When to Choose Dumbbells, Barbells, and Machines

Swole Fitness Tips

There are so many choices out there for exercise equipment, sometimes it is hard to know what to choose. Free weights are always best – barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, odd objects, and even bodyweight. Machines have their place, but they don’t usually belong in your main training routine.

So how can you choose your equipment based on your training history, goals, and injuries?

Exercise Equipment
Exercise Equipment


Rest the Stabilizers

The smaller stabilizer muscles that are used when you train with dumbbells will fatigue before larger muscle groups like the pecs, lats, quads, and hams.

  1. Dumbbells – By using dumbbells first in your workout, you are making the best use of your stabilizers by ask them to help you lift when they are fresh. This would also include unilateral equipment like kettlebells.
  2. Barbells – Once you have exhausted your stabilizers, you can move on to the equipment that requires less stabilizer activation. Namely, barbells. This will help you work your large and small muscle groups pretty well, while removing the stabilizers from the equation.
  3. Machines – Now that you have completely exhausted your stabilizers, and your smaller muscle groups are pretty fatigued, you can focus on isolating the larger muscle groups with machines.

These are also the reasons you should stick with machines and even the occasional barbell exercise, but avoid dumbbells when you are rehabbing from injuries. By training properly with machines, you can still get a decent workout in but can attempt to avoid stressing out smaller, injured muscles.

Beginner athletes who are new to weightlifting can start with machines just for the first two weeks, but should progress almost immediately to working with dumbbells and barbells. Avoiding dumbbell work can lead to weaker ancillary muscles, and could lead to injury over time.

I personally would opt to just stick with dumbbells, then barbells, and then just call it a day. I am not dumb though; I know other athletes love to use machines, so here is your guidance for working machine exercises into your routine – do them last.

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