It can be easy to default to your usual routine with the machines, hitting the major muscle groups with a stop at each of your favourite pieces of equipment.

But don’t ignore the free weights. Aside from basic bicep curls, it can be hard to know what to do with hand weights to build a balanced workout. Before you begin, it’s best to connect with a fitness professional to learn proper form and develop a routine that works for you.

Once you’ve mastered all the strength training options, how do you determine which one is best? Here are some key points to consider:

Exercises with free weights...

  • allow for increased movement (forward, backward, horizontal and vertical), which helps build functional fitness and prepares you for everyday movements while minimizing the risk of injury.

  • require you to stabilize your body, which engages more muscles and burns more calories.

  • make you more susceptible to injuries if your form is off.

  • are inexpensive and can be done anywhere, so it’s easier to crank out a few reps at home or when you travel.


Exercises with resistance machines...

  • will only allow you to move in one or two directions at most. While this is great for isolating certain muscles, it doesn’t improve functional fitness, leaving you vulnerable to injuries outside the gym.

  • are less likely to cause injuries, provided you have the seat height set correctly.

  • allow you to focus your mind on the effort, as opposed to the mechanics of the movement

  • will help you lift heavier weights, and allow you to target specific muscle groups.

  • are usually only accessible at a gym or athletic facility


For overall strength and conditioning, free-weight exercises—especially those that use compound movements—should be part of any strength-training plan. Machines can be used to help you focus on and develop certain muscles.

Try starting your workouts with one or more compound movements such as the squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press. Then, you can use a few carefully selected machines to isolate specific muscle groups.