Building muscle goes hand-in-hand with building bone, which is why we were interested in this recent study that looked at the effectiveness of weight machines vs free weights in building maximal muscle strength.
This has been an ongoing discussion in the exercise community, but this recent study from BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation has shed a little more light on the topic. This systematic review and meta-analysis combined data from 13 studies with a total of 1,016 participants to analyze whether free weight or machine workouts were more effective at building strength.
The authors looked at a number of different measures for strength, including maximal dynamic strength (the maximum force a muscle can exert in one contraction), isometric strength (the force a muscle can generate without contracting), hypertrophy (muscle growth), and countermovement jump performance (a number of measurements that go into vertical jump performance). For all these measures, there was no significant difference between using machines or free weights.
However, there was a difference in results based not on which equipment was used, but how a person trained.
The authors noted that a weight machine allows for better muscle isolation. Free weights, on the other hand, require the coordination of multiple muscles for stability. This is because of the freer range of motion of free weights (the ability to move them in different planes and directions) which also requires more coordination between the muscles. Furthermore, the movements used while training with free weights are more similar to the movements we encounter in daily life. Weight machines are less translatable into functional activities.
As the authors noted, these differences don't make one form of weight better than the other, but it's worth considering the differences when determining a person's fitness needs and goals.
It should also be noted that only around 20% of the people included in this review were women, and more studies on the effect of weight machines vs free weights may provide additional insights.
If you're looking to build muscle and bone using free weights, give Wellen a try!