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Should you be using machines or just free weights?

Some people are free weight purists, and to a certain extent, we agree with that. You’ll get maximum benefit out of barbells & dumbbells. However, there are a few select machines that provide benefits that cannot be replaced by free weights & should definitely have a place in most people’s workout programs.

What and how often you use machines will also depend on your goals. If you’re aiming for a bodybuilding physique you may be using more machines to isolate each muscle group, but for those looking to generally improve body function & strength, free weights will be the best tools for you. 

There are pros and cons to machines. If you’re new to lifting, machines can help you learn proper movement & positioning. They can also help strengthen your prime movers if you’re new to lifting. At the same time, they limit the need for your stabilizing muscles to work, and the stronger your stabilizers the stronger you are overall and the better your joint health will be! 

So, you might ask – what machines should I be using then!?

Here are 4 machines that really can’t be replaced by free weights & why…

1. Lying Leg curl: There is no better way to isolate all 3 heads of your lower hamstrings muscles than with this machine. The next best thing to this machine is a Nordic curl, which is a really challenging exercise and most people just don’t have the strength to do properly. Other hamstring exercises like Romanian deadlift, for example, work the hamstring in a more lengthened position and target the upper heads of the hamstring preferentially. Thus, the lying leg curl machine cannot be left out of your workout regimen. 

2. Leg Extension: Squats, lunges and many other free weight exercises are great for targeting the quads the leg extension machine allows for complete isolation of the quad muscles, making this an irreplaceable machine.  

3. 45 degree Back Extension: You can’t have a complete strong posterior chain without this machine. Because you’re leaning forward it places more demand on the back extensor muscles allowing you to target them preferentially. The closest free weight exercise to a back extension is a good morning, but because you are standing or sitting the angle of tension is changed making the back extension a truly unique exercise. 

4. Cable Lat Pulldown: Technically, you can replace this machine with pull-ups, but, let’s be honest, most people aren’t killing the pull-up game. They’re challenging! So, this machine is your next best exercise and can challenge your lats more than doing different variations of assisted pull-ups. 

You should be using these machines regularly in addition to your mostly free weight program. Need help figuring out what kind of workouts are best for you? Become a member of The Strength Society & we’ll help you with that and more! Learn more & join here: https://www.pdxstrengthsociety.com/challenges/the-strength-society


When is a good time to use machines and how do they fit in your workout plan??

First, decide if you’re training to build strength, increase muscle, or improve functional performance.  This will indicate when and how to insert a machine exercise into the mix of your workouts.

For example…

✓ If you’re training to build muscle, machines are a great to utilize for secondary exercises to safely tax and add on a lot of volume. 

✓ If you want to improve functional performance, machines are great tool to navigate around injuries and improve and isolate lagging muscle groups. 

This is just one of many ways to add machines into your routines to maximize your gains at the gym. For more help, come join our online coaching group, THE STRENGTH SOCIETY,where we help you create theright structure in your workouts and help you navigate through your lifting process so you can get results safely. 

Click here to learn more about The Strength Society!


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