Benefits of Free Weights:
1. Free weights work multiple muscle groups together. This maximizes your workout time and may provide time for additional strengthening, cardio, plyometrics or flexibility exercise.
2. Free weights include weightbearing exercise, which strengthens the bones. They use your own body weight as additional resistance (for example: squats or calf raises).
3. Free weight exercises are more functional, so they carry over to real-life activities and sports.
4. Free weights can be done at home and with less equipment. This may be most cost-effective and convenient!
Benefits of Machine Weights:
1. Machine weights are easy to learn with minimal training.
2. Machine weights produce less risk for injury than free weights. However, there still is risk, especially if you are not cautious and/or do not know how to set up a specific machine.
3. Machine weights do not require a spotter.
4. Machine weights enable you to strengthen individual muscle groups (such as the quads: leg extension machine).
5. Machine weights take less time for setup and cleanup.
6. There are a variety of machines to strengthen each muscle (for example, seated hamstring curl if you are unable to lie face-down).
Technique Pointers For Strength Training:
1. Perform both the lift and lowering part of the exercise at a moderate pace. The release back to starting point is just as important for building strength as the initial push/pull or contraction. For non-athletes, do not perform your exercise too fast. Athletes typically weight train specifically for their sport and often vary their speeds with a purpose.
2. Try to work through your full available range of motion, which strengthens the entire muscle group more effectively than partial-range movements.
3. For machine weights, be sure to adjust the angles and positions specific to your body size. Be sure the joint performing the movement is lined up where the machine’s axis rotates.
4. Choose the type of strength training that you enjoy more, which will keep you motivated!
5. Be sure to do cardio training if you are trying to increase your aerobic endurance, such as for a 10K or 1/2 marathon. An additional sport-specific strengthening program may be a good form of cross-training for you.
Source: Baechle TR, Earle RW, editors. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 2nd ed. 2000: Human Kinetics. Pages 42-45.