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Every piece of workout equipment has benefits and disadvantages. For instance, stationary machines typically move in a single plane of motion, whereas barbells allow you to travel in multiple planes. Free weights offer a higher degree of difficulty and sport-specific training, and resistance training typically engages core muscles to challenge coordination.
With so many options, it can be difficult to determine the best workout equipment for your training needs. Below, I break down the pros and cons of machines, barbells, free weights and resistance training. Read on to find the best tools for you.
Machines are easy to use and introduce new athletes to many different exercises. They can be used for rehab, prehab and strengthening. Plus, by using a machine, you can work out without a spotter. Downsides to machines include a high level of adaptability, meaning they do not mimic most sport movements. Also, machines only adjust for length or height, so resistance will not change throughout the movement.
Used in Olympic lifts, barbells are great when you're training for overall max strength/power and for testing your strength in horizontal and vertical planes. Another advantage is that the weight stays constant through the lift, forcing your upper and lower body to work together to do the exercise. Make sure you have a spotter on hand since the risk level for injury is moderately high, presenting a major drawback to barbell lifting.
If you're confident using machines and barbells, try progressing to free weights, which allow you to move in any plane. You can even imitate sport-specific movements. The greatest benefit is the independency of each limb; any weakness in leg or arm strength will reveal itself during free weight exercises. Free weights offer a low level of adaptation. Most lifts take a few attempts to master, and risk of injury depends on the load, so always begin with a lower weight.
Tools used for resistance training include balance discs, core boards and physioballs. Advantages to this type of training include its ability to increase strength, awareness (proprioception) and muscular endurance. Exercise choices are endless, so adaptability is low. Also, core training—a major component of resistance training—may prevent injuries if performed correctly. However, because resistance training produces low velocity in its movements, it is not very effective when training for speed or power.
Any training method can be effective for a healthy lifestyle. There is no right or wrong answer. Listen to your body and use these pros and cons to determine what equipment will be most beneficial for you and your sport. The more you train, the more you will realize which equipment specifically works for you.