Q: What’s the best way to build muscle, machines or free weights?
A: First, trying to build muscle is putting the cart before the horse. What you need to build is strength, not muscle. The concept of “building muscle” came about largely because of bodybuilding era. For the most part, the fitness industry has made fitness all about image, which only gives rise to plenty of issues of body image distortion. Fitness in reality is about capability – not how much muscle you have, not how much you weigh, and not punishing/abusing the body over developing the body. If you build strength properly, you will naturally develop the right type, amount, and balance of muscle that is appropriate for your individual structure, to support your movement. In terms of building strength, free weights are better than machines for the simple fact that they force you to learn to deal with gravity better, which will carry over more to real life demands outside of the gym. However, even before using any type of weights you should gain a certain level of mastery over your own body weight to ensure you develop the neuromuscular coordination to handle external weight more efficiently, and place less stress on your joints. It’s important to understand that the role of your muscles is to support your body weight, not to produce movement. Most people rely too much on muscular effort when they move, which leads to excess tension, stiffness, aches, and pains over time. So don’t worry about how to build muscle. Focus on building strength in different ranges of motion, which will allow your body to develop/change naturally, in a way that will work for you, not against you, in the long run. No animal in the jungle is trying to build muscles.
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