Do Free Weights or Machines Burn More Calories?

Resistance training builds muscle and helps to burn fat.

Resistance training builds muscle and helps to burn fat.

Resistance training can increase your strength, improve your bone density, reduce your body fat percentage, improve your heart health and reduce your stress levels. An average 160-pound person can burn up to 365 calories during one hour of resistance training. When you use it properly, most of the equipment you see at the gym -- from functional pieces like medicine balls and kettlebells to sophisticated cable and resistance machines -- can produce the health and body composition improvements you may be looking for. But if your primary goal is fat reduction, some types of equipment may be better than others.

Machines

Resistance-training machines are a good option if you're just beginning a program, and they're also great to use in addition to free weights to keep your workouts varied. Machines provide stability and help ensure you maintain proper form throughout an exercise. But this same stability means your body doesn't have to call upon stabilizing muscles that would up your calorie burn. You shouldn't avoid machines for that reason, though. Not only are they great for novices, but they also provide isolation that is difficult to accomplish with free weights.

Free Weights

When compared to resistance-training machines, free weights have more calorie-burning potential. Free weight exercises recruit more muscles because your body is required to provide balance and stability, not the machine. Free weights may also provide a greater range of motion since you're not limited by the set paths of machines. A greater range of motion means more movement, which can produce a higher calorie burn. The main disadvantage to free weights is that without proper form, it can be very easy to injure yourself. For this reason, the American Council on Exercise recommends beginners use free weights only after 10 to 12 weeks of training on machines.

How to Maximize Fat Burning

You can maximize your fat burn whether you train with machines or free weights by concentrating on the intensity of each repetition to make sure you're working hard. Don't stop at 10 reps if you could have completed 15. If your muscles aren't fatigued at the end of a set, increase the resistance. While you may be reducing calories to help you lose weight, make sure you aren't dropping them so low that you cannot train with intensity. If you reduce the amount of recovery time between sets, perform circuits or integrate supersets, your heart rate will stay elevated throughout your workout, helping you burn more calories.

Precautions

Consult your doctor before beginning a resistance-training program. If you need help with program design or have questions about proper form, seek the help of a fitness professional. Never perform resistance-training exercises without a spotter. If you're just beginning, ease into the program and gradually increase intensity to avoid excessive soreness and overtraining.

 

Resources

  • 101 Fat-Burning Workouts & Diet Strategies; Michael Berg
  • Weights for Weight Loss; Ellen Barrett and Robert Holmes

About the Author

Jessica Bell has been working in the health and fitness industry since 2002. She has served as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. Bell holds an M.A. in communications and a B.A. in English.

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