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Should you use Dumbbells or Machines to get in Shape

By Dr. Kristie

Whether you want to build bulk or simply firm up, resistance training is the key to a more defined physique. There are a variety of ways to give your muscles a workout, but for most people the choice comes down to free weights vs. machines. Which gives better results?

Free Weights vs. Machines: Which is Better?

Both free weights, in the form of dumbbells, and weight-lifting machines at the gym challenge your muscles - and there are advantages to each. For a beginner, machines are usually the best option, because they’re safe to use, and you don’t have to worry about balancing weights like you do when you use dumbbells to resistance train.

Unfortunately, using machines requires a gym membership unless you’re ready to shell out thousands of dollars to buy home weight-lifting machines. On the other hand, joining a gym and scheduling a few sessions with a personal trainer is a smart idea for a beginner. It ensures that you learn correct form so you can get the most benefits out of the exercises.

Ultimately, you work more muscles when you use dumbbells rather than machines. When you lift dumbbells, you work not only your chosen target muscles, but the smaller stabilizer muscles are activated too. This means you’re working more muscles and burning more calories, which is the whole point of weight training.

On the downside, it’s easy to use incorrect form when you use dumbbells since you have to lift the weight and balance it at the same time. It’s easier to get injured too. If you use dumbbells and work-out at home, it’s helpful to use a DVD to learn correct form and discover what exercises work which muscle groups.

Unlike machines, which are usually limited to a single exercise per machine, dumbbells work muscles in a variety of ways, and they have a steeper learning curve.

Free Weights vs. Machines: Machines Have another Advantage

If you’re trying to bulk up, weight machines allow you to lift greater amounts of weight than you can safely lift using dumbbells due to the balance issue. Using weight machines at least once a week is a good idea if you’re trying to build bulk – to give your muscles an additional challenge.

The Bottom Line?

Each resistance training method offers its own advantages. Machines are best for a beginner, but using free weights or dumbbells adds variety and helps to recruit stabilizer muscles so you get a more balanced workout.

The greatest advantage comes from alternating between dumbbells and weight machines to reduce the risk of plateauing. For safety reasons, start out on machines and when you transition over to dumbbells; get some instruction on how to do the exercises properly. There are a variety of DVDs that show you how to use dumbbells – or schedule some sessions with a fitness trainer. 

About the Author

She is a Medical Doctor with a concentration in Family Practice. She also has an undergraduate degree in both Biology and Psychology and masters in Clinical Pathology.


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