Archive for the tag - free weights

Free Weights Vs. Cables.

When it comes to strength training, people often ask me whether free weights or cables are more effective. Like many things in fitness, the answer is: It depends.

Let’s start with the basics. Free weight exercises involve using dumbbells or barbells. Because these apparatuses aren’t confined, your movements aren’t limited, restricted or dictated by a machine. Cable exercises, on the other hand, are done on machines with pulleys and handles. Using a pin, you can adjust the amount of weight with which you’re working.

Beyond being time-tested and extremely effective, free weights are very versatile. Some of the crucial exercises, like squats, chest presses and lunges, are difficult or impossible to perform using the cable machine. Conversely, hip abductions and adductions are only possible using cables.

Cables do have a few advantages. For one, they provide constant tension on your muscles during an exercise. When using free weights, you only experience resistance when you’re working against gravity. With cables, the resistance is constant throughout the movement – and this can result in a more efficient workout on some exercises. Moreover, because the amount of resistance can be adjusted quickly on cable machines, they’re well-suited for muscle-building workout strategies like drop sets.

With all this in mind, it’s not really a question of either free weights or cables. In my workout, I use both. For example, I enjoy doing triceps pulldowns on cables while still doing some of the more traditional exercises – like chest presses, shoulder presses, squats, curls, etc. – with free weights.

Both free weights and cables provide muscles with resistance and both can result in gains of muscle size, strength and/or endurance. Whether an individual opts for free weights or cables often depends on the type of exercise being performed or the individual’s preference.

Transitioning from Machines to Free Weights.

Dear Davey,

I’m in the process of transitioning from machines to free weights. When using free weights, I can’t use as much weight. Is there a formula that I can use (i.e., 100 pounds on a machine = 50 pounds with free weights)? Any tips?


First things first, let’s talk a bit about free weights versus machines.

A free weight is any object or device that can move freely through three-dimensional space. Typically, when we talk about free weights, we’re referring to dumbbells or barbells. Machines, on the other hand, typically only moves through two dimensions. They’re the large, clunky apparatuses that you’ll see in most major gyms.

Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Since machines help guide exercisers through the movements, they’re great for beginners and have a much lower intimidation factor. Because they assist in maintaining proper form, there’s also a lower injury risk. Unfortunately, as you’ve discovered, they provide a false sense of strength. Lifting something in real life is very different from using a machine, and so the strength gains from machines aren’t necessarily functional.

Free weights, on the other hand, engage a wider range of muscles – including stabilizers; the strength gains from free weights translate to the real world. In addition, the amount of muscle activation is greater with free weights. Though they’re more advanced and more intimidating, free weights also improve balance and are cheaper and more convenient than machines. Of course, because it’s much easier to compromise form while performing free weight exercises, the risk of injury is greater.

When making the transition from machines to free weights, it’s important to realize that you’ll need to significantly reduce the amount of resistance that you use. For example, I can squat 400 pounds on a machine – but only 225 pounds with free weights (using a barbell).

Because no two people are alike and because each machine works differently, there’s no easy formula to translate resistance from machines to free weights. It requires trial and error. I suggest starting very light, and working up from there until you reach the desired number of repetitions based on your workout goals.

As you make the transition to free weights, it’s always a good idea to work with a certified personal trainer to ensure that you’re maintaining proper form. Because the risk of injury is higher with free weights, this is a wise safety precaution. A trainer can also help you select free weight exercises that are in support of your fitness goals.


How Many Sets Should You Do?

People and fitness clients often ask me about the number of sets that they should be doing while exercising.

A “set” is the number of times you perform a group of reps or repetitions. Here’s a quick video with everything you need to know:

The number of sets can largely be influenced by your goals and the amount of time you have available. More than 70% of the benefits of an exercise are realized after just the first set. If you are pressed for time and your goals don’t have you wanting to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, this is great news. After two sets, you’ve realized almost all the benefits you stand to gain. The gains on the third and fourth sets are fairly minimal, and are only important to fitness enthusiasts that are looking for maximized results.