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Which equipment is best? Machines, free weights?

Which equipment is best? Machines, free weights?

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April 1, 2024

 |  Maude Fleury-Rousseau

There’s a wide range of equipment in a weight room, and it can be hard to know what to do! When you’re just starting out, it can be difficult to find your way around, but by asking yourself questions about your goals and your skills, you’ll be able to decide where to start, and whether or not you need coaching. Here’s a short guide to help you learn more about the different types of equipment, what’s safe to start with and whether you’re better off meeting a professional to get started.


A machine allows you to perform movements in a single axis. Think of the leg curl: you can only bring your heels towards your glutes. The machine limits movement and recruits large muscle groups, mainly the hamstrings. In other words, it only activates the main muscles needed to perform the desired action. At first glance, the machines are safe, but it’s not possible to learn how to control the movement or stabilize the joints. When you’re a beginner, it’s best to start with the machines for a few weeks and then change your program. Varying the program to other equipment is necessary to work the small muscle groups that help reduce the risk of injury on a daily basis.


Pulley systems are a great alternative for executing limited movements by recruiting stabilizing muscles. Movement is limited by the cable, but all other axes of movement are possible. One factor to bear in mind when using this equipment is that the number of pulleys will affect the load we push or pull. The more pulleys, the lighter the load felt. That said, it’s not possible to rely on the load indicated on the equipment, because from one pulley system to another the number can change, so the effort felt will be different for the same load indicated on both systems. In the gym, pulley systems are a must, enabling you to perform a wide variety of exercises involving both large and small muscle groups.


Olympic bars weighing from 25 to 45 pounds allow you to perform a wide range of movements that require good technique. It’s not advisable to start with exercises such as the deadlift or the clean straight from the get-go in the gym. The movements performed with the bars are varied, and allow recruitment of both large and small muscle groups. Before inserting this accessory, it is advisable to be accompanied by a kinesiologist for advice on technique and to avoid injury. Bars are the ideal tool for developing muscular strength and stability at the same time.


Dumbbells are also an accessory that allows an almost infinite variety of movement. When using dumbbells, it’s essential to pay attention to positioning. Users must be able to stabilize their joints before using heavy loads, especially for the upper body. Their use is different for the lower body, since the legs are stronger than the upper body and can therefore handle heavier load. Dumbbells are therefore recommended for starting basic lower-body exercises, and you need to be sure to take it easy when doing upper-body exercises, as there are no limitations on movement. What’s interesting with this accessory is that you can perform unilateral movements to recruit stabilizing muscles.


I’m new to the gym, what do I need to do?

If you’re a member of the general population and have been involved in sport all your life, you probably have good motor control. It would be advisable to start the first few weeks in the weight room with machines, then move fairly quickly on to pulley systems, simple movements with bars and dumbbells. You need to be safe as you progress through the movements, and make sure your technique is sound.

If you have an injury, it’s advisable to be accompanied by a kinesiologist in the gym, as you could make your condition worse.

If you’re a beginner who’s never touched a piece of bodybuilding equipment in your life, I suggest you meet with a professional to help you take your first steps in the gym. The trainer will be able to assess your skills and adapt the training so that your initiation is progressive, enjoyable and injury-free.

On a personal note, I wouldn’t recommend starting out in a group class if you’ve never been physically active before. The instructor won’t be able to look after you during the session and the intensity/volume won’t be adapted to your needs. It would be better to start training slowly with the help of a kinesiologist and transfer to a group class a few weeks later.

If you’re an athlete looking to optimize your performance, it’s important to execute your movements correctly so that training helps you in your sport and doesn’t lead to injury. Periodizing your training according to your goals is the key to your development.


In conclusion, it’s important to make sure that you’re exercising according to your abilities, and to get help when you’re just starting out. The weight room is filled with equipment that enables us to perform everyday movements as well as sporting ones, in order to develop endurance, muscle groups, strength and/or power. Each objective requires its own personalized training program, and it’s vital to know our skill level to avoid injury!

Maude Fleury-Rousseau, kinésiologue

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