What are free weights, and why should you use them?

Unsure how to use free weights, or if they’re even worth it? If your workouts focus on machines, we’re here to tell you why you could benefit from making the switch to weights instead.

There are numerous key benefits of free weights that you may not be aware of, including improved calorie burning and more efficient muscle gaining! 

Read on for the full low-down on free weights vs machines.

Man lifting free weights

Table of contents

What are free weights?

Free weights refer to weights such as dumbbells, kettlebells and medicine balls. Unlike machines fixed in place,  you can pick them up and move them wherever you want – hence the term ‘free’. For this reason, they’re a practical and cost-effective option not only for the gym but for home workouts too. 

Using free weights is excellent for strengthening and toning muscles. They can be incorporated into all kinds of workout routines to target all areas of your body, everywhere from your legs and glutes to your abs, arms, chest and back. 

Free weights vs machines

Are free weights better than machines? The answer ultimately depends on your fitness goals and level of experience. 

Both have their own pros and cons, but there are certainly a lot of benefits of free weights that outweigh fixed machines. Let’s look at these in more detail.

Woman using free weights in the gym

Benefits of free weights

  • Free weights are better for building muscle long term

Free weights activate more muscles in a workout. Because machines are fixed in place, they have a linear movement that targets set muscle groups, and most of the time you are seated when using a machine. 

On the other hand, when you use free weights, not only are you targeting the same muscle, but you’re also engaging your stabiliser muscles and your core in every movement too. Your body isn’t relying on the machine for balance or control, so it is doing more of the work. For this reason, they give a more well-rounded workout.

  • Free weights are better for functional fitness

As well as working more muscles at a time, using free weights is also classed as ‘functional fitness’ – referring to exercise that improves your overall fitness outside of the gym. The flexible movement of free weights prepares our bodies better for day to day tasks, such as lifting, pushing and carrying heavy objects. Think about it; we’re rarely seated while exercising in real life.

  • Free weights burn more calories 

Because you’re activating more muscle groups when you use free weights vs machines, you inevitably burn more calories in the same amount of time. All strength training is a great way to burn calories, but free weights have a slight upper hand here.

  • Free weights help improve balance

Using free weights not only uses more muscles, but they also make your muscles work in unison. Again, because you’re seated when you use machines, you don’t have to rely on your stability. Free weight exercises are therefore far more beneficial for improving your overall coordination and your balance.

  • Free weights are convenient and easy to store

Another big benefit of using free weights vs machines is that they’re much more practical for people to use at home. If you don’t have the space or home gym kitted out with machines, free weights are a cheaper alternative. You don’t need lots of space to use them, plus they’re easy to stack on a bench or store away in a cupboard when they’re not in use.

Benefits of machines

man using weight machine

There are many benefits of free weights – but machines have their own advantages too!

  • Machines can be better for beginners

If you’re not very experienced in strength training, machines can be a very user-friendly option to get started. When you’re not sure what you’re doing, it can be a little intimidating using machines at first, but most machines are intuitive to use and easy to get the hang of. 

Free weights depend more on your form and ability to be most effective, while the linear motion of a machine can be a benefit if you’re new to strength training.

  • Machines can help prevent injury

Not only does your form affect the effectiveness of your free weight workouts, but it’s also important to avoid injury. Generally, learning how to use free weights safely takes more practice and training than machines. While overdoing it on machines can cause injury too, they have the benefit of moving your body through the motion, and there’s therefore less risk of getting it wrong.

  • Machines are great for an isolated workout

The fact that machines give an isolated workout is not always a bad thing. You might want to only target a certain weaker muscle of your body if you find it hard to build muscle there, or you may be injured and need to avoid straining other muscles unintentionally. In these cases, machines can be a better option for you.

The takeaway

Ultimately, when it comes to the benefits of free weights vs machines, it comes down to the individual. Using free weights is a fantastic option for improving your general fitness, targeting more muscle groups per workout and burning more calories.

However, if you’re not confident in your free weight form yet, or you’re recovering from an injury, machines are an excellent alternative. You might simply prefer the controlled motion of machines for your reps, and that’s fine too!

There’s a place for both in a complete workout – why not incorporate both into your exercise routine?

Free weights at FitKit UK

Improve your strength training and achieve the best functional fitness workouts with our range of free weights here at FitKit UK. Our range includes:

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