If you read our last post on cardio vs weights, you know that we definitely advocate for spending your time on strength training. If you didn't read it yet, I highly recommend you do. But to take it even further, the next common question is, "ok then, do I spend my time with free weights or machines?".
Let's start with free weights. Free weights are phenomenal, and very hard to beat in terms of benefit...if you know what you are doing (or hire someone who does, another topic). It is really hard to compete with the physiological adaptations that occur from the demand free weights can place on your musculoskeletal system. Not only do free weights challenge the primary movers (the main muscle you are trying to exercise), but they also tax the supporting musculature (think the small, assistance muscles). This is important because it helps in building stronger, more stable joints. Additionally, free weights will test your mobility (which might very well be the most important component of your health and fitness), and build awesome neuromuscular patterns (a fancy way to say, your body will learn how to make your muscles function better). So, tons of benefit and potential with free weights. However...the reward does come with risks, injury being the most notable. If you do not know what you are doing, or do not have a knowledgeable and capable coach, do not use free weights. You have a high probability of one of two things happening. Number one, you get hurt. Because free weights are so great at building the supporting musculature and stabilizing joints all while testing your mobility, you put yourself at a greater risk of injury if you do something incorrectly. And number two, if you decide to give it a shot anyways, and go too light (meaning you don't actually challenge yourself with heavy enough weights), maybe in an attempt to avoid injury, then you are simply wasting your time. BFRx is a huge advocate for economy of time and effort...simply put, we want you to get the best bang for your time, sweat, and money.
What about machines? Resistance machines definitely have their place in any fitness programming. For starters, they are safe. Machines protects your joints, and many of them control the allowable range of motion. They also allow you to lift very heavy, if you choose. Because they are safe, they are a great way to "learn" the exercise and let your body adjust to the movement pattern. The downside is that they neglect all the things that make free weights so great, which is consequently what makes machines so safe. Machines don't really challenge your mobility or provide a huge stimulus to make your joints stronger, and the neuromuscular adaptions (remember, your body learning how to move and move safely) are minimal.
So where does all this leave us? Our suggestion would be to start with machines. Live there for a minimum of two or three months allowing your body to get acclimated to the movements, the exercises, and the strain of lifting weights. Just as important, it will also build your confidence. In a few months, when you feel ready to progress to the next challenge, then graduate to free weights. Once you commit and get comfortable with resistance training in general, machine or free weights, coupled with your healthy eating strategies, you will be unstoppable!
We want to hear your story and hear your gym successes; please share them! If you have questions, ask away.