In this audio, I talk about the difference between free weight exercises versus machine exercises for building muscle.

I will share with you my story of how I transitioned from a machine-dominant weight training program to a free-weight-dominant training program.

You’ll learn the fundamental differences between free weight exercises and machine exercises, and the pros and cons of both.


Free weights simulate more muscle activation therefore more muscle growth than machine exercises (ref:

Free weight squat produces 43% more muscle activation than the smith machine squat (ref:

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Brad Newton:

Hi everybody, Brad from, I am sharing my knowledge to the world about fitness training and my adventures and so forth through this medium. So if you’re into fitness and training and losing weight and those kinds of things, and tips and strategies around that, definitely follow this channel. I’ve been training for about five, six, seven years now, and have gone from being out shape to being a fitness model competitor, competing for world titles and so forth, so I love to just share my knowledge. And so yeah, here it is.

It is the 11th of December 2017, almost the end of the year. We should be getting pumped. Christmas is coming, but even more so, I’m doing Kilimanjaro in a week, so I’m actually pumped about that. But New Years is coming, and it’s almost 2018, so we should be all getting pumped for the new year coming up.

I wanted to take this time though, ’cause this might be actually one of the last audios that I record for the year before I fly off overseas, is I wanted to take this time to talk about free weights versus machine exercises, and which one’s more effective for building muscle. And I think this concerns everybody, at least everybody starting out in gym that might be gravitating more toward doing machine exercises than free weights, and wondering whether they should be doing more free weights than machine exercises.

So in this audio, I’ll give you my story about how I started from being out of shape, doing machine exercises all the time, to transitioning into free weight exercises, and then building the body that basically I’ve always wanted, and competing and so forth. And also I’ll give you my story there about the best practical approach to going from machine to free weights and so forth. And then we’ll talk about the difference between free weights and machine exercises, the pros and cons, the benefits, and so forth.

So I’ll try and keep this audio as short and sweet as possible, and if you have any questions you can always reach me on my website

But let’s get real practical, and I’ll start with a story. So for me personally, I’ve been training for five, six, seven years now in gym fairly consistently. For the first couple of years in the gym, though, I pretty much would make one step forward, two steps back. I didn’t really understand everything I was doing with my nutrition and training, and I kind of went in with blindfolds on. And it wasn’t until after about two years of training that I started figuring stuff out, putting all the pieces together, and actually started to see results.

For the first eight, nine months though, when I was in the gym I spent most of my time on the machines. And most people listening to this can relate to this, because machines are easy. Like, we have to admit, doing a pec deck, or doing the machine press, or the bicep cable curls, just much easier to do on a machine than doing it as a free weight exercise. It’s much easier doing a bicep cable curl on a machine than doing it with a dumbbell. And so machines are a lot less intimidating, they’re safer in some respects, and free weights are much more scary.

When I first started my training journey, I was petrified of free weights. I was petrified of doing things like the bench press, the military press. I had this very genuine fear of dropping the bar on my chest. And people do it, at power lifting competitions people drop the bar on their chest, people have died, like this is real. Like real, that people have died from doing bench press. And I was aware of that going into the gym, and I was like, there’s no way I’m doing bench press because I’m not dropping that bar on my chest. And so … Just a confidence thing, like I wasn’t confident doing any kind of free weight exercise. I wasn’t confident with the kettlebells, I wasn’t confident with having bars or dumbbells or whatever over my head or over my chest, and that kind of stuff.

Machine exercises was what I pretty much mastered in. I mastered the machines, and I got pissed off when somebody was doing the ab curl machine. I was pissed off when someone was on my machine. I got pretty territorial after a while, I was like, “Come on, get off it.” And so when you ask people that do machine exercises why they’re doing machine exercises, and when people are doing free weight exercises why they’re doing free weight exercises, their reasoning is fairly justified.

The truth is that machine exercises are not going to activate as much muscle as doing the same or similar exercise with free weights. Like that’s just science. For example, the barbell back squat, I remember reading this and if I find the research I’ll link it up in the show notes, the barbell back squat produces about 40 to 50 percent more muscle activation than doing the squat with the Smith Machine. Now with the Smith Machine, it’s a fixed path that you’re moving the weight through, and so with pretty much every machine exercise, you’re moving the weight through a very fixed path. And so the muscles you would normally activate when moving that weight through its range of motion in a free weight environment, they’re not being activated the same way when you’re doing those same exercises on the machine.

So for example, if you’re doing the barbell back squat, you’re using quads, hammies, glutes, calves. You’re using some back muscles. You’re using your abs. You’re using your core, you’re locking your core. With a barbell back squat, you’re bringing so many more muscle groups to stabilise the motion through its range of motion compared to doing a squat with a Smith Machine, where you’re pretty much hitting your quads, and that’s pretty much it. You’re not really bringing in much else. You are, but you’re not activating other muscle groups to the same extent.

So if you look at the science, 40 to 50 … I’m actually going to make a conscious effort to find this research again, but 40 to 50 percent more muscle activation doing a barbell back squat versus doing a squat with a Smith Machine. That’s something to definitely think about. That’s a massive percentage. So if you’re someone who’s just starting out, I get it. Barbell back squats are intimidating, so start out with the Smith Machine. No problems there, start out with the Smith Machine, do your squats on the Smith Machine. But definitely have someone show you, whether it’d be watch YouTube videos but ideally you want someone to show you how to do it, ’cause it’s different watching something versus actually executing it. Have someone show you how to do the barbell back squat eventually, or front squat eventually. And then transition from the Smith Machine to the barbell squat. That’s my recommendation there.

So in terms of overall, there’s definitely good research about muscle activation, and activating more muscle doing free weight exercises versus doing machine exercises. As I mentioned before, from a muscle-building perspective, you definitely want to be doing more free weight exercises than machine exercises.

So if you’re just starting out though, like quite frankly, and I speak from personal experience, you know my story now, is there’s nothing wrong with starting out with machine exercises. Like I know a lot of guys that they’re into like the StrongLifts programme, and they’re into like power lifting and they’re like, “No, no, no, you should never touch a machine.”

Let’s be real practical here. There are a lot of people like me when I first started, that I was fucking scared of dumbbells and barbells, and from a confidence perspective, there’s nothing wrong with building your confidence, and building a training momentum, by starting off doing machine exercises. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t spend the rest of your life doing machine exercises. Spend the first three months of your training journey in the gym with machine exercises, learning the machines, learning the muscles that you’re activating with the machines, getting a workout regimen momentum thing happening, then in parallel start introducing free weight exercises into your weight training programme. That’s the practical answer.

So eventually what will happen is you want to get to a place where most of your training is going to be conducted with free weights, and then you’re gonna supplement your training with machines. Because although it’s true that you’re gonna build more muscle with doing free weight exercises, machine exercises are also still great, still great, and I still do machine exercises to this day, to target stubborn muscles.

So for example, if you’re like training your calves, calves are a small muscle group but they’re also very stubborn. And so, doing standing calve raises on the machine is actually really, really good for your calves, than trying to do calve raises with dumbbells. So that’s when you would use machines. Machines are great still, I’m not saying they’re terrible, but when you look at it from a practicality perspective, if you’re just starting your training journey, start with machines, start bringing more free weight exercises over time. And then when your training programme is mostly free weights, whenever you need to train stubborn muscle groups or add a little bit more training volume to your overall weight training programme, then machine exercises are definitely gonna be something to complement your training with.

For example, talking free weights here, if you’re doing the bench press, you’re doing incline, decline, flat bench press with dumbbells and barbells, you might wanna finish off your chest by doing a machine chest exercise, just to finish off your chest, just to add a little bit more volume to your chest. There’s nothing wrong with that, so you can do that.

But as a beginner starting out, also consider this. If you’re doing free weights, then some of the most effective exercises that you can do with free weights are the dead lift, are the barbell squats, military press, and bench press. So if you’re listening to this and you’re just starting your journey, make a note that StrongLifts 5×5 is a fantastic beginner weight training programme that focuses on free weights. Look that up, StrongLifts 5×5.

The other one to look at as a beginner is Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe, and if you look that up on Kindle, it’s a blue-covered book and it’s also a fantastic guide and programme you can follow as an absolute beginner starting out with free weights. So you’re doing your machine weights, and then on the side you’re learning how to do free weights, and the best place to start is either Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe or StrongLifts 5.5. And so, when we look at both of those programmes, dead lifting, barbell squats, military press, and bench press again are gonna be the primary core exercises that you’ll be doing as a beginner. So yeah, look into that.

So that is it for me my friends. I hope that was helpful. So just keep that in mind. If you’re just starting you’re training journey, machine exercises are great to start your training momentum and to get familiar with training different muscle groups. But just keep in mind that you’re not gonna be bringing in all of the muscles necessary to build maximum muscle if you’re doing machine exercises. You’re not gonna be activating your stabiliser muscles as much with machine exercises than if you were to do free weights.

So if you’re just starting out, machines are great, but also look at doing free weight exercises and transitioning into free weight exercises so that most of your training is with dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, and those kinds of things. And then you’ll still be using machines, ’cause a lot of body builders use machines, like I still use machines, but they’ll only use machines to target the weak, lagging muscle groups. And machines are great for that, bringing out the muscles that are lagging, and it will help you build an overall proportioned physique. So that’s where machines are handy.

If you have any questions, certainly reach out to me, again on my website You can always email me as well. I hope this is helpful, and I’ll try and find that research for you and I’ll link it up in the show notes. And have an awesome day, and thank you for listening.




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