Free Weights vs. Resistance Training

I’ve had numerous people ask me, “Which is better? Free weights or resistance training?”Free weights

It’s a great question, because when you think about it, both are beneficial for your body.  When you go to the gym, you hop on the treadmill as part of your warm up, and scan the room: you have the meat heads using the power racks, benches, free weights, etc; then you scan the middle where the resistance machinesare and see the old farts moseying around on the machines, the injured using the Free Movement machines, and the skinny girls with big boobs working their thighs at the Adductor/Abductor machines (those are COMPLETELY useless, and if I ever catch you using them, I will smack you).

However, both may contain pros and cons (nothing is perfect!). So what I’m going to do is compare the two through this post to give you an idea of why we use free weights AND incorporate resistance training.

Free Weights

Free weights have been around for centuries, dating back to the Greeks carrying sheep on their backs to Arnold Schwarzenegger pumping iron at a local gym. Free weights are great because they force the muscles to go under concentric contractions, wherein the fibers comprising the muscles shorten. They develop strength and the size of the skeletal muscles. With gravity provided by mother nature, we have been able to develop different tools to oppose the force generated by our muscles through concentric and eccentric contractions: olympic bars, dumbbells, machines, kettle bells, etc.  This causes to activate small cells in our muscles called propriorecptors to send signals to our brains to let us know that a muscle is activated. I ALWAYS incorporate strength training in my classes. It’s especially important to incorporate single limb training with dumbbells to activate a variety of muscle groups.

Resistance Training

Unlike the free weight training, resistance training does not involve the use of gravity for muscle contraction. Rather, it involves the use of elastic training where the muscle contraction is at it’s peak when the elastic is at it’s highest extent. Hyraulic training, however, is a set amount of resistance based on the speed of motion. The Full Range of Motion is  especially important in resistance training because the muscle holding the contraction only occurs at specific joint angles (where it’s being worked). It can be performed in a few ways: machines, water exercises, and resistance bands.

Resistance training is great, in that it’s soft on the joints, is a great therapy tool for those with injuries, has shown to build endurance and muscle strength, and is easy and safe to bring for travel (well, not the machines, but the bands!). I love using these as ‘in-betweeners’ with my clients. We work those smaller muscle groups in different planes for injury prevention purposes. I LOVE resistance training as there are many FUN exercises to utilize with the bands. They’re great to use for agility drills: resisted sprints, assisted sprints, resisted hops, etc.  You can even use the bands on the ends of your olympic bar while doing squats or deadlifts to build up your ‘lockout’ position.

When traveling, you can slip the bands into your suitcase easily. The metal detector will NOT go off, I promise 😉 You can use the bands in your own hotel room and it doesn’t use up any space! They are safe and easy to handle!

There is Always a Con

I really enjoy using both free weights and resistance training, however, there are always cons. And you need to know these cons so you can understand the difference between the two. Meanwhile, understanding why they are both very important to incorporate into your workout regime.

In most cases, free weights require the use of a spotter. It is best to have someone who is experienced in free weight training to insure that your form and technique are up to par. ALWAYS have a spotter when lifting anything heavy. I have witnessed many clients lift more than they could handle, then in turn causes the individual harm.  I will never forget witnessing a gentleman (more like a dumba$$) bench without collars. It happened as I was doing chin ups. He propped himself on the bench, and proceeded to bench more than his weight. I stopped everything I was doing to go help, and then the bar fell on it’s side and all the plates slid to the floor. I ran over to help him pick up his mess, then he asked how often I came to the gym. Really???? I told him that I’m a personal trainer and let him know that what he did was extremely dangerous, not a way to flirt with girls. 😉 While most of us are on the GO, it’s hard to have someone spot you each time you work out. With both resistance and free weights, there is always risk of injury! And ALWAYS ask a professional for help! You don’t want to look like this individual: Pilates FAIL

Free weights are also big and bulky. They’re a pain to store and are impossible to take for traveling. They are also intimidating. Most of us would look at a kettlebell and be like, “What in the hell do I do with that?”. My advice, take a class that you have never heard of before. Learn new strategies so that when you travel, you can use those tools to workout!

Because the force of resistance training is highest when it is either stretched out (with the bands) or highest in the speed with the hydraulic, it’s may not be best for those who are looking to build muscle mass. Free weights require the use of gravity and it is at it’s peak at the contraction (this will aid in the muscle building due to the high amounts of load at the contraction phase). HOWEVER, it would be great to incorporate the resistance training into their program to get a mix of training to maximize results.

Both resistance and free weights don’t require a lot of skill, however, make sure to learn the basics of both. Before starting up any program, I always make sure my clients know how to squat, lunge, do a push up, and maintain a plank. Once they get their form and technique perfect, then we move on up to the weights and resistance training. So learn your basics! Otherwise, you’ll be setting yourself up for injury. Don’t go on thinking you can dominate a 300lb squat with the olympic bar 😉


Everyone has different goals. I wouldn’t set a bodybuilder up on a strict resistance program, or put a cheerleader under an olympic bar to back squat like a maniac. Also, everyone has limits due to an injury. I have had clients with major knee injuries, so we worked on therapeutic exercises to strengthen their lower extremities. We worked different planes to build upper and lower strength. They may not have been able to back squat, however, they could bust out chin ups/pull ups no problem! It’s best to write out a plan to help you reach your goals. By incorporating resistance AND free weights to your workout regime, it will maximize your results, thus pushing you past your goals! Sit with a professional to help you design a workout plan and learn your basics. Together, you will reach beyond your highest potential!

7 thoughts on “Free Weights vs. Resistance Training

  1. Thanks for putting some educational info out there. Although I am completely addicted to all things free weights, I have no shame in using resistance bands for a little accessory work here and there. They are convenient and provide a totally different range of motion, and my body likes that!

  2. Pingback: Free Weights Or Weightlifting Machines To Build Bigger Muscles? - Bulk Up FAST!

  3. Pingback: Free Weights VS Machine exercise | Weightloss Super Stars

  4. Pingback: Benefits of resistance bands « gofitmoms

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