Why Incorporating Free Weights In Your Routine Is Essential

Sean Sear goes behind the scenes with fellow journalist Reyden Morett, who also happens to be a power builder, to go in depth on the benefits free weights bring to lifters of all levels and ages.

Reyden Morett goes deep into his front squat, as he warms up for his workout.

The Benefits of Free Weights That Machines Might Not Give You

Makes You More Functional

The biggest issue that comes with machines is that it locks you into a set range of motion not allowing you to move freely. With free weights you can lift in your natural range of motion and bar path allowing your body to move more functionally. Nearly all free weight exercises force your body to stabilize itself while performing the given movement. This strengthens the often forgotten or undertrained stabilizing muscles, making you develop better body coordination, balance, and overall athleticism, and making all your daily life activities easier.

Reyden explains the key differences between the standing overhead press, and the seated machine shoulder press.

Free weight exercises translate to real life activities far more than any machine can. One of the best examples of this is the deadlift. A free weight exercise makes you pick up a certain load off of the ground. Which is a daily thing everybody does and deadlifts can teach people the correct and safe way to lift something heavy off of the ground. This exercise, as well as all other free weight exercises, strengthens your whole posterior and or anterior chain.

Here is a demonstration of Reyden explaining why deadlifts bring many benefits for those who perform it.

Greater Load Equals Greater Strength Gains

Machines can only go so high in weight resistance while free weights can be loaded on a much greater scale. This allows stronger lifters to put their muscles under greater stress, forcing the muscles being trained to adapt and become stronger much quicker than any machine would. The ability to load a barbell or use heavy dumbbells makes free weights a lot easier for more advanced lifters to keep making progress and get stronger.

Reyden explains why the back squat is the king of lower body exercises.

Progressive Overload

One of the main drivers for muscle building and strengthening is progressive overload, including the increase of weight/resistance, increase of sets, increase of reps, or the change of tempo. Free weights are much more efficient and easier to progressively overload on, as machines can become too easy or too hard to progress in. For example, with a barbell you can slowly increase the weight overtime by adding only 2.5 pounds on each side and so on. With machines it can be much more difficult to continue and track progress as some gym machines may be different in resistance than others, while 225 pounds on a bar or a 80 pound dumbbell remain the same amount of resistance no matter where you are at.

Reyden shows an example of progressive overload with squats. Starting at 135lbs-225–275–315–365–385- finishing at 405lbs. Progression of weight overtime leads to getting bigger and stronger muscles.

Availability and Variety

Free weights are much more available to own and easier to access. Not every gym will have the same type of machines you love to use, but nearly every gym will have squat racks, barbells, and a set of dumbbells. This is why practicing free weight movements is essential even if you prefer machines, because there may come a time where free weights is the only type of resistance you have available to you.

On top of availability, there are much more variety and variations of workouts that you can perform with free weights over machines. If one particular free weight exercise isn’t ideal for you or doesn’t feel right, chances are there are many other different variations you can perform of that same movement and still achieve similar, if not better results.

Reyden shows that utilizing both free weights, and machines is the best way to get the most out of your training.

This Does Not Mean to Stop Using Machines, You Should Be Incorporating Both

Machines do still have their place and sometimes even advantages over free weights. Machines can be great for beginners who may not be strong enough yet or understand good form, to perform a given movement safely on a fixed position machine.

Machines are great for isolating a certain muscle you want to focus on.

Taking the need to stabilize your whole body out isn’t always a bad thing either, especially if you are training for hypertrophy; training with the intent to increase your muscle size or mass. While free weights are much better for strength training, machines are much more optimal for hypertrophy and isolating one muscle for growth.

Reyden demonstrates how to program a heavy horizontal pressing movement, with an isolated cable machine fly.

Hypertrophy Training

Hypertrophy training (training with the intent to increase muscle size, or to gain additional muscle mass) typically means higher reps are being performed and the sets are trained close or to failure, making machines a much safer option to use than free weights, since you don’t have to stabilize your body as much and you aren’t being put under a great amount of stress.

Another added benefit that machines give you that free weights won’t, is putting your muscles through constant tension. With machine cables, the tension being put on your muscle throughout the whole movement is much greater than free weight, with free weight exercises often losing tension at the bottom or top part of the movement.

Reyden shows the differences between free weight isolation workouts, and cable isolation workouts along with the benefits cables can have over free weights.

The Best of Both Worlds

Both free weights and machines have their benefits and should be used to gain the best results you possibly can. Free weights may be more taxing on the body and typically harder to perform, but whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced lifter; everyone who seeks to become a more functional human and just straight up feel better physically and mentally, should be incorporating some type of free weight exercises into their routine.

Reynolds Sandbox reporting by Reyden Morett and Sean Sear

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Reynolds Sandbox

Reynolds Sandbox

Showcasing innovative and engaging multimedia storytelling by students with the Reynolds Media Lab in Reno.