There is an endless debate in fitness circles about machines versus free weights. It’s one of those issues that divides people into camps where they often stay and refuse to listen to the other side. I’d like to write something sensible about the subject, showing the pros and cons of each.
Free Weights are more Natural
I must say that I do favor free weights over machines. If an exercise can be done using free weights then I’ll normally do it over the machine alternative. Why? It is more natural. This is the most important point about free weights. Our bodies are all very different so why should we be limited to a certain path of movement by a machine? Machines can normally be adjusted but this will never be ideal. For example, if one leg is slightly longer than the other how can we adjust a Leg Press machine to accommodate us?
Potential to Cause Harm
The bad side to free weights is of almost no interest or risk to a sensible trainee but can be an issue to overzealous or inexperienced individuals and especially so in poorly supervised areas. There is a greater potential danger with free weights than with machines. Machines offer in-built protection. If you lose control of the weight, the machine normally won’t injure you (at least not too much). For example, in a machine press you will not be stuck with a bar on your chest if you fail to lift it. Then again, there are those that say machines are dangerous because they do not follow natural paths of movement. This is a very good point but injury does not occur too frequently and almost never because the machine doesn’t allow this freedom. Machines are pretty much safe. power press machine manufacturers
Range of Motion
Free weights have no limitation in their range of motion. While this is a good thing (think ‘natural movement’), it can also be potentially dangerous. For example, the trainee is the only thing stopping a dumbbell from going to low in a fly or press movement which could potentially injure the shoulder. Care is needed to control the range of motion of free weights whereas the machine often takes care of this for you. Still, in my opinion, free weights are the way to go. The natural pathway is a big advantage.
Now imagine you were a gym owner. In this day and age you cannot trust everyone that walks in the door to behave themselves. You need to assess the risks to your clients in your gym. To minimize the risk you could either install machines or you could hire good instructors that are able to teach people how to safely use the equipment. This kind of gym education is rare these days. Gyms are businesses and they exist to make money. It’s easier and carries less potential risk to install machines. It is also more profitable since instructors don’t spend too much time training people. It is important to remember that machines do not represent any kind of advance in technology over a barbell (although cables do offer certain advantages – see below). Their use is for mostly commercial reasons.