Instagram advice – machines vs free weights?

I had a good convo with a client this morning about some Instagram advice.

A trainer/influencer said to get strong we need to go to a gym and go heavy on machines..

Maybe the Instagrammer is selling memberships at a gym – it’s that time of year.

Gyms offer a variety of machines because they’re easier for members to use.

The difference between machines and free weights. Free weights like kettlebells, (which I love), dumbbells, and the barbell are used effectively in a program in reps and sets where the last few reps are very challenging. Free weights utilize muscles of the trunk (core) to execute, machines much less so. Machines target specific muscle groups with controlled resistance, and do not improve stability or balance. Machines are good for rehab and can be an addition to a strength program.

Learning how to use free weights efficiently, and safely requires training. Heavy lifting is more efficient and effective to build strength than a gazillion reps of light weight. But a program should not be comprised of ONLY heavy weight training- whether machines or free weights. Light weight with multiple reps can have more of a cardio effect, but can be less time-efficient for strength training, and can also lead to wear and tear and injury.

Get a skilled, experienced coach to learn to the mechanics to lift free weights.

Deep squat


What does heavy mean? Heavy lifting is relative to the lifter, and to the exercise. Weight/resistance is key to strength training. But again, lifting heavy with fewer reps, is efficient, and should be part of a strength program, but should not all of it.

It depends. 25% of body weight is a good place to start using kettlebells or dumbbells with exercises like swings and goblet squats, depending upon the number of reps. For exercises like shoulder presses or reverse flies a lower weight would be the most effective choice to mechanically achieve the best result.

A deeper dive into machines vs free weights. Machines can be a part of a program, but are not essential for strength training. Free weights are for functional strength (meaning replicating a function in real life), with compound movements and stability like squats, deadlifts, single leg or arm (unilateral), and balance/stability.

Machines are good for beginners as they can assist with form, isolating muscle groups, and can enable you to lift heavier – that’s why most gyms offer lots of machines – more members can easily use them. Free weights can give you more bang for your buck, but require skill.

What about body weight to build strength? During Covid, especially at the beginning I trained clients virtually doing squat jumps and long jumps, we used washcloths as sliders, and decline pushups on steps. We did planks, mountain climbers, and Burpees. We even used bedsheets tied together over a door for inverted rows. Creative weight training can be done at home – squats with a heavy backpack, push presses with jugs of water, tubing, leg work with bands. Deadlift heavy objects outdoors. Workouts can be super challenging without machines or free weights, with reps and sets appropriate for your goals and needs.

Get strong, stay strong.








Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



More Posts

Nap time.

Hi Friends~ I’m not good at slowing down and stopping, but today I did. I made myself lie down, and fell asleep for a whole