Since the discipline was first conceived, more than a century ago – bodybuilding has slowly evolved, adapted, and then transformed itself into the multifaceted monster that we know today. Now, more than a hundred years later, the humble essence of bodybuilding has slowly faded away, and so have the basic principles of weight training.
Even though it doesn’t take an expert to list the (many) downsides of weight training with machines for bodybuilding related purposes; it’s always important to remember why they truly are inferior to that of their free weight counterparts.
Easy to Use
The biggest reason behind the inferiority of machine training has to do with how they are extremely easy to use, comfortable, effortless, and unchallenging. Machines – in history and in bodybuilding – serve the sole purpose of making your life easier. In bodybuilding, if an exercise is easy to do, then it probably won’t do much to enhance your physique or your health.
Every single piece of gym equipment out there was created to mimic and isolate a given free-weight motion. And even though isolation can be a good thing, it doesn't have all the answers.
Try comparing a barbell squat to a leg press, for example – even though in both movements you are technically moving the weight from point A to point B, you are incorporating way more muscle fibers and core strength in the squat compared to that of the leg press.
Static Path Movement
Another specific disadvantage of weight training with machines is the unchangeable path movements. Plate or weight loaded machines have a very short range of motion that limits the contraction of the body’s muscle fibers. As “perfect” as machines may appear, they limit growth through their static path movement and limited weight load.
Free weights, on the other hand, are limitless when it comes down to path movements and muscle contractions. Free weight exercises accommodate all types of athletes while allowing a wide range of versatility and angles to come into play. This is not to say that machines are “useless”, they are just simply limited.
For the most part, free weight movements are truly limitless – they are progressive, modifiable, and can be performed anywhere. Machines are highly limited when it comes down to becoming a larger, stronger, and healthier human being. Due to their accommodating nature, machines are static -and in return -offer little room for growth.
By using a machine you are limiting your overall muscle growth while directly impacting your body’s strength progression, explosiveness, and core strength development. History has shown that free weights will always be superior for bodybuilding purposes. Franco Columbu, Ronnie Coleman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dorian Yates, and Jay Cutler are just a couple of men who have proven the theory.
Even though machines have rapidly taken over the world of bodybuilding; free weight training has been slowly forgotten and transformed into a lost art. As great as machines may appear to be, they lack a series of key benefits that only barbells and dumbbells possess. Muscle and strength can only be maximized through an old school approach and not with machines alone.
Machines have rightfully earned their place as complementary isolation tools. That said, relying completely on them is a big mistake that beginners tend to frequently commit. Even though machines are great for stimulating and warming up the body's muscle fibers, they sadly lack the ability to truly damage the targeted body part which is crucial for muscular development.
Below is a video with Jay Cutler answering a woman's question as to which is better, free weight or machines watch to see his answer.