Benefits And Disadvantages of Strength Training Equipment Types


Barbell-based free weights

With a barbell, you can with two hands grasp it and work the biggest muscle groups - legs, chest,arms.  Compared with say, dumbbells, you need less stabilisation effort, so more of your effort goes into the lift itself.  A barbell is used mostly naturally in compound exercises – those that use large muscle groups, like squats and presses, and doesn’t lend itself to isolation exercises – those which address a single muscle. ) But a barbell is the major heavy-lift free weight tool.

A barbell benefit is that if you're imply taking it off a rack, you don't have to lift it to get it there!  Dumbbells you do.  It can use up quite a bit of energy. 

With free weights, and tools like barbells and dumbbells, as opposed to machines, there’s an inherent drawback- the lack of control, balance and stability, which can be wasteful and even dangerous, especially if you’re using heavy weights. There's a risk of shoulder and elbow wear, or injury.  If you grow strength evenly and slowly, your assisting tendons will offer better support and you'll risk less wear. And different bar shapes and adapters can bring variety, which can reduce this risk. 


Muscle strength imbalances can arise and one side with barbell lifts – e g an arm may compensate for the other without your noticing.  Dumbbells and cable will lead less toward this, and certainly permit you to fix the problem more easily if it occurs.


Barbells can require a lot of space to properly use them. Seven-foot Olympic bars typically so. And for safety and to perform a variety of types of lifts you need a rack or cage to start the lift from, or to catch your lifts if you get into difficulty and want to drop them.




By most definitions, dumbbells are the most versatile strength training tools. They’re free weights, and can be held independently in each hand, and depending on the weight, can be moved through any angle or plane. This gives them massive exercise variety.  Simply changing grips, posture and body position multiplies the options.  Better still, simply holding and moving them independently means they naturally engage the core and stabilisation muscles, whatever you’re doing.  Being free weight, they’re great for both compound exercises (with some exceptions – heavy squats really need the weight on the shoulders) and good for most isolation exercises.


Dumbbells will also minimise imbalances between like muscle groups, and let you fix them faster.


If you’re going to properly use dumbbells, you’ll need several pairs, and they take up space.  Check out adjustable dumbbells which give you a big range in the space of a pair. They’re also quick to change weights with.


Finally, getting started with dumbbells is easier than getting started with a barbell approach.  Even a lightly loaded barbell can be cumbersome.  Not a light dumbbell.




Kettlebells have the characteristics of a free weight, with wide grip and posture variety like dumbbells, though the pure exercise variety is less. Their design permits more explosive power and ballistic movement for swings, cleans and presses, which also adapts to more cardio-effective training. Care is needed to avoid injury from the ballistic aspect.


Cable Machines

These have a low risk of injury – a weight stack isn’t a danger like a dropped barbell or dumbbell, though a dropped weight stack can flip a handle past with a risk of it hitting the user.

Cable is great for isolation exercises.  Gravity’s resistance is locked in a vertical line that you can place anywhere at any angle. It offers even,continuous muscle stress – technically better than anything else,muscle-by-muscle, because you’re always applying fixed, gravity-driven resistance.  And, there’s much exercise variety and angle variation. This is supported by lots of grips, handles and rope attachments

But - generally speaking, you don’t get much in the way of compound exercises, (those which use major muscle groups).  However, you can get good rows with the right handles, and you can perform great cross-body exercises, like wood-choppers, driving the core, back, with shoulders and arms stabilising. Not a good machine for squats, presses, heavy lifts. (Good for some pre-stressing or finishing of those groups though)

Cable can often require a lot of space, especially it there are two weight stacks and a crossover structure.  A single tower with a weight stack or a plate holder can be quite space-efficient.

Leverage Machines

Leverage machines use the gravity of free weights but eliminate the energy waste needed to control and stabilise a lift, and injury risk involved in free weights.  They also afford better concentration on the lift itself, better isolation of muscles in terms of effort, and improved brain-muscle connection. Leverage machines can also provide safety through offering a steel pin to be set to “catch” a lift if the trainer needs it, and might otherwise risk injury or being trapped by a barbell.

Instead of the theoretical straight line of a lifting movement, the leverage movement uses an arc.  Some say this is "unnatural". The radius of of a leverage machine's arc is insufficiently different from a normal lift (whatever "normal" is) to be relevant. In fact some machines permit use of either side of the arc, (that is, face in either direction in a squat for instance) which is often very popular for variety.

Finally, a well-designed leverage device often lets you do several major exercises on the same machine, making it very space- and cost- efficient.

Barbell with a fixed end, landmineattachment or pivot plate

This is the idea of placing one end of an Olympic (or other) bar in a fixed spot, and placing weights on the other, and moving the weighted end in exercises that can move through your choice of many planes and angles. It provides a great new range of strength training moves, both isolation and compound, and has recently become rapidly more popular.

It needs space– sufficient for a trainer to move a bar (one end fixed, 7 feet plus for an Olympic bar, and you need that length unless you’re quite small) through many arcs. But excellent value for money.