top of page

Free Weights Vs Pin loaded Machines

Updated: Dec 1, 2018

Free weights are still the most effective way to build muscle as when we lift free weights we are effectively stabilising the joints and we are pushing a nice full range of motion. A lot of people aren’t fully aware that it’s not always how big someone’s muscles are that determines how strong they are. You might have often wondered why there is a guy in your gym who is bigger than you but you are stronger than him or there is a girl in your group exercise class that is way more cut with bigger muscles but can’t lift as much as you in a pump class, this is due to training your nervous system. Your nerves adapt to resistance training just like your muscles do. Studies have shown that free weights train the nervous system much more effectively than pin loaded machines. However, there can be some cons when lifting free weights as if you are doing partial reps with free weights or bad form then this can take away from some of the benefits causing shortening of the muscles or injuring yourself if you are lifting too heavy.

Pin loaded machines have their pros and cons aswell, a pro being that you are able to adjust the machine and really target the smaller muscle groups which is effective for body builders trying to achieve as good a symmetry as possible. Another pro is that if you fail to lift the load you are just going to hear a loud clunk and nothing is probably going to happen to you as oppose to free weights where if you drop the weights on yourself you could cause yourself a serious injury.

A lot of functional fitness gyms today are focusing on more free weight based equipment such as power racks, different variations of barbells, dumbbells, medicine balls, kettlebells and plates along with incorporating cardiovascular machines such as the indoor concept 2 rowers, assault air bike and assault treadmill. This is partially due to the popularity of crossfit but also to do with the fact that it is much more space efficient and cost effective when starting up a gym.

I have always said to my clients if you are quite tall usually implying over 6 foot 4, using some of the pin loaded machines such as certain leg press machines can be incorrect anatomically due to the angle in which they are pushing the first rep out with their knee’s over the top of the toes placing unnecessary pressure on the patella tendon or they struggle to fully engage their pectoralis major on the chest press machine and end up pushing more anterior deltoids or triceps. The same applies for people who aren’t very tall struggling to recruit the right muscle groups as the pin loaded machines cater for the middle point of the average size of people in the population.


Brown L, (1999)

Free Weights Vs Machines

Strength and Conditioning Journal

Wirth K, Keiner M, Hartmann H, Sander A, Mickel C, (2016)

Effect of 8 weeks of free weight and machine-based strength training on strength power and performance.

PubMed Central (PMC)

Wirth K, Keiner M, Hartmann H, Sander A, Mickel C, (2016)

The impact of back squat and leg press exercises on maximal strength and speed strength parameters.

PubMed Central (PMC)

Spennewyn KC, (2008)

Strength outcomes in fixed versus free-form resistance equipment



About the Author

Nic Rider is a corporate health and well-being coach with 8 years experience in the health and fitness industry. He is one of the top age group triathletes in Australia practicing what he preaches as he believes in leading by example to help inspire others. Nic has coached 100's of corporate professionals to start exercise, lose weight, build muscle and improve cardiovascular health along with injury rehabilitation. He has coached clients to run marathons and participate in triathlons along with climb mountains in the Himalayas.

170 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page