• Phil

Machine Exercises vs. Free Weights – What’s the Difference?

If you’re starting out a new workout regiment, you may be asking yourself the difference between machine exercises and free weights.

No matter what your fitness goals are, incorporating some form of strength training into your exercises is a great idea. Not only does strength training allow you to get stronger and increase your flexibility, but it also speeds up your metabolism helps you burn fat faster.

Most gyms offer a variety of equipment to help get you started. When referring to free weight exercises, these encompass objects not attached to a particular device. For instance, movements executed with a dumbbell are part of free weight exercises. Machine exercises on the other hand, typically restrict movement to one plane and allow appropriate weight adjustments.

The only exercise that has a little bit in common with both are exercises done with cable stations. Although these weights are tied down to a device, the range of motion experienced with this exercise is typical to that of free weights as movement is unrestricted.

When making the decision over which type of exercise to perform, consider the following advantages and disadvantages.

Free Weights


- These exercises are great for replicating natural body movements as range of motion is completely unrestricted.

- Muscle stabilizers are more actively engaged with free weights. These act to stabilize the body and extremities during multi-plane movement. These actions are inherently beneficial for rehabilitation purposes.

- Co-ordination is increased with free weight movement.

- Increased variety with free weight exercises. Did you know there are approximately 20 different exercises for biceps alone?


- Learning curve is extremely hard for beginners.

- Injuries may occur if exercises are not conducted properly or without the assistance of a personal trainer.



- Machines are easy to use and instructions are usually available on the equipment itself.

- Isolation of specific muscle groups is possible.

- Easy to alternate level of resistance.


- Repeated isolation can be stressful for joints.

- Muscle stabilizers aren’t actively being developed.

- Movement can be unnatural.


Use a combination of machine and free weights to achieve your goals. For instance, if your stabilizer muscles are extremely fatigued after a workout, consider isolation exercises using machines the following day. If you’re going for functional strength, utilize more free weights to develop volume and muscle mass.

That's it for today's post! If you need ideas on the types of exercises right for you, you may be interested in our personal training services on the Guelph Personal Trainer homepage.