Posted on 27 March, 2017

What is the Difference between Weight Machines and Free Weights?

By Jacob Andreae in Fitness, Exercise, Performance, Health What is the Difference between Weight Machines and Free Weights?

[Image Source: Competitor Running]

If you’re thinking about doing strength training, or have just started doing strength training, and you’re like most of my audience, you may be concerned with whether weight machines might hurt you. You may also be asking if you should buy free weights to use at home.

Over the years, I’ve moved away from weight machines dramatically. I hardly ever use them and I rarely suggest other people use them as well. That doesn’t mean I don’t ever use them or recommend them. They have a place and a purpose.

Machine Weights

Machine weights are pin-loaded cable machines that guide you through an exercise movement.Some of them have pre-determined weights (such as a chest press machine or a seated row), and others have to have weight plates added to them (such as the incline leg press or the smith machine).

Machine weights are really good for starting out. The cables guide the movement and to a certain extent, help to maintain good technique. As you start to develop strength however, it’s a good idea to move into using free weights as soon as possible. Incorporating some basic free weight exercises in the beginning though, is ideal.

Free Weights

Free weights are weighted equipment, such as dumbbells, kettlebells and medicine balls.You can do many of the machine weight exercises in the form of a free weight exercise, and also a lot of bodyweight exercises.They are a happy medium between the two.

Free weights allow each side and plane of your body to work independently. Most people have discrepancies across their body. For example, their right arm is stronger than their left arm, they can rotate further to their right than to their left, or one leg is longer than the other. Using free weights allows your body to develop evenly.


Another option of strength training is to use bodyweight exercises.Bodyweight exercises are a great method for developing strength and ensuring your body develops evenly and efficiently. Bodyweight exercises promote mobility and flexibility through their basic nature. Being able to lift your own body weight in any position would be a great goal and one that would allow you to live an incredibly good standard of life.

Lifting your own bodyweight can be difficult in the beginning. There are ample modifications for every person of every level to practice lifting your own body weight; however, using machine weights can sometimes be easier to develop some strength to do so. Incorporating and progressively adding free weight exercises will eliminate discrepancies throughout the body. Pilates and Yoga classes also do this and they are good examples of classes that utilise body weight to develop strength.

10 Examples of each form of Strength Training

Machine Weight Exercises

  • Leg Press
  • Leg Extension
  • Leg Curl
  • Assisted Chin Up
  • Lat Pulldown
  • Seated Row
  • Abdominal Crunch
  • Chest Press
  • Chest Fly
  • Shoulder Press

Free Weight Exercises

  • Goblet Squat
  • Walking Lunge
  • Renegade Row
  • Bicep Curl
  • Tricep Extension
  • Kettlebell Swing
  • Deadlift
  • Upright Row
  • Medicine Ball Throw
  • Dumbbell Step-Ups

Body Weight Exercises

  • Brace
  • Squat
  • Push-up
  • Pull-up
  • TRX exercises
  • Bear Crawl
  • Walk Out
  • Back Extension
  • Hanging Leg Raise
  • Tricep Dip

A combination of weight machines and free weights in a strength training program are necessary for developing strength in all levels. The purpose of doing strength training for most people is to be stronger and assist with being healthy. Developing the strength to perform everyday moves is a great purpose to be stronger for. Being strong enough to lift your own body weight will create an incredible sense of satisfaction with your life because of what it will enable you to do.

What kind of strength training suits you?

About Jacob Andreae

About Jacob Andreae

I write and speak about Fitness, Nutrition and Mindset. 

Subscribe to updates and get my eBook, Lose 10KGS, absolutely free!

What is the Difference between Weight Machines and Free Weights?A quick start guide to losing weight and staying on track. Learn the strategies I use to eat and move for optimal health. Includes worksheets to enhance your motivation, commitment and discipline, along with a sample eating plan and exercise program.