The Free Weight vs. Machine Debate

Analyzing the Free Weight vs. Machine Debate

Eugene SandowThe free weight vs. machine debate has been a strong contender for the title of world’s most popular (bodybuilding related) ongoing controversial topic.

Truth be told, we currently live in an extremely complicated world filled with a very puzzling society that thoroughly enjoys complicating the impossible. Before the 80’s, the free weight vs. machine debate wasn’t even conceived, and honestly, it should have stayed that way.

If we quickly open a history book, or better yet, do a quick online search, we can conclude that the invention of the machine always had the ultimate purpose of making human life as easy as possible.

The much-talked about historic Industrial Revolution accomplished a lot of great things but it also planted the seed for the lazy and sedentary society that we know today.

In bodybuilding terms, free weight exercises are the equivalent of manual labor as they are very taxing on the human body, they also take a lot of effort to use and the room for error during their execution is very wide. Machines, on the other hand are extremely easy to use, require little to low physical effort, and have little to no room for error.

Old School Training Philosophy

The old school bodybuilding philosophy firmly believed that the only legitimate way to build a larger-than-life physique lied within the principles of hard work, simplicity, and consistency. When legendary names like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Serge Nubret, Arnold SchwarzeneggerReg Park, Steve Reeves, Tom Platz, Dorian Yates, and Ronnie Coleman are brought up, it’s difficult to not reminiscence about their legendary physiques and their out-of-this-world work ethic.

These legends alongside many others that have graced countless numbers of bodybuilding magazine covers throughout the decades believed that an extraordinary physique could only be built through constant punishment in the form of traditional weight training.

They believed that the world’s greatest physique could only be achieved through squatting, pressing, deadlifting, curling, etc. And guess what? They were right.

Today, free weights, even in the realm of professional bodybuilding, have sadly lost a lot of ground compared to the new and revolutionary machines that can be found in gyms from all across the world. The cause of this- you may wonder- is the excessive promotion of such apparatuses from top modern bodybuilders who owe their monstrous builds to performance enhancement drugs and not (entirely) to hard work.

A True Art Form

The fact of the matter is that bodybuilders- just like society- have gotten lazy. Anyone who thinks that historic bodybuilding icons like Eugene Sandow, Charles Atlas, Steve Reeves, Reg Park, and Larry Scott could have build their physiques relying on only modern Old School Weight Training Manualmachine equipment are completely out of their mind.

It’s incredible to think that even up to the early 2000’s- before bodybuilding and fitness went mainstream- the set standard of training was nearly the same as a century before it.

Sandow just like Coleman are considered freaks of nature who transformed modern bodybuilding forever; their attitude and mental disposition alone allowed them to create and set a new standard in bodybuilding.

Machines, are sadly the embodiment of laziness and lack of character, some of you may argue against it and it’s valid- I mean, let’s be honest- the current Mr. Olympia champion is well-known for building his physique around machines.

Sadly, as popular as he may be, his all-time best physique would have a very difficult time placing against the behemoths of the 90’s and early 2000’s; physiques that were built with a true bodybuilding mindset.

The Essence of Bodybuilding

Dorian Yates Bicep CurlsGenerally speaking, bodybuilding is a physical discipline that consists of placing the human body under extreme pressure in order for it to adapt and transform itself into a living masterpiece.

Bodybuilding training is home to many variants that largely determine the final outcome of such physical exertion. A few of these variants are the following: weight, angles, resistance, tempo, volume, intensity, and rest.

All of the previous factors need to be taken into consideration when building a physique, and generally speaking machines offer less flexibility and variant incorporation compared to free weights. At the end of the day what’s easier to perform, a dumbbell bench press or a machine press?

Deep down you know you would be crazy to perform a one rep max on a bench press without a spotter as it is way more difficult to perform compared to the machine alternative.

Machines, sadly take different variants out from the bodybuilding equation thanks to their set mobility pattern, eliminating the body’s capacity to adapt to high stress situations that would otherwise require balance and stability.


Ronnie Coleman RowMachines have a set range of motion, a path that could be completely wrong for your body, a path that offers no potential for modification, growth, or added exertion.

Free weight movements are only as good as you and your mind-muscle connection make them out to be. Free weight movements suit all body types, they work all muscle fibers, and there’s no known limit to them.

Machines on the other hand limit you, they limit your progress, and they make your life easier. Machine-building will never compare to old school bodybuilding training and that’s a fact.

Is there more risk involved with free weight lifting? There probably is, but if your body can't handle to train like a champion, maybe it wasn’t built for such a sport.

The point of this article is not to criticize machine use but instead promote the practice of free weight motions in bodybuilding. We can all read up on articles that argue that machines are superior to free weight training but would you rather listen to a hypothesis or look at the real facts? If something works there’s nothing to fix, and legendary bodybuilders like the ones mentioned in this article are proof of that.