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Free weights offer more specific training than machines

Nick Grantham explains the benefits of free weights when strength training.

Resistance training is finally being accepted as a legitimate form of training for sportsmen and women in the UK, with benefits ranging from increased muscular strength and power to decreased body fat and even enhanced cardiovascular fitness. The main problem facing the newcomer is where to begin, since choosing the appropriate training method can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of the program. And the key question for most people is: should I use free weights or machines?

Free weights or machines

Now answers are at hand in the shape of an extensive review of training methods carried out by researchers in Scotland and the United States. These are the issues they advise you to consider before finalising your resistance-training program:

  1. The speed of movement. Can you complete the exercise with the same power and speed of movement needed for your chosen sporting discipline? Research suggests that this is an important aspect of training, which most machines are unable to satisfy owing to their limited range of motion, llittle acceleration patterns and friction
  2. Joint angle specificity. Most machines attempt to match human strength curves with limited success. If you train solely on machines you could be in danger of developing strength within a small range of motion - a problem not inherent in free-moving devices
  3. Movement pattern specificity. Numerous studies have shown free weights to be superior to machines when attempting to develop athletic movements such as running and jumping. This could be due to the strong mechanical relationship between free-weight exercises, such as squatting, and athletic movements like vertical jumping. Free weights also require balance and coordination and allow unlimited variation in hand and foot spacing, providing for more varied training
  4. Multi-joint activity. Free-weight exercises involve more joints and more complex movement patterns. This facilitates greater neural adaptation, resulting in improved skill acquisition. The ability to transfer improved motor performance from resistance training to sporting activities is not commonly associated with machines
  5. Cost-effectiveness. Typically only one or two exercises can be performed on a machine, while with free weights you can perform many different exercises with minimal equipment.

The researchers conclude that, for most sports, training with complex multi-joint exercises using free weights can produce superior results to training with machines. However, machines should not be dismissed entirely and may still play a role in training for many sports.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • GRANTHAM, N. (2003) Free weights offer more specific training than machines. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 7 / November), p. 7

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • GRANTHAM, N. (2003) Free weights offer more specific training than machines [WWW] Available from: [Accessed