Types of Lifting Exercises
Using different exercises with different angles and varying movements allows you to completely develop the muscles involved.
Free-Weight Exercises (Barbells, Dumbbells)
If you’re serious about lifting, regardless of your goal, the foundation of your program should be free-weight exercises. Exercises performed with barbells and dumbbells allow a free range of motion and require the use of more stabilizing muscle groups, which are required for gaining more strength and preventing injury. And when using free weights, you can be sure that resistance is supported and lifted solely by you, not by a machine dictating the path of motion.
Machine Exercises (Cambered Machines, Cables, Smith Machine)
Although free-weight exercises should take priority in your training, machines are crucial too. Machines are typically safer and almost never require a spotter. Moreover, because you tend not to use as many stabilizing muscles when doing a machine lift, you’ll be able to overload the target muscle with more weight. For example, on a chest press machine, the path is already set for you, allowing you to rely less on stabilizing muscles that might tire out before the target muscles, in this case the pectorals.
Cable equipment is unique in that it allows force to be applied to a muscle in a variety of directions, whereas free-weight exercises must be performed only vertically to work against gravity. Cables also provide ten¬sion on the muscles through the entire range of motion, an added benefit over some free-weight exercises. With barbell or dumbbell preacher curls, for example, the tension is not squarely on the biceps at the top of the motion when the bar is directly over your elbows; rather, the bar is being supported by the bones of the forearms at this point. Constant tension would be better achieved by doing cable preacher curls instead of barbell or dumbbell preacher curls.
Cam-based machines, like cables, allow for movements in various directions with constant tension. But they also mimic the strength curve of the muscle so that the perception of resistance is the same throughout the entire range of motion, instead of varying at different points along the path of motion as with free-weight exercises.
In addition to the technical benefits, machines add variety to your routine. Weight machines are becoming more innovative and effective and can make up an effective program by themselves if necessary. In fact, some muscle groups, such as the back, lend themselves better to machines. Without machine exercises, you’d be limited to pull-ups and free-weight rows, and you’d miss out on lat pull-downs and cable rows, which are mainstays in most elite bodybuilders’ and athletes’ back workouts.