Gym machines vs. free weights

I personally prefer using the machines over the free weights just because the machine kind of forces you into the right form. However, I have found that the weights on the machines seem to be off compared to what I can lift using free weights. Could it just be the difference in form or can the weight on machines actually be "off" or incorrect? Overall I know it doesn't really matter as long as I continue improving, but I've just been curious about this. My trainer even told me that the machines at the other gym where she works are different, weight-wise than my gym. You'd think it would all be universal.

Replies

  • goal06082021
    goal06082021 Posts: 2,130 Member
    edited July 2021
    Machines isolate muscle movements - they force you into the right form by doing all of the stabilizing for you. Free weights force you to use your muscles to stabilize yourself.

    edit to add: That's not to say one is inherently better or worse than the other, it depends on what your goals are.

    edit to add again, to clarify: There will always be a difference between picking up a 5lb plate with your bare hands and picking that plate up with a cable and pulley system. Pulleys make lifting heavy things easier, it's what they're for, if you remember your elementary-school science lessons on simple machines. If you're finding that, say, doing biceps curls with 10lb dumbbells is harder than preacher curls on the machine set at 10lbs, it's because of that stabilization that I mentioned more than anything, but also the plate labeled 10lbs does probably have a gross weight greater than 10lbs - they compensate for the help from the pulley(s), but they can't compensate for the individual variation in ability among users. Also, yes, different companies have different designs for their isolation resistance training equipment and sometimes the increment is different from one brand to another, or even one machine to the next within the same brand.
  • IllustriousBee
    IllustriousBee Posts: 70 Member
    That all makes total sense. Thanks for your in depth answer! I always just found it odd that I could do, say 50lbs on a machine, but when I tried the same thing with free weights I felt like a total wimp LOL. I might have to switch it up a bit more.
  • Motorsheen
    Motorsheen Posts: 20,492 Member
    Machines isolate muscle movements - they force you into the right form by doing all of the stabilizing for you. Free weights force you to use your muscles to stabilize yourself.

    edit to add: That's not to say one is inherently better or worse than the other, it depends on what your goals are.

    edit to add again, to clarify: There will always be a difference between picking up a 5lb plate with your bare hands and picking that plate up with a cable and pulley system. Pulleys make lifting heavy things easier, it's what they're for, if you remember your elementary-school science lessons on simple machines. If you're finding that, say, doing biceps curls with 10lb dumbbells is harder than preacher curls on the machine set at 10lbs, it's because of that stabilization that I mentioned more than anything, but also the plate labeled 10lbs does probably have a gross weight greater than 10lbs - they compensate for the help from the pulley(s), but they can't compensate for the individual variation in ability among users. Also, yes, different companies have different designs for their isolation resistance training equipment and sometimes the increment is different from one brand to another, or even one machine to the next within the same brand.

    giphy.gif?cid=ecf05e47gmr1vurwh1u8cvgv0o7preevxirhd86b4k74ivsq&rid=giphy.gif&ct=g
  • goal06082021
    goal06082021 Posts: 2,130 Member
    Cherimoose wrote: »
    I personally prefer using the machines over the free weights just because the machine kind of forces you into the right form.

    Well, machines force you into their form, but whether it's good form depends on whether the machine fits your proportions - which is not always the case, and has injured people before. Unfortunately many trainers aren't knowledgeable enough about kinesiology to determine if a machine truly fits you. Then there is the issue of how machines don't simulate how multiple muscle groups coordinate together when we lift things outside the gym, and that too can cause injuries if those skills aren't trained. Learning & using proper form for freeweights isn't that difficult for most people, especially with the resources on youtube and elsewhere.
    Thank you for listening to my rant. :+1:

    The first bolded is an excellent point and should have been something that occurred to me, a 5'2" woman with a 26" inseam and an ample chest. The people who designed all of the iso machines at my gym did so with a body that shares no features with mine, beyond the general "four limbs, bipedal locomotion" body schema common to humans. The machines are generally designed with a user in mind who stands about 5'8" tall (+/- about 3-4 inches), with average limb proportions and a flat chest. Preacher curls, triceps pushdowns, seated rows, leg curls and extensions, and the hip ad/abductor machines are all hard for me to use - my chest gets in the way of the ones with a chest pad; I can't get my butt and my knees to both be in the right place at the same time to use the leg machines.

    I do agree with the second bolded, that's kind of what I was getting at, but yesterday was a long day and I wasn't wordsing very goodly. :P
  • AnnPT77
    AnnPT77 Posts: 32,031 Member
    I personally prefer using the machines over the free weights just because the machine kind of forces you into the right form. However, I have found that the weights on the machines seem to be off compared to what I can lift using free weights. Could it just be the difference in form or can the weight on machines actually be "off" or incorrect? Overall I know it doesn't really matter as long as I continue improving, but I've just been curious about this. My trainer even told me that the machines at the other gym where she works are different, weight-wise than my gym. You'd think it would all be universal.

    There are admittedly pros and cons of each (and some are individualized, as noted in the comment about whether the machine set-up is good or not-so-good for your body proportions, form-wise).

    One pro of the freeweights is that it does train those smaller stabilizer muscles in better balance with the major muscles you're striving to strengthen. Though it's an overused term, this makes the freeweight exercises more "functional".

    If you think about it, when you lift things in real life, like lifting a heavy suitcase, putting a heavy box on a high storage shelf, etc., you don't have something assisting you with the lifting path: It's all about those stabilizers. Therefore, there can be some payoff in training those, too. (Yes, form is important . . . with suitcases and boxes, too, not just barbells/dumbbells.)
  • slade51
    slade51 Posts: 180 Member
    Usually I prefer free weights to machines for the reason that they force you to stabilize. But there are some machines that I find important to me. Barbell back squats are too dangerous for me, so I stick with a Smith machine. I can’t do pull-ups or dips with my own body weight, but I found a great “assist” machine where you set the weight to counterbalance your own weight.

    Cable machines for lat and triceps pull down work great.

    It’s like running, rowing or biking, do what you enjoy, and if you enjoy more than one, enjoy the variety.
  • ninerbuff
    ninerbuff Posts: 48,503 Member
    I try to have my clients use free weights as much as possible, but there are certain machines I NEED because they wouldn't be able to do it free weight or body weight wise. Many can't do pullups so a pulldown is the better option. Same with bent over rows with my older clients. A seated cable row is better for them. And how many different hamstring curls can you do with a dumbbell?
    All in all, there are many ways to incorporate machines into a balanced program.

    A.C.E. Certified Personal and Group Fitness Trainer
    IDEA Fitness member
    Kickboxing Certified Instructor
    Been in fitness for 30 years and have studied kinesiology and nutrition

    9285851.png
  • nossmf
    nossmf Posts: 8,967 Member
    A couple things not mentioned which I ran into personally in the gym...

    First, don't assume the numbers listed are in pounds. Check. I have one machine at my gym which measures everything in kilograms. Not a problem, IF you are aware of this fact. (Fun fact: 100 lb does NOT weigh the same as 100 kg!)

    Second, another machine at my place has twin pulleys rather than a single one. The idea is for each hand to pull a separate pulley, enabling the user to work each limb independently of the other. BUT, both cables connect to the same weight stack. (Still trying to wrap my head around how this minor engineering miracle works...) Anyway, the weights listed are for each arm, not combined like it'd be easy to assume were the case.
  • goal06082021
    goal06082021 Posts: 2,130 Member
    nossmf wrote: »
    A couple things not mentioned which I ran into personally in the gym...

    First, don't assume the numbers listed are in pounds. Check. I have one machine at my gym which measures everything in kilograms. Not a problem, IF you are aware of this fact. (Fun fact: 100 lb does NOT weigh the same as 100 kg!)

    Second, another machine at my place has twin pulleys rather than a single one. The idea is for each hand to pull a separate pulley, enabling the user to work each limb independently of the other. BUT, both cables connect to the same weight stack. (Still trying to wrap my head around how this minor engineering miracle works...) Anyway, the weights listed are for each arm, not combined like it'd be easy to assume were the case.

    Good point! As a quick-and-dirty rule, one kilogram is about two pounds (2.2, if we're being technical). Usually it's noted on the machine somewhere but if you aren't sure, err on the side of starting way too light and add weight until you get to your butter zone. If you're used to working in lbs, pick a plate marked with about half of your working weight (so if you normally do 50lb, put the pin in the plate marked closest to 25) - if it feels challenging enough, you're using a metric machine.
  • Mellouk89
    Mellouk89 Posts: 469 Member
    edited July 2021
    I think the weights on the machines are mostly accurate. For reference, with chin ups I usually do 185lbs for 3 x 8 and on the reverse lat pulldown which is almost the same movement I do 200lbs for 3 x 8. It makes sense that I can lift slightly more weight on the lat pulldown because I use less stabilizing muscles. And it's the same for chest press compared to the dumbbell bench press.