Go to any gym for more than a few weeks and you’re sure to hear the free weights or machines argument. It’s a debate that has been going for some time but in my opinion for muscle gain there is only one winner and that is free weights.
Before I explain why I believe free weights are better for muscle gain let me just clear up the difference between a free weight and a weight lifting machine. Barbells and dumbells are what are known as free weights because there is nothing helping you in the lift. The machines you may have seen in gyms or perhaps have at home in your garage (home gym) with cables and pulleys to guide the weights are known as weight training machines.
While machines are perfect for beginners or for people trying to get in shape because there is far less chance of picking up an injury during your workout, if you have gone beyond that stage and are looking to get ripped with plenty of muscle gain and definition free weights are the way to train.
Free weights stimulate not only the muscle you are working on but also the surrounding muscle fibers whilst machines don’t.
Lets use an example: Suppose you are laid down about to do a bench press with free weights. You reach up and lift the barbell from its rest but once it is free it wobbles slightly so you fight to keep it balanced. You do that with your stabilizers and the synergist muscles that surround the biceps. You use those muscles to steady the bar as you both lower and then raise it to complete the bench press.
Now, doing a bench press on one of the various weight training machines found at gyms doesn’t require the use of any of those surrounding muscles because the machine handles the balancing work for you. All that is required is the lowering and press which works the biceps just as the free weights did but none of those other muscles.
Doing free weight exercises like dumbell presses, dumbell squats, dumbell fly and of course the already mentioned bench press put enormous stresses on those supporting muscles. For the more experienced of you, that’s the reason why a free weight workout has you panting a lot harder than a machine workout. The thing is though, whilst free weights definitely wear you out quicker – which means you will probably have to lower the weight to complete your usual reps – you will get much stronger and gain more muscle at a lot faster rate.
Now, having hopefully explained the benefits of free weights let me also say that there is a place for machine training in your workout routine. I simply recommend that you do your free weight exercises first so you can commit your full strength to them and then move on to any machine you have included in your program.
If you are new to the getting ripped idea and just starting out it is even more important that you do free weights because those supporting muscles need building up first so that you can then work on the major muscles. Start on lighter weights though, don’t jump straight in as you can end up with an injury which will set your goals back.
Using lighter free weights will build these supporting muscles so that you can execute the free weight exercises smoothly and safely. Once you can do that you can up the weights a little and work on your primary muscles.
I personally class a light free weight as a weight you can do 15 to 20 reps of without failure. Heavy free weights are where you can manage only 8 to 12 repititions before failure and a short rest is required before the next set. You should not be able to do more than 3 sets.
If you are experienced with weight training machines and is someone who comes down on the side of machine weights in the debate then all I suggest is that you try free weights for just one month and that should soon change your mind.