The Fitness Zone
This article was originally written by Brad Higgins in 2015 but has since been updated by the AIF Communications team.
Whether you are new to strength and resistance training, or you’re a veteran, chances are you probably haven't tried all the weights-related workout options in the gym. Here, we break down the differences between three popular strength and weights formats that are likely to be available in your local club.
This is a 60-minute high-metabolic barbell class that focuses on working the whole body. A BODYPUMP™ workout challenges all major muscle groups by using simple exercises, such as squats and presses.
An instructor leads the exercises at the front of class and uses a specially mixed compilation of music tracks (which are regularly updated) to keep participants motivated. BODYPUMP™ works as a good introduction to weight training for beginners. Due to participants selecting the weight they lift throughout the class, this format can also help challenge more experienced exercisers. BODYPUMP™ is part of the suite of group workouts from global fitness brand Les Mills, and as such appears on club timetables worldwide - so no matter where you live or where you travel, you can maintain your training with a BODYPUMP™ class.
High intensity endurance
Because a BODYPUMP™ class consists of high repetitions of exercises with very little rest, it is similar to a high intensity endurance session. If you’re looking to achieve significant hypertrophy (muscle growth) or strength gains, then a more specific weight-training program could be more effective. In a group setting such as a BODYPUMP™ class, it can be difficult for the instructor to give individual attention to every participant. Exercises may be performed with improper form, which can lead to injury. Of course, this is also the case when individuals workout on their own, so as always when exercising, an element of personal responsibility needs to be assumed.
Free weight training
Free weight training is exercise using an external weight, such as a kettlebell, dumbbell or barbell, which is not attached to another structural device. Due to their portability, free weights can be used in the gym, home and outdoor environments. Owing to their mobile nature, free weights can enable endless variety, as well as fun, in workouts.
Functional and portable
Free-weighted exercises often mimic everyday movements, which is a more functional way of training, i.e. they enable the exerciser to improve the strength and movement needed to better perform what are known as the ‘activities of daily living’. However, free weights can require more coordination and control than machine-based exercises, which generally dictate the stance or position of the body and guide the exerciser through the movement.
Good form required
This ‘freestyle’ nature of free weight training makes it more challenging than exercising with fixed-weights, so it is important to know how to perform movements with proper form in order to prevent injury. When lifting heavy free weights, it is often a good idea to have a spotter - someone who is poised to take the load should you lift it to the point of failure and lose your control of the weight.
This uses a stack of weights for resistance, which is controlled by pulleys, cables, gears or cams.
Guided and safe
A machine-based exercise goes through a safely guided range of motion, which is great for those new to weight training, as well as for injury rehabilitation. A machine assists with the control of the movement, and if properly adjusted it can provide correct form throughout the exercise.
Machine-based exercises generally aren’t considered ‘functional’ because they don’t mimic the movements of everyday life. Due to size, components and mechanisms, this ‘large footprint’ equipment usually has very high costs compared to free weights, so you’ll either need a gym membership or an expensively decked out garage to use this equipment.
Work out your way
There are a variety of ways to train for strength, and everyone will have their own reasons as to why they prefer working out with free weights, machines or guided classes like BODYPUMP™.
Whichever format you choose, make sure it is aligned not only with your personal goals, but also with your personal preferences. You are more likely to stick to training when you’re having fun doing it, so exercise will always be more effective when you’ve got a smile on your face. Remember to always do something you enjoy and to regularly create variety in your training sessions.