When most people close their eyes and picture a gym, they see big weight machines and equipment. That has long been the expectation, and there are still plenty of advantages to weight machine workouts. That being said, the rise of functional training has caused many to question which method works best for their at-home routines.
You enter a world of debate and arguments when you pick a side. People are passionate about the way they work out, as they should be. But you don’t have to decide on a better workout. You just have to figure out which one works best for you and your fitness goals.
We want to help you compare functional training and weight machine workouts before you invest in your home gym, so below you’ll find some helpful information about both.
Pros and Cons of Functional Training
Functional training has been on the rise. These workouts often involve less machinery and emphasize compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once. They also incorporate movements that help you with everyday activities (hence the “functional” aspect of the training).
You’ll likely see adherents of functional training exercising with free weights, incorporating High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), or practicing their body resistance through squats, push-ups, and lunges. They may even mix some of these things together.
This method does have drawbacks. Below we’ll look at both the pros and cons of functional training.
Pro: Developing Practical Muscles
The idea behind functional training is to recreate real-life movements in exercise so your body can grow in the strength it needs to sustain itself long term. Think about it like this: your body will have an easier time recreating a squat-like movement (getting out of a chair, for example) if you have strengthened the necessary muscles overtime. This helps fight against the natural weakening of our bodies as we get older.
Pro: Utilizing Multiple Muscle Groups
Functional training prioritizes compound exercises: movements that engage multiple muscles at the same time.
The classic push-up works as a great example. It doesn’t simply work your arms, chest, or abs. It works all three areas at once. With slight adjustments, you can emphasize one area over the other, but you’re always using multiple muscle groups with every push-up. All functional training accomplishes this to varying degrees.
Pro: Reduces Pain
Because functional training helps strengthen the muscles you use everyday, it reduces the bodily strain those movements may produce.
Many exercise injuries occur around the ligaments in your body because other training methods don’t always work out those areas. Functional training strengthens the muscles and the ligaments around those muscles, making it easier for your body to endure the pressure put on it.
Con: Challenges to Get Started
Even though functional training emphasizes natural movements, getting started can feel anything but natural. Knowing which exercises to incorporate for the whole body can be a bit overwhelming. Not only that, but many of the exercises work best only when performed correctly. Body positioning and movement needs to be just right.
These challenges aren’t impossible to remedy, of course. Partnering with a trainer or spotter can help, especially at the beginning. Finding a precise regiment to follow can also help as you get started.
Con: Less Intuitive Machinery
Functional training’s unfamiliarity doesn’t stop at the workouts. When machines are used, they can feel very intimidating to an untrained eye.
These machines often incorporat pulleys, weight adjusters, bands, and other elements. The look of them can be a bit disorienting, but by studying the right information, anyone can learn to use functional training machines.
Pros and Cons of Weight Machines
Most people are more familiar with investing in weight machines for their home gym equipment. These tried and true methods can be less intimidating for some and can function as a gateway for other types of workouts.
Like functional training, weight machines have pros and cons, so we will explore both below.
Pro: Helps Develop Strength in Specific Areas
Weight machines fall under the category of strength training because each machine is designed to put the most strain on a particular muscle. They do this primarily by positioning the person in such a way that the muscle can develop to its full potential.
For those who want to grow large, defined muscles, this is the move to make. One trainer explains that “Improving muscle size and strength requires using external resistance to stimulate the contractile element to become capable of generating higher levels of force. Machine training can be extremely effective for achieving this outcome.”
Weight machines, when used properly, can be very safe options for a home gym. Large barbells and other free weights can get loose and fall, posing a risk for the person utilizing them.
Weight machines offer a safer alternative. While injuries are always possible, the machines enable users to easily build upon the weight little by little. The companies also build the machines to keep the weights where they’re supposed to be, making falling weights far less likely.
These safety features can make a big difference in a home gym because you may not always have another person there to spot you. By reducing the risk of falling weights, you limit the need for a spotter. That being said, you should always take proper safety precautions before exercising.
Pro: Intuitive Equipment
Even though some weight machines can look overly complicated, they’re usually built with the user in mind and are therefore pretty intuitive.
You’ll find quickly that you can position yourself and the weights comfortably in a few specific ways. Once in position, you’ll naturally see how the equipment is supposed to work.
Con: Less Energy Used
Weight machines are focused on building muscles, and they do a great job accomplishing their purpose. They don’t, however, do a great job at getting your heart rate up.
Part of this is because machines don’t incorporate the whole body. The focus on individual muscles means less emphasis on range of motion and less demand on your body overall. Whatever muscles aren’t getting focused on can relax a little bit, leading to lower energy out overall.
To accommodate for this, many people incorporate other workouts, like running or cycling, into their regiment. While this will add extra time to your routine, it can increase your energy output while still giving you the benefits of weight machines.
Weight machines can give less-experienced users a false sense of their abilities and cause them to become too confident in what they’re capable of in the gym. They do a few reps with one weight easily, so they start adding more and more until they strain themselves because they didn’t use proper positioning or best practices. They may be able to move the weight, but they do it incorrectly, which can cause problems in the long run.
Working with a trainer or having a friend spot you, especially when you’re learning, can help reduce the likelihood of injury. You can also make sure that you’re not pushing yourself too hard too fast. Remember that if you’re at home, you don’t have to show off to anyone, so don’t be afraid to take it slow at first.
Two Final Factors to Consider: Your Space and Your Goals
Either training approach works well. Functional training can help you develop practical muscles that equip you to handle daily tasks, while weight machines enable you to focus on building strong, well-defined muscles. Neither is a bad choice, so when considering which to invest in for your home gym it comes down to two primary areas: your space and your goals.
If you have half of a bedroom to dedicate to gym equipment, you’ll have a tough time fitting in enough machinery to make it worth your while. When you start talking curve treadmills, rope machines, and bigger pieces of functional training equipment, though, you find yourself in the same problem as weight machines. Still, things like kettlebells, medicine balls, and other small pieces for functional training generally take up less surface area. These tools allow you to get started with functional training in a smaller space.
The bigger area to focus on, though, comes down to your goals. What do you want to get out of your exercises? Are you looking to develop large muscles? Do you want to focus on a few core areas and really develop them? If so, consider investing in some weight machines. If you want to focus on developing muscles you use in everyday movements, then you might consider functional training.
You can’t go wrong. Both are great ways to exercise and become healthier. The choice really just comes down to you.