What's Best For Back Pain: Machines Or Free Weights?

There is a healthy debate when it comes to the topic of machines vs free weights. You can argue both sides when it comes to what is best for beginners or building overall muscle. 

In my opinion, there’s a big difference when comparing machines vs free weights when we are talking about the back pained individual. 

Sure you can build strength with both but when dealing with back pain it’s more than just strength that we are looking for. 

So in today’s video let’s break down the machines vs free weights debate and give you exactly what you need to not only build strength but get out of pain or train confidently post-surgery.

Do Weight Machines Increase The Risk Of Back Pain?

The machines themselves are not created in a way where back pain is inevitable. What it comes down to is how much flexibility you have when using them. 

Machines tend to put you in one position and then add weight to your body in that one position in order for you to do the exercise according to the machine’s standards. 

Take the Smith Machine Squat for example. The Smith Machine has a fixed bar path the user has to abide by when doing any exercise with it. This can be shoulder press, bench press, or squat. 

Let’s say you wanted to do squats with the Smith Machine but your back hurts. 

The Smith Machine isn’t going to allow you to adjust your position or bar path throughout the exercise. So what this does is keep you locked into what could be a negative position for you. 

When doing squats with the barbell or dumbbells you have way more opportunity to adjust and tweak your position and where the load is at to allow for a pain-free lift.

Pros And Cons To Using Free Weights For Building Strength With Back Pain

There are a lot of perks to using free weights for building strength and getting over chronic back pain. At the same time, there are cons you have to keep in mind in order to maximize the results you’re looking for.

Pros To Using Free Weights With Back Pain:

  • Exercises can be modified and adjusted on the fly easily. 
  • Weight can be adjusted up or down easily in the ideal position for the person.
  • Most exercises incorporate the entire body to do them well (more muscle recruitment).
  • Can do the essential exercises right from home without a need for a gym membership

Cons To Using Free Weights With Back Pain:

  • Movements require more attention to detail.
  • Free weights tend to seem more “aggressive” or “scary” to those in pain.
  • Requires a financial investment to acquire weights for your home.
  • Form and technique are critical for them to be effective.

Pros And Cons To Using Machines For Building Strength With Back Pain

There are a lot of perks to using machines for building strength and getting over chronic back pain. At the same time, there are cons you have to keep in mind in order to maximize the results you’re looking for.

Pros To Using Machines With Back Pain:

  • Not much thought is needed to do the exercise the machine is built for.
  • Form and technique are mostly guided by the machine. 
  • Great for beginners who don’t have the option for someone to help them learn to use free weights.
  • Can build strength with them just as easy as free weights.

Cons To Using Machines With Back Pain:

  • Machines keep you fixed to one main position when doing the exercise. 
  • Machines are expensive to bring into your own home gym. 
  • Do not allow for adjusting or tweaking for the back pain individual.
  • Less full-body muscle recruitment, when fixed to a machine vs standing and doing an exercise, (i.e curls).

Looking For Back Friendly Workouts Involving Free Weights?

back pain friendly workout

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