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Free Weights Versus Machines: Which Is Better?

The two modes resulted in similar increases in muscle mass and strength.

Weight machine

In the ongoing debate about which is better, free weights or machines, an 8-week study credits both modalities with producing similar gains in muscle mass and strength among young-adult male and female subjects. One difference, however, was that training with free weights led to greater increases in free testosterone in men.

Some training experts theorize that a higher hormone response may lead to greater muscle hypertrophy and strength over time. While the higher hormone response did occur among male subjects, it did not lead to any differences in training results during the 8-week study time frame.

The study was published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2020; 34 [7], 1851–59).


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Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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