Free weights refer to equipment used in resistance training where your hands come in contact with the actual resistance. Barbells and dumbbells are examples of free weights. Free weight exercises, such as the bench press and the squat rack, are plate-loaded exercises. They require that the desired resistance be manually loaded to the bar.
Free Weight Advantages
Constant resistance throughout the range of motion of an exercise is an advantage of training with Free Weights.
Free Weights tend to incorporate more muscles in the execution of the moves. Because they are free of constraints offered by cables or machines, the muscles can contract through a more complete range of motion with assistance from other stabilizing muscle groups. In essence, a seated overhead press with dumbbells, although targeting the shoulder muscles, will solicit help from smaller muscle group, thus, working more muscles at one time. Free weights are also more functional, meaning they simulate more daily or athletic movements.
Free Weight Disadvantages
A primary disadvantage of using free weights is the time it takes to learn proper form and techniques for beginners. Properly learning the nuances of free weight training may require lighter resistance to be used until proper mechanics are solidified. They could hamper or slow down muscle-building. Also, many free weight exercisesrequire the use of a spotter or partner to assist in their execution. Safety is a definite disadvantage of free weights when compared to machines. Moreover, for the plate-loaded free weight exercise, time can be a disadvantage. A lot of time is spent loading and unloading the barbells.
Machine Exercise Advantages
Weight machines are beneficial if you are looking to isolate muscle groups. Many single-joint exercises such as biceps curls, triceps extension, leg curls and leg extensions are performed using machines. Machines are recommended for newcomers because they decrease the time needed to learn proper mechanics. The movements of machines are pre-determined, which alleviates the guesswork on behalf of the user. Unlike free weights, safety is an advantage of weight machines as no partner is needed to assist or prevent a mishap. Finally, the ease of increasing or decreasing resistance is greater withmachine weights, which require simple changing the pin insertion.
Machine Exercise Disadvantages
The movements with machine weights are overly controlled. They limit the involvement of stabilizer muscles, so you end up working fewer muscles per exercise as compared to using free weights for the same exercise. It is also difficult to simulate any daily or athletic movements using machine weights. Also, because the weight is not constant throughout the range of motion, it is difficult to infuse explosive movements during exercise. Machine weights are much more expensive than free weights as well.