Machines vs Free Weights for Hypertrophy

Mission Monday Episode 11

If you want to build your muscles, you have to use free weights…Right?

This is a common belief in strength training. Many of us have read fitness magazines and looked at bodybuilding websites. Most of the suggested exercises are free weights.

This begs the question: “Should we train with free weights to maximize our ‘gains?’”

Free Weights or Machines?

A study, published in 2020 by a team of Canadian researchers, attempted to answer this question. The study examined whether free weights or machines would lead to more muscle growth:

  • For two months, men and women completed 2-3 workouts per week
  • One half trained with machines
  • The other half used free weights
  • The workouts featured the same basic movements and weight loads
  • At the end, the researchers used ultrasounds to measure muscle changes in the biceps and quadriceps

Which method was superior? Neither.

The free weight and machine groups both gained muscle with NO difference in how much muscle was gained. Both groups also increased their strength to the same degree.

Are you surprised? If you were, you weren’t alone.

The researchers also acknowledged that they expected free weights to be superior for muscle growth. However, they did make the case for why machines are advantageous.

Advantages of Machines

The researchers mentioned that machines have the advantage of providing a variable resistance level. This means the amount of resistance adjusts to the natural strength curve.

Machines make the weight lighter in the part of an exercise when we’re weakest and
machines make the resistance heavier in the part of the movement when we’re strongest.

As a result, muscles are thoroughly challenged during each repetition.

What’s another advantage of machines? They are SAFE!

The vast majority of strength training injuries take place when using free weights.

In summary, machines are just as effective as free weights for increasing muscle size.
They’re also safe and provide an efficient workout.

As always, you can find references to the studies that we’ve mentioned below.

If you would like to learn more about our method of strength training, read about our methodology. If you are new to The Perfect Workout, try a workout with us and start with a FREE Introductory Session.

  • Gray, S.E. & Finch, C.F. (2015). The causes of injuries sustained at fitness facilities presenting to Victorian emergency departments – identifying the main culprits. Injury Epidemiology, 2(1), 6.
  • Schwanbeck, S.R., Cornish, S.M., Barss, T., & Chilibeck, P.D. (2020). Effects of training with free weights versus machines on muscle mass, strength, free testosterone, and free cortisol levels. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 34(7), 1851-1859.

Machines vs Free Weights for Hypertrophy

Mission Monday Episode 11

If you want to build your muscles, you have to use free weights…Right?

This is a common belief in strength training. Many of us have read fitness magazines and looked at bodybuilding websites. Most of the suggested exercises are free weights.

This begs the question: “Should we train with free weights to maximize our ‘gains?’”

Free Weights or Machines?

A study, published in 2020 by a team of Canadian researchers, attempted to answer this question. The study examined whether free weights or machines would lead to more muscle growth:

  • For two months, men and women completed 2-3 workouts per week
  • One half trained with machines
  • The other half used free weights
  • The workouts featured the same basic movements and weight loads
  • At the end, the researchers used ultrasounds to measure muscle changes in the biceps and quadriceps

Which method was superior? Neither.

The free weight and machine groups both gained muscle with NO difference in how much muscle was gained. Both groups also increased their strength to the same degree.

Are you surprised? If you were, you weren’t alone.

The researchers also acknowledged that they expected free weights to be superior for muscle growth. However, they did make the case for why machines are advantageous.

Advantages of Machines

The researchers mentioned that machines have the advantage of providing a variable resistance level. This means the amount of resistance adjusts to the natural strength curve.

Machines make the weight lighter in the part of an exercise when we’re weakest and
machines make the resistance heavier in the part of the movement when we’re strongest.

As a result, muscles are thoroughly challenged during each repetition.

What’s another advantage of machines? They are SAFE!

The vast majority of strength training injuries take place when using free weights.

In summary, machines are just as effective as free weights for increasing muscle size
They’re also safe and provide an efficient workout.

As always, you can find references to the studies that we’ve mentioned below.

If you would like to learn more about our method of strength training, read about our methodology. If you are new to The Perfect Workout, try a workout with us and start with a FREE Introductory Session.

  • Gray, S.E. & Finch, C.F. (2015). The causes of injuries sustained at fitness facilities presenting to Victorian emergency departments – identifying the main culprits. Injury Epidemiology, 2(1), 6.
  • Schwanbeck, S.R., Cornish, S.M., Barss, T., & Chilibeck, P.D. (2020). Effects of training with free weights versus machines on muscle mass, strength, free testosterone, and free cortisol levels. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 34(7), 1851-1859.

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