Free Weights vs Machine Weights; Which is Best?

Barbell and Dumbbells

Walk into any gym and you will usually see quite a number of machines ranging from cables to Hammer Strength and some in-between.

Hopefully, you will also see a ready range of free weights – Dumbbell Rack, Squat Station, bars and plates.

Where to go and what to do?

Free Weights vs Machine Weights – Which is Best? 

Like everything throughout history, fads come and go and what is ‘in’ today will be proven non-efficient tomorrow.

For a while there, it appeared resistance machines were the new ‘darlings’ of the gym with everyone from beginner to pro bodybuilder singing the praises for cables and smith machines.

This seems to be abating somewhat with a lot of muscle builders opting for the proven alliance of Free Weights to build a thick, strong frame.

Free weights have endured the test of time and maintain their place in the muscle building kingdom.

Defending the Free Weight:

As always, I first reference the great bodybuilders and strongmen of the past.

Yes, you see footage of Arnold honing it out on the rowing machine and some other cable work.  However, is that how he forged his massive chest, thick back and bulging upper arms?

The majority of documentation shows the legendary bodybuilders lifting Free Weights and lifting Heavy.

Arnold Doing Compound Lifts

 Benefits of Free Weights:

  • Free weight allows for a natural path of movement during the lift.
  • Using Free Weights will recruit more help from stabilizer muscles creating more overall strength and balance in development.
  • Free Weight compound lifts are proven mass and strength builders with decades of physical and scientific reports supporting their effectiveness.
  • When performing compound lifts with free weights the added necessity of stabilizers leads to greater core strength and therefore tighter (less fat) and fuller abdominal muscles.

Can Machines Be Useful For Building Muscle?

Absolutely – Machines are great for safety and also for gaining a variable resistance on the concentric and eccentric movements.

Machine Weights

Benefits of Machines: 

  • Due to less reliance on stabilizer muscles, using a machine usually allows you to lift heavier weight for the target muscle.
  • Machines allow for a controlled path of motion.
  • Built in safety latches and pins for if you get stuck.
  • Can assist in carving out detail and separation
  • Good for advanced techniques such as Rest/Pause and Drop Sets – especially when training alone.


Free Weights vs Machine Weights; Which is Best? 

For the purpose of building overall strength and muscle mass, Free weights should be your go-to for laying a good foundation and building upon that foundation.

Free Weights allow for the most natural movement path and range of motion and enlist more stabilizing muscle groups.

When the foundation is firm and the building is strong – good overall muscle mass with underlying strength – then switch between the two for the benefits of each.

My Personal Preference: 

Free weights have always made up the basis of my workouts.

For building overall muscle mass and making solid gains in strength, I will always endorse the major compound lifts (with free weights):

  • Squat
  • Dead-Lift
  • Bench Press
  • Overhead Barbell Press
  • Bent-over Barbell Row

What Machines Do I Use? 

In addition to Squats, I love the 45° Leg Press.  It allows me to move a lot heavier load and concentrate on variable foot placement for targeting different results.

I also use the Seated Leg Extension and Leg Curl machines to enhance my leg training.

The cable exercises I use the most are:

  • Triceps rope Press down
  • Rope Hammer Curl
  • Lat Pull Down
  • Seated Row


This article is written with the aim of discerning which is more productive and beneficial for building muscle mass and strength.

There are many other factors to consider when it comes to different individuals with different goals and circumstances.

For example, you may wish to consider the benefits of resistance machines for:

  • Rehabilitation
  • Elderly
  • Disability
  • Beginner

If unsure, it is best to seek the advice of your gym manager/instructor and/or your doctor before beginning any exercise program. 

Also, it can simply be a matter of personal preference and in this regard, I feel it is always best to go with what is working for you and what feels ‘right’.

If you have any questions or relevant information you wish to share, then please post in the comment box below or contact me directly

Also, don’t forget to join the Bodybuilding for Mass mailing list to receive updates, tips and the Free Bodybuilding for Mass Newsletter.

Here are some more articles you may find beneficial:

Big Muscle Gains; 5 Tips To Supercharge Your Growth 

Muscle Training Diet Plan – How to Eat to Grow

How to Improve on Bench Press; Five lifts for Incredible Strength 

Train Hard, Train Well, Train Safe.


Blessings Be –






– Rich Far

Founder of Bodybuilding for Mass



Thank you for reading:

Free Weights vs Machine Weights – Which is Best?

Comment (1)

  1. GoFiskit

    Again a Great & Knowledgeable post to read. Thanks for differentiating the free weights and machine weights. I loved this post very much.


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