Free Weights Versus Machines- The Beginner’s Guide to Weight Training

When I first started going to the gym I was super intimidated. I had no idea what I was doing really. I was scared to use free weights because I had no frame of reference. I had no idea about proper technique or how much I should be lifting. It was much easier to go get on a machine because majority of the time they had a little diagram that showed you how to use it, and what body muscles were being worked. So with you newbies in mind, this article is going to talk about the differences between free weights and machine lifting, and when to use them.

Lifting With Machine Weight

As mentioned above, lifting with a machine was easier for me when starting out. This is because it helps directs and guides you to the correct movements that you should be doing. Now that doesn’t mean that it is always correct. To get the most out of your work out you need to make sure that the machine is adjusted to your body size. You can move seats forward or backwards, up or down, depending on the machine. It is important to adjust the machine because otherwise you may be using bad form and bad form can lead to injuries.

Machine lifting is a great starter for these reasons, they’re also great if you have a very specific place you’re trying to work  because they target very specific muscles. Machines are typically easier than free weights which is why they’re great starting points. They can help you build a little bit of strength, get used to correct form, and give you a chance to learn what lifting is all about.

Lifting With Free Weights

Free weights is a learned skill just like everything else. I would never recommend going into a gym inexperienced and trying to do a dead lift or a bench press on your own. It is dangerous for a lot of reasons. You most likely don’t know what you’re doing and should always have a spotter. If you want to try free weights there are some things to keep in mind. First is your form. There is a proper way to lift weights to avoid injury and to work those muscles correctly. Second is that it is hard to learn things on your own. You definitely can by reading and watching videos on correct form for lifting but it is also way easier to have a trainer help you or if you know someone who is really experienced.

If you want a more intense work out, free weights are the way to go. They work more muscles and work them harder. Lifting free weights simulates more of a real life experience because gravity comes into play. With gravity working against you you will have to really work on your balance and control.

For an example, let’s look at the difference between using a leg press machine versus doing a squat with dumbbells. When you use the leg press you are isolating specific muscles and working just those. You’re sitting down and the movement is guided by the machine so it’s all controlled for you. With a squat and weights you’re working your quads, hamstrings, glutes, core and maybe even your arms. All of this to keep your body stable, balanced, and engaged while you’re going through the movement

It is always best to take things slow so that you can control your movements and feel the burn. Because of this you can also work more muscles in less time with free weights than with a machine.

Which Is Best For You

If you’re new I would definitely start on machine weights. You can still get a nice work out in and you can easily target areas you want to work on. In the mean time you can learn about free weights. The different work outs and proper techniques you will need to use to avoid injury. It is a process that you will need to build on, work your way up to free weights as you become more knowledgeable and comfortable with it. Once you’ve got a handle on it then free weights are a great way to work more muscles at a time and help you achieve your goals. They’re both great but which one you use depends on your skill and comfort level.

Go crush it!


  • Karla

    I am definitely scared of going to the gym. I’ve gone a few times but I get to embarrassed to do anything besides the treadmill. I want to keep in shape and I have a few friends that go to the gym often, so I would like some recommendations that could help me overcome that.

    • Aurelia

      Hi Karla!

      I definitely understand where you’re coming from. I’ve been there and remember how I hated it. I was intimidated by everyone I saw there.

      I am a competitive person and I didn’t like people seeing me fail or not being good at something. I would rather practice at something in private and then show the world I can succeed.

      Unfortunately, that was hard for me to do when it came to the gym. I got to a point where I was just tired of not being more active and doing anything.

      If you have friends that go to the gym that’s great! I would just let them know how you feel about the gym. If they’re good friends they should be super supportive and help you along the way. They can show you how to use different machines or how to lift weights.

      There is for sure a mental obstacle that needs to be over come. You have to find a way to be comfortable with where you’re at now. Remember that strength and skill comes with time and patience. No one is the best at something when they first start out.

      When I did my first work out my muscles didn’t know what the heck was going on. I was super uncoordinated and it looked awful. I was embarrassed I couldn’t lift the way I wanted. Once you work out a few times your muscles will get used to being used more and you’ll be more coordinated.

      Fear of other people was a concern of mine too. I knew I didn’t look fit or active, I was definitely a newbie and I didn’t want people to know that or feel like I didn’t belong. But eventually you’ll realize that other people don’t really care. They’re just there to do there own thing, same as you.

      People of all sizes, and ages come to be healthy. Today I saw a 70 something year old man jogging around my gyms indoor track. Albeit, very slowly, but he didn’t care. He was just doing his own thing.

      The bottom line is this, believe in yourself and find that urgency to be better. If you want to go to the gym and be more active then find that will power to jump in and learn. It doesn’t matter where you’re at actively, it matters how you chose to push forwards.

      I hope this helps and that you’re able to tackle the gym with confidence.
      Best of luck to you,

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