Is it better for me to use the free weights or machines at the gym?
There are different schools of thought on this. On one hand, doing free weight causes you to have more range of motion. It trains you more in a functional way and incorporates more of your stabilization muscles. Plus with free weights, all you need is a little open piece of floor verses having to wait for someone to get off the machine you would like to get on. This is convenient if you go to a busy gym.
One the other hand, weight machines are great if you are extremely new and have no one to teach you proper form. Machines usually have a demonstration placard on them that shows proper form, so it can be an excellent choice if you are a novice. Also, machines can be better for isolation, and can be very beneficial to those in rehab or recovering some injury.
I would say that if you are very new and do not know proper form, then go with the machines. If you know a bit about proper form, then aim for the free weights or mix it up. There is nothing wrong with having some machines and some free weights mixed in. Honestly, if mixing it up keeps your workouts more interesting and keeps you working out, then that is a great thing.
If you do free weights, make sure that you lift a weight that is appropriate. If you lift too light then you are getting almost no benefit. However, if you lift too heavy then you can injure yourself. Generally what you want to do is be able to keep proper form, and be lifting enough that it is hard to get the last couple reps in. If you lose proper form, or have to incorporate muscles that are not supposed to be in the exercise, then lower your weight. You have probably seen this when someone is doing a bicep curl and is swinging their elbow forward or arching their back to accomplish the exercise. That means the person is lifting too heavy. Always check your ego at the door when walking into the gym.
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