6 September, 2019

When it comes to exercise equipment, there are more options available than ever before. Walk into just about any gym and you’ll notice the floor being separated into three different sections: cardio, free weights and resistance machines. Common cardio machines found in a gym include treadmills, rowers, steppers, spin bikes and skiergs. The free weight section will include equipment such as dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, medicine balls, Y bells and sand bags. The resistance machines are then those weights that are fixed to an apparatus. They have a fixed movement pattern dictated by the design of the equipment, and in most cases are pin-loaded or plate-loaded machines.

In the battle of free weights vs. fixed weights, is one option really better than the other? In short, the answer is it depends. Both free weights and resistance machines serve their own purpose and the effectiveness of each is determined by the individual, their fitness level and current fitness goals. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each and then how they can be programmed to meet desired outcomes:


Free Weights –


  • More functional – free weights are more applicable to movement in everyday activity as muscles are used in patterns that require coordination
  • Range of motion – concentric, eccentric and isometric muscle actions are involved when lifting free weights. You have complete freedom to move around, rather than being locked into a specific range of motion or pattern
  • Stabiliser muscles – using free weights will engage and activate more stabiliser muscles to support your body through the movement
  • Versatility – with machines you are very limited to what you can do. With free weights, all you need is one kettlebell or dumbbell and you can perform a variety of different exercises
  • Relatively cheap – free weights are much more cost effective than machines. If you don’t have access to a gym, free weights can be bought and set up at home for a fraction of the cost of a machine


  • Can require spotters for safety – some exercises are difficult to improve on without a training partner or spotter
  • Inherent safety risk from losing control of weight – when using bad form, injuries can happen. Due to the freedom of movement free weights provide, it can be easier to move a body part or joint out of proper alignment and tweak something
  • Requires a greater level of exercise experience – less stable than fixed exercises

free weights


Fixed Weights –


  • Easy to learn and use – instructions for how to use the machine are usually on the machine itself, providing details on how to set up and move the weights
  • Reduced risk of injury – fixed weights are much more stable and supportive compared to free weights. There is less technique involved in fixed resistance which provides less opportunity to perform the exercise incorrectly
  • Can lift heavier without a spotter – using machines will allow you to lift heavier weights without assistance as the machine itself will provide the support
  • Muscle isolation – fixed resistance machines allow you to isolate specific muscle groups without using other stabilisation muscles, like free weights do


  • Non-functional – fixed weights don’t train complete human movement patterns and therefore have a limited functional relationship to activities in life and sports
  • Limited to the maximum resistance of the equipment
  • Doesn’t suit all body types – for example, it may be difficult to accommodate larger clients
  • Neglect stabiliser muscles – by providing support during isolated exercises, the important stabilising muscle groups around the joints are not used which can become an issue down the track for potential injury risk and poor posture
  • Expensive – resistance machines are much more costly pieces of equipment compared to free weights

Fixed weight chest press


Programming Fixed and Free Weights:

Here are some general guidelines about how to program each type for different experience levels and fitness goals:

Fixed Weights vs. Free WeightsFree Wights vs Fixed Weights


If you are interested in expanding your health and fitness knowledge and learning more about exercise prescription, why not study out Cert III & IV in Fitness and become a qualified Personal Trainer!





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