Both free weights and resistance machines promise to help you build strength and tone up—so which should you spend your precious gym time on? Ditch the machines, and head to the weight room. Both will get the job done—but free weights offer mega advantages, especially for women, saysCraig Ballantyne, certified trainer and author of Turbulence Training.
“Machines are inefficient—they target only one or two muscle groups at a time, while bodyweight or dumbbell exercises utilize several muscle groups in one move,” says Ballantyne. These force different body areas to work together as a unit, he says, which also improves coordination. More evidence of the awesomeness of free weights: Using them requires core stability, so you strengthen your abs and other core muscles even when you’re not specifically targeting them, says Ballantyne. As for why resistance machines are worse for females, it has to do with the fact that they’re sized for dudes. “They’re poorly designed for women,” says Ballantyne. “unless you’re an average-sized male, machines are going to be awkward for everyone.”
Ballantyne makes an exception for machines that let you do cable stack exercises like lat pulldowns and seated rows, which allow for greater muscle involvement and a wider range of motion. But otherwise, your best bet is to strengthen and tone up with dumbbells—or do moves that utilize your own body for resistance. “Basic bodyweight movements like planks, side planks, lying hip extensions, squats, pushups and kneeling pushups, and modified bodyweight rows are great exercises to incorporate into your routine, especially if you’re a beginner,” says Ballantyne.