It is very tempting as a beginner to use the machines because they feel ‘safe’ for you and you might be able to perform the exercise with a lot of weight. The machine weights can offer benefits to someone who has never stepped into a gym before but can also offer some benefit to intermediate and advanced trainers (they may choose to use the machines to add creativity to their workout or to completely burn themselves out after coming from the free weight portion of their routine).
While as a beginner these machines may seem cool and even fun to do, you have to realize that their comes a point where your training must evolve; that is where free weights become a major part of training. Machines can be used to teach the feeling of proper muscle contraction, thereby giving you a good understanding of which free weight exercises can be used to train a particular muscle. The shortcoming is that machines do not teach you proper form and therefore you put yourself at risk for injury if you move too boldly into free weight training.
To make things clearer for you, I will outline the positives and negatives of each method of training:
Machine Weights – Positives
- Easy to learn – Companies have simplified these machines to the point where basically anyone can hop on and perform the exercise. There is no learning curve involved which means you can dive immediately into training.
- Keeps strict form – Machines keep you locked in a set range of motion which can be a good thing when you begin training and your stabiliser muscles haven’t become strong enough to perform free weight exercises properly yet.
- Comfort – The machines allow you to climatize to your new gym surroundings, helping you to feel more at ease; which is a big factor for most beginners.
Machine Weights – Negatives
- Does not build raw strength – What I mean by this is that very few situations require you to pull or push something operating on a pulley or cable system. Real world strength is not built on a machine.
- Potential Injury – The fact that you are locked in a range of motion is a double edged sword. It can be very safe and efficient for beginners but if you use it too often, you may pick up an injury. By being forced to perform an exercises in a certain path on each repetition leaves no room for what the ‘natural’ path that you body will take when performing the exercise. This may well lead to injury.
- Low potential for growth – Cable machines offer very little in the way of adding mass on your frame.
Free Weights – Positives
- High potential for growth – It is no secret that using free weights, while progressively increasing the amount of weight you use, builds both mass and strength.
- Real world strength – Weights in everyday life are mostly free weights. By training with them in the gym, you become better at the activities that require strength to complete them because of the fact that you train with free weights in the gym.
- Creation of dense muscle tissue – As mentioned before, using free weights allows your body to adapt to a greater degree of tension than it ever would compared to free weights. This means that your body responds by making your muscles larger in order to accommodate your rigorous training.
Free Weights – Negatives
- High potential for injury – This point is really only valid if you do not master the proper form for an exercise in order to train safely. Lifting heavy weights is, in itself, a dangerous thing to do if you do not know how to do it properly and can cause major injuries.
- Ego – The need to impress people and look very masculine with big heavy weights is something that can very well damage your progress and lead to injuries.
In conclusion, the beginner trainer should make free weight exercises the focus of training. This does not mean that you have to leave machines altogether, make space for them by all means, just use them less frequently than you normally would.