Which Is Best: Machines, Free Weights, or Body Weight?

If you're hitting the gym for the first time or are tempted to venture off the cardio equipment, it can be hard to know which piece of strength equipment to choose. Dumbbell, barbell, machine, or mat? Get-Fit Guy Brock Armstrong helps you make an informed decision that's right for you. 

Brock Armstrong
6-minute read
Episode #423

Regardless of your age, body type or gender, incorporating strength training into your fitness plan is a great idea. If you have strong and toned muscles you will be better able to move through everyday activities with ease now and 10, 20, or 50 years from now.

Before we jump in, let’s review the benefits of strength training:

  • Improved bone density
  • Improved body composition
  • Improved gene expression
  • Better blood glucose control
  • More balanced blood lipids
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved cardio-respiratory fitness
  • Greater aerobic capacity
  • Looking good in a tight t-shirt

3 Types of Exercises

Strength training exercises mostly fall into three groups, based on what you're doing and what equipment you're using. They are:

  1. Body Weight
  2. Free Weights
  3. Machines

Each type can serve a useful purpose so it's handy to know your way around all of them. There are pros and cons in all three areas, and some exercises tend to be more effective when done using one or the other.

For instance, dumbbells can be inexpensive, are somewhat portable, and having a set at home in your living room (near the TV) or in your office (under your desk) can make it easy to quickly grab them when the mood strikes you.

A machine, on the other hand is something that you likely won’t have at home. But using them at the gym can allow you to really focus your effort because they are fixed onto an axis that only allows you to move in one or two planes (or axis). A machine will also allow you to lift heavier weights than you might otherwise be able to and allow you to target specific muscle groups.

When you use free weights or body weight, you're engaging more muscles while you stabilize yourself along with the weight that you are lifting. This creates a more functional type of fitness (the type that you can use in everyday movement). On the other hand, machines can build strength, but using them too much can lead to a lack of functional fitness.

Choosing which type of exercises are ideal for you involves many factors.

So, choosing which type of exercise is ideal for you involves many factors, such as experience, availability, personal preference, body type, genetics, strength, and of course your fitness goal.

Let’s go look at each one in detail so you can make an informed decision...


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Brock Armstrong Get-Fit Guy

Brock Armstrong was the host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast between 2017 and 2021. He is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute.