Machines Vs. Free weights, is there really a difference?
Often the first sentence that comes out of somebody’s mouth when they hear the words “free weights” is, “I don’t want to build; I just want to tone! I don’t want to become a bodybuilder!” Most people have the mistaken idea that machines tone and free weights build. But toning and building are essentially the same thing. There is no difference between free weights and machines in the way they build muscle physiologically. Both
increase muscle tissue through the use of stress applied as weight is being lifted. First of all, toning and building are the same thing, in other words they are the increase of muscle tissue through the use of stress applied by weights. The only difference between free weights and machines is their mechanics, each providing distinct benefits to suit the specific needs of each individual.
Machine weights are made for the high volume, safety, and ease of use. The gym owner knows that the machine is a quick and easy way to get someone through a workout without a high degree of liability and difficulty. Machine weights can be used with a minimum of orientation and individual skill; they are large, impressive, and make lots of sales for the gym memberships.
Machine weights today have lots of gizmos and shiny attachments to attract attention and give the impression that they have some special powers that other forms of weights do not. The truth is that underneath all the different styles of workmanship, all weights do the same thing; and that’s to build muscle tissue.
The machine guides you through its own range of motion designed by the machine maker. This form of control allows you not to worry about performing a wrong move or dropping a weight and causing injury. This can be an advantage if you are a beginner in the exercise world, if you are older and have lost some motor control so as to limit your range of motion, or if you have injuries that restrict your normal activities.
However, there are drawbacks to this range of motion control. If you use a machine weight, you will notice that you do not have to concentrate on the direction of the motion. The machine maker has already designed the pathway in which the weight travels, and all you have to do is push it through. Some people may think this is an advantage, but it is not always the case. When you do not have to concentrate on the direction in which the weight is being lifted, it lowers your attention span and lessens your chance of developing full coordination. If you get too comfortable with machines and never incorporate free weights into your workout, your ability to control your own motions in the real world will be limited. Your coordination will be poor, essentially if you do not have good coordination skills to begin with.
Free weights consist mostly of dumbbells, bars and plates of various sizes and shapes. They are completely dependent upon user for the direction and speed with which they are lifted. Yes, free weights are more time consuming, but allow the user to create many different exercises and adapt to almost any level of stress, body posture, and positional change. By improving the teamwork and timing of all the body’s muscles, they enhance the mind and body connection, enabling you to develop full coordination over time. The process of building coordination is a main factor in burning high amounts of energy. The more your mind has control over your body, the healthier and stronger you will be. You are not born with great coordination; you have to enhance this gift yourself.
The physiological basis for using free weights has to do with two different types of muscle groups. Every time you move a limb, the larger muscles which have most of the control and that you can see are called Major Muscles Involved or MMIs for short. MMIs include the chest (pectoralis major), shoulders (deltoids), arms (biceps and triceps), legs (quadriceps and hamstrings) etc.
MMIs are all surrounded by smaller muscles we cannot see, called guiding and aiding muscles. These help guide the larger muscle and limbs through the desired range of motion. Adding strength and stability to the joints they surround. When using free weights, both the MMI, and smaller guiding, aiding muscles become stronger and quicker to respond to body postural changes. When they start working together easier, you will experience less chance of injuring yourself and greater ease with most or all motions, both
familiar and unfamiliar. If the guiding, aiding muscles are allowed to become weak, it could lead to poor joint control and unnecessary injuries.
If you continue to use only machine weights and refuse to mix your workout with free weights, you will develop only your major muscles, not the aiding, and guiding ones, to full potential. You may think that this is no big deal since you are not competing in sports, but if you have a weaker side of your body, such as say an arm or leg, machines do not have the ability to apply full stress only to that limb. This is because most machines involve both limbs in lifting a weight. This can cause the weaker arm or leg to be overpowered by the stronger one. If this condition is allowed to continue, it will further aggravate an injury or increase poor coordination.
Free weights on the other hand, create and enhance independence between both limbs and sides of your body. Each limb is responsible for the full completion of a lift and must fully contract and develop coordination without assistance from the other. Weight is distributed fully on each limb so that strength is developed equally, lessening the chance of injury. With free weights you can tell whether the weaker limb is getting stronger by noticing its power and ability to complete a lift or movement. With machines it is difficult to distinguish any increase in power and coordination of a weaker side or limb.
We all run into the problem of having strength discrepancies between both sides of our bodies many times in life. Some of these situations are as simple as working around the house, and using one arm more than another to lift heavy objects or tools in the garden or garage. The same effects occur from moving heavy pieces of furniture with one side habitually being responsible for most of the weight. These discrepancies in strength cause an imbalance in the body and can lead to injury. But when playing sports and performing everyday activities, we need the enhancement of coordination and equal strength between both sides of the body.