Many beginners will walk into the gym, look around, and walk straight to the exercise machines. The chest press machine is probably the most popular of the weight lifting machines, but the average newbie will skip over the iron dumbbells and barbells in favor of the simpler, easier-to-use machines.
The Battle of Free Weights versus the Machines
Did you know that using free weights will actually help you to see muscle growth faster than using the machines will? Why is that, you may ask? Let's take a look at the basic exercise every weightlifter does: The Bench Press.
Chest Press Machine
Sit down in the comfy chair, adjust the weight of your chest press and push. The handles of the machine just go straight forward, and you strain and push to extend your arms. You bring the handles back to your chest, and you push again to complete your set. Your chest gets a great workout, and your shoulders and triceps are hit at the same time. All in all, it's a good workout.
Free Weight Bench Press
Lie back on the bench, reach up to grip the bar, and push the bar from its rest to hold it over your chest. Your shoulder and chest muscles twitch to keep the bar in its position as you adjust it, and your arms have to work with your core to keep the bar perfectly straight. Now, you slowly lower it to your chest, and you stop the weight just before your elbows crack a 90 degree angle. You heave to push it back up, and you have to use your arm muscles in tandem to ensure that the bar stays level and centered over your chest. You finally get the weight back up, and you repeat the exercise to get a good workout for your chest.
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What's the Difference?
The difference between the two is the muscles that are used:
- The chest press machine works out the chest muscles, the arms, and the shoulders.
- The free weights work out the chest muscles, the arms, the shoulders, the back, and the core.
The bench press is designed just to hit the chest and triceps, but you can't isolate the exercise enough to stop it from working out the muscles in your shoulders. However, with the free weights, your entire upper body has to work together to keep the weight balanced, level, and in position, and it will actually increase the number of muscles used to do the exercise. You will only see visible results in the chest and triceps muscles, but all of those other little muscles that have to hold the weight in place will become stronger as you get accustomed to doing bench presses. By the time you're benching 300 pounds of free weights, your entire upper body will be a whole lot stronger and more powerful than it would be if you used the machine.
This is because working out with machines only hits the targeted prime movers--the larger muscles that you're trying to hit. With free weights, all of the muscles around the prime mover are also included, as they help to keep the weight steady. If you want to see good results and better gain in your body overall, using free weights will work your muscles out a lot more evenly than machines will.
Note: The exception is the cable machine. The cable machine doesn't have the limited range of motion that regular machines do, and it works similarly to free weights. The muscles surrounding the prime mover have to be engaged in order to move the cable in the direction you want it to go, so it's just as handy as free weights.
Andy Peloquin had battled with weight loss issues his whole life. To overcome this, he began studying fitness and is now in the process of becoming a certified professional fitness trainer. He exercise seven days a week and is excited to share his down-to-earth knowledge of exercise and fitness.