Strategic Way to Combine Machine Exercises With Free Weights

October 1, 2007

I am a believer in using both machines and free weights. In the last post, Giving Exercise Machines the Respect They Deserve,

I talk about how machine exercises can compensate for some of the flaws in free weight lifts. However, Free weight lifts do have some advantages.

free weights exercise machines

The Benefits of Free Weight Exercises

When you do a free weight exercise, you have to control the weight in a 3 dimensional space. What this does is activate the stabilizer muscles and works more than just the prime muscle being targeted. Another benefit of lifting with free weights is that you gain “functional strength” that will help you with real world tasks.

The Benefits of Exercise Machines

As discussed in the previous article, machines can make their resistance match the resistance curve of the muscle.

A good exercise machine can exhaust the target muscle fully, without having sticking points in the lift.

With machines you can concentrate more on giving maximum effort and less on things like balancing the weight. You can get very hard contractions in your target muscle with an effective exercise machine.

How to Strategically Combine the Two for Maximum Results

A big flaw in free weights is that often times the stabilizer muscles can get exhausted before the target muscle gets worked.

I prefer to begin with lifts that require the most balancing first like dumbbell lifts…followed by lifts that require less balancing like barbell lifts…and ending with exercise machines which require no balancing at all.

The benefit here is that each lift requires less and less stabilizer muscles. The final machine exercise lift exhausts the prime muscle and basically finishes off that muscle group.

This is a great way to involve the muscle fully by combining the benefits of both types of lifting.

You Can Get Fit With Either Machine Exercises or Free Weights

You really don’t have to use both free weights and machine exercises to get fit. You can get really toned with just free weights or just using exercise machines.

Most trainers do recommend free weights, mainly because it is healthy to work those stabilizer muscles and the strength is a bit more functional than what you get with machines.

That being said, I have seen extremely toned and impressive physiques created by nothing but machine exercises.

If You Have Access to Both Machine Exercises and Free Weights, Give This a Try

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Jonneh October 1, 2007 at 11:41 pm

I like to use the free weights in my Weight Training class at school, but during the summer’s all I use are my dad’s exercise equipment down in the basement, plus running. 🙂

admin October 2, 2007 at 1:47 am


That is great because they both have their benefits. You will probably get a more developed physique because of it.


Note: I did two factual articles in a row…so you know I have a totally retarded post coming out tomorrow. I already wrote it and I think that you in particular will enjoy the complete dorkiness of the whole thing. I’ll send it out in the morning.

yavor October 2, 2007 at 3:20 am

Can’t wait 🙂

Jennifer October 2, 2007 at 8:13 am

I really like these past couple of posts because I didn’t know the various benefits of machine weights. I knew free weights worked stabilizers, and now I will try to combine both varieties when I hit the gym! Thanks Rusty!

One question, you mention that Arthur Jones thought one set of an exercise on the machines was enough. Is it possible to get really toned muscles working one set of each exercise (not quite reaching failure, because as you mention in a previous article, the muscles should not be trained to failure as then they will not look as toned)?

Thanks Rusty!

admin October 2, 2007 at 10:12 am


Arthur Jones had a completely different philosophy when it came to set and reps. He believed in achieving 100% absolute muscular failure in just one set and working every fiber of that muscle in just one set.

He would have someone do as many reps as they could, and then they would do forced reps…or they would lighten the weight and do more reps, etc.

This type of lifting really damages the muscles, so it is a better muscle building strategy and not a very good muscle toning strategy. I would do more sets where you avoid failure but still have to contract the muscle hard. Machines are great for that.


Jonneh October 3, 2007 at 3:35 pm

Hahah fantastic, can’t wait for the retarded post, Rusty! 😀

Magnate October 5, 2007 at 9:21 pm

Tone is purely and simply increased definition. This is accomplished by increasing the size of the muscle and/or decreasing the fat of the body. No specific exercise “tones” anything on your body, and no specific exercise builds any mass either, set and rep schemes are largely inconsequential as well. There is no such thing as “toning”. Tone is a result, not a process.

Tone and Mass gain, these are primarily the functions of diet and progression, and exercise selection is a negligible concern in comparison to the value of diet, especially when your goal is definition (tone).

admin October 6, 2007 at 2:19 am


Proper exercise and diet help you burn fat and get lean and this is what “displays” the muscle tone you have.

There is a school of thought that many people have not been exposed to about “increasing” tone in a muscle. Pavel Tsatsouline’s book “Power to the People” is about the idea of increasing the tone in a muscle without increasing the size of a muscle through strength training.

I know this isn’t accepted by everyone (especially the bodybuilding community). Pavel comes from a different background that gives him a unique way of looking at things…He used to train the Special Forces in Russia. They didn’t believe in gaining muscle mass, but they did want to gain strength.


Magnate October 6, 2007 at 12:09 pm

I have read Pavel’s book already. I’m well aware of who he is and what he has done. And yes, the resting muscle tonus (muscle tone) can be increased without increasing the size of the muscle, it’s done by decreasing the fat around a muscle and increasing the CNS’s efficiency. There is nothing more valid about curling 50 reps on a curl machine than there is curling a heavy BB for 5-6 reps, they both can provide the same results (actually, the BB will improve CNS capacity much more than the machine if the rep schemes are like this).

HIT never worked great for anyone without an extremely well developed body to begin with, anyway. It’s biggest advocate started using it after already being an accomplished bodybuilder (Mike Mentzer). It’s the same thing that Gironda does, he sits there spewing dogmatic guru-esque “knowledge” about lifting that he only ever applied w/ any degree of success to people that were already on top of the game. If you ever read Vince’s top 35 bodybuilding mistakes, your eyes will begin to pop out of their sockets. Well over 2/3 of that list is far off base from everything any accomplished bodybuilder knows to work, yet his “knowledge” is accepted because at some point he was referred to as a “guru”.

For exacmple, #14 on the list – Pressed for shoulders

Wow, no more pressing to develop your anterior deltoids guys, what were we thinking!?! #34 makes me laugh though, “Unwillingness to accept new ideas” yet Gironda would kick people out of his gyms for squatting or doing an exercise he didn’t like…but we’re the ones not willing to accept new ideas?

The age of the exercise guru is long since passed, we now know that there are innumerable ways to reach almost any goal, no set way, nothing etched in stone.

admin October 6, 2007 at 1:25 pm


Very cool…so you do agree on increasing the CNS’s efficiency to increase tone…very few people really have a good understanding of this. It is good to hear someone else who has been exposed to this.

Like you I don’t recommend the HIT “one set to failure” approach. On paper it sounds great, but just doesn’t work as well in real life. I think Arthur Jones did contribute quite a bit to the fitness industry and wanted to let people know that he passed away. The thing I liked most about him was the idea that you didn’t have to live in a gym to get great results.

I also completely agree with the fact that there are a ton of ways to acheive certain goals. The whole point of my blog is to show different strategies that people aren’t normally exposed to. I’m certainly focused more on the slim “hollywood” style physique, but it is great to hear comments from a bodybuilder as well…because I want this to be a place for people to share ideas.


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