Weight training remains undisputed as one of the best ways to drop extra pounds and obtain great, lasting physical fitness. Muscle continues to burn calories, even when at rest, and the more muscle you have, the more this benefits you in your waistline and your overall health. But the argument still remains over whether or not free weights or weight machines offer the fullest extent of weight-training results.
Free weights force you to use your own muscles and strength to stabilize the weight throughout the exercise motion. Proponents say this makes for a more well-rounded weight training experience. And to some extent, they’re right. Free weights require you to engage core muscles and complimentary muscle groups to successfully complete the exercise. But what you often end up sacrificing is technique and form. With so many muscles involved, it can become easy to lose focus on the specific muscle group you’re trying to work, which is where machines come in.
At their purest, weight machines are designed to isolate a muscle group and work it to its maximum capacity. With just a little initial training or instruction on how to use the machine properly, even a novice can reap the benefits of proper form, building muscle faster and with less chance of injury. The drawback is that it can take much longer to complete a single workout as you work through a lengthy circuit in order to train every muscle in a body zone (upper body, lower body, core, etc.).
Obviously, the solution is to combine elements of both free weights and machines into your workout. How you do it is up to you... but there is a simple formula for determining your personal fit. Pick a muscle group (for example let’s say biceps), and do one exercise set of reps with free weights (eight 20-pound curls). Take a longer-than-usual rest. Then, do another set of reps of the same exercise on the weight machine (eight curls at 20 pounds). Evaluate which method gave you a stronger burn for the specific muscle you were trying to work. If you found one method less effective than the other, opt for the max burn. Re-evaluate every time you increase your starting weight by more than 10 pounds.