I often hear from my clients that they are not sure when to use dumbbells (free weights) and when to use machines. Is one method of training better? More efficient? Easier? Safer?

Well, one method of training is not “better” – it is just different and may be used for different reasons, objectives space and safety concerns.

Here are some points of differentiation…

Benefits of using machine:
  • they are safer and provide more stability for the joint (the machine limits your range of motion by keeping theĀ  joint in a “safe” zone)
  • a “spotter” is not necessary
  • requires less coordination or skill
  • it is more convenient to use (especially if using heavier weights) because you just move the pin up or down
Downfalls of using machines:
  • The stabilizing muscles do not get any work
  • little muscle fiber recruitment
  • take up more space and are more costly
  • limit to the amount of weight used
  • at a gym you may have to wait for your turn to use.
Benefits of free weights/dumbbells, barbells:
  • requires more muscle fibers to activate to perform an exercise
  • your “core” muscles act as stabilizers and also get to work
  • helps improve coordination
  • Self-joint stabilization- you are putting more weight not only on muscles but on ligaments, joints
  • there is more versatility
  • they take up less space and cost less
Downfalls of using free weights/dumbbells/barbells:
  • Risk of injury greater due to joint instability (your joints work through the entire range of motion)
  • need a spotter for many exercises
  • requires more skill and coordination to perform

So if you are new to exercising it may be wise to start by using machines first. Once you know how joints move and how exercises are performed, you can add more versatility to your workouts by adding some free weights.

As a trainer, I believe it is really important to understand how to properly use equipment and free weights by hiring a certified personal trainer. If funds are sparse, look into small group training and share the cost with a few workout buddies. If that does not fit your budget either, attend some free weight class at your gym.

Proper weight training is essential not only for safety reasons, but also because you do not want to spend time on exercises that are not benefiting you as much as they could.

Good luck! Remember weights ARE integral to a solid and strong body!