Free Weights vs. Machines In Building Mass

  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jan 13, 2010 3:06 AM GMT
    Okay, forgive me if this is something totally elementary but I did some searching and I couldn't really find a good answer.

    I am a naturally very skinny guy looking to add muscle mass (not fat mass! ;)), pretty sure I fall into the ectomorph category (naturally skinny, thin fingers/wrists, etc.), and I really don't care about strength training.

    I realize that as you gain muscle mass you'll build strength, but I also know some incredibly strong people who don't have the huge muscles because they do strength training rather than size building. My primary concern is just size.

    So my question is this:


    When you're really just trying to build muscle size, are machines better than free weights?


    I understand a mix is probably the way to go, but I have a lot of friends who tell me that I should only do free weights because it builds better joint strength. I understand that, and I really don't care about that. I am just interested in which will give me bigger size gains.

    I am also not overly concerned about being massively cut. I am interested in a certain amount of definition, of course, but once again my primary concern is just to fill out my figure... because right now I'm in great cardiovascular shape, but I'm also skinny as a twig and it makes me look like I'm the tallest twelve-year-old ever on stage. :p
  • UFJocknerd

    Posts: 392

    Jan 13, 2010 2:46 PM GMT
    BestFriendRole said

    When you're really just trying to build muscle size, are machines better than free weights?


    You don't get bigger without getting stronger :-) You don't want weak supporting/balance muscles to hold you back on your lift--do everything free weight. If you're trying to gain size you should be doing squats and deadlifts, and it's important to work your stabilizing muscles to do those well.

    And eat more!
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    Jan 13, 2010 3:02 PM GMT
    UFJocknerd said
    BestFriendRole said

    When you're really just trying to build muscle size, are machines better than free weights?


    You don't get bigger without getting stronger :-) You don't want weak supporting/balance muscles to hold you back on your lift--do everything free weight. If you're trying to gain size you should be doing squats and deadlifts, and it's important to work your stabilizing muscles to do those well.

    And eat more!


    This. Squats and deads will get your body into gaining mode. You have to eat a substantial amount (of the right things at the right times) in order to grow. It´s not actually that hard.
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    Jan 13, 2010 3:05 PM GMT
    I spent years using machines, but they only got me so far. By far the greatest gains I've made in strength and size have come from using free weights. They allow for a more controlled range of motion as well as isolation of the target muscles (best example being dumbbell bench press vs barbell bench press). Squats and deadlifts are probably the 2 most important exercises, so make sure you hit them hard.
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    Jan 13, 2010 3:17 PM GMT
    Brandon112586 saidSquats and deadlifts are probably the 2 most important exercises, so make sure you hit them hard.


    By which big B means working consistently with perfect form and gradually increasing weight. Do not just go and lift as much as you can any old way, hurt yourself, have a month off, try again, hurt yourself again, get scared and give up. Start with the bar alone, learn proper form from someone who really knows what they are doing and then push yourself with integrity.
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    Jan 13, 2010 3:19 PM GMT
    Lostboy said
    Brandon112586 saidSquats and deadlifts are probably the 2 most important exercises, so make sure you hit them hard.


    By which big B means working consistently with perfect form and gradually increasing weight. Do not just go and lift as much as you can any old way, hurt yourself, have a month off, try again, hurt yourself again, get scared and give up. Start with the bar alone, learn proper form from someone who really knows what they are doing and then push yourself with integrity.


    Of course icon_smile.gif
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    Jan 13, 2010 3:39 PM GMT
    I have to agree and disagree . . . . .

    Yes, free weights will take you further.

    BUT - if you don't have a spotter or trainer and are working out alone (and given where it looks like you are in your training program) you CAN and I'd argue SHOULD use machines (especially the newer machines that allow each side to work independently) when moving into heavier weights or any weight you aren't sure you can easily control.

    Just start lifting, do it consistently, learn to tell the difference between being sore from a good workout and injury pain (often confused when people start trying to build mass) and stay with it. If you've already got that all under control, then start really worrying about methods.



  • Celticmusl

    Posts: 4330

    Jan 13, 2010 4:41 PM GMT
    I don't understand a lot of the advice. I would never join a gym that doesn't have a number of machines available for use. I do free weights, and machines. The machines actually teach you and your muscles some of the correct moves of doing certain free weight exercises. Of course there is body weight exercises that are extremely useful as well.

    I NEVER do squats or deadlifts, because of my back and neck, and that has not limited me at all. I do....get this....the "hack squat MACHINE", along with other machines to work out my legs. I also do elliptical, biking, jogging, etc for good leg development.

    If you only do nothing but free weights, you will be one of the few at the gym who stick to this way of working out, apart from the guys still stuck in the 1920's. Anyone I know with any kind of discernible size does whatever he can at the gym to gain muscle, this obviously includes machines.
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    Jan 13, 2010 7:04 PM GMT
    I use mostly free weights. But I use machines to isolate certain muscles. For me, machines should be a supplement to free weights, not a replacement.
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    Jan 13, 2010 7:24 PM GMT
    From a practical standpoint you'd probably want to build routines that include both machines and free weights. Gyms can be crowded, and you may have to wait for a bench in the free weight area. Or a group decides to have a coffee klatch in front of the machine you really like. Know what the various machines do and how they supplement or replace free weight routines and you'll be more likely to have continued success with a regimen.

    I use both, but out of necessity. Having part of my left arm amputated makes it very difficult to use free weights exclusively.

    Experiment and have fun. icon_smile.gif
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    Jan 13, 2010 7:24 PM GMT
    Celticmusl saidI don't understand a lot of the advice. I would never join a gym that doesn't have a number of machines available for use. I do free weights, and machines. The machines actually teach you and your muscles some of the correct moves of doing certain free weight exercises. Of course there is body weight exercises that are extremely useful as well.

    I NEVER do squats or deadlifts, because of my back and neck, and that has not limited me at all. I do....get this....the "hack squat MACHINE", along with other machines to work out my legs. I also do elliptical, biking, jogging, etc for good leg development.

    If you only do nothing but free weights, you will be one of the few at the gym who stick to this way of working out, apart from the guys still stuck in the 1920's. Anyone I know with any kind of discernible size does whatever he can at the gym to gain muscle, this obviously includes machines.


    I think he asked which was better. No one said you shouldn't do machines..but free weights are more effective for building muscle...esp. in a beginner. Most machines simply do not offer the range of motion, nor do they require you to control the weight in such as way as to build effective stabilizer muscles.

    Machines are great for some exercises, but what he's asking is which is better,,,and for him, that's probably free weights.

    Obviously if you're injured you shouldn't do exercises to aggravate your condition, but again, I'm pretty sure he wasn't asking that.
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    Jan 13, 2010 8:48 PM GMT
    Thank you so much for the advice thus far icon_smile.gif.

    I like the suggestion about starting with the machines to help learn focusing on the muscles I'm trying to exercise (that has always been one problem for me with free weights--I don't always feel like I'm working the muscle I'm trying to).

    I will definitely try to do a mix of the free weights and the machines.


    Another thing I'm trying, and I'd love some advice on, is working the muscle groups once a week.

    I'm trying to do a 4/5 day a week routine (depending somewhat on my rehearsal schedule): Chest/Back, Arms (tri/biceps), Legs (calves/thighs), Trunk (abs/butt), Shoulders. I try not to spend more than 40/50 minutes max in the gym because I'm fairly busy, and I really do a little bit of abs work every day because it helps with my singing... sit ups and roman chair knee lifts (but not very many icon_smile.gif).

    The routine I'm (trying) to set up is 4-5 exercises for each day, doing almost max weight, 6-7 reps, 3 sets... excluding abs, of course. I exercise Monday through Friday, but I'm too busy on the weekend to hit the gym.



    EDIT: To clear up one thing that I guess I wasn't clear about, I am not new to exercise in general. I'm in good cardiovascular shape, but I've never done more than the occasional light weight lifting.
  • roadbikeRob

    Posts: 14350

    Jan 13, 2010 10:01 PM GMT
    Free weights are obviously more beneficial towards gaining strength and muscle mass but at the same token machine weights can also be a positive help in building up a muscular physique. There are certain times when you are in the gym and you just don't feel energetic enough to work out with free weights so machine weights can be a good alternative. It is always good to mix things up by changing routines and doing everything different. Otherwise you are going to stagnate and then plateau which will eventually cause you to lose interest in bodybuilding.
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    Jan 14, 2010 5:12 AM GMT
    I use both, free weights until I'm knackered and can't keep good form no matter how hard I focus, then occasionally I'll go to the machine and get those last few reps out until I cry, especially with things like squats and chest stuff.
  • tokugawa

    Posts: 945

    Jan 14, 2010 3:33 PM GMT
    1. Engage the services of a professional trainer. If money is limited, even using a trainer for a short period will teach you correct form. This is especially important with exercises such as squats, since incorrect form can cause serious injury.

    2. To increase muscle size you need to "go to failure." When you go to failure, you basically destroy some muscle cells, and a message is sent to the brain, saying "stop, muscle 'X' is failing." The brain will later devote additional resources to repairing muscle 'X', plus it will make it stronger than before. If you don't go to failure, the brain assumes that no additional resources are needed for muscle 'X.' Summary: "no pain, no gain."

    3. You only need to go to failure once. But it must really go to failure; put all of your energy into it. This saves time.

    4. Machines or free weights? If you don't have a spotter, don't do free weights for safety reasons. If you do have a spotter (or better yet, a trainer) free weights are better.
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    Jan 14, 2010 3:43 PM GMT
    Thanks tokugawa! I appreciate the advice.

    I'm not sure what you mean by 'only once to failure' though. Do you mean:

    1xto failure at max weight (like... you do five or six repetitions till you can't lift the weight again, but you only do on set of that exercise)

    or do you mean that you do two sets at a lower weight, then one set to failure?
  • CuriousJockAZ

    Posts: 19129

    Jan 14, 2010 3:50 PM GMT
    I think free weights are best for building muscle but machines are good to alternate in and maintain. A good mix of free weights and machines are probably the best way to go.
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    Jan 28, 2010 3:01 PM GMT
    if ur new to the gym it will take time to settle in and get confident just being in the enviroment.....get to know all the equipment.....get comfortable....put a plan togethor....
    view the machines as baby steps to the big compound moves....however there are some machines that are still essential...i.e lat pulldowns, cable crossovers etc...

    as you grow in confidence and strength, not forgetting your diet is crucial, you will be using the free weights as your staple routind adding in some machines to isolate/ complete a certain body parts workout.
  • tokugawa

    Posts: 945

    Feb 03, 2010 5:14 AM GMT
    BestFriendRole saidThanks tokugawa! I appreciate the advice.

    I'm not sure what you mean by 'only once to failure' though. Do you mean:

    option #1) 1xto failure at max weight (like... you do five or six repetitions till you can't lift the weight again, but you only do on set of that exercise)

    or

    option #2) do you mean that you do two sets at a lower weight, then one set to failure?


    Some people like to do one or more "pre-failure" sets of 12 reps each, as a warm-up to the failure set. This is good for first timers and beginners, and helps prevent attempting too much weight. Don't let a bystander say, "try 20 more pounds," it might be too much. This happened to me the first time I lifted, and the bench press I was doing went directly to my neck. Ouch! So when you are beginning, option #2 is safer.

    After a while, however, you will know exactly how much weight you did the last time you went to failure. You can then skip the preliminary "pre-failure" sets, since they do not contribute to muscle growth, and go directly to the weight at which you failed last time. If you can do 12 at this weight, add some additional weight, and go to failure at this new set. When you know what your failure weight is, option #1 works, and is faster.

    Sorry for the delay in replying.