Free weights or machine weights? What is best for building good muscle mass? Some people who are working out in the gym for many years suggest that free weights are better for building a good amount of muscles and some people suggest that machine weights are better as they feel more muscle soreness by using it.
But in reality, giving a maximum range of motion and putting a sufficient tension on muscle help to build muscle optimally. You can either use free weight or machine weight to apply tension on muscle. What’s most important is to create optimal tension on target muscle that cause the muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth). But if you truly want to maximize your muscle growth from your training program you have to optimize the use of both free weights and machine weights.
Keep in mind two important factors while selecting your exercise,
- Does your selected exercise gives a maximum range of motion?
- Does your selected exercise apply optimal tension on your targeted muscle?
Range of Motion
Range of motion is the measurement of muscle movement. A good range of motion is the maximum movement for concentric and eccentric contraction. The maximum range of motion during exercise leads to maximum muscle work which helps to build a good amount of muscles.
What is a good range of motion? A good range of motion is when you pull or push muscle for maximum concentric and eccentric(lengthening) contraction.
Optimal muscle tension
When we do a workout, every exercise gives high muscle tension at a certain level of exercise. Some exercise creates high tension at the start of the movement, and some at the end. Why does this happen?
This happens because of the line of movement and line of gravity. When weights are pulled or pushed against the gravity it creates high tension on muscles and when the movement of weights is aligned with the floor or with the line of gravity horizontally it creates low tension on muscles. Let’s take an example of a dumbbell curl. When we start dumbbell curl, there is a low tension on the muscle at the start of the movement because weights are aligned with the floor or with the line of gravity and after mid to end of the movement there is high tension on muscle because the weights go against the gravity vertically.
Any free weight either barbell or dumbbell is an object that you can move freely. And it directly works against gravity when you do compound exercise. In compound exercises like deadlift, bent over row, bench press, overhead press, weights go directly against the gravity which creates continuous and optimal tension on the muscle. Which means it can give you a good range of motion and also an optimal tension on your muscle.
But at the time of isolation (one joint) exercises like dumbbell curl and lateral raises, you will have a good range of motion but will not get optimal and continuous tension on target muscles because, at the start of the movement, weights are aligned with a line of gravity. Using free weights also gives you benefits like activation of core/stabilizer muscles and increasing overall functional strength.
The pathway of the machine is already set and the weights of the machine go against gravity. So, either you do biceps curl or triceps cable press down, the weights are to go against gravity and you will get continuous and optimal tension on your muscles from start to end of the movement. For example, while doing biceps curl, we pull the handle up and the weights also go against the gravity and while doing triceps cable pushdown, we push the handle down but weights go against the gravity. Therefore, the use of a machine is best for the isolation (one joint) exercises like biceps curl, cable press down, lateral raises. The disadvantage of using a machine is that it will never give you other fitness benefits of free weight exercises like free movement and range of motion, activation of core/stabilizer muscles, and increasing overall functional strength.
As we saw that both exercises have some pros and cons. So, while making your workout pattern keep in mind that you should get both benefits like a good range of motion and optimal muscle tension. Therefore, make use of both, free and machine weights.