Personal Training: Resistance Training – Free vs Fixed

Avatar for Hadyn Luke Hadyn Luke posted this on Friday 27th of April 2012 Hadyn Luke 27/04/2012


Personal Training: Resistance Training – Free vs Fixed

In todays fitness blog we will discuss the various equipment available to a personal trainer.  There’s a wide range of equipment available for personal trainers to use when planning exercise routines and one of the considerations is when to use fixed path resistance machines, cable machines and free weights.

Resistance machines are on a fixed path and will only allow someone to undertake a specific exercise moving through a set range of motion.

Cable machines are fixed machines that offer more control than free weights but give some of the training benefits of the instability of a free-weight exercise.

Free weights include dumbbells barbells, medicine balls and kettle bells and allow a client to develop a wider range of muscles and work more functionally.

A beginner will have less understanding of how to control their body and is likely to have poor technique, posture and proprioception. So if a personal trainer is starting out with a new, inexperienced client, they would tend to start with resistance machines and progress to cable machines and then free weights.

A resistance machine allows a trainer to run their client through a simple exercise in one set position, while being supported by the fixed position of the machine. In this controlled environment, the client is less likely to injure themselves and it’s easier for them to perform and feel they are achieving results, which in turn makes them more likely to adhere to the exercise regime that their personal trainer has developed for them.

Once the client has developed their technique and posture and improved their core strength and proprioception (so that their muscle spindles are feeding back better awareness of where their body parts are in relation to each other), they can move on to cable machines.

Cable machines have the advantage of allowing the personal trainer to take their client through a wider range of motion while still providing a certain amount of support. Once a client has progressed further, they can move on to using free weight exercises.

The benefits for those training using cable machines and free weights is that they will start to use stabilizing muscles (fixators) in addition to their larger muscles (prime movers and synergists). Lifting a dumbbell, for example, requires using the fixators around the shoulder joint as well as the agonist muscle, to stop the shoulder from wobbling and control the movement of the dumbbell.

An example of this in a dumbbell single arm row exercise would be:

Prime Mover – Latissimus Dorsi

Synergist – Trapezius and Rhomboids, Rear Deltoid, Biceps Brachii

Fixators – Erector Spinae, Rectus Abdominis, TVA, Obliques, Infraspinatus, Supraspinatus, Subscapularis, Teres Minor

*additional muscles could also be included.

In time, a personal trainer will be able to devise programmes that allow their client to progress to using more of these fixator muscles, which will improve their posture, strength and core stability and make injury less likely. Developing core strength is key, as without this the client will not be able to engage their muscles and maintain their posture to train successfully with free weights and avoid injury.

A resistance machine such as a leg press will require a client to use their quads, hamstrings, glutes to push against the weight. It will also allow them to lift a larger weight than, say, in a free weight squat. However, as a good personal trainer will advise, a squat requires the use of additional muscles such as leg fixators and trunk muscles, which means they will be burning more energy, increasing their core strength and developing better co-ordination, which a personal trainer might argue is more beneficial for the client.

Free weights and cable machines are linked to functional training: they replicate or simulate movement patterns that an individual would follow in everyday life, anything from sitting down and getting up from a chair to picking up a child or heavy shopping. This can avoid day-to-day injuries and help performance in other areas, such as competitive sports.

A good personal trainer course will also cover how a personal trainer can progress a client on to working with even more instability, by using equipment such as Swiss balls, stability discs and bosu boards to further improve technique and strength.

We hope you have enjoyed our latest fitness blog.  Please add your comments and responses below.  If you would like to find out more about resistance training using free and fixed weights or about personal trainer courses please visit our Level 3 Personal Trainer Certificate webpage.

Subscribe to the blog

Interested in becoming a personal trainer
or sports massage therapist?

Leave your details below and a member of the
CMS team will contact you shortly.