Equipment experts and personal trainers answered our call to determine a winner for which strength equipment provides the most effective, versatile workouts – free weights or machines?
First, it is imperative to mention that the best home workout is the one you consistently do. So, it’s important to keep your personal fitness goals and preferences the priority, and then choose the right fitness equipment to achieve your desired results.
“Using machines or free weights often comes down to personal preference, space needs or convenience. You can increase strength, increase muscle, get in shape, become leaner, have more endurance and look better using either free weights or machines. Muscles do not care if you are using machines or free weights to get in shape. To them, resistance is resistance. Both are tools that are used to achieve a goal. Knowing which tool to use is the big question,” shares Jim Gallagher, Co-owner of Strength for Life.
How to purchase strength training equipment:
To help you get started, we polled our equipment experts to know the top questions to ask before purchasing specific strength equipment for your home gym.
- What are your current, and future, workout goals?
- Do you have a specific training plan in mind to achieve them?
- Do you have any injuries or limitations you want to strengthen or work around? Are you rehabbing from an injury?
- What kind of home gym space do you have available?
- Will more than 1 person be using the fitness equipment?
“Before recommending any fitness equipment, I always suggest an initial assessment with my clients. It is the best way to match them with the right product for their goals. Questions include, what is a good starting point for my current fitness or experience level? Can I use these in my home with ease? Can someone demonstrate how to use what I am purchasing? If not, do you know of any fitness professionals to recommend to me?” explains Sean Michael owner of Transformations By Sean Michael.
Also – you HAVE to test, touch, and try equipment!
Online reviews can be a resource in your fitness equipment search, but each brand uniquely constructs their equipment to enhance the outcome of workouts. Meaning, design features that may feel natural and comfortable to one user may feel awkward to another.
“As a trainer for over 15 years, one clear trend I have noticed is that ‘one size DOES NOT fit all’. Some equipment can be great for some and hated by others. Sometimes it is a matter of height, or body-type, general preference, joint limitations, ergonomics, space availability, or maybe most importantly a person’s specific goals.I recommend trying out equipment before purchasing it (would you buy a car without test-driving it first?). When purchasing equipment from an online-based retailer, it can be lower quality than the stock photos would make you believe. Even the item’s reviews descriptions or reviews can be misleading,” says personal trainer Petros Arzoumanidis, Owner of Workout Anywhere Inc
The benefits of incorporating free weights into your workouts:
“Both machine and free weights have their own benefits, but I prefer free weights in my own workouts and for my clients because they allow for a fuller range of motion and they offer versatility and functionality in training. Free weights place a greater demand on stabilizing muscles and there are endless variations to keep training fun. With just a few sets of dumbbells (and if available some elastic bands and a weighted ball), I am able to create variety and comprehensive workouts for my at-home clients,” explains Esther Choi Williams personal trainer and founder of fitblvd.
Another benefit to incorporating free weights into your workouts is that you can grow your collection as your endurance and fitness levels increase.
Plus, they fit, feel comfortable, and function properly across multiple users in a variety of different spaces and workouts.
“Free weights offer a full range of motion that machines typically do not. And take up less space which allow you to workout anywhere, anytime. This is an asset to someone who may not have space for a large home gym that a machine could require. Additionally, you use your own movement patterns to utilize your core and other muscle groups that you may not be using while stationed on a machine that isolates certain specifically when using a machine,” according to Hampton Fitness, a company dedicated to innovating free weight products.
The benefits of incorporating machines into your workouts:
If you are new to exercise, weight machines might be more beneficial in teaching proper technique, which can reduce the chance of injury.
“Machines are generally a better option for people new to exercise because they are designed to work in a controlled range of motion where only specific muscles are targeted and recruited. It is a safer option as well because each machine has a clear starting and stopping point. Plus, machines might be a little easier for accommodating multiple users, simply because some machine’s have an APP that you can download to help act as a personal trainer (For example, the CYBEX Bravo APP).”
Safety is another benefit to using cable machines and home gyms.
“Machines can be safer because you hold a handle attached to a weight stack, so if you lose grip on the handle you won’t drop weight on yourself. Also, they generally move in linear motions (straight up/down, forward/back, or side to side) and this takes away the instability one would experience while holding a free weight,” explains Petros Arzoumanidis.
For example, the Hoist Mi7 functional trainer’s safe system allows you disengage the equipment if you get stuck without a spotter, or in the middle of an exercise. Take a virtual tour of the Hoist Mi7 home gym.
Free weights vs machines: Which provides a more versatile workout?
Ultimately, the right fitness equipment solution depends on your goals and personal preferences. Quality fitness equipment is an investment in your health, and you can’t go wrong when you choose equipment you are motivated to use.
- “My philosophy of fitness is to make it fun, relatable and stimulating (body and mind). Just like any other area of life, to make it more exciting and different we need more than one gadget. I enjoy having my clients be involved with both free weights and machines for different purposes; free weights take precise form and technique which activates your core and your mind (when done properly), while machines (for the most part) lock you into a specific range of motion which helps you target and isolate specific muscle(s) at a time. The best fitness programs and regimes involve a bit of both – machines and free weights – to keep you challenged, intrigued, and sweaty,” shares Kate Campbell owner of Coach Kate: Fitness & Life Transformation Coaching.
- “It depends on the equipment. If you are using a multifunctional machine is has the capability of accommodating multiple users on the same equipment. However, dumbbells can be swapped out easily without changing seat heights, pins, or attachments. Meaning, you can quickly and easily move from one exercise to the next,” points out personal trainer Sean Michael.
- “Free weights are great because they are functional and mimic the activities we do everyday. For example, carrying groceries or picking up a child. Machines let you isolate a muscle, which can be great if you are rehabbing or needing to build strength,” shares Melanie Yoshida owner of ‘Be Well With Mel’ personal training.
And, our equipment experts agree – it depends on your goals and preferences.
“Free-weights are great, because they can accommodate multiple people trying to work out at the same time. Plus, free weights are a great space saving tool. While a functional trainer or home gym’s weight stack design can add versatility to workouts, and accommodates multiple people working out on the same machine. Another perk is that it is less labor intensive to adjust the weight from one user to the next on a machine.”
Notable Strength Training Equipment
Now that you know the best way to start, add to, or update your strength routine – you can begin exploring specific pieces of strength training equipment.
Need help getting started? Equipment experts share strength solutions that they consider great for any home gym:
– Hoist MI7 smith machine – “It is the most realistic motion to free weights I have found in a smith machine. It keeps you from making lateral movement with the weight but still allows for the natural body mechanics of the exercise.”
– Cybex Bravo – “One of the best strength pieces that you can do a lot with, in a very compact area.”
– Power rack – “Allows you to do body weight as well as heavy barbell work.”
– TuffStuff Hybrid Home Gym – “Great for anyone. Works all muscles. Both machine and free weight motion.”
– NuBells – “They really did their research to come up with a more ergonomically correct dumbbell then the standard 2 headed units on the market. The standard dumbbells put undo stress on the outside of your wrist joints were the weight is distributed, compared to the NuBells, which distributes the weight evenly around the entire joints.”
– Hampton Fitness products – “Ergonomic design to match human anatomy. Hampton dumbbells’ grip is form fitted to your hand, creating a more comfortable workout experience.”
Time to break a sweat!
Connect with an equipment expert at your local Gym Source showroom for personalized help finding the best fitness equipment to support your workouts and goals.