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Free Weights or Machines? Training Database Advanced Training Tips Free Weights or Machines?

Training Right for the Best Results

In my opinion, and the opinion of many others, recreational bodybuilding, no matter how you do it, is going to be good for you. You may not always do every little movement 100 percent right, and you may leave out details about your diet, but really it’s all about getting to the gym and trying. Yes, certain exercises will help you achieve your goals faster, but it’s all good! Trust me on that one. One frequently asked question about bodybuilding is which is better: Free weights or machines?

Although free weights and machines are both very beneficial, free weights normally win. Some reasons are listed below:

Stabilizer Muscles: I’m sure all of you used or seen weight machines before, and saw how easily weights were lifted up and down in the perfect arc so many free weight users try to duplicate. By working with free weights, you are not doing the lift in an exact range of motion; it is your goal to make it as exact as possible, and the muscles which help you to achieve this are your stabilizer muscles. When bench pressing on a nautilus machine, the range of motion is already set, and your stabilizer muscles do not have to work at all to keep perfect form. If your left side is lagging in bench press, you will never know this with machines. You will continue to train, and quite possibly see your lagging strength deficits on your left side, continue to get worse. Free weights prevents this from happening, by working your stabilizer muscles in all lifts. While doing bench press, you will also find the motion is stabilized with your lower back and abdominal muscles. It is truly amazing to see just how much more (and beneficial) work your body does with free weights.

Versatility: Using either barbells or dumbbells, you can work almost any exercise and muscle. There are very few exercises which you can only perform on a machine. This is especially helpful if you intend to train at home. You would be amazed with the quality of a full body workout you can get with a flat bench, and a few free weights. In fact, any beginner would benefit with just that set up. Once you get past the initial shock of putting together an exercise bench, it will give you plenty of fulfilling workouts.

Dumbbells or Barbells?

Both! Both dumbbells and barbells offer their advantages, and they are fairly evenly matched. While barbell bench presses are universally known for their ability to help you gain great chest mass, dumbbell bench presses will put you at an advantage for developing a stronger chest. Also, while some movements are considered preferable using a barbell, other movements you can’t do, because barbells don’t offer the versatility of dumbbells. Arnold Schwarzenneger and his famous “Arnold Presses” are considered an excellent way to gain mass in your shoulders, and this movement can’t be repeated with barbells. “Behind the Neck Presses” are also very hard to duplicate with dumbbells. So to conclude the question, dumbbells or barbells? Both! Here is a list of some further benefits of both dumbbells and barbell:

Dumbbell: Dumbbells are helpful because they allow both sides of your body to work independently. If you find that your left side is lagging for bench press (such is my current case!), you will find it helpful to move on to dumbbell bench presses for a while (maybe four weeks), to try to shock your body into balancing the left side deficit. With dumbbells, each side of your body will be carrying an equal amount of weight. There is no way that your stronger side can carry the brunt of the weight to make up for strength imbalances, and in most cases, dumbbells can quickly correct any problems you are finding with this.

Barbells: Barbells are usually considered the mass gainers. If your goal is to pack on some quality pounds of muscle tissue, barbells are usually what gets the vote. There are a few reasons for this. One commonly known explanation is about barbell squats. Anyone can tell you that barbell squats help your body produce the most growth hormone. So by doing barbell squats, not only will your legs grow, but so will the rest of you. Three compound movements (all with barbell) are well known for being the biggest and best overall mass gainers: Squats, Deadlifts, and Bench Press.

How about the Weight Bench?

Another essential item, especially in a home gym, is a simple weight bench. Many weight benches you buy come in an adjustable format; they are capable of the regular flat bench option, as well as incline and deline.

Flat Bench: A flat bench is a long narrow bench, fairly short in all ways. It is padded, and able to handle a lot of weight. It is good for flat bench presses with both dumbbells and a barbell, as well as many seated exercises such as concentration curls, and seated lateral raises.

Incline: The seat of an incline bench is usually adjustable, allowing you to set the incline to various degrees depending on your requirements. Incline benches can be used for incline bench presses with both dumbbell and a barbell, incline dumbbell flys, and other exercises such as incline dumbbell curls, or incline dumbbell rows.

Decline: The seat of a decline bench is also usually adjustable, allowing you to set the decline to various degrees depending on your requirements. Decline benches can be used for decline bench presses with both dumbbells and a barbell, decline dumbbell flys, and other exercises such as incline sit ups, where you sit in a decline bench, and perform a proper sit up.

Vertical: A vertical bench is set at a 90 degree angle. Exercises commonly performed on a vertical bench are military dumbbell presses, and Arnold curs, as well as other shoulder exercises.

Smith Machine: The Smith machine is a type of nautilus machine so commonly used that the name has almost become generic. A regular free weight bar is used in Smith machine movements, but is secured in a rack, making for a more strict range of movement, and on the positive side, some added safety. I personally use Smith machines quite often on training days in which I cannot find someone to come to the gym with me to spot me during bigger lifts. This is especially important depending whether or not you are inexperienced in a certain lift, or using more weight than usual. Like free weights, you can change the weight of the Smith machine bar very easily, and it is especially good for exercises where grip is your weak link, as the Smith machine provides a much greater grip. Also, safety pins are in place to prevent the bar from lowering to a point where it can be dangerous. For all these reasons, the Smith machine gets a thumbs up from most bodybuilding afficionados.

Benefits of Weight Machines:

(1) Safety: There is little, if any, ways of harming yourself if you are working in a properly adjusted weight machine, even without the help of a spotter.

(2) User Friendly: Machines are easy to use, much more so than regular free weights. Machines are especially good to start working out with if you are new to an exercise. If you have never tried a barbell squat before, you may benefit from doing a few reps in a Smith machine to get used to the movement.

(3) Efficiency: Weight machines are a lot easier to adjust than free weights. When using free weights, it takes a lot of time to adjust the weight. With some machines, it is as simple as moving a pin.

Cable Machines

Cable machines, also known as pulley machines, are used very frequently, and are probably the most versatile type of machine you can get. A cable machine is a large machine, with a pulley attached to both sides. You can adjust the height of the pulley so that it is either above the ground, or floor level, both of which are beneficial depending on how you want to workout. Aside from being versatile as to where you can position the cable, the different types of attachments you can use can use. A list of these attachments are included below (These attachments are found at most gyms):

(1) Ankle Collar: The ankle collar is a wide, leather ankle bracelet which you clip to pulleys to perform exercises such as left lifts, and leg curls. It is largely used for leg exercises.

(2) Curved Short Bar: Some of these are U - shaped and some are V - shaped. Both of them are used frequently for triceps exercises, but other exercises are also possible with them.

(3) Horseshoe: The horse shoe is an individual hand grip you can use to perform exercises such as one - handed cable curls, and one - handed triceps pressdowns. This can also be used for other body parts, such as back (one - handed cable rows), and shoulders (cable lateral raises).

(1) Long Bar: These bars are commonly used in exercises for the back, such as lat pulldowns. The advantage of the long bar is that you can adjust the width depending on how you would like to work the exercises.

(2) Rope: This attachment is used on a cable machine, and is commonly used for exercises such as rope pulls, or triceps pushdowns.

(3) Straight Short Bar: This bar is used in exercises such as the triceps pushdown, as well as biceps exercises such as cable curls. It can also be used for back exercises, and other body parts.

Take care,

Matt Canning

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