Why Using Free Weights can be MORE Effective than Gym Equipment for “Toning”

Fitness Education

So you walk into the gym and you see people on the treadmills, using some crazy ab crunching machine, or lifting barbells (or maybe you didn’t even know what that long bar thing was called).  That’s ok, because most Americans don’t even know what half the equipment is at the gym.


So where do we get started?  And how do we know what or how to use the equipment and what is effective?  Here are some tips on how you can pick the right equipment for you and why using free weights can be even MORE effective than all those crazy gym machines.


#1:  Know where you are starting off

Too many times, we see people that “used to” lift heavy and it’s been a while (let’s not kid ourselves it’s been at least 10 years since high school) and they jump right back into the bench pressing 150+ pounds and a week later get injured.  It’s not that they CAN’T lift that heavy, it’s that they need to properly progress through progressive overload.  Progressive overload is slowly increasing your weight over time to maintain CONTROL of what you are doing, prevent overcompensation, and build strength properly.  So even if it’s been a few weeks, start at a comfortable spot where you still maintain control and build from there.  CONTROL IS THE NAME OF THE GAME!  So now that you know where to start, what the heck equipment do you use?!  We recommend starting with free weights (or dumbbells, the words are interchangeable).  The reason we recommend using free weights is because it simulates REAL-LIFE lifting situations and promotes whole body stabilization meaning it is not just your arms you are working, you are working your ENTIRE body.  You actually have to hold the weights and control where they go rather than a piece of equipment holding you.  Think about the difference between running on a treadmill or running outdoors.  Which is more difficult?  Outdoors!  This is because you have to create force and energy to push yourself forward versus a treadmill that is actually propelling you forward.

#2:  Know what your goals are

If your goal is hypertrophy (big muscles) or bodybuilding (those big muscle looking veiny dudes or women at the gym) then machines may be for you.  The reason you see these “muscular” people using the gym equipment is because it allows you to lift heavier (remember the machine is stabilizing the weight for you allowing them to add more weight they wouldn’t be able to if it was free weights).  If your goal is functional fitness, core stability and mobility, and/or strength endurance (or can also be known as “toning”), then using free weights is more effective.  Since free weights activate more muscles than machines it still promotes muscle strengthening (aka “toning’), but it also promotes control which is helping improve stability and core strength.  So what’s more impressive?  Someone that can chest press 20 pound dumbbells for 15 reps or someone that can chest press 50 pounds via a machine?  I would say free weights all day!

So the moral of the story, there is equipment for everyone at the gym (or in the comfort of your home).  If hypertrophy is your goal, then a gym setting may be best for you to create diversity between gym equipment and free weights.  If your goal is toning, weight loss, functional fitness, & stability then let’s keep the party going in your living room with some free weights, our favorite spotify playlist (here’s one of our favorites), and get to work!