10 Tips to Transition from Machines to Free Weights

10 Tips to Transition from Machines to Free Weights

Shelly has been going to the gym for a little more than 6 months and has started doing some free weight exercises like curls and lateral raises.

While Shelly loves her machines, she knows that she would benefit from focusing on free weight exercises and using machines for accessory lifts… but she doesn’t know where to start.

This article was inspired by readers asking for tips to transition from machines to free weights. Lets jump right in and get you ready to train with free weights!

Don’t be Afraid of the Weights

If you look around the room, you may see people using almost double your body weight on a barbell or using dumbbells that may crush you – don’t be alarmed.

Most gyms have a wide variety of weights including dumbbells that go down to 1 pound so you can start at a weight that doesn’t make you fear for your safety.

The first few times you start training with free weights, leaning towards a lighter weight will not hurt anything; in fact it may build your confidence.

Build Confidence

Building confidence about using free weights will make the transition much smoother. If you are confident that you have the ability to do an exercise correctly, you are well on your way to a successful transition.

I’ll tell you one secret that even the most elite bodybuilders, powerlifters, and other strength athletes will admit – Not having confidence to do a certain weight on an exercise is one of the most common reasons why they miss that lift. From fear or doubting themselves, they are essentially “jinxing” themselves to not make the lift. So build that confidence up.

Tips to building confidence:

  • Pick a workout and do all of the workouts with a minimal weight. If that means using a 10 pound mini barbell and 1 pound dumbbells, so be it.
  • Don’t worry about what others think; don’t worry about using lighter weight than them.
  • Don’t worry about looking like you don’t know what you’re doing – we all start somewhere.

Overall, building confidence takes action and that action is to use free weights to train. If you follow these other tips and just do it, you’re going to progress into the type of person you wish you were right now.

Know Your Boundaries

One thing I want to mention about transitioning from machines to free weights is that machine weight does not equal free weights’ weight.

What’s that mean?

If you are able to do 100 pounds for 10 reps on the chest press machine, you’re more than likely going to be unable to do that with free weights. There are always people who adapt fast transitioning, but start much lower.

Learning how much weight you can handle in each exercise is an important thing that everyone must learn if they want to achieve their goals. While you don’t have to work at maximal weights all of the time, knowing you can bench 135 pounds for 2 reps and 85 pounds for 8 reps is extremely valuable information.

Using this information wisely will help you get stronger, tone up, and build that sexy lean muscle you have been working hard to build.

Go at Slower Times

Going at slower times until you are more confident using free weights is helpful because you have mostly free reign of the gym.

We are all human and don’t want to feel like people are judging us; going when fewer people are there decreases the amount of people you feel are watching you. I jumped right in and learned how to bench press while there was a literal line to use it… sometimes you just have to go with the flow and understand that (most) people are forgiving and helpful.

Each gym is different and finding out the slower times may mean asking the front desk if they could tell you a time that the least amount of people are there. Generally these times are very early in the morning, very late at night, and during “work hours.” I’ve also noticed that Friday nights and Saturday mornings seem to be a slower time since a lot of people prefer to go party instead of make gains.

Empty Gym

Find out what the best time is for you to go and take advantage of this time to learn.

Learn Form First

I am an advocate for getting weight on that bar and lifting more weight, but if you don’t practice good form from the beginning, you’re going to have to fix some bad habits later on down the road.

These bad habits can lead to injuries depending on how bad they are.

The good news is there are thousands of videos and articles on doing any exercise and if you use some common sense and listen to the videos or trainers, you will learn proper form.

One thing I’d like to say here is if you’re following a form video and you are experiencing pain, do not keep doing it. There are a few ways to do some exercises, especially on compound lifts.

Get a Trainer

While there are a lot of great trainers out there, there are that many (if not more) that are only out there for the money. Here’s an article from Cutty Strength that gives you 10 reasons why your personal trainer sucks.

Finding a personal trainer can be hard and expensive and I advise on using this tip with caution. I would advise asking friends for suggestions on a personal trainer if you are wanting to go this route.

Bring an Experienced Training Partner

If you know someone who has been going to the gym and making progress, ask them to come with you and show you some things.

Learning from someone who you already know and already has experience under their belt really will help you build confidence and learn how to train properly. You’ll learn when you should really push hard and you will learn when to maybe take it easier.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help

Maybe you don’t have someone you can bring in and you don’t have the money to pay for a personal trainer… so what do you do?

Find someone in the gym that looks like they know what they are doing and simply ask for some help – As long as you don’t stop them in the middle of their set or while they are about to start a set, most people would be more than happy to help you out.

Picking someone without headphones on may be best, some don’t want to socialize at all in the gym and will wear headphones. On the other hand, I wear headphones and I am more than happy to help out.

Push Yourself

One drawback of using machines vs free weights is that using free weights utilizes smaller stabilizer muscles while machines don’t. When you use a chest press machine, your path is predetermined and you can basically use “whatever it takes” to push it. If you were to use that technique on free weights, you are just asking to get hurt.

When you first start out using free weights, you’re going to have sore muscles that you never knew were there; this is normal and good. These small stabilizer muscles are important to building a good strength base and are necessary for everyday life.

Once you get your form down and start adding weight to the exercises, you will have to push yourself to progress. Keep striving to progress every time you go to the gym.

Realize There is a Learning Curve

Transitioning from machines to free weights will take a good bit of time to build your confidence and learn proper form… don’t let this stop you from trying.

Once you learn good form, performing free weight exercises is like riding a bike. Don’t get discouraged if you still feel timid doing an exercise after the first few weeks of switching over to using free weights – it took me at least 2 months to get comfortable with free weights when I started.


If you’re reading this to try to prepare yourself for switching from machines to free weights then I congratulate you. While all of these tips are going to help you get acclimated with something that seems overwhelming… my best advice is to just do it. When you jump in head first and just learn by doing, you’re going to learn more about yourself and your body than any preparation will do.

If you have any questions about form or using free weights, be sure to ask in the comments and I’ll reply as soon as I can.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *