Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

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retire14
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Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by retire14 »

I have been lifting just enough to keep in shape ( 69 yrs old in good health). I have been doing stairmaster HIIT plus lifting a couple of days/ week.
I took a few sessions on barbell with a trainer so I could do “starting strength” but was never comfortable with deadlift or squat as I did try too much and hurt my back once. So I stopped pushing myself as I was losing confidence if I was doing the right form.

So I went back to machines...chest press, lat pull, pull up, leg press, etc...I realize that this is not optimal, but it’s better than not doing weight. I could push more with machine without being afraid of getting hurt.

Any advice on how to get the most out of machines or maybe I should do dumb bells? Thanks.
H-Town
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by H-Town »

My advice would be focus on your range of motion. Free weight training is 100% safe as long as you have the mobility, engaged, focused throughout your range of motion. Don't train heavy outside of your range of motion; but on the flip side, try to continue to focus on range of motion rather than heavy weight - if that makes sense.

I can understand some people may suggest you to stay with machine, to be safe. But it takes away the opportunity that you can build and maintain your mobility, which is very important in your life. You don't want to get hurt in real life while picking up something off the ground, or trying to reach something over your head, or turn around in your car to get something from the backseat, or squatting down and playing with your kids or grandkids. Things like those would motivate me to have a better range of motion and stick with free weight training.
Goldwater85
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by Goldwater85 »

Free weights are ‘better’ in the sense that they are less targeted and develop overall strength more broadly.

Free weights also carry a materially higher risk of injury. This is especially true of exercises involving your lower back. Unless your goal is competition, why not use free weights for lower risk exercises like bench press or curls, and use machines to reduce injury risk. Alternately, use modest and easily achievable weights for higher risk sets.
skteam
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by skteam »

I'm far from an expert but this is what has worked for me:

I'd suggest dumbbells and a bench. Possibly add a small tower to enable pulldown exercises that are otherwise hard to do unless you can manage pull-ups.

The machines are problematic for the same reason they feel "safer"--the range of motion and activation is so limited compared to the free weights. You will find that dumbbells give you a more well rounded workout that gives you strength that more closely resembles real life. Just build slowly and be willing to drop the weight down when you plateau or run into problems.

They aren't cheap, but ironmaster adjustable dumbbells are fantastic and built to last. My wife thought I'd spent too much on them and then liked them so much she asked to add a second pair a year later so that we didn't have to share when working out at the same time. Money very well spent.
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unclescrooge
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by unclescrooge »

retire14 wrote: Tue May 11, 2021 4:31 pm I have been lifting just enough to keep in shape ( 69 yrs old in good health). I have been doing stairmaster HIIT plus lifting a couple of days/ week.
I took a few sessions on barbell with a trainer so I could do “starting strength” but was never comfortable with deadlift or squat as I did try too much and hurt my back once. So I stopped pushing myself as I was losing confidence if I was doing the right form.

So I went back to machines...chest press, lat pull, pull up, leg press, etc...I realize that this is not optimal, but it’s better than not doing weight. I could push more with machine without being afraid of getting hurt.

Any advice on how to get the most out of machines or maybe I should do dumb bells? Thanks.
Highly recommend x3 bar. Join the Facebook group before spending $500 to see if it's right for you.

I've been using it for 3.5 months. It's marvelous.

Risk of injury is minimal. I'm doing deadlifts, which I've always avoided sure to fear of getting hurt.

Also suggest reading "weight lifting is a waste of time".
Last edited by unclescrooge on Tue May 11, 2021 4:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
260chrisb
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by 260chrisb »

Goldwater85 wrote: Tue May 11, 2021 4:40 pm Free weights are ‘better’ in the sense that they are less targeted and develop overall strength more broadly.

Free weights also carry a materially higher risk of injury. This is especially true of exercises involving your lower back. Unless your goal is competition, why not use free weights for lower risk exercises like bench press or curls, and use machines to reduce injury risk. Alternately, use modest and easily achievable weights for higher risk sets.
This is really good advice! I'll add; keep doing some form of weight training for as long as you can and don't worry about what anyone else in the gym is lifting or even how they are lifting. At this age you want to be able to maintain an exercise program and avoid injury at all costs. Keep going man! I'm guessing as you look at others in your age group you're the stud!!
AznSaver
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by AznSaver »

retire14 wrote: Tue May 11, 2021 4:31 pm I have been lifting just enough to keep in shape ( 69 yrs old in good health). I have been doing stairmaster HIIT plus lifting a couple of days/ week.
I took a few sessions on barbell with a trainer so I could do “starting strength” but was never comfortable with deadlift or squat as I did try too much and hurt my back once. So I stopped pushing myself as I was losing confidence if I was doing the right form.

So I went back to machines...chest press, lat pull, pull up, leg press, etc...I realize that this is not optimal, but it’s better than not doing weight. I could push more with machine without being afraid of getting hurt.

Any advice on how to get the most out of machines or maybe I should do dumb bells? Thanks.
I would say it really depends on what your specific goals are and any physical limitations ( range-of-motion issues, injured/weak body parts).

In the grand scheme of things there is NO appreciable difference between machines and free weights, as long as you are able to progressively overload the targeted muscle it's all the same. Machine assistance does not build as much of the stabilizing/supporting muscles for any given exact free weight variant.

What are your goals or what are you working towards? Are you using proper nutrition to facilitate your training...
Quick Answer: a seated leg press or hack squat machine can allow you to do a safer exercise that targets similar muscle to the squat.
A lying hamstring machine & a lat pulldown machine/seated row can mimic the deadlift...
Youtube is a great resource to aggregate exercise form and technique.
skteam
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by skteam »

AznSaver wrote: Tue May 11, 2021 4:53 pm In the grand scheme of things there is NO appreciable difference between machines and free weights, as long as you are able to progressively overload the targeted muscle it's all the same. Machine assistance does not build as much of the stabilizing/supporting muscles for any given exact free weight variant.
I think most with experience would disagree with you. You are right that overload is overload, and if you can overload the same muscles with a machine as you can with free weights the workout should be the same. But in real life you can't do that and in fact won't even get close because nobody aiming for everyday fitness has the equipment and patience to do all of those micro targeted machine workouts. If you want fitness that is useful in real life you need exercises that mimic what you might do in real life.

I would add one other factor: machine workouts are terribly boring but many can't stick with them!
MindBogler
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by MindBogler »

If you want to do barbell exercises you need to research Mark Rippetoe and watch his videos on form. Bring a friend to the gym and record your lifts with the bar only. Once your form is correct then add some weight. Start small and work up slowly. If your form is good and there aren’t anatomical issues, or overuse, you will not be injured by lifting free weights.
Independent George
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by Independent George »

retire14 wrote: Tue May 11, 2021 4:31 pm I have been lifting just enough to keep in shape ( 69 yrs old in good health). I have been doing stairmaster HIIT plus lifting a couple of days/ week.
I took a few sessions on barbell with a trainer so I could do “starting strength” but was never comfortable with deadlift or squat as I did try too much and hurt my back once. So I stopped pushing myself as I was losing confidence if I was doing the right form.

So I went back to machines...chest press, lat pull, pull up, leg press, etc...I realize that this is not optimal, but it’s better than not doing weight. I could push more with machine without being afraid of getting hurt.

Any advice on how to get the most out of machines or maybe I should do dumb bells? Thanks.
Lat pull, pullup, and chest press on machines are fine; it's not hard to maintain good form, so just stay consistent, and they'll do the job. Leg press, on the other hand, has a tendency to cause knee and lower back injuries. If you're not comfortable with the barbell squat, bodyweight lunges are great. If you feel like something more advanced, Bulgarian split squats have been my go-to quarantine exercise.
FoolStreet
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by FoolStreet »

retire14 wrote: Tue May 11, 2021 4:31 pm I have been lifting just enough to keep in shape ( 69 yrs old in good health). I have been doing stairmaster HIIT plus lifting a couple of days/ week.
I took a few sessions on barbell with a trainer so I could do “starting strength” but was never comfortable with deadlift or squat as I did try too much and hurt my back once. So I stopped pushing myself as I was losing confidence if I was doing the right form.

So I went back to machines...chest press, lat pull, pull up, leg press, etc...I realize that this is not optimal, but it’s better than not doing weight. I could push more with machine without being afraid of getting hurt.

Any advice on how to get the most out of machines or maybe I should do dumb bells? Thanks.
Personally, I think balance is critical, so I suggest free weights for certain activities. Maybe mix it up with 2 days free weights and 2 days machines. Personally, I don’t like machines at all, but if they are working for you, that’s all that matters.
UpperNwGuy
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by UpperNwGuy »

My personal trainer won't let me use machines, only free weights. I used to use machines several years ago, but they were a crutch.
MP173
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by MP173 »

In August I supplemented cycling with strength training. I began with the machines and quickly moved to free weights. In the past due to improper technique shoulder and elbow pain would set in after a couple of weeks. This year there was concentration on technique and lower weights...gradually added weight.

The squat was avoided. Absolutely no desire at my age (65 plus a hip replacement) to try this as hip mobility was never a given for me. The deadlift is utilized...keeping the weight at a very manageable level.

After a couple of months more weight was added and a routine of 4 sets of 6 was used. That routine changed about a month ago to 4 or 5 sets of 10 to 12 at reduced weights...usually about 60% of 1x max (unsure of what most 1x max are but used a table). This usually results in by the last set I would lift to fatigue. This system is referred to as hypertrophy. It tends to add muscle size rather than strength.

The strength training has been a welcomed addition to the indoor and outdoor cycling.

Ed
Carguy85
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by Carguy85 »

Plenty of lifts where you use your own weight to various degrees ...a pull up bar with various width grips and a set of gymnast rings. I liken it a lot to boglehead investing.... can be deceptively simple and inexpensive. Machines are a lot like fancy money managers.
chazas
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by chazas »

Whatever will keep you motivated is best. I have both.

I agree that if you’re investing you should start small to see if you can keep up with it - a good bench and a set of dumbbells. You can do a lot with that. If you’re going to the gym, mix it up for appropriate exercises for the body parts you’re targeting that day.

I enjoy working out and outfitted my basement as a home gym just before COVID. I started with a 15 year old used weight machine that was very high quality (not big box consumer crap) for $750 delivered and assembled. Added a full set of dumbbells to 50 pounds delivered from Walmart. Rogue half rack and commercial incline/decline bench bought on FB marketplace. Assault Bike from Amazon Warehouse that just needed a couple of new nuts and bolts. Concept 2 rower from Craigslist. Then gym equipment prices skyrocketed. Best market timing I’ve ever done and it was all unintentional.
sid hartha
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by sid hartha »

retire14 wrote: Tue May 11, 2021 4:31 pm I have been lifting just enough to keep in shape ( 69 yrs old in good health). I have been doing stairmaster HIIT plus lifting a couple of days/ week.
I took a few sessions on barbell with a trainer so I could do “starting strength” but was never comfortable with deadlift or squat as I did try too much and hurt my back once. So I stopped pushing myself as I was losing confidence if I was doing the right form.

So I went back to machines...chest press, lat pull, pull up, leg press, etc...I realize that this is not optimal, but it’s better than not doing weight. I could push more with machine without being afraid of getting hurt.

Any advice on how to get the most out of machines or maybe I should do dumb bells? Thanks.
In my opinion it is optimal if it's something you feel comfortable with and therefore allows you to get some resistance training in.
Mr. Rumples
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by Mr. Rumples »

I use both dumbbells and machines. My preference on the latter are cable machines. I'm up there in age, but still workout four days a week. At this time in my life, keeping muscle mass is important and form is essential to prevent injury. I might go back to a barbell if I get bored.

The other thing to consider is using a landmine.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0lHsoQf86Y
RobLyons
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by RobLyons »

Having strength trained since age 12, followed top experts now for > 10 years, and experienced all the highs and lows including minor injuries, I encourage you to continue doing machines, especially if you experienced an injury/set back or you're not comfortable with them. Humans don't "need" barbells to get strong or maintain strength. Machines can accomplish this. Even body weight exercises can keep you fit. As you said doing machines are better than doing nothing and there is a lower chance of injury. In weight training there is no one "must do" exercise. Deadlifts are great but high chance of injury if not closely monitored, reviewed, corrected. Same with squats and adding too much weight, even the shoes you wear may not be optimal.

And just some unsolicited training advice: try to do 2 "movements" per muscle group at a minimum, twice a week. One chest press, one fly movement and chest is done. One row, one pull down and back is done. One leg extension, one curl and legs are done. Hopefully your gym has enough machines to work all muscle groups sufficiently. Shoulders, back, chest, legs, biceps and triceps.. with traps, calves, and others being less important.

As you perform the sets, think how hard was that to complete the set. Did you breeze through? Or did you focus, push hard, grunt, and really go hard to get those last few reps? This is referred to as the RPE scale. An RPE of 9 is when you see advanced lifters grinding out the last rep to near failure with a spotter. An RPE of 1 is you completed that set so easy that you are actually wasting your time. The point is you want to tax the muscle group enough to cause muscle breakdown and adaptation. I've always training in the 6-8 rep range to ensure I'm not stopping at 10 just because that's the number I can stop at, if that makes sense.

Also think in terms of total weight moved. Last time you did 4 sets of 10 reps with 100lbs. 4,000lbs! Great. Now shoot for 2 more reps with the same weight or 20lbs more with same reps and you've accomplished another goal - 4,800lbs! Increase slowly over time.


Above all, do whatever you enjoy. If you don't enjoy something you won't continue doing it no matter how much advice.

Sorry if this was too much and if anything was unclear shoot me a message!

And... I'm off to the gym! :D
Last edited by RobLyons on Wed May 12, 2021 7:14 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Brianmcg321
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by Brianmcg321 »

Do both. Just add much lighter weight on the free weights until you get the form down. You don’t get points for getting hurt.

I followed starting strength for a few months. Started having issues with my knees. Took the weight way down until the pain went away and slowly moved the weight back up.

Remember, starting strength was designed for 18 year olds getting ready for football. So factor in your age accordingly.

Most of the time I just use the standard bro split, adding squats and deadlifts on occasion.
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stoptothink
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by stoptothink »

RobLyons wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 7:07 am Having strength trained since age 12, followed top experts now for > 10 years, and experienced all the highs and lows including minor injuries, I encourage you to continue doing machines, especially if you experienced an injury/set back or you're not comfortable with them. Humans don't "need" barbells to get strong or maintain strength. Machines can accomplish this. Even body weight exercises can keep you fit. As you said doing machines are better than doing nothing and there is a lower chance of injury. In weight training there is no one "must do" exercise. Deadlifts are great but high chance of injury if not closely monitored, reviewed, corrected. Same with squats and adding too much weight, even the shoes you wear may not be optimal.

And just some unsolicited training advice: try to do 2 "movements" per muscle group at a minimum, twice a week. One chest press, one fly movement and chest is done. One row, one pull down and back is done. One leg extension, one curl and legs are done. Hopefully your gym has enough machines to work all muscle groups sufficiently. Shoulders, back, chest, legs, biceps and triceps.. with traps, calves, and others being less important.

Depends on what the OP's goals are. If it is overall health and maintaining mobility, leg extensions and ham curls are just about functionally useless. Same thing with flys. Balance, proprioception, power transfer, etc. become even more important as you age for general health and safety; those generally can't be trained effectively with machines. OP would probably be better off some very basic implements (ie. rings) and bodyweight training than completely ditching free weights for machines.
tm3
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by tm3 »

RobLyons wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 7:07 am Having strength trained since age 12, followed top experts now for > 10 years, and experienced all the highs and lows including minor injuries, I encourage you to continue doing machines, especially if you experienced an injury/set back or you're not comfortable with them. Humans don't "need" barbells to get strong or maintain strength. Machines can accomplish this. Even body weight exercises can keep you fit. As you said doing machines are better than doing nothing and there is a lower chance of injury. In weight training there is no one "must do" exercise. Deadlifts are great but high chance of injury if not closely monitored, reviewed, corrected. Same with squats and adding too much weight, even the shoes you wear may not be optimal.
Concur. The setback from an injury (more likely at 69 than at 29) will far offset any possible gains from transitioning to free weights.

If you want to improve balance, Tai Chi and Yoga are superior to free weights and safer.
Swansea
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by Swansea »

Old adage "your muscles don't know the difference from a brick or a barbell."
I've been lifting for about 60 years, when a younger man, did Olympic lifts and heavy weights. Now I do mostly machines and some dumbbells. I think working out regularly is more critical than the exact equipment.
getthatmarshmallow
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by getthatmarshmallow »

Machines aren't great for training balance and proprioception, but at 69 with a history of injury I'd say keep doing what you're doing and add yoga or some bodyweight/very lightweight exercises for balance.
mike152
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by mike152 »

I think you should see a personal trainer, and have them teach you some basic free weight movements until you feel comfortable doing them. You'll have a better idea of how the movements are supposed to feel, which will translate well even if you go back to using machines.

Powerlifting has a very low injury rate, just make sure you increase your loading slowly and regularly and keep things under control. If you can stand up out of a chair, you can do a squat.
mr_brightside
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by mr_brightside »

machines have their place -- mainly to isolate a particular muscle or group

but your biggest 'bang for buck' will be achieved with free weights -- either dumbbells or barbell lifts --performing compound exercises

as i have gotten older -- i probably do more with dumbbells these days (not moving mega poundage anymore...)

as mentioned earlier though -- find a system / routine you ENJOY and go with that. main thing is to lift safely and KEEP MOVING ! :sharebeer

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CFM300
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by CFM300 »

retire14 wrote: Tue May 11, 2021 4:31 pm Any advice on how to get the most out of machines or maybe I should do dumb bells? Thanks.
The machine exercises you've chosen -- "chest press, lat pull, pull up, leg press" -- are good. (Compound, multi-joint movements vs. isolation, single-joint.)

Perhaps add some unweighted bodyweight movements (squats, lunges, push-ups, ring rows) to improve/maintain mobility and balance. From there, you could progress to goblet squats, one-arm dumbbell press, and maybe even light dumbbell snatches. After that, you might have regained an interest in learning the barbell movements. Or not.
matthewbarnhart
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by matthewbarnhart »

CFM300 wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:36 am Perhaps add some unweighted bodyweight movements (squats, lunges, push-ups, ring rows) to improve/maintain mobility and balance. From there, you could progress to goblet squats, one-arm dumbbell press, and maybe even light dumbbell snatches. After that, you might have regained an interest in learning the barbell movements. Or not.
I would also suggest bodyweight exercises, especially for your listed goals. I've been working a bodyweight program since last year and it has dramatically increased my strength, balance, mobility, and coordination, without the need for any equipment besides a pull-up bar and a set of gymnastics rings.

Here's a good beginner routine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ay15dc2cvm0

And a couple of slightly-more elaborate routines:
From there you can go much deeper, but these are a great starting point.
sureshoe
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by sureshoe »

In general, some good advice in this thread.

If I was 69, I would be cautious about adding a lot of heavy free weights. This is why they say, "consult a doctor before starting a workout regimen." But, there are a lot of schools of thought that the large, compound lifts are all you REALLY need. Bench, squat, military, pull down, deads. If you're doing 8-16 reps, you're good.

I do like the bodyweight recommendations. I'd also highly recommend lots of flexibility training. You can do quite a bit of strength-oriented yoga / hybrid stuff. Lunges, squats, and the such with full range, really focusing on stretching. Flexibility is one of the biggest predictors of longevity.

In my mid-40s, I need to do more :)
surfstar
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by surfstar »

This is Bogleheads, of course you must use "free" weights ;)

pick up a rock, bodyweight, etc
keithintx
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by keithintx »

I would go back to the gym and try the squat and deadlift again. There are just too many benefits to lifting while balancing the load. Yes, most old folks don't die from falling they die from complications from going to the hospital to recover from falling. You sound like you are comfortable at the gym. Start with low weights and range of motion and slowly go up.
Triple digit golfer
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by Triple digit golfer »

keithintx wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 9:54 am I would go back to the gym and try the squat and deadlift again. There are just too many benefits to lifting while balancing the load. Yes, most old folks don't die from falling they die from complications from going to the hospital to recover from falling. You sound like you are comfortable at the gym. Start with low weights and range of motion and slowly go up.
Totally agree with this.

Get your form down, start with weights light enough to handle, and add weight progressively over time. You don't have to do 3 sets of 5 and work out 3x a week like Starting Strength says. Once the weights are challenging, you can get by with 1-2 work sets of each exercise (deadlift always 1) and do just a couple workouts a week. Each lift 1x per week is sufficient to build and maintain strength and muscle. You don't get strong from lifting weights, you get strong from recovering from lifting weights.
alfaspider
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by alfaspider »

It's a bit counterintuitive, but machines can actually make you more prone to injury rather than less. The main reason they get used is that a total newbie who has no idea what he or she is doing can walk into a gym and immediately know what to do. In the context of a totally clueless person, they lead to fewer injuries because there's less ways you can screw it up. Gyms also like them because there's less chance of a catastrophic acute injury they may be sued for (like someone dropping a barbell on their neck from a failed bench press), and there's less need to police unsafe or improper use.

The main issue is that most machines force you out of your natural range of motion. For example, when you bench press, the bar does not travel in a straight line- there is a slight arc. If you use a press machine, you are forced to push in a straight linear motion. Another issue, if you go to different gyms, is that the amount of resistance may not be consistent. Machines may utilize different amount of leverage, or have different amounts of friction. With free weights, you can put the body under a more precise amount of load. Finally, machines generally don't require the same level of core and support muscle activation, which can mean you develop strength imbalances that can lead to injury.

None of that is to say there is no role at all for machines. They can be helpful to work through injury that otherwise prevents exercising a certain muscle group. They are also useful to bodybuilders looking to isolate a specific muscle for aesthetic reasons or powerlifters looking to address a very specific weakness. But the foundation should always be free weights.

RE squats and deadlifts: I agree they should be done, but don't feel obligated to get under a bar or go heavy. Even air squats can be an extremely good workout. Likewise, you don't need a barbell to do the deadlift exercises. Even light dumbells can work the same motions. A lot of good trainers don't suggest getting under a bar for MONTHS after starting strength training.
Last edited by alfaspider on Wed May 12, 2021 10:17 am, edited 1 time in total.
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rocket354
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by rocket354 »

alfaspider wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 10:02 am It's a bit counterintuitive, but machines can actually make you more prone to injury rather than less. The main reason they get used is that a total newbie who has no idea what he or she is doing can walk into a gym and immediately know what to do. In the context of a totally clueless person, they lead to fewer injuries because there's less ways you can screw it up. Gyms also like them because there's less chance of a catastrophic acute injury they may be sued for (like someone dropping a barbell on their neck from a failed bench press), and there's less need to police unsafe or improper use.

The main issue is that most machines force you out of your natural range of motion. For example, when you bench press, the bar does not travel in a straight line- there is a slight arc. If you use a press machine, you are forced to push in a straight linear motion. Another issue, if you go to different gyms, is that the amount of resistance may not be consistent. Machines may utilize different amount of leverage, or have different amounts of friction. With free weights, you can put the body under a more precise amount of load. Finally, machines generally don't require the same level of core and support muscle activation, which can mean you develop strength imbalances that can lead to injury.

None of that is to say there is no role at all for machines. They can be helpful to work through injury that otherwise prevents exercising a certain muscle group. They are also useful to bodybuilders looking to isolate a specific muscle for aesthetic reasons or powerlifters looking to address a very specific weakness. But the foundation should always be free weights.
I was going to post something similar, but you explained it much better than I could. It's just as easy to get injured with machines as with free weights, perhaps moreso. If you use free weights, always have safety bars in place and you should be fine.

To the OP: both can work. I prefer free weights since it incorporates stabilizers and therefore greatly helps my balance. There's a world of difference between doing, say, leg press and doing squats in terms of real-world benefits.

As I've gotten older, I've transitioned more to dumbbell rather than barbell exercises. Anything you could want to do with a barbell you can do with a dumbbell and with even less limited range of motion (machines:barbell::barbell:dumbbell). I've found dumbbell variations on squats (I like Bulgarian split squats) can be much nicer on the lower back than back squats. Dumbbell variations on deadlifts can as well, since the weight isn't in front of you but beside you. Another lower-back-friendly option is a hex (or trap) bar.

Ultimately, something is better than nothing. Arguing about machine vs free weights is kind of like arguing about asset allocation in investing--like in investing, with weights once you're doing something you're over 90% of the way there, the rest is just optimizing. So what that means is find what works for you, something that keeps you engaged and provides variety, and you'll be fine. Just don't be afraid of free-weights--after you get more comfortable in the weight room you may really find you enjoy them.

Best of luck!
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by GibsonL6s »

Have you considered resistance bands, very versatile and very cheap. You can do most exercises with bands that you can do with free weights. Lots of tutorials on youtube. I was lifting a bit but when the gyms shut down due to C19 I switched to bands and bodyweight and a few nagging injuries cleared up.

Good luck!
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by coffeeblack »

retire14 wrote: Tue May 11, 2021 4:31 pm I have been lifting just enough to keep in shape ( 69 yrs old in good health). I have been doing stairmaster HIIT plus lifting a couple of days/ week.
I took a few sessions on barbell with a trainer so I could do “starting strength” but was never comfortable with deadlift or squat as I did try too much and hurt my back once. So I stopped pushing myself as I was losing confidence if I was doing the right form.

So I went back to machines...chest press, lat pull, pull up, leg press, etc...I realize that this is not optimal, but it’s better than not doing weight. I could push more with machine without being afraid of getting hurt.

Any advice on how to get the most out of machines or maybe I should do dumb bells? Thanks.
At 69 years old you want to be careful with free weights. One of the major reasons people get hurt (especially at an older age) with free weights is range of motion issues. If you can't squat correctly such as you mentioned in "starting strength" , you will have knee and back issues. I suggest you find someone who can help you with mobility. As a general rule free weights are more risky but give more rewards. They are compound movements. A squat works far more than just the legs.
With that said, any exercise you do is good for you and will improve your health and reduce risk of chronic diseases. So don't get to caught up on machines vs. free weights. Any exercise done incorrectly can cause injury. Even machines.

You want to focus on several key movements. For example, for upper body you want to have a vertical pull and a vertical push exercise and a horizontal pull and push exercise. Same for lower body. This will give you balance and prevent injuries.

One great way to get a functional strength and cardio workout is to train with kettlebells. If you choose this option, you should get a trainer who really knows how to use them and get your form right. You could do a 20 to 30 minute workout 3 x per week and be done.
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by themesrob »

rocket354 wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 10:14 am
alfaspider wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 10:02 am It's a bit counterintuitive, but machines can actually make you more prone to injury rather than less. The main reason they get used is that a total newbie who has no idea what he or she is doing can walk into a gym and immediately know what to do. In the context of a totally clueless person, they lead to fewer injuries because there's less ways you can screw it up. Gyms also like them because there's less chance of a catastrophic acute injury they may be sued for (like someone dropping a barbell on their neck from a failed bench press), and there's less need to police unsafe or improper use.

The main issue is that most machines force you out of your natural range of motion. For example, when you bench press, the bar does not travel in a straight line- there is a slight arc. If you use a press machine, you are forced to push in a straight linear motion. Another issue, if you go to different gyms, is that the amount of resistance may not be consistent. Machines may utilize different amount of leverage, or have different amounts of friction. With free weights, you can put the body under a more precise amount of load. Finally, machines generally don't require the same level of core and support muscle activation, which can mean you develop strength imbalances that can lead to injury.

None of that is to say there is no role at all for machines. They can be helpful to work through injury that otherwise prevents exercising a certain muscle group. They are also useful to bodybuilders looking to isolate a specific muscle for aesthetic reasons or powerlifters looking to address a very specific weakness. But the foundation should always be free weights.
I was going to post something similar, but you explained it much better than I could. It's just as easy to get injured with machines as with free weights, perhaps moreso. If you use free weights, always have safety bars in place and you should be fine.

To the OP: both can work. I prefer free weights since it incorporates stabilizers and therefore greatly helps my balance. There's a world of difference between doing, say, leg press and doing squats in terms of real-world benefits.

As I've gotten older, I've transitioned more to dumbbell rather than barbell exercises. Anything you could want to do with a barbell you can do with a dumbbell and with even less limited range of motion (machines:barbell::barbell:dumbbell). I've found dumbbell variations on squats (I like Bulgarian split squats) can be much nicer on the lower back than back squats. Dumbbell variations on deadlifts can as well, since the weight isn't in front of you but beside you. Another lower-back-friendly option is a hex (or trap) bar.

Ultimately, something is better than nothing. Arguing about machine vs free weights is kind of like arguing about asset allocation in investing--like in investing, with weights once you're doing something you're over 90% of the way there, the rest is just optimizing. So what that means is find what works for you, something that keeps you engaged and provides variety, and you'll be fine. Just don't be afraid of free-weights--after you get more comfortable in the weight room you may really find you enjoy them.

Best of luck!
I would second (or third) all of this. OP, you don't have to squat or deadlift necessarily (or hew so closely to the Starting Strength program such that you aren't comfortable), but the benefits of free weights far exceed those of machines, and a number of machines commonly found in gyms force the body to engage in unnatural movement patterns which can cause injury (especially repetitive use injuries).

that said, anything is usually better than nothing, and at 69, I would probably be mixing a bunch of different things (free weights, resistance bands, body weight) to keep things interesting, maintain a balanced approach, and achieve long term mobility/stability.
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by abuss368 »

Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 9:58 am
keithintx wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 9:54 am I would go back to the gym and try the squat and deadlift again. There are just too many benefits to lifting while balancing the load. Yes, most old folks don't die from falling they die from complications from going to the hospital to recover from falling. You sound like you are comfortable at the gym. Start with low weights and range of motion and slowly go up.
Totally agree with this.

Get your form down, start with weights light enough to handle, and add weight progressively over time. You don't have to do 3 sets of 5 and work out 3x a week like Starting Strength says. Once the weights are challenging, you can get by with 1-2 work sets of each exercise (deadlift always 1) and do just a couple workouts a week. Each lift 1x per week is sufficient to build and maintain strength and muscle. You don't get strong from lifting weights, you get strong from recovering from lifting weights.
Completely disagree that a 69 year old person should be deadlifting. Too much risk. Many safer and better movements. I toyed and played around in the 600s and never trained deadlifts consistently. Did not care for it.

Tony
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by Triple digit golfer »

abuss368 wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 7:47 pm
Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 9:58 am
keithintx wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 9:54 am I would go back to the gym and try the squat and deadlift again. There are just too many benefits to lifting while balancing the load. Yes, most old folks don't die from falling they die from complications from going to the hospital to recover from falling. You sound like you are comfortable at the gym. Start with low weights and range of motion and slowly go up.
Totally agree with this.

Get your form down, start with weights light enough to handle, and add weight progressively over time. You don't have to do 3 sets of 5 and work out 3x a week like Starting Strength says. Once the weights are challenging, you can get by with 1-2 work sets of each exercise (deadlift always 1) and do just a couple workouts a week. Each lift 1x per week is sufficient to build and maintain strength and muscle. You don't get strong from lifting weights, you get strong from recovering from lifting weights.
Completely disagree that a 69 year old person should be deadlifting. Too much risk. Many safer and better movements. I toyed and played around in the 600s and never trained deadlifts consistently. Did not care for it.

Tony
A properly executed deadlift is extremely safe and in fact healthy and extremely beneficial.

Being old and weak is a much bigger risk than deadlifting.
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by abuss368 »

Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 7:49 pm
abuss368 wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 7:47 pm
Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 9:58 am
keithintx wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 9:54 am I would go back to the gym and try the squat and deadlift again. There are just too many benefits to lifting while balancing the load. Yes, most old folks don't die from falling they die from complications from going to the hospital to recover from falling. You sound like you are comfortable at the gym. Start with low weights and range of motion and slowly go up.
Totally agree with this.

Get your form down, start with weights light enough to handle, and add weight progressively over time. You don't have to do 3 sets of 5 and work out 3x a week like Starting Strength says. Once the weights are challenging, you can get by with 1-2 work sets of each exercise (deadlift always 1) and do just a couple workouts a week. Each lift 1x per week is sufficient to build and maintain strength and muscle. You don't get strong from lifting weights, you get strong from recovering from lifting weights.
Completely disagree that a 69 year old person should be deadlifting. Too much risk. Many safer and better movements. I toyed and played around in the 600s and never trained deadlifts consistently. Did not care for it.

Tony
A properly executed deadlift is extremely safe and in fact healthy and extremely beneficial.

Being old and weak is a much bigger risk than deadlifting.
Risk reward. Makes no sense considering the diminishing returns at 69 years old. Great clips on YouTube from Arnold discussing changes in training with age!

Tony
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by Triple digit golfer »

abuss368 wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 7:53 pm
Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 7:49 pm
abuss368 wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 7:47 pm
Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 9:58 am
keithintx wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 9:54 am I would go back to the gym and try the squat and deadlift again. There are just too many benefits to lifting while balancing the load. Yes, most old folks don't die from falling they die from complications from going to the hospital to recover from falling. You sound like you are comfortable at the gym. Start with low weights and range of motion and slowly go up.
Totally agree with this.

Get your form down, start with weights light enough to handle, and add weight progressively over time. You don't have to do 3 sets of 5 and work out 3x a week like Starting Strength says. Once the weights are challenging, you can get by with 1-2 work sets of each exercise (deadlift always 1) and do just a couple workouts a week. Each lift 1x per week is sufficient to build and maintain strength and muscle. You don't get strong from lifting weights, you get strong from recovering from lifting weights.
Completely disagree that a 69 year old person should be deadlifting. Too much risk. Many safer and better movements. I toyed and played around in the 600s and never trained deadlifts consistently. Did not care for it.

Tony
A properly executed deadlift is extremely safe and in fact healthy and extremely beneficial.

Being old and weak is a much bigger risk than deadlifting.
Risk reward. Makes no sense considering the diminishing returns at 69 years old. Great clips on YouTube from Arnold discussing changes in training with age!

Tony
No thanks. Arnold was juiced. I'll trust sources that focus on training for regular people, not bodybuilders on drugs.
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by abuss368 »

Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 7:59 pm
No thanks. Arnold was juiced. I'll trust sources that focus on training for regular people, not bodybuilders on drugs.
Does not matter if juiced or not. The knowledge is second to none. 7 time Olympia and 5 time Universe.

No deadlifts needed!

Tony
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by Triple digit golfer »

abuss368 wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:04 pm
Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 7:59 pm
No thanks. Arnold was juiced. I'll trust sources that focus on training for regular people, not bodybuilders on drugs.
Does not matter if juiced or not. The knowledge is second to none. 7 time Olympia and 5 time Universe.

No deadlifts needed!

Tony
Those competitions have nothing to do with health and wellness whatsoever.
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by abuss368 »

Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:05 pm
abuss368 wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:04 pm
Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 7:59 pm
No thanks. Arnold was juiced. I'll trust sources that focus on training for regular people, not bodybuilders on drugs.
Does not matter if juiced or not. The knowledge is second to none. 7 time Olympia and 5 time Universe.

No deadlifts needed!

Tony
Those competitions have nothing to do with health and wellness whatsoever.
Yep! They do actually. The knowledge is second to none. Much better and more practical. I have talked to many of the pros and the wealth of knowledge is in many respects a walking encyclopedia.

Tony
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by Triple digit golfer »

abuss368 wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:06 pm
Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:05 pm
abuss368 wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:04 pm
Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 7:59 pm
No thanks. Arnold was juiced. I'll trust sources that focus on training for regular people, not bodybuilders on drugs.
Does not matter if juiced or not. The knowledge is second to none. 7 time Olympia and 5 time Universe.

No deadlifts needed!

Tony
Those competitions have nothing to do with health and wellness whatsoever.
Yep! They do actually. The knowledge is second to none. Much better and more practical. I have talked to many of the pros and the wealth of knowledge is in many respects a walking encyclopedia.

Tony
This again? Just like you talk to all your family who use Total Stock and Total Bond, right? LOL.

You should deadlift. A highly beneficial movement pattern.
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by abuss368 »

Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:10 pm
abuss368 wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:06 pm
Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:05 pm
abuss368 wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:04 pm
Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 7:59 pm
No thanks. Arnold was juiced. I'll trust sources that focus on training for regular people, not bodybuilders on drugs.
Does not matter if juiced or not. The knowledge is second to none. 7 time Olympia and 5 time Universe.

No deadlifts needed!

Tony
Those competitions have nothing to do with health and wellness whatsoever.
Yep! They do actually. The knowledge is second to none. Much better and more practical. I have talked to many of the pros and the wealth of knowledge is in many respects a walking encyclopedia.

Tony
This again? Just like you talk to all your family who use Total Stock and Total Bond, right? LOL.

You should deadlift. A highly beneficial movement pattern.

See post up thread. Toyed and played around in the 600s with deadlift years ago. Never really focused on it and tried to specialize. Risk factor increases with age. Not smart at 69 years old. Cardio is much more important and low risk resistance movements.

Tony
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by Triple digit golfer »

abuss368 wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:16 pm
Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:10 pm
abuss368 wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:06 pm
Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:05 pm
abuss368 wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:04 pm

Does not matter if juiced or not. The knowledge is second to none. 7 time Olympia and 5 time Universe.

No deadlifts needed!

Tony
Those competitions have nothing to do with health and wellness whatsoever.
Yep! They do actually. The knowledge is second to none. Much better and more practical. I have talked to many of the pros and the wealth of knowledge is in many respects a walking encyclopedia.

Tony
This again? Just like you talk to all your family who use Total Stock and Total Bond, right? LOL.

You should deadlift. A highly beneficial movement pattern.

See post up thread. Toyed and played around in the 600s with deadlift years ago. Never really focused on it and tried to specialize. Risk factor increases with age. Not smart at 69 years old. Cardio is much more important and low risk resistance movements.

Tony
Ah, now things are making sense. You're a cardio bunny!

Nothing is lower risk than a perfectly natural and necessary human movement pattern such as bending down and standing back up.
Last edited by Triple digit golfer on Wed May 12, 2021 8:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by abuss368 »

Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:18 pm
abuss368 wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:16 pm
Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:10 pm
abuss368 wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:06 pm
Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:05 pm

Those competitions have nothing to do with health and wellness whatsoever.
Yep! They do actually. The knowledge is second to none. Much better and more practical. I have talked to many of the pros and the wealth of knowledge is in many respects a walking encyclopedia.

Tony
This again? Just like you talk to all your family who use Total Stock and Total Bond, right? LOL.

You should deadlift. A highly beneficial movement pattern.

See post up thread. Toyed and played around in the 600s with deadlift years ago. Never really focused on it and tried to specialize. Risk factor increases with age. Not smart at 69 years old. Cardio is much more important and low risk resistance movements.

Tony
Ah, now things are making sense. You're a cardio bunny!

Nothing is lower risk than a perfectly natural and necessary human movement pattern such as bending down and standing back up.

Ha that was good! Yeah with playing around in the 600s with over 1,400 on leg press. Some days I wish!

Deadlifts placed to much undue stress and risk reward not aligned. Fair point but not accurate.

Tony
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by Mr.BB »

The biggest advantage of free weights vs machines is neuromuscular control. Machines are a great place to start learning to lift and are also great if a person is recovering from an injury and need support. Learning how to lift and using various various pieces of equipment (kettlebells, free weights, ropes, bodyweight, etc) is key. That is where you should talk too and get help from a personal trainer. I've watched people in the gym who look strong almost fall over because they can't even stand on one leg while moving through motion with a dumbbell. Find someone who can do an analysis of you, (range of motion, strengths, weaknesses, balance, flexibility, etc). Then start creating a program that works for you.
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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by abuss368 »

Mr.BB wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:38 pm The biggest advantage of free weights vs machines is neuromuscular control. Machines are a great place to start learning to lift and are also great if a person is recovering from an injury and need support. Learning how to lift and using various various pieces of equipment (kettlebells, free weights, ropes, bodyweight, etc) is key. That is where you should talk too and get help from a personal trainer. I've watched people in the gym who look strong almost fall over because they can't even stand on one leg while moving through motion with a dumbbell. Find someone who can do an analysis of you, (range of motion, strengths, weaknesses, balance, flexibility, etc). Then start creating a program that works for you.
Free weights early in life also build a ton of strength in tendons and ligaments. There is also ancillary muscle involvement to a greater extent than machines. Later in life machines are better and reduce risk factor.

I recall benching 225 for 29 full and complete reps. That takes a ton of balance and ancillary support.

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Re: Weight lifting question. Machine vs free weight

Post by Slacker »

abuss368 wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 8:04 pm
Triple digit golfer wrote: Wed May 12, 2021 7:59 pm
No thanks. Arnold was juiced. I'll trust sources that focus on training for regular people, not bodybuilders on drugs.
Does not matter if juiced or not. The knowledge is second to none. 7 time Olympia and 5 time Universe.

No deadlifts needed!

Tony
Probably not germane to the OP, but Arnold did include deadlifts in his training when he won those competitions.
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