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5 Reasons We Prefer Free Weights for Strength Training

Versatile and effective, there’s no matching a classic

Date June 25, 2021
Author Patrick Wong
Tags Fitness
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Sometimes the simplest solution is the best solution. That’s especially true when it comes to strength training.

While any form of strength training is better than none at all, grabbing a pair of free weights is our recommended option when it comes to achieving optimal results.


5 Reasons to Stick to Dumbbells and Barbells for Strength Training

  1. More Engaged Muscles Machines tend to target very specific groups of muscles. A prone hamstring machine will work just your hamstrings (obviously), and a leg extension machine will work your quads separately. If done correctly, a weighted squat could work them both in one rep.

    Similarly, because you don’t have a machine to support you, free weights force you to stabilize and balance your weight, firing not just the primary muscle groups you’re targeting in a lift, but all the stabilizing muscles as well.

    Think about being prone or seated in a machine that works your hamstrings and quads — not a lot needs to be engaged to ensure that you're performing a rep. There’s a very low chance that you’ll fall out of the machine without a tight core or engaged legs. When thinking about a loaded barbell on your back for a back squat, fired up cores, legs, and shoulders will not only help you perform every rep safely, but also give more of your body a workout. With all of this happening in every single rep, it should come as no surprise that using free weights has also been shown to improve overall balance and dexterity.

    In short, using free weights is a two-for-one, targeting your bigger more superficial muscles while also taxing your smaller stabilizing muscles — and top of all that, achieving greater coordination.

  2. More Real-life Benefits As mentioned above, using free weights employs more of your body in every exercise and every lift, including compound movements like squats, deadlifts, and push presses. These exercises work many muscles simultaneously, which is very similar to how we operate in real life.

    When we bend down to pick up a heavy box, we don’t simply rely on sheer arm strength to lift it (at least if we’re aiming to do it safely). We would typically hinge at our hips and turn on our hamstrings, upper back, core, and arms to get that heavy load off the ground. Replace that box with a barbell and you’d be pretty close to completing a deadlift.

    Because so many free-weight exercises mimic the strength we need in everyday activities, the result is more usable, functional strength. When you train with a weight machine, you’re not fully training for the world beyond the gym.

  3. Improved Athleticism A need for balance and coordination is a prerequisite when it comes to proper strength training. Knowing how to balance a barbell in a front rack position or on your back, or knowing your body well enough to not rock on your feet when performing a deadlift, or how to stay upright in a weighted lunge — it all requires attention to coordination.

    In many Tempo classes, our coaches will task you with training unilaterally; that is, performing weighted exercises on just one side of your body. Our coaches do this because it’s important to develop strength on each side of your body independently. This identifies any body imbalances and improves strength. Second, unilateral training is a reflection of how we live our lives. Life won’t always be lived on flat ground, and strength training with free weights will help us better navigate the terrain the world throws at us.

    And, of course, improved coordination and unilateral strength will show up in more competitive environments like sports. Catching a ball while running, being able to stop and pivot mid-run, tackling that climbing wall that much faster — it’s all a product of a combination of added strength and agility.

  4. Optimal Strength Development Outside of engaging far fewer muscle groups, some machines limit your range of motion. As the name indicates, using free weights gives you the freedom to perform every lift to the depth that is most challenging for you. Being able to perform an exercise without the limitations of a machine means better overall strength development as well as possible improvements in mobility.

  5. Versatility When many of us think of free weights, we think of dumbbells and barbells. While instrumental for free weights strength training, free weights can also apply to kettlebells, resistance bands, and medicine balls — all free-standing equipment that is easy to transport and include in a workout regimen, whether you’re at home or traveling. Equipment like this can be especially helpful for those of us who are shorter, taller, or have other physical differences that can’t be accommodated by a machine. With free weights, this is a non-issue

Why Tempo Uses Free Weights

For all the reasons above, we here at Tempo are obviously huge believers in strength training with free weights. One thing, though, that many may recognize, is that free weights aren’t without their cons — particularly the safety of using them if you learned improper technique, aren’t careful, or are new to using them.

That concern is completely valid and is the main driver behind Tempo’s growing AI-powered 3D Vision that provides instant form feedback when you’re training. If you’re leaning too far back in a bicep curl, if there is asymmetry with your barbel during a deadlift, or if your knees seem to be tracking too far forward in a squat, Tempo will let you know.

Tempo is in the business of training you for the life you want, and we think that using free weights enhanced with best-in-class coaching is the best way to get you there. By combining effective workouts with the safety of AI form-correction, using free weights is a no-brainer for anyone regardless of experience and comfort

Author Patrick Wong
Tags Fitness
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