Resistance Training vs. Weight Training – What’s the Difference?

Most of us are short on time and want to get the absolute best out of our workouts, in the shortest amount of time. The question of resistance training versus weight training is one that many people question when considering the benefits of lifting weights or using resistance machines like elliptical trainers, to build muscle but there are pros and cons to each and it really comes down to personal preference. Ultimately resistance training is safer on the joints and still allows you to build muscle and burn fat, while free weights allow for a wider range of movement and specificity with the amount of weight used but also have higher incidence of injury.

Pros and Cons of Free Weights

Using free weights to build muscle is a great way to do so but many people find increased incidences of injury as a result of improper form or using too little or too much weight. The problem with doing free weight training on your own is that you have more room for error, literally, if not done properly. With free weights, there is no fixed range of movement, requiring increased coordination and almost perfect form. One slip and you could easily tear or pull a muscle because there’s nothing there to stop the movement. If you use a personal trainer, they can spot you and assist in recommending proper format and suggested weight, but if you can’t afford a personal trainer, free weight training may be more dangerous than it is beneficial, depending on your fitness level. Of course any exercise, especially exercises that build muscle, are good for you and your metabolism, but there are safer options that will still get you results if you are not confident in your ability to maintain proper format.

Pros and Cons of Resistance Training

Resistance training means that you build muscle through resistance, for example using the resistance on a recumbent bicycle or doing a body weight driven routine like Pilates. Any exercise that uses your own body weight to build muscle can be considered “resistance training.” Resistance training is considered to be generally safer than free weight training because there is typically less room for injury. For example, on an elliptical trainer, you set the resistance to your preferred level but the motion is fixed. You can’t really get out of proper form because the machine is designed to keep you proper form, though of course you can compromise that form by not maintaining proper posture. Other resistance training exercises that do not use machines, like Pilates, are equally safe because you are not lifting anything but your own body parts, and you can better feel your limitations. Body weight resistance training on an elliptical is also unique in that you can set the resistance levels, unlike in Pilates where your body weight is your optimum level of resistance and you increase the difficulty by holding poses rather than increasing resistance.

The Bottom Line

Choosing between free weight training and body weight resistance training essentially comes down to a number of factors that include age, gender, fitness level and previous injuries, and each of these should be considered when choosing what’s best for you. Many people shy away from using resistance training for building muscle because of the “fixed” movement or inability to “add as much weight as you want,” but with an elliptical trainer these are problems are erased because the user can adjust the incline, stride length, and resistance, so it’s possible to increase or decrease the movement and add more weight or less weight depending on the resistance level. And other people may shy away from using free weights because it can be intimidating, especially if you are new to weight training or just recovering from an injury. However, using free weights can be beneficial and some people prefer the freedom of it, but it is recommended that to avoid injury and get the most of your workout that you either use a personal trainer or practice proper form always, building up in your weight that you lift.