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Weight training: free-load or guided machines?

Weight training: free-load or guided machines?


Whether you're new to bodybuilding or a seasoned athlete, you've no doubt been confronted at some point with this recurring question: what's more effective for building muscle (pectorals, arms, shoulders, triceps, legs)? Free weights, with dumbbells and bars, or guided weights? In other words, for exercises, is it better to use a bench, barbell and free weights, or a full bodybuilding machine?

Depending on the goals you've set for your body and your reasons for taking up weight training, you'll want to choose one of the two options. But each has its advantages and disadvantages. Particularly in terms of movement. That's what we'll be looking at in this article devoted to fitness and body-building equipment.

Free weights

Free weights are favored by the most experienced exercisers during a workout, as the idea that they are more effective at building muscle has persisted for decades. This assumption is often combined with a second widely-held idea: that only heavy loads, such as large dumbbells with lots of weight, will produce muscle.

In fact, free weights are very effective insofar as the load lifted is direct: there are no pulleys to multiply the load, and no guides to direct the trajectory, unlike a weight station.

In bench press, for example, if you have 100 kg of weight on the bar, you'll have 100 kg direct plus the weight of the bar itself (enough to develop pectorals!).

What's more, with a free load (dumbbells or a barbell), muscular stimulation goes beyond the simple muscle targeted by the exercise. Indeed, as the movement is not guided by the machine, many auxiliary muscles such as the triceps and deltoids are involved. This is particularly true of bench presses, to name but one.

In addition to these auxiliary muscles, your body's stabilizing muscles (abdominal, lumbar, gluteal and quadriceps), which help maintain your position on the bench, will also be called upon.

The wide variety of muscles involved in weight training makes free-weight exercise particularly effective for building strength and mass.

The benefits of free weights

As we saw above, the great advantage of training with free weights (weight bench with barbell, weights and dumbbells), compared to a station with guided weights, lies in the fact that body movement is much freer, so the athlete's natural movement is respected. the exercise is thus performed in 3 dimensions.

Unlike a machine or device with guided weights, the price of a barbell and dumbbells is quite reasonable for anyone wishing to take up weight training seriously. Individuals can also find a complete weight bench on the market at an attractive price, for building up arms, pecs, triceps and back muscles at home.

The disadvantages of free weights

The downside of free weights is that they target muscles as a whole. It's difficult to totally isolate a particular area during an exercise. The risk is also greater, as fatigue can lead to a loss of control over free weights. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for a barbell and its load to fall back onto the body of an athlete lying on a bench during a training exercise.

Finally, as the movement is totally free, the probability of not performing it correctly is higher, particularly for beginners in bodybuilding or even fitness.

Guided loads and machines

There's no doubt that working out on a weight station provides a certain degree of comfort. Indeed, as the load is guided by a machine, the risk of losing control of it is lower, as with dumbbells, thus reducing the risk of injury to the body.

Evolution of movement study

Many bodybuilding machines have been the subject of research into their biomechanics and their impact on muscle stimulation. The result is guided machines and workstations that are extremely powerful, enabling a particular muscle zone to be stimulated quite intensely.

State-of-the-art fitness equipment can effectively isolate a particular muscle zone (pectorals, triceps, etc.). The advantage of machines and stations with guided loads is that they stimulate a particular zone to bring out its details.

Disadvantages of guided machines and weight stations

However, working on a machine with guided weights is less effective for building bulk, as it involves fewer muscles in the execution of the movement. What's more, machines often use pulleys or belts, which increase the load and can therefore reduce muscular stimulation of the body. Modern body-building equipment or stations are expensive to buy for gyms and fitness centers, but are an essential investment.

Historical background

Since the 90s, compromises have been made between free weights and guided-load machines. These machines are weighted using cast-iron discs on the bars. This station-mounted load is moved by a lever arm which is pushed directly by the athlete. There is no gearing down, the load is direct and the machine is designed to stimulate the targeted muscle to the maximum. Work is carried out using converging and diverging arc movements, an independent arm system that involves several muscles.

These machines are the ideal, safe compromise between a classic bench with free weights and a modern all-in-one weight station. They combine the effectiveness of free weights for both mass and strength training with the safety of guided weights.

Coach's advice

From personal experience, I'd advise all exercisers to combine free-load exercises to build solid muscle mass and strength, with guided-load station exercises for isolation work on specific muscle areas.

What's more, when you're preparing for competitions, where diet weakens you and the pace of work means you need long sets to work out the details, guided loads and divergent/convergent machines are the perfect complement to go all the way to muscular failure without risking injury that would wipe out all your efforts.

In conclusion, I'd say that, with the advantages of each piece of bodybuilding equipment, it would be a shame not to use them in conjunction with each other in your training. Put an end to preconceived ideas about the ease of working on guided-load machines and the fact that they can't build quality muscle. The new machines developed by fitness brands such as "HAMMER STRENGH", "BH FiTNESS" and "PANATTA" are just as effective as free weights, and even safer.

So don't hesitate any longer and include guided loads in every exercise of your workout!

Author Alexandre CARPENTIER

Bodybuilding Champion N.A.C 2012

Alexandre shares his bodybuilding experience with MegaGear blog readers

Posted in: Bodywork