Rise of the Machines: Why free weights and garage gyms are the better option if you want to build strength and muscle


Have you ever walked into a gym and had no idea where to begin?

I have, in fact I did it for pretty much my whole life until around the age of 30.

I didn’t really know how to “work-out” or “exercise”. Up to that point I had just played sports, but never lifted weights or made physical fitness a practice in my life.

When I did start making it a practice, I tended to stay on the treadmill and weight machines. I wasn’t even using the machines correctly.

I was the guy in the gym fail videos you see on the internet.

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This got me to thinking, what’s better? Machines or Free-weights?


The truth about Machines

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In the 1970’s and 80’s when bodybuilding was going crazy, a man named Arthur Jones invented  Nautilus Inc. His goal was to help the general public to become interested in resistance training.

It worked! Nautilus gyms started popping up in strip malls all across America, and the public came running in droves.


Arthur was a generalist by his own admission. He regarded specializing as something absurd. He was also a man’s man, and believed that men should know how to build a house, tan a hide, and deliver a baby, among many other skills a man should possess. (10 Days of Skill).

The machine Kool-Aid continued to get everyone drunk, and became “the way” to workout.

The reason for the instant fandom of weight machines was:

  • Machines are easy to learn and use. All the instructions are right on the side of the machine, and even have pictures. Most people love the idea of eliminating the personal trainer, because now they can learn on their own.
  • They isolate a specific muscle group. A lot of people buy into the idea of spot treatment. If they have saggy skin under their arms they tend to believe that they can just do more triceps push downs. For bodybuilders looking to target a large muscle group, this is what they would use. Most people have no idea though, and this can become a critical mistake.
  • You can lift heavier without assistance or fear of injury. Loading up a machine with weight and lifting it seemed to be easier to grasp. Trying to do a squat without assistance scares people, and this makes it easier for them. (Still, improper form, leads to injury, no matter what you are doing)

The Cons of weight machines:

  • First off, they are machines. They are like any machine and only do what they are designed to do. So if you are skeptical, and have become paranoid by watching Terminator, and believe that machines are the destruction of the future, then you will avoid them.
  • They are not ideal for functional fitness or becoming more athletic. They are great for bodybuilders and people looking to isolate a specific muscle. For strength and hypertrophy it makes them the ideal lifting mechanism. Anything else, they will fall short.
  • They neglect any stabilizer muscles. If you think about doing a triceps push down using a machine, then you are isolating the triceps. However, if you try to use the dip bars that require more stabilizing muscles, and more of the muscles in other areas, you won’t be able to do them, or at least a lot of them. This is because your stabilizer muscles are weak. Using a machine can eventually increase your risk of “overuse” injury.

What the Machines don’t want you to know:

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If I haven’t scared you off yet, this might. Machines want to make you a slave. They want to limit your mobility and increase your reliance upon them, so that they will be your only master in the gym.

Fortunately for you, I have escaped that fate, and was sent from the future to warn you.

The truth is, there is freedom beyond the machines.

As Paul Harvey would say - “the rest of the story”:

  • Free weights increase mobility and functionality – Every day you do movements like the squat, or deadlift, or lifting things over your head. Machines can’t replicate that, they are static. Free-weights allow you to move more like how you move in day to day activities.
  • They strengthen all muscles including the stabilizing muscles – Take a Deadlift for example. A deadlift works your hamstrings your forearms and all of the tiny stabilizing muscles that you have including tons of lower back and upper back muscles. Is there a machine that allows you to deadlift like that?
  • Machines are mostly stationary – With free weights, garage gyms and doing kettlebell workouts at the beach all of a sudden become a reality. You can literally train anywhere, anytime.
  • There is no end to the variability – Free weights never get old, the movements and routines that you do are endless. You can make programming a great workout different every day. Machines are routine and monotonous.
  • They are less expensive – You can pay for a workout machine to put in your house, or for the same amount of money you can build a complete garage gym on a shoestring budget.

How do I take the leap from machines to free weights, where do I begin?

So glad you asked.

The best way to begin anything is to START. You will never get from here to there without taking ACTION.

That is what you are going to do.

You can check out the Bodyweight Workout Program, the 30 day Fitness Program, or the Fitness Level 1 Program, if you are just starting out.

I get it though, most of it is fear of the unknown, or what could happen. That’s how I was too. I just walked into the forbidden free weight zone and just picked up a dumbbell and started replicating what I had seen others do.

Eventually I got the hang of it, but I really wanted to know how to do each movement correctly. I just kept at.

I learned how to do a proper pull-up, because I had always wanted to do one.

Then I learned some more complex movements.

Just like you, I wanted to get in shape once and for all.

Now you can, just START today.

30 Day Fitness Program

Learn how to workout and:

  • Create habits that Last
  • Track your progress
  • Achieve your goals

I made this workout program for anyone who wants to have a baseline of fitness. It’s for everyone who has wanted to workout but doesn’t know where to begin.

The best thing. You can do these workouts anywhere, and you will enjoy them. Sure you might have to work a little, but you can do it.

I’m rooting for you.

- Stephen

Terminator Photo credit: twm1340 on Visual hunt / CC BY-SA
Machines Photo credit: ToGa Wanderings on VisualHunt.com / CC BY
Judgement Day Photo credit: Kit4na on Visualhunt / CC BY
Thumbnail Terminator Photo credit: kirainet on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA