Next to running, walking and hunting, free weight training is the oldest form of exercise. Believe it or not, but the game of seeing who can lift more is as ancient as ancient gets. Need proof? Look no further than Milo of Croton, the legendary wrestler of ancient Greece. Milo is said to have carried a newborn calf on his shoulders and continued to lift it each day, even when it grew into a full-sized bull.
Free Weights Are More Efficient
The fact that weight training hasn’t evolved much in thousands of years, just goes to show you how perfect this type of workout is. Sure, we are lifting dumbbells instead of calfs, but the principles are the same. A lot of people make the case that machine training is better because they are under the false pretense that these machines are specially designed to maximize potential gains. However, they are not nearly as efficient as free weight training.
In fact, a study performed by the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Kinesiology compared a free weight squat to that of a squat performed using a Smith machine. They found that free weights triggered more activity in targeted muscle groups. Depending on the muscle groups, some free weight exercises triggered as much as 43% more activity. Part of this is because machines restrict the body to a singular motion, whereas free weights allow a broader range of motions.
Largely this is due to free weights activation of stabilizer or supporting muscles. When you use a machine you are sitting down and the only parts of your body that are getting a workout are the ones that the machine targets. Free weights, however, are not just fixed to that singular plane, your body has to actively work to keep the weights (and your body) from falling out of the path of the motion. This triggers a variety of muscles across your body, such as your core and other stabilizers.
Weight Loss Benefits of Free Weights
The benefits of free weights training seem to just build off one another. By activating more muscle groups with each free weights exercise, you are thereby burning my calories, which leads to more weight loss. Not to mention, you are building more muscles throughout your body and muscles are a key component to burning calories.
Some free weight exercises are compound movements, meaning they trigger a wide range of primary muscle groups, even beyond the stabilizing ones. For example, the squat, a common free weight exercise, triggers your hamstrings, thighs, hips, quadriceps and more, with several other muscle groups getting a secondary workout. Again, more muscle groups means more muscle activity and thereby more calories burned.
The Convenience of Free Weights
Arguably, free weights are one of the biggest reasons why home gyms have remained so popular. They take up very little space and can be used to workout any number of muscle groups. To achieve the same thing with machines would take a lot more space than your average person’s home gym is going to allow. You do not even need a home gym to use free weights at home. All you need is a few square feet of unrestricted space and a pair of dumbbells and you can do just about any free weight exercise out there.
Even if you had an extra large room available to house a few resistance training machines, you are still looking at a few thousand dollars to fill it with the machines themselves. Free weights, on the other hand, are much kinder on the wallet. Even if you purchased a full bench, weights and high-end, adjustable dumbbells, your final checkout price would be less than that of a single resistance machine.
When it comes to weight training, nothing has the historical pedigree quite like the free weights. It is not hard to imagine the ancient Grecian weightlifters training with primitive barbells and other weights. The reason that these resistance trainers have not evolved much over the years is because they are nearly perfect, when it comes to triggering muscle activity, burning calories and overall just being a convenient method to training and reaching wellness goals.
Author: Phil Slater is a blogger, nutrition expert and fitness enthusiast who writes about all things relating to health and fitness. Over the years, Phil has helped many of his personal coaching clients live happier lives by helping them achieve their fitness goals.