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Free Weight Vs Machine Weights : Which Is More Effective in Strenght Training

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Jonathan Boafo

Liberty University, EXSC 310

Machine weight vs free weights which is more effective in strength

November 12, 2018


        Free weights are generally preferred over machines by practitioners of strength training because they involve incorporation of greater muscle mass because of the greater stabilization that is required. Using free weights may therefore allow one to gain more muscle mass and strength with chronic training; however, this has not been thoroughly addressed. Both training methods had their advantages and disadvantages. Many people try to understand which of the training equipment is the best and according to this author, “Are weight machines, such as those by Nautilus or Cybex, the best way to build strength? Or are "free weights," meaning barbells and dumbbells, more effective--or are they only for bodybuilders? If you want to heed the advice of fitness experts-who now believe that a well-rounded fitness program should include some form of strength training in addition to aerobic exercise such as running or cycling--you'll have to decide between free weights and machines.” (Berkley wellness letter).

Statement of problem:

        The purpose of this study was to compare the effect of training with free weights or machines on muscle mass in bench and leg press.

Importance of study:

Most people are more concerned now than ever on how to properly work out and how their workout routine can help them achieve the goals they want. Executing a proper workout is key. “Doing exercises incorrectly is a leading cause of injury,” (Food & Fitness Advisor, 10(6), 4. 2007). This might be a factor why training might vary between individuals at the gym. Since the focus of this was to test to see which is more effective in strength., the participants were in average fitness condition and all worked out 3-4 days max a week. Each participant before then had used free weights and machine weights during their regular workout sessions.  It is right for one to know the advantages and disadvantages of every equipment they use. According to this author, “But there's a tradeoff--free weights have the advantage of working more muscles, including your stabilizing muscles (you control the path of the weight). And unlike free weights, machines require you to select the right position” (Academic One file).  This study was important because it showed the effectiveness of both free weights and machine weights and determined which is effective in strength gains.

Research Procedure:

        For this study, a longitudinal cross section was performed. A total of 8 participants, four were put into free weights and the other four took on machine weight. The study was limited to bench press and leg press to capture the effectiveness of equipment they used. This study was conducted at the Lahaye recreational center. Participants were used to the equipment’s at the gym because they had worked out there several times. “In a practical sense, resistance exercise programming is often structured so that 1 or 2 primary muscles are trained during a given workout session (e.g., plan A: chest and biceps or plan B: back and triceps; or plan A: chest and triceps and plan B: back and biceps). Depending on the BP mode used, slightly different force vectors will act during the movement, which may influence the strength performance and SEMG activity not only during the BP but also during a succeeding exercise.” (Miranda, H. (2017). Also. Participants were allowed adequate rest period between exercises to make their workout for effective. They were also advised to stay hydrated.  The IRM testing was conducted according to the guidelines established in a prior research study by Earle (6). One repetitions maximum was chosen as the dependent variable for this study because it is a common measure used for exercise prescription. All subjects performed a warm-up set of approximately 50% of their perceived IRM for 10 repetitions. A 1-minute recovery was given, then a second set was performed approximately 75% IRM for 5 repetitions. After a 2-minute recovery, a third set followed at approximately 90%, allowing 3 repetitions. After a 4-minute rest period, IRM's were tested with increments of 5-10 lbs. to maximal exertion. A 4-minute recovery was given between each maximal attempt. All rest intervals were timed using a Casio stopwatch. The maximum weight lifted successfully and meeting all criteria was recorded as the IRM. For all lifts, subjects used slow and controlled movements and exhaled on exertion. According to this author, “However, as one becomes more advanced, or depending on the individual goals, other exercises will need to be performed to further elicit strength, hypertrophy, or endurance gains.” (Thoma M. J, 2010). This study was approved by the university’s Exercise Science professor and subjects read and signed an informed consent form under the protocol CAE 26604714.4.0000.5020, as Resolution 466/2012 of the National Health Council for research on human subjects. Subjects were instructed to refrain from any additional resistance training targeting the upper body muscles during the data collection. A proper effective warmup routine was done prior and post workout, this included various kind of stretches to prep the subjects for their various workout. “the scientific community supports the use of warm-up, which has been reported to increase muscle temperature, stimulate the performance of muscle contraction, decrease the time to achieve peak tension and relaxation [3], and reduce the viscous resistance of the muscles and joints” (Marinho, D. A. (2014). The warmup lasted for 10 minutes and the first set of participants started their workout. It was closely monitored and assisted. Free weights started with their bench press and machine weights started with the machine bench press. Same sets and reps were performed on both equipment’s and the subjects were set to begin


        The equation: (set × repetition × load) was used to calculate the training volume for each exercise, set, and protocol. The fatigue index was calculated using the equation proposed by Dipla et al. (6F = ([repetitions performed on the fourth set/repetitions performed on the first set] × 100), where greater strength resistance was indicated by higher percentages. Correlations were calculated to determine the strength of the relationship when switching from 1 exercise modality to another. Correlations were significant for all tests when predicting a IRM for machine equipment from Free weight exercises. There were significant differences (p < 0.05) between IRM's performed on the bench press machine equipment compared to its counterpart Free Weight exercise. For all exercises, IRMs were significantly higher on machine equipment. Subjects in machine weights were able to improve strength gains due the focus it placed on specific muscle areas they worked on, it gave participants enough flexibility and were able to adjust their weights how they wanted them. The machines aided them with proper form which allowed the subjects to execute the reps properly and increasing their muscle and strength gain during their bench press.



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