Free Weights or Machine Weights for Fat Loss After 50?


What’s the most effective way to lose fat after 50?

Lift weights.

What’s the fastest way to shrink your waistband after 50?

Lift weights.

Whats the easiest way to improve your posture and look like you lost weight after 50?

Lift weights.

A cardio queen on the other hand has the same proportions and weight distribution, though maybe smaller, if that is, she doesn’t overcompensate with food. Now, don’t get me wrong I haven’t gone so far that I don’t advocate cardio. Just not only cardio. And if you had to choose one over 50? It would be strength training. So no matter what you need to do it.

Which Weights?

Machine weights, free weights, body weight, oh my. Your trainer, your sister, and your girlfriend all have a different opinion. What’s the truth? Are free weights or machine weights better?


They each serve a purpose and they are best at achieving that purpose in a way the other can’t.

Consider this. Sally sits down at a machine chest press (in spite of the looks her trainer and sister give her). She can lift 55 pounds using the chest press.

Using dumbbells lying on a bench Sally can only do 20 pounds (in each hand).

When Sally goes to use a ball as a bench and do her chest press, she finds she needs to reduce the weight to 15 pounds because she feels unstable.

With that progression I just described from machine to ball Sally did gain more muscle activation by increasing her need to stabilize. She also decreased the actual load on her muscles and bones.

The question isn’t which is better.

The question is which is better for your highest priority goal.

Do you want weight loss? Fat loss? Bone density? Balance? Better golf? Less lower back pain?

I know you may be saying, yes, as I did earlier. I’m a want it all right now girl too. That’s OK. You do need to rank them. Something stands out as most important.


Types of Weight Training

I categorize weight lifting into three categories: Heavy, Power, and Functional. It’s all functional depending on your goals, so don’t let me confuse you.

Heavy weight training has more positive effect on fat loss compared to the other two. Bone density is also significantly improved by lifting a weight you can’t life more than 10 times.

Power implies adding a speed component. You lift on a one count and then lower with control slowly as opposed to the more common slow lift and lower tempo. You use a slightly lower weight than a heavy weight to do this. It has been shown to be more slightly effective than heavy lifting in boosting bone density. It also has a significantly higher energy expenditure during exercise than either of the other options.

Functional strength training with loads so your repetitions can reach 28-30 support sports skills, movement enhancement, balance and agility.

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We all need strength, bone density, and optional function.

If weight loss is the most urgent goal, working your way to a heavy lifting routine makes the most sense. To safely lift heavy, based on Sally’s example above, you’re going to use machines.

If you want to optimize bone density and energy expenditure then lift with power. (Progress from light to heavy to power). If you’re limited by an injury or it’s the middle of a sport season for you, keep your workouts more functional.

It’s about a sliding percent of time spent doing each of these three activities, not about eliminating any one of them, or any tool for that matter.

You can read more about specific percentages of your weight training program in You Still Got It, Girl! The After 50 Fitness Formula For Women.

The biggest mistake women make with their weight lifting besides lifting too lightly? Is how they fuel their goals afterward. Watch this video so you can get better results from your weight lifting.

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3 thoughts on “Free Weights or Machine Weights for Fat Loss After 50?”

  1. Thanks, this is helpful. I have been alternating between red cord sling system exercises, free weights, and the 7 minute workout app (which, since I do it 3 times, is not really 7 minutes). My goal isn’t weight loss but bone density and functionality.

    Is a push-up, or a dip considered a “power” workout if it is done explosively with slow return? (Since I can’t do more than 10) Or is that different from lifting heavy weights with a machine -in terms of bone density results?

  2. Hi Ren,

    It is considered explosive. The load still is more functional than bone density building. The combined fatigue of entire body is at play vs the specific fatigue for a muscle group. In exercises targeting bone density (BD) you’re looking at spinal load, hip and wrist load when you test for BD. So a pressing exercise on a machine weight or with heavy DBs (spotted) is specific to the wrist and spine.
    There’s some wrist targeting with a push up but less for elsewhere.

    So ideally during your twice a week weight training- you hit heavy for a portion of that workout for bone density… with power then include the additional function parts. Twice a week for any goal specific is results oriented. A variety of exercise type rotated during the week won’t reap as much benefit on any one goal.

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