Free Weights or Cable Machines?

    A quick trip to your local gym will reveal that most of the patrons are using machines, rather than free weights (dumbbells, barbells, squat rack, etc.). But then look again: these are the same people that appear either skinny and frail, or grossly overweight.

    This can hardly be considered a debate at all: free weights are drastically superior to cable machines in almost every situation. Granted, machines may have their place in a workout, since some variation may be needed or injury may prevent you from using free weights in some cases.

    Regardless, barbells and dumbbells should be the basis of your workout routine. Avoid the pec deck, the cable crossovers, and turn off that Bowflex commercial. Instead, head right on over to the squat rack and start lifting some free weights.

    Why are free weights so much better? Simple: they stimulate more muscle. Consider the difference between a standard barbell squat and a smith machine squat. Using the barbell, you are stimulating not only your quads and hamstrings, but also your glutes, calves, lower back, shins, traps, etc. You are forced to not only lift the weight but also to stabilize it and stay standing. Now that’s a lot of muscle being stressed!

    Using the smith machine, you’ve taken away the stabilization element. You can now lean back against the bar and slide up, removing much of the stress place on your back, calves, and much more. Believe it or not, these other stabilizing muscles can also be very important to an injury-free, successful muscle building routine.

    As an example of how free weight and machines should be used in harmony, take a look at the following chest/shoulders/triceps workout:

    Free Weight: Bench Press x 2 sets
    Free Weight: Dips x 2 sets
    Machine: Cable Crossover Fly x 2 sets
    Machine: Smith Machine Shoulder Press x 2 sets
    Free Weight: Front Lateral Raises x 1 set
    Free Weight: Side Lateral Raises x 1 set
    Free Weight: Overhead Tricep Press x 1 set
    Machine: Cable Tricep Pressdown x 1 set
    Free Weight: Tricep Kickback x 1 set