The Schmooze

Comparing Machines, Free Weights and Bodyweight Training

Friday, March 8, 2019

When it comes to strength training, there are so many ways in which you can train your body using resistance. Knowing where to start and what to use can be overwhelming. Typically, gyms will have a few different sections designated to strength training that include:

 

1)  Seated Machines

2)  Cable Machines

3)  Free Weights

4)  Bodyweight

 

 

 

Let’s discuss these sections along with the pros and cons of each:

 

The seated machines are usually in a circuit that will hit most of the major muscle groups of the upper body, lower body and core in a seated position. These machines are adjustable in both position and resistance, and isolate a particular muscle group or groups.

 

 

Pros:

- Easier to use for most of the general public with little knowledge of exercises

- Shows what muscle group or groups are being used for the exercise, including pictures and how-to instructions

- Great to isolate a particular muscle group on which you may be focusing

- Helps to keep you in proper position and form

- Good for supporting the back

- Completing exercises on entire circuit machine section will hit most major muscles of the body

 

Cons:

- Less effective in developing strength

- Limits the recruitment of other muscle groups and stabilizer muscles

- Limits core activation

- Doesn’t incorporate balance

- One size does not fit all - machines are built for the average frame. If you are too short or too tall the machine may not properly adjust to your measurements and will therefore be unsafe, ineffective and/or unusable

- Some can be hard to manage or adjust properly due to limited strength or not knowing proper adjustments

- Weight limit - If the lightest setting is too heavy or the heaviest setting is too light you cannot regress or progress

- Expensive and large space required

 

Cable machines are one of my favorite sections. This is the area of the gym that has a bunch of cables and available attachments. There are endless things you can do in this section for incorporating exercises to hit all muscles of the body. These machines offer varied positions, attachments, directions and resistance.

 

Pros:

- Shows some exercises you can do including pictures, how-to instructions and what muscles are being used

- Versatile - multi-directional positions and exercises can be done from one area

- Options to isolate specific muscle groups or work multiple muscle groups

- Recruits stabilizer muscles

- Requires core activation

- Requires balance and stability

- All sizes and ages can use effectively with knowledge

 

Cons:

- Need knowledge in this area to utilize properly

- Good posture, form, core activation and stabilization are crucial in this area to prevent injury

- Can be hard to adjust pulleys - can be too high or tough to move into desired position depending on strength and height

- Weight limit - If the lightest setting is too heavy or the heaviest setting is too light you cannot regress or progress

- Expensive and a large space required

 

The free weight section includes resistance weight such as dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, weighted balls, etc. It also includes benches, seats, and racks. This section is another area where you can do endless work for every muscle group of the body in varied positions.

 

Pros: 

- Extremely versatile - varied positions and exercises can be done

- Works multiple muscle groups

- Recruits stabilizer muscles

- Requires core activation

- Requires balance and stability during standing exercises

- Greater power and overall strength is improved and achieved more efficiently

- Benches and seats allow options between seated or lying exercises to help stabilize the back or help isolate particular muscle groups

- There is no weight limit - weight starts at 0 lbs. and can progress to as heavy as you can manage

- All sizes and ages can use effectively with knowledge

- Inexpensive and a small space is required for most equipment

 

Cons:

- Also need knowledge in this area

- Can be time consuming if removing/replacing plates and making weight changes

- Can be difficult to isolate a muscle or muscle group

- Good posture, form, core activation and stabilization are crucial in this area to prevent injury

- Very easy to have improper control - free weights require an extreme amount of control working both with and against gravity — too often people use momentum to drive the move rather than control of the muscle or muscles being used

 

The final section of resistance is where you use your own bodyweight to achieve strength gains. This section will have things like mats, stability balls, box steps, bosu balls, resistance bands, etc. When using your own bodyweight, no equipment is necessary but certain equipment can assist in the exercises to make them harder, more challenging, or recruit more muscles.

 

Pros:

- No equipment necessary means you can do these type of exercises anywhere, not just in a gym

- Recruits multiple muscles in almost all exercises

- Recruits stabilizer muscles

- Requires core activation

- Can incorporate balance and stability depending on exercises

- Produces lean muscle

- Little to no expense and space required

 

Cons:

- Also need some knowledge in this area

- Can be hard to maintain proper form — good posture, form, core activation and stabilization are crucial with these exercises to prevent injury

 

As you can see there are some pros and cons to all sections. Where you end up will depend on your goals, knowledge, injuries and what you are trying to achieve.

 

• If you are looking to support your back, isolate and strengthen each muscle group in a fairly safe and effective way without much knowledge of exercise, then it is best to work on the seated machines. 

 

• If you are looking to recruit multiple muscle groups, stabilizer muscles and core along with building lean muscle and/or muscle mass, then cable or free weights would be best. 

 

• If you are looking to produce super lean muscle while recruiting multiple muscle groups and activating the core, then bodyweight exercises are an excellent choice. 

 

Depending on what you are trying to achieve, each section has it’s benefits. I personally like to jump around and hit all sections in one workout. Whether I am working upper body, lower body, core, or full body, I like to incorporate the benefits of all sections. I hit my muscles from different angles, through different methods and sections of the gym to ensures I fire up all the muscle fibers. This allows me to isolate a particular muscle group as well as recruit other muscles in besides the ones I am focusing on. I particularly like to make sure my core is constantly being activated so multiple standing and bodyweight exercises are a must in each of my workouts.

 

Most important thing to note is that no matter what section you are in, be sure you are knowledgeable in the exercises you are performing. Proper posture, form, control and weight is required to do an exercise properly and effectively without injury. 

 

If you are unsure about a particular section of the gym and would like to learn more about what exercises you can perform, be sure to visit our fitness center and speak to one of the many qualified trainers on staff about setting up an appointment.

 

 

JOY KUBELKA

 

•  ISSA Certified Personal Fitness Trainer

•  AFFA Certified Group Fitness Instructor

•  NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist

•  Specialize in: - Kickboxing - Strength Training - High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

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