Are free weights higher than machines for power and dimension? • Stronger by Science

If the individuals who launched you to lifting had a background in power sports activities, they might have informed you that barbells are the very best (or solely) method to placed on dimension and power. 

Thankfully, that isn’t what the proof suggests.

A meta-analysis by Haugen and colleagues, revealed in August 2023, sought to match the consequences of free-weights vs machine-based coaching on maximal power, muscle development, and soar efficiency.

A complete of 13 research had been included and analyzed. Six of those research concerned skilled individuals, whereas the remaining seven concerned untrained individuals. 

As such, the outcomes from this meta-analysis ought to generalize fairly nicely to each new lifters and lifters who’ve been getting beneath the bar for some time.

Frequent workouts within the “free-weight” teams included the again squat and bench press, whereas the “machine” teams typically included the leg press, chest press, and numerous Smith machine workouts.

Right here’s what they discovered.

First, almost about maximal power, beneficial properties in free-weight train power had been considerably higher within the “free-weight” teams. 

Fig 1 Dynamic machine strength
Are free weights higher than machines for power and dimension? • Stronger by Science 40

Conversely, beneficial properties in machine train power had been nominally higher within the “machine-based” teams, however this distinction didn’t attain statistical significance. 

Fig 2 Free weight strength
Are free weights higher than machines for power and dimension? • Stronger by Science 41

The explanation why this distinction didn’t attain significance could have been attributable to a decrease pattern dimension; extra research included free-weight power assessments than machine power assessments (8 vs 6).

So, it seems that beneficial properties in power are modality-particular. If you wish to achieve power in a machine-based train, you’re doubtless higher off predominantly coaching with machines. Likewise, the alternative applies: should you’re competing in powerlifting or every other free-weight-based power sport, it could behoove you to predominantly prepare with free weights/barbells.

This follows the final precept of specificity. That mentioned, the precept of specificity is oft assumed to at all times maintain true. This knowledge means that specificity does certainly apply to the modality getting used whereas coaching for maximal power.

Apparently, no variations had been discovered when it got here to isometric power, suggesting each machines and free weights are efficient at enhancing general or non-specific power. Certainly, an isometric power take a look at carried out on an isokinetic dynamometer is a reasonably unskilled take a look at of power – and one which neither group would have had any expertise with. This means that should you’re after basic power enhancements, what modality you utilize most likely doesn’t play a lot of a job.

Fig 3 Isometric Strength
Are free weights higher than machines for power and dimension? • Stronger by Science 42

With reference to muscle development, no important variations had been discovered between modalities. Due to this fact, should you’re after muscle development, you don’t want to make use of free weights or machines, completely. In actual fact, the 2 might complement one another very nicely in an efficient hypertrophy program.

Fig 4 Hypertrophy
Are free weights higher than machines for power and dimension? • Stronger by Science 43

Apparently, a standard speculation is that free-weight workouts ought to end in higher general muscle development than machine workouts attributable to higher exercise of synergist muscle mass, which has been documented (1, 2, 3). Nevertheless, this meta-analysis doesn’t help that rivalry, since comparable beneficial properties in fat-free mass had been seen in each teams in all research inside this meta-analysis.

Lastly, almost about countermovement soar efficiency, no important distinction was discovered between free weights or machine-based coaching. Nevertheless, the impact dimension estimate did favor the free-weights group. Upon removing of 1 research throughout sensitivity evaluation (primarily seeing how outcomes change once you go away one of many research out), free weights did considerably outperform machines for enhancements in countermovement soar peak enhancements. So, free weights are probably a greater possibility than machines in case your intention is to enhance your soar efficiency.

Figure 5
The black bars signify enhancements within the free-weight group; the gray bars signify enhancements within the machine-based group.

These findings are in-line with one other current meta-analysis on the identical matter, which additionally discovered that power beneficial properties had been modality-specific, that muscle development was comparable between teams, and that “impartial” power enhancements had been comparable between teams.


Maximal power enhancements are modality-specific.

  • If you wish to get higher at barbell lifts, use predominantly barbell lifts. The identical applies to machine workouts.

Muscle development is analogous between machine and free-weight-based workouts.

  • Machine and free-weight workouts might complement one another nicely in a hypertrophy program.
  • If you happen to favor one strategy (e.g. free weights), this offers you flexibility.

Enhancements in countermovement soar had been doubtless higher when coaching with free weights vs machines.

  • In case your intention is to enhance soar efficiency, your coaching ought to most likely embody extra free-weight coaching than machine coaching.

Extra from Milo

This was a visitor article by Milo Wolf. If you happen to’d wish to obtain extra free e-mail analysis breakdowns to your inbox, signal as much as his e-newsletter right here.

Milo can be one of many coaches on the Stronger By Science teaching group. If you happen to’d wish to work with Milo to achieve your coaching or diet objectives, you may be taught extra in regards to the teaching program right here.

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