PNBA natural bodybuilder Ben Howard answers: what’s better free weights or machines for building muscle?
When building muscle, you can use various equipment for resistance training, including dumbbells, barbells, cables, and machines. However, you may wonder if one is better than another. Professional Natural Bodybuilding Association (PNBA) athlete Ben Howard answers that question.
Ben Howard competes with the PNBA and World Natural Bodybuilding Federating (WNBF). He also appeared on the Longevity Muscle podcast to discuss the dangers of contest prep.
In a recent social media post, Ben Howard compared free weights (barbells, dumbbells) to machines. Ben Howard stated:
“Okay. So not only are we looking to work different aspects of the muscle, you know. We’re looking at hitting different rep ranges. And, and different levels of stability, some free weights, some machine, and you know, exercises. Everything has benefit. Something that I really didn’t take on board until much later on is machines have a fantastic benefit. People will say no free weights are better, you know, and if you only had to do one which would it be. You don’t have to do one. You can use every tool in your toolbox.
And I find that machines are a lot more accurate, and you can’t cheat, and using other muscle groups to kinda take over. You’re locked in and you can isolate a muscle a little bit better. And I’m seeing a lot more benefits using machines for lower body, just less back pain and more stimulus in the muscle with less sets needed. I can get my quads really worked between 4 and 6 sets as opposed to using 8 to 12 maybe with the free weights and still not feeling it in my quads the next day.”
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Free Weights Vs. Machines
According to Ben Howard, you should train with machines and free weights because they each have their benefits. But Howard did note that he targets his legs more efficiently with machines than with free weights. As a result, he notices less back pain and says he doesn’t have to perform as many sets to build his quads.
As Howard pointed out, machines allow you to isolate the muscle group better you’re targeting. That’s because free weights require more stability and engage your stabilizers and core to control the weight. But machines force you only to use the muscle group you’re targeting to lift the weight. In addition, machines are safer and make it much easier to use good form. Finally, as Howard mentioned, you can’t cheat as easily. So we recommend that beginners or the geriatric population focus on training with machines.
Free weights have their benefits, too, though. Free weights challenge your core more and promote functional fitness–they mimic real-life tasks more. For example, when you have yard work or need to bring groceries in, these movements typically require stability and engage more of your muscles versus isolating one muscle group like machines. As a result, they also activate more muscles.