Why I prefer free weights over weight machines

Last week, I was approached by a new gym member who wanted to know how to use the ‘glute machine’.

He appeared surprised when I told him that despite having walked by the machine in question almost daily for the past six years, I had no idea how it worked. Do you?

[Now that’s not entirely true; I’ve seen people using it and there are instructions printed on the front of the machine that I’m entirely capable of reading and interpreting, but I’ve never actually climbed into it myself, nor instructed any of my clients in its use.]

I suggested that he either wait for the weight room attendant to return from lunch and ask her (in my gym, weight room attendants are required to know how all of the equipment works; personal trainers are not πŸ˜‰ ) or follow me over to the free weights section of the gym where I’d teach him to how to become his own, personal ‘glute machine’ (i.e., to squat, lunge and dead lift).

why I prefer free weights over weight machines

Alas, he declined my offer, preferring to remain near the weight machines he was so obviously comfortable with. Our conversation, however,Β got me thinking about why so many gym goers are hesitant to step away from the weight machine circuit and pick up a barbell or a set of dumbbells.

Perhaps it’s because they’re new to strength training and believe that machines are easier to useΒ (although I’ve seen enough people using them incorrectly to no longer believe this myself…)

Or they’re self-conscious when they exercise and don’t want anyone to watch them work out (it’s much harder to ‘blend in’ on the weight training floor…)

It may be that they think the machine circuit is the best way to get a whole body workout (it can be, if you don’t miss a machine and are happy to work one muscle group at a time…)

In my opinion, though, the most likely explanation is simply lack of information.

Sure, there are times when a weight machine should be used; rehabbing an injury, breaking through a plateau, addressing left-right muscle imbalances, or bringing up a ‘lagging’ body part when training for a figure, physique or body building competition, for example.

However, the majority of the people I see regularly using the weight machine circuit aren’t using them for any of those reasons. They’re using them because nobody’s ever told them that they’d move towards their weight loss and muscle gain goals faster if they’d just get off their butt πŸ˜‰

3 reasons why I prefer free weights over weight machines
  1. Increased muscular involvement with each exercise. Most weight machine exercises are performed seated. When you sit you relax the muscles of your core, glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps. My preference is always to move as many muscles as possible during an exercise. By trading the seated shoulder press machine for a standing overhead press, I’m challenging my core, legs and back at the same time.
  2. More natural movement patterns. Weight machines move joints through a fixed plane of motion. If the machine’s plane of motion isn’t the same as your body’s natural plane of motion, injury is a very real possibility. While free weights require more attention to form, they also allow for smaller stabilizer muscles to participate in the exercise, leading to increased strength and improved function over time.
  3. Improved workout efficiency. Free weights are portable. You can easily move them to a corner of the gym and complete your entire workout without being interrupted by another patron who wants to ‘work in’ with you on a machine. Less waiting time between exercises means a shorter, more intense workout.

Does this mean that I never use weight machines?

Not at all. There are a few that I quite like and regularly include in my own training and when training clients. But always interspersed with lots of body weight and free weight exercises.Β 

Still wanna know how the ‘glute machine’ works? πŸ˜‰

Do you use weight machines?

Which one is your favourite? Which one do you just not ‘get’?



  1. Yes! I’m not alone! At my gym, there’s a daily battle for the machines. It’s crazy! I prefer free weights because I feel like I can target more muscles that way.
    Earl-Leigh recently posted…Word{Less} Wednesday: Daddy’s GirlMy Profile

    • Earl-Leigh, yes! I really don’t get that waiting for the machines thing. I certainly don’t have time to wait, do you?
      Although there are a couple of machines that I do like, under special circumstances…

  2. I only use free weights too! I think people oftentimes rely too much on how the movement of the weight machines MOVES THEM. But many people do them incorrectly still, and might even cause injury! I think free weights give us more opportunity to control our body’s movements and really concentrate on certain areas we’re trying to work πŸ™‚ That way, we are in control, NOT the machine!
    Shannon recently posted…Tuesday Tastes: Mardi Gras Edition!!My Profile

    • Shannon you’re so right. The machines really do dictate the movement patterns and often times those patterns aren’t the way YOUR body moves. I agree that control is key!

  3. I hardly ever use weight machines with me or my clients, and they often times seem surprised when we have been training for a month and not one machine is used. They also realize why I think free weights is superior to machines, especially since they have never left the gym after doing a circuit on the machines dripping in sweat. πŸ™‚
    Heather Murphy recently posted…24- Minute AMRAP Workout.My Profile

    • I hear you. I’ve had clients ask me when I’ll be introducing them to the machine circuit. I always tell them that if all they’re interested in doing is a pre-set circuit, they don’t need to hire me to show them how πŸ™‚

  4. Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I’m free at last!
    Free weights are my favorite, because they allow me to escape the gym. Working out at home is way better than competing with everyone in a gym. I love how you explain the 3 benefits as well. Sit less!

    • Ha, ha! Yes! Getting out of the gym is important to many of us and only knowing how to use machines limits our workout potential enormously. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. It’s funny…my first foray into strength training eons ago was with the machines. Not sure why that seems to be the natural starting point? But anyhow, today I pretty much don’t ever use them. I love body weight exercises and free weights, medicine balls, stability balls, etc. (all stuff I can do at home!)
    misszippy recently posted…What if everybody ran?My Profile

    • I think you’re right, in that it seems to be a natural starting point for people who are new to the gym. I find it incredibly, though, that the same people are on the same machines day after day, year after year (coincidentally, they still look the same as well…)

  6. I never used the machines b/c they confused the heck out of me! I knew what to do with a dumbbell or bar at least. I never wanted to stand there and try to read the directions LOL. And I agree on all of your reasons for using the free weights. I find that you have to use far more stabilizer muscles.

  7. I love free weights! That’s what I use most. I really only use the leg press, mid row and lat pull for machines. Assisted pull ups when I’m at my school gym!
    Alysia @ Slim Sanity recently posted…Do You Eat Too Much Salt?My Profile

  8. You know my answer – I love me some free weights! πŸ™‚ I use it all though. I actually so as many exercises as I can standing up vs. seated. Anything I can do standing, I do. πŸ™‚ I do lots of free weights but also use cable machines & some other machines to mix it up. πŸ™‚

    Greta post & thoughts on this. I agree.. many just don’t know how.. although I see some that well, they just want to get thru it as quick as possible.. πŸ˜‰
    Jody – Fit at 56 recently posted…Biggest Fitness Mistakes People Make in Losing Weight & Getting Healthier & FitterMy Profile

  9. I’m just the opposite – intimidated by the machines. We have a bowflex at home that I use for hamstring curls and leg extensions once in a while but I mostly use free weights for many of the reasons you said. Plus I am small, and most machines aren’t designed for a 5’1″ frame!
    Coco recently posted…Three Things Thursday (The Foreign Travel Edition)My Profile

  10. I’m in the minority here but I definitely gravitate towards the machines on the rare occasion that I lift weights in the gym. (I prefer Pilates Reformer classes for strength training.) I am so ungraceful, so uncoordinated, so weak in my core, and have such abysmal balance that I’ve dropped weights, can’t keep them going in the same/correct direction at the same time, and end up compromising form because I overcompensate for my weaknesses by leaning or hunching up or whatever. It’s honestly why I avoid the gym almost entirely.
    Denise @ Do you have that in my size??? recently posted…Three things I’m grateful for this week: March 6My Profile

    • Denise, that’s a good point. Not everybody has great balance and coordination. However, I have found that by working with my clients who are ‘balance-challenged’, we can improve balance and coordination (as well as strength) by lifting light free weights and focusing on form.
      I’ve never tried a Pilates Reformer class, but am intrigued!

      • I must wholeheartedly disagree with everyone but Denise @ Do you have that in my size??? – some people are sooo uncoordinated and despite constant cuing & reinforcement of good form, never can grasp or comprehend how to perform a move properly. Once you think they’ve straightened out a bad habit and you address something else, they revert back to the previous bad habit – never being able to string them together successfully. That’s where machines play a vital role. As well, it’s easier to correct their issues. Give me a Leg Press, Smith Machine, Back Extension apparatus, Glute-Ham Raise, along with a Reverse Hyper machine and I’ll build a set of legs & derriere that would outshine most! Machines do have their place, and not just with special populations. It’s all about how one performs a move, not what move your doing or the weight (which is relative) being used.

        • DJ, thanks for the reminder that there is never a be-all-and-end-all answer in fitness! Everybody needs to figure out what works for them (and in the case of personal trainers, their clients).

          Given that many of my clients really do need to focus on core strength and balance, my preference for them is a healthy dose of free weights. But I’ve certainly seen lots of great legs and glutes developed, in part, by training on machines.

  11. I like both and normally combine those two in my workout time.
    Lena recently posted…Five on Friday – Bling! (Mostly)My Profile

  12. I much prefer free weights to the machines. WE use more muscles with free weights and the movements are much more natural to our everyday movements. I think people are just intimidated to go into the free weight area. Even I, as a personal trainer, feel uncomfortable in the free weight area sometimes because I am usually the only girl. I definitely know how to use the free weights more than the machines;)
    Rachelle Q recently posted…Apera Bag ReviewMy Profile

  13. I don’t use weight machines at all. Of course, I work out at home, but even if I went to a gym, I’d use free weights. I prefer them for all the reasons you listed. Plus, I like to incorporate cardio on my lighter-weight days, and free weights are a great way to do that.
    Carrie Rubin recently posted…“En Garde: My Battle with Breast Cancer” and The Mind-Body ConnectionMy Profile

  14. Free weights and machines definitely present a different dynamic to your workout. Both can get the job done. But I definitely see your perspective on the subject.

    • And figuring out the combo that works best for YOUR body is always key! πŸ™‚ Thanks for stopping by Caleb!


  1. […] I agree with everything in this post: Why I prefer free weights over weight machines […]

  2. […] Why I prefer free weights over weight machines via Fitknitchick because even though I sometimes feel like I have no idea what I’m doing with free weights and do use machines as well as free, I always feel stronger when I go that route. However, I also believe that free weights > weight machines > no weights. […]