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Strength Training- use body weight or weight machines?

Strength or weight training can be done using various methods such as:

  • using own body weight- example push ups
  • using weight machines- you normally find in a gym like a leg press, chest pullover or a cable machine
  • using free weights – example dumbells and barbells

Using Body Weight

The advantage of using your body weight in doing strength training is that it is convenient- you can do squats or push ups literally anywhere and anytime. People who are hard pressed for time, travel often and do not have time to frequent the gym can consider using their own body weight to do training. It is suited for people who are physically fit and used to strength training.

However, using our body weight for training is ok provided we are not overweight or is a beginning to  exercise. This is because for a beginner and/or an overweight person, the limbs- like quadriceps (thigh), triceps & biceps (arm) often do not have enough muscles and strength to support the body weight.

The result: the person is unable to perform the exercise and if it is forced, the exercise may be performed in the wrong posture. Now, arching your back during push ups will cause you lower back pain as you are overstraining the lower back muscles. In the end, the person gives up weight training alltogether.

 

Using Weight Machines

If you want to use the weight machines, I would recommend that you sign up with a gym. Gyms generally provide a wide range of weight machines to work on different parts of your body. Generally if you buy weight machine for your home gym, not only it is very expensive, but it takes up a lot of space and if it is spoilt, servicing it would be a hassle.

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For beginners who are just starting out on weight training, using weight machines will be more suitable. Normally diagrams are pasted on the machine- and is helpful in case you forget how to use it. But ensure you get help from a personal trainer or a friend who is experienced in weight training to teach you how to use the machine. Many people who do not know how to use the machines properly or do the training in the wrong form (ie wrong posture) may end up doing their body more harm than good- ie straining or pulling their muscles.

The simple rule of thumb- if you want to train your muscles for better endurance, then do about 12 to 15 times repetition- meaning you can lift a particular weight for the maximum of 12 to 15 times without tiring you out. If you want to built better strength and more muscles, then it is 8 to 12 repetition.

 

Using Free Weight

Using free weight like dumbells and barbells are more difficult than using a weight machine. Reason being is most weight machines are designed to provide a better range of movement (ROM). You will notice if you try to lift weight using a barbell (like those weight lifters on who compete professionally), certain angles are very difficult for your arms and shoulders. And when you do not have enough strength to manoveur the weight or basically if you are trying to lift a weight that is too heavy for you, your body may just give way. That is why sometimes you may notice that guys who moan while lifting some dumbells or barbells will just drop the weight suddenly- because they are lifting something that is too heavy for them. If you happen to hang around the area, watch out for your feet.

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Still, it is undeniable that if you want to develop a full and effective range of motion, using free weights is more effective that weight machine. Most home gyms will be equipped with free weights and a workout bench. If you want to start your own weight training at home, try to buy dumbells and barbells with adjustable weights- ie you can unscrew and add/reduce the weight plates. Don’t buy those that has fixed weight like 5kg, 10kg, etc because as you consistently do strength training, you will be able to lift heavier and heavier weight. If you have gone beyond the 20kg, then the fixed dumbell of 20kg will not be of much use.

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  • Aizan November 25, 2009, 11:21 am

    Yeah I pretty much agree with that you’ve written. I’ve been borderline underweight all my life and 2 years ago I started frequenting the gym and hitting the weight machines to build strenth and mass. But after some time my progress has plateaued and I’ve since switched to using bodyweight and free weights in my workouts. The result: I’ve become much much stronger and I’ve gained weight i.e. mass faster.

    By the way, I think those who are overweight can still exercise using bodyweight. There are many ways to improvise if one is not strong enough e.g. you can do kneeling pushups if you’re not strong enough to do proper pushups.

    • Yin Teing November 25, 2009, 4:17 pm

      Aizan, thanks for your feedback. Yes, even nowadays I am doing strength & core training together- means I am using more body weight. And it is indeed more effective, and more group muscles get involved.

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