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Can hand weights be as effective as a cable machine?

The question

I'm setting up a home gym. I don't really want to buy a cable machine because they take up a lot of space and seem like too much hassle. Can hand weights produce about the same results?

The answer

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The main advantage of cables is that they allow you to manipulate the direction and the height the resistance is coming from. This increases your workout options and allows you to perform functional exercises that mimic everyday and sport-specific movement patterns.

But if you are trying to set up a home gym on a budget, free weights can be a lot less expensive. While a cable machine could easily cost you $5,000, you could buy a set of five-, eight-, 10- and 15-pound weights at Canadian Tire for less than $100. Free weights are also versatile: They can be used for a variety of different exercises that would be suitable for both basic and advanced workouts.

But you can have your power shake and drink it too: If you want to get the benefit of a cable machine without the expense or bulk, buy a resistance band, which is portable and inexpensive ($10-$15). With a door attachment, you can replicate almost all of the exercises you would perform with a cable machine.

Trainer's tip: If you need a wide range of different free weights - for example 50 pounds for a chest exercise but 10 pounds for a triceps exercise - the cost begins to add up, and so does the space you'll need to store them. Power blocks are a good alternative. Starting around $300, a set gives you the freedom to lift anything from 10 to 50 pounds - you change the weight you're lifting by just moving a pin. (More expensive versions can go up to 75 pounds.) Better yet, one set of power blocks takes up about as much space as two toasters.

Send certified personal trainer Kathleen Trotter your questions at trainer@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Kathleen Trotter

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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