• Cody Cook

Free Weights or Machines?

Today we are looking at a study that compares free weights and machines effects on muscle mass, strength, free testosterone, and free cortisol levels. The time of the study is Effects of Training With Free Weights Versus Machines on Muscle Mass, Strength, Free Testosterone, and Free Cortisol Levels and a link to the full study can be found at the end of this article.


There is a big debate in the strength and conditioning world whether free weight or machines are the better form of resistance training. Each of these types of training affect the muscles differently. Free weights do not always match the actual strength of the muscle because the muscle strength differs at various joint angle throughout the full range of motion where many machines offer a variable resistance that allows resistance to change as the joint angles change through the movement.

This study looked that differences in response between these types of training over an 8 week period. They used 46 healthy individuals that were randomly assigned to either a free weight training group or a machine training groups. To measure lean muscle mass they used a BODPOD. They measured bicep and quadricep muscles using ultrasound to determine difference in muscle thickness. To determine changes in strength they measured 1 rep max for free weight bench press and smith machine bench press. They also measured 6-10 rep max for free weight squat and smith machine squat. Hormone sample were also collected at the beginning, midpoint, and at the end of the study.

The study found that there was no difference in lean muscle tissue or muscle thickness between the two groups. There was only one exercise where there was a difference between the two groups. The machine group showed a significant increase in strength over the free weight group in the machine bench press. Both of the groups showed increases in strength in all exercises from the beginning of the study to the end of the study. The study found that men in the free weight training group had a significant increase in free testosterone from before workouts to after workouts. There was a significant increase in the free testosterone to free cortisol ratio in only the men of the study. There were not chronic changes in any of the measured hormones over the course of the study.

Implications/ My Opinion

One of the major findings of this study of the study was that free weights and machines had an equal effect on lean muscle mass and muscle thickness. Another major finding was that free weights significantly increased anabolic hormones levels and increased the ratio of free testosterone to free cortisol.

These two findings have a significant impact on the way that strength coaches may program for athletes. Combining both of these types of training could lead to significant size and strength. I think this because both types of training increased size and strength on their own and free weights increase the anabolic hormone testosterone. I think it would be interesting to see the effect of combining both free weight and machine training and compare that to only free weight and only machine training. The combined effect of increased anabolic hormones and strength increases could lead to significant gains in strength and size. This has implications for use in the offseason of athletes and training for bodybuilders. The offseason is a good time for athletes to put on size and strength because it would not have a negative effect on performance because they are out of competition. This type of training has a place for athletes wanting to gain size and strength but might not be effective in season for athletes because soreness and tightness might negatively affect performance. This does not answer the question of which type of training is better but gives us an idea of how we might use both to increase strength and size.

Do you think free weights or machines are better? Let me know in the comments below.

The link to the full article is below:


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