What Are the Benefits of Using Free Weights?

Bodybuilder lying on bench lifting dumbbells

Several methods of resistance training exist in gyms and fitness studios. From cable-assisted machines, resistance bands and medicine balls, there are many options for putting weight-bearing loads on the body. One piece of resistance-training equipment that has been shown to be highly effective is free weights. There are several benefits to using free weights.

Strength and Balance

Research has indicated that free weights provide a superior level of strength and balance for individuals who use them. In the January 2008 issue of “The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research,” researcher Keith Spennewyn, who is the President of the National Institute of Health Science, investigated the differences in strength and balance outcomes in participants using free weights vs. resistance-training machines. The results of the study indicated that individuals who performed free-weight exercises had a 58 percent greater strength increase than individuals who performed exercises on resistance-training machines. Additionally, participants who performed free-weight training had a 196 percent increase in balance vs. those who performed exercises on resistance-training machines.

Versatility and Specific Natural Movements

While machine-based exercises and free weights are both effective in increasing muscular strength and balance, free weights provide the added dimension of versatility and specificity to real-life movements. The website of the American Council on Exercise has a fit facts section that discusses the advantages and disadvantages of free weights and machines. One of the biggest advantages listed for free weights is the ability to do several different movements in one exercise. With machines, you are usually fixed into one area and can only do limited movements. Additionally, the American Council on Exercise explains that free weights allow individuals to mimic everyday movements that occur in different planes of motion.

Higher Energy Costs

One of the most advantageous aspects of using free weights is the increased effort involved. Because free weights engage a greater amount of muscle mass to maintain balance and stability while performing an exercise, you burn more calories. This increase in the muscle mass involved results in a higher cost of effort in order to produce free-weight-based movements.

Explore In Depth

Muscle activity during leg strengthening exercise using free weights and elastic resistance: effects of ballistic vs controlled contractions. February 01, 2013
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Comparison of muscle force production using the Smith machine and free weights for bench press and squat exercises. February 01, 2005
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Effects of elastic bands on force and power characteristics during the back squat exercise. May 01, 2006
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