And we are back, ready to dive deep into the differences between the two most common machines you will see at a commercial gym or in shopping for your home gym.

This is one you may not have even noticed unless you look carefully. However, there are certainly a few big differences between these two types of machines.

By equipment here we are primarily talking about machines at the gym. So leg press, chest fly, leg extension, lat pulldown, and many other machines. Yes, even that odd-looking ab crunch machine you may have seen at the YMCA.

Whether you are looking to shop plate-loaded machines or just better understand the differences for your next stop at your commercial gym, we are here to help.

Let's jump in.


What Is Plate Loaded Gym Equipment?

So, machines are valuable pieces of equipment as you exercise. You may hear a lot of talk about how free weights are the only real pieces of equipment at the gym. While dumbbells, barbells, and weight plates are incredible tools, machines are also valuable.

Machines allow beginners to perform movements with less required technique. Machines also allow even the most experienced lifter to get an isolated pump and target only their quads, adductors, or pecs.

On the flip side, machines don't allow for as much stabilization or control of the weight by the user as they exercise. Think of the bench press for instance, with a barbell bench press you and going to need a lot more stabilization to control the barbell from the rack to your chest and back up. Your shoulders are definitely going to have to work harder. Now, on the other hand, a machine chest press is going to require a lot less stabilization. This is because the motion pattern is pre-set. You don't have to worry about "dropping" the weight during a machine chest press. There are certainly pros and cons to both, and your goals are a huge factor as to which one you use more.

With that in mind, machines only give as much resistance as they are loaded to. The first way to load machines is with weight plates. So whether, your gym has steel plates, colorful bumper plates, or crumb rubber plates, you can load these on the machine. Typically, there is about a 6-12 inch pole sticking out where you add the plates.

These plates are your resistance, so instead of adding weight plates to a barbell and doing bench press, you add weight plates to a chest press machine and use the machine to get your exercise in.


What Is Selectorized Gym Equipment?

Selectorized machines are the more common of the two. Probably the easiest way to think of selectorized gym equipment is the big cable machines, pictured below, at any commercial gym you go to. These cable machines are commonly used for chest flys, tricep pushdowns, shoulder raises, and a ton more.

These machines are almost always selectorized. With selectorized machines, the weight is already preloaded and attached to the machine. Instead of adding weight, you get to "select" how much you use. On the cable machines, you may see up to 200 pounds of weight. Now if you are doing cable shrugs, maybe you use the entire stack; however, if you are performing a biceps curl most people (not you, of course) are going to want to remove the pin and select a smaller weight option.

Typically, if your machine has 200 pounds of selectorized weight, it is going to be split up into 10-pound increments. These look like rectangular-weight plates stacked on top of each other. Some machines even have an attachment that can add 2.5 or 5 pounds so you aren't making quite so big jumps each time.

Okay, you may be thinking, "Why does this matter?"

After all, they are both machines with resistance, it's not like we are talking about the differences between free weights and machines. Well, I'm glad you asked.


Why Does It Matter?

Let's look at a few reasons as to why we really care about the two different types of machines.



From strictly a "what's easier" perspective, selectorized weight machines are simpler and easier to use during strength training. Simply sit down on the machine, move the pin, and start your exercise.

With a plate-loaded machine, it's only a little bit more work, but after all, you are at the gym to workout. You need to find the plates and load the machine and then begin. Now, this may not sound like a lot until you need to load five 45-pound plates, a 25, and a 5. But again, if you don't want to pick up weights, the gym is a bad place to be.

Another convenience factor with selectorized gym equipment is their ease of use with drop sets. Drop sets are where you perform a set number of reps, often to failure, and then lower the weight and complete another set of reps. This is most popular with those training for muscle growth, or hypertrophy.

Now, selectorized weight machines help with drop sets because you can simply remove the pin and choose your next weight. This is much more difficult with weight plates if you want to immediately go into your next set.

But, at the end of the day, you'll be fine either way here.


Training Effect

Along the same lines, as the point above, there is a training effect you should consider when looking at the differences between selectorized and plate-loaded machines.

There are certain muscle groups that often require a large amount of resistance to grow, especially as you become a more advanced lifter - muscle groups like quads, hamstrings, lats, and pecs. Now, let's take your quads for example. If you are trying to isolate the front of your legs, you would probably use a leg extension machine. Even, the most advanced lifter is probably not going to have to worry about running out of weight. So for a machine like the leg extension, as far as the training effect goes, you aren't really gaining anything by using a plate-loaded machine.

Now, where this changes is if you want to hit more of a compound movement like the leg press. Selectorized leg press machines typically only go up to about 300 pounds. This may sound like quite a lot, but for an advanced lifter, it is not. In this case, having a plate-loaded leg press provides you the huge advantage of being able to add considerably more weight, likely up to about 800 pounds. This can make a big difference for advanced users looking to gain serious size in their muscles.


The same argument can be made for the chest fly versus the chest press machine. Because the chest fly isolates the pecs, you don't have to worry about running out of weight on that machine if you only have access to a selectorized machine, however, if you are looking at using a chest press machine, you may find you soon run out of weight and instead need to find a plate loaded machine.


Machine Size

If you are already a member at a commercial gym, this one doesn't really matter to you. Commercial gyms have tons of room for both commercial plate-loaded gym equipment and selectorized gym equipment.

As we've mentioned above, there are training advantages and reasons why a gym may have both, however, if you are starting a small gym or home gym, you need to weigh all of your options before deciding which equipment is going to be best.

Machine size is something you may not have considered. The plate loaded machines tend to be smaller, which of course makes sense, they don't have an extra 100-400 pounds of selectorized weight plates attached to them. This is the downside to having the convenience of selectorized weight machines.

That extra space taken up may not be a big deal for a YMCA or Planet Fitness; however, for your home gym, it may be too big.

One counterpoint here, though, is that because the weight is already attached you don't have to have a separate weight plate tree for plates for your machine. Now if you have 3+ machines, those weight plates can be used for multiple machines as well as barbells; however, if you are looking at having a treadmill and a small home gym all-in-one selectorized machine, that makes a ton of sense. Might as well keep it all combined and go with selectorized at that point.


Moving Machines

Okay, I didn't think this one was a huge deal until I got an old selectorized lat pull-down machine from my high school. That thing was a pain to move.

First, you had to disassemble the machine, take all the weight off, - I want to say it was about 250 pounds - transport it, and then reassemble it all at home. Simply because of the added weight you are going to be looking at more hassle trying to install the machine as well as trying to move the machine around your gym, should you decide to rearrange the place.

If you are looking to keep your workouts to using the machine and not moving it, plate-loaded may be your best option.



Money can't buy happiness, but it can buy you gym equipment and honestly, that's basically the same thing.

Now if you want to make the most of your setup, you've got to maximize your budget.

As far as machines go, plate-loaded equipment is much cheaper. Because the machines are very similar except for the extra selectorized weight plates, the extra cost is in large part due to the extra weight plates.

Selectorized weight machines also tend to be a little bit bigger and sturdier because of having to support the plates.

So, which is best for you?


Home Gym vs Commercial Gym Needs

Both selectorized and plate-loaded machines have their pros and cons. When it comes to which one is best for your space, it really depends on what you value most. If it's space and price, plate-loaded is the way to go. However, if you are looking at convenience, ease of use, and having tons of space (and maybe a few people to help you move) selectorized could be a great option.

Honestly, if I was looking to fill a home gym, I would stick to plate-loaded - especially if you are planning on having a few machines. It gives you the most flexibility with your space and gives you the same functionality, plus the option to go heavier than selectorized.

If you are looking at getting equipment for a commercial gym, a mix of both machines is a good idea. For beginners, selectorized machines may be the least intimidating, easiest thing to use in the gym - well besides maybe the cardio section. They can be a great introduction to resistance training and also give your more experienced users a great workout. However, having some plate-loaded machines gives your users the benefit of going heavier.

Either way you cut it, both types of machines will help grow your muscles and elevate your gains when it comes to your strength training.


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