3 Reasons Why Free Weights Are More Effective Than Machines

3 Reasons Why Free Weights

3 Reasons Why Free Weights Are More Effective Than Machines

It pains me dearly when I walk into a gym, notice kettle bells of every color and weight, bosu and swiss balls of every size and shape, and whatever new contraption the fitness industry has come out with, but only one or two squat racks.  Or even worse.  None.  Just Smith Machines.

Why would a gym spend money on such inferior tools when it doesn’t even have enough of the real tools to make its members strong?  Gimmicks are just gimmicks.  They will at best not lead you toward your goal and at worse lead you away from your goal.

Take the bosu balls you see in the gym. They look like this:

Bosu balls

 Bosu balls were made to increase instability on the ground during exercises.  The idea behind them is that if you are good at doing a weight while on unstable ground you will be even better while on stable ground due to increased stabilizer and “core” muscle activation.  Studies have shown, however, that while the calf muscles were slightly more activated the actual force output of the exercise dropped significantly. Why would anyone want to decrease the force output of an exercise?  In addition, to compensate for the unstable surface you will be required to use much less weight than you are capable of,  leading to significantly smaller gains – if any.

How about all the machines you see in the gym?  Like the Smith Machine?  People put massive amounts of weight on these machines during lifts.  Can they help you get strong?

Studies show the answer is no.  When tested versus a back squat the Smith Machine and others proved to produce less gains compared to free weight exercises like the back squat. Your time is valuable.  Why would you pass up gains in strength, power, body composition, and testosterone to use an inferior tool like a machine?

What Should You Do Instead

If these common gym tools are inferior, what should we use instead?  Well for the lower body, I am a big fan of the barbell. Free weight barbell exercises have been tried and true for getting people strong.  Let’s look at some of the benefits.

Free weight barbell


Strength and Power Gain

Things like front and back squats as well as olympic lifts have been shown to consistently increase power and strength.  Whether it is for improved performance on the field or mat, or just the strength to carry your groceries up the stairs, more strength is going to help you in daily life. They also increase power such as jumping and running speed.  You never know when you will need to be fast and powerful.  It may save your life.  So why not gain the benefit of increased strength and power now by utilizing free weight barbell movements instead of machines and bosu balls?


Improved Body Composition

Remember how free weights increased muscle activation more than machines?  And how more weight also increases muscle activation which is why bosu balls are inferior?  Well for this same reason lower body barbell lifts are also great for body composition.  Take the back squat and look at the muscle activation during the exercise.  With that much stimulus you are looking at highly increased insulin sensitivity, increased muscle mass (which increases metabolism and fat burnt through the day), and increased energy usage for helping to burn fat.  It makes sense that a weighted full body lift would present a massive stimulus for the body to change.  The barbell is the tool for that exact full body lift.

It Is A Better Stimulus For “Ab” Training Than, Well, Ab Training

Yes I know, everyone wants abs so finely etched that they could do their laundry on them. Guess what?  Squats, deadlifts, and olympic lifts are the way to go if that is your goal.  All the ab training in the world won’t equal a set of these.  A study done on abdominal muscle activation in isolation movements like crunches versus compound movements like squats showed much more activation of the abdominals when tools like squats, deadlifts, and olympic lifts were used. This, coupled with the fact that the abdominals have a low potential to grow, means that you want a tool that produces the most muscle activation and burns the most fat over your stomach so that your abs can be seen.  Here the barbell wins again.

Stop Wasting Your Time At The Gym, Work Out Effectively

Find a coach to teach you how to squat and deadlift properly and leave the gimmicks behind.  Use the best tools for the job and keep checking the blog as we will soon go over the best upper body tools.


Muscle force output and electromyographic activity in squats with various unstable surfaces.

Philip Chubb
Philip Chubb is a teacher, trainer, and student who has learned from a variety of great teachers such a the Poliquin Group, Ido Portal Method, Yuri Marmerstein, Gymnastic Bodies, and more. In the past ten years, he has researched and learned about movement, nutrition, hormones, training, martial arts, hand balancing, gymnastics, tumbling, dance, biomechanics and much more. He's life emphasis is moving and improving both physically and mentally each day.
Philip Chubb
Philip Chubb

Join Our Newsletter

Join the martial arts community who get free and fresh content delivered automatically each time we publish.


Another Great Post Phil! I definitely agree with you on the free weights being more effective, I just think machines are convenient but less effective. And i love how free weights activate more of my muscle groups, then isolating them.