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Choose free weights over machines for improved structure

Walk into nearly any gym in the country and people are faced with two options – the machine or the free weights areas.

While both can help to build strength the debate is on-going as to which is better.

However, when it comes to sports specific training for athletes they should head straight for the free weights and stay there!

Machine weights are quite simply that – fixed machines that you sit, stand or lie into that guide your body through the movement while providing the resistance.

They are popular because they are believed to be easy and safe to use, target specific areas and control movements.

However, the biggest downfall of machine weights is that the user is not required to support and control their own bodyweight while performing the exercise, which is a fundamental requirement to any good strength training program.

While they are promoted as being "safe", strength training on weights machines can in some ways actually increase the risk of injuries.

In using the machine, the body is performing the exact same movement, in the exact same way everytime. This can increase the risk of pattern overload injuries.

Machine weights also give people a false sense of strength gain. The muscles increase in strength is only in the controlled range of motion of the machine.

Therefore it doesn't transfer into daily tasks or sporting movements as it doesn't challenge or strengthen any of the stabilising muscles that assist natural movement.

Some resistance machines actually force the individual to use an unnatural movement pattern for their body - like squatting in a Smith machine, which if not used properly can increase the risk of injury

Free weights on the other hand are far more functional and appropriate for strength training for sport. Free weights include dumbbells/kettlebells/barbells/medicine balls/adjustable multi-cable pulleys etc. Basically any object that is free to move in any plane in space.


p Requires the body to stabilise and control the weight in all planes of motion. This increases the use of stabilising muscles – having to support the joints and trunk and control movement at the same time.

p Allows players target specific areas of weakness and movement patterns.

p Can train sport specific movements and improve muscle synchronisation and recruitment, meaning that there is a transfer of strength between what is done in the gym and what is done on the pitch – aka "real life strength".

p Facilitates training of balance, co-ordination and neuromuscular control and improves proprioception which are vital for injury prevention and/or re-hab.

Using free weights is also much more mentally challenging for players as it requires focus and concentration to perform exercises properly.

Training the brain to control and execute movements properly is important for functional strength improvements, agility, reaction. Remember it is important for the function of the neuromuscular system to improve along with strength of a muscle.

There is an associated risk of injury with using free weights.

This mainly occurs when not using proper form or using an excessive or poorly controlled load.

It is important that all players learn how to train properly with free weights, being aware of maintaining proper form in all exercises in order to minimise this risk.