Free weights or Cables Better?

Last week I wrote a blog about Compound and isolation Exercises, and someone ask me about Free weight vs Cable, which one better. I meant to write about this for a while now, so here it is.

This has been a topic for a long time in the gym. I used to confuse and had so many questions about this when I started lifting weights.

As we all know Dumbbells and barbells have been the secret weapon for bodybuilders and athletes for a long time. No doubt it will stay this way for a long time. The question is, are there any better options? Let’s say, Biceps barbell curls or biceps cable curl?

When are dumbbells and barbells better?

There are without doubt there are few exercises which are best when it comes to building muscle mass and strength. These include; squats, deadlifts, rows, pull ups, bench press, dips and shoulder press. What do all these exercises share? They are all compound exercises. They involve movement in more than one joint and recruit more than one muscles so are therefore highly effective.

It’s fair to say these important exercises are not suitably performed using a cable system. They are best performed with dumbbells, barbells and other free weight equipment.  So, that is why most of the successful athletes training plan is going to involve the use of free weights, not cables.

When are cables better?

Cables have two main advantages over free weights; they provide

  • continuous tension
  • dynamic line of resistance.

The continuous tension refers to the fact the resistance supplied to the muscles during a cable exercise is uniform throughout. This can’t be done by Free weight. For example, during a dumbbell arm curl the most resistance is experienced when the arm is bent at ninety degrees. It is at this point which the arm flexor muscles are resisting against 100% of the resistance force. As the arm flexes or extends the resistance is reduced, with the resistive force lowered by roughly 30-40 % when the arm reaches 45 degrees.

Free weight exercises also have a resistive force which is always perpendicular to the ground. The continuous tension provided by a cable station is due to the pulley system which lifts and lowers a weight stack. It is the system which also allows the line of resistance to be dynamic. A dynamic line of resistance offers great freedom, such as allowing a cable curl to be perform either standing or lying on the ground. It may be useful to bodybuilders who want to be highly strict with their form, or anybody with an injury which prevents them from maintaining a sound upright posture.


Free weights are probably best suited for most exercises, specifically the important compound exercises. Free weights are also good choices for most isolation exercises. NOW, I am not saying free weights all the would be worth experimenting with cable exercises incorporated into your training, too. There are no rules on choosing free weight or cable – if you prefer free weights – stick to them. The cable station offers you another training tool. Make is simple, and have fun while working out!

Simon Te

View posts by Simon Te
My name is Simon Te. I am an ACE Certified personal trainer who have been active in the fitness field for more than ten years. I specialize in weight loss, muscular hypertrophy and general strength training. My biggest sport interests are bodybuilding and rugby. I strongly believe that staying fit is the best way to stay away from future health problems.
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