free weightsDesigned for average height people
Time efficient Not always available in the gym
Less intimidatingPredetermined weight and movement
Help you to master your form

Train with Fitkit

At Fitkit, we have a range of free weights and weight machines for you to add to your gym, home gym, or home workouts. The free weights available include Barbells, Dumbbells, Kettlebells, Resistance bands and more, all designed to help you get the best out of your workout. If you are looking for strength machines, our selection includes a wide selection of machines to target various muscle groups and includes both new and used equipment. 


Comments are closed here.