Machines vs free weights

A little quiz

What do these men have in common?

They all have an imposing physique?You’re rigth, but too obvious, guess again.

They all used steroids? Some of them did, but for the others it’s impossible: they died before they were discovered…

The answer is : They’re all really strong, mostly because they trained with free weights. Good old simple heavy iron that you move around.

That’s all it takes to get strong and muscular. Even more, you’ll get best result with free weights than with any machine.  A lot of them are useless. And you really don’t need machines to get big and strong.

Why you should avoid machines

Most of them, like the smith machine, the hack squat or all those bench pressing, lateral raise, leg curl machines, restrict your natural movements. And they do most of the job for you. So you don’t work the way nature intended your body to work.

In the space we live in, there’s 3 axis: x, y ,z or right-left, up-down, front-back. When you use a machine like the smith machine you only work 1 of the 3 axis. The rest is taken care of by the machine.

This way you don’t work your stabilizing muscles. So you don’t work as many muscles as you should and the ability and strength you develop in those machines will never carry over in the real world.

Working less muscles means less calories burned and a lower systemic anabolic response. That means your muscles will grow less. Lifting weights is not meant to be easy and comfortable.It’s a man’s game, so you will have to put some real efforts and be ready to endure some pain.

Then why are they so popular? Mostly because gym owners can get any costumer to use them, not much training or knowledge needed. It’s quite simple to use, it is usually comfy and you don’t have to work too hard.

So, except for a few exceptions I might discuss later (mostly cable machines), just stay away from machines. Grab a bar and lift heavy weights. That’s how those guys up there did it, and it’s seems to be working pretty well…

New PR !

Great day today, everything went smoothly at the gym.

Couldn’t make it on Monday, so that gave me a extra day to recover… made a big difference.

Since I will only have 2 sessions this week, I did my usual routine (SL5x5 B day: squat, press and DL), and added a few triples at the bench.

After that, since, I was in great shape, I tried to max my deadlift.
Managed to do 2x335lbs (former record was 1x335lbs) and 1 x350lbs! 😀

Training log (Tuesday, July 31st 2012):

BW: 197lbs

Warm-up: rowing machine, 3 min: 691m.

Press (95lbs, 5×5, 2min rest):

  • 95lbs: 5, 5, 5, 5
  • 105lbs: 3
  • 115lbs: 2
Squat (255lbs, 3×3, 2min)
  • 255lbs: 3, 3, 3
Bench (155lbs, 3×4, 2 min)
  • 155lbs:3, 3, 3
Deadlift:(245lbs, 3×5, 2min)
  • 245lbs: 5
  • 265lbs: 5,5
  • 315lbs: 2
  • 335lbs: 2
  • 350lbs:1

Next goals:

  • DL: 400lbs
  • Squat: 350lbs
  • Bench press:200lbs


The importance of proper form

Proper form is extremely important. For two main reasons:

  • safety (avoid injuries)
  • efficiency

Not using problem form might lead to serious injuries especially with heavy lifts like squat and deadlift where you can really hurt your back.

Cheating is wrong

When you don’t use proper form, like when you cheat because the weight is too heavy or you’re tired. You don’t train the muscles you’re suppose to work with that exercise. An you expose yourself to injuries. Typical example is those guys doing hip thrust while trying to do biceps curls. You want to train you hip flexors or your arms? Better use a lighter weight and do it correctly. This way your biceps will get a good stimulation.

If the bar is too heavy, deload and do it correctly. If you’re too tired and your form starts to suffer from it, use a lighter weight, do less reps or rest a little more between sets.You’ll get best results by correctly doing lighters reps or less reps than trying to do high reps or heavy lifting with improper form.

*** That doesn’t mean grinding is wrong As long as you can maintain proper form, it’s OK. An also, it is normal to see your form degrading when you’re trying to do real heavy lifting, like when you try to beat your PR but this shouldn’t be done more then a few times a year. And you do it at your own risk*** 

Partials are for sissies

Another thing I see all the time at the gym are those guys who stack the bar with plates to show how strong they are and then do partial squats. Or at the bench press: using a super wide grip and lowering the bar half way, or worst bouncing off your chest (possible injury!). Same thing with the leg press, biceps curls, pull-ups, etc…

What is the point of having a huge load if you only move it a few inches? You might impress the ignorant or stupid ones. But to experienced lifters you just look like plain morons.

You don’t work your muscles this way, you’re just training your ego. At the very least you don’t reap the full potential of the exercise you’re trying to perform.  Better use a lighter weight  that let you use full ROM. This way you’ll end up with something to brag about.

*** In same cases partials can be useful, but not as your main form of training. I’ll write another article on ROM later on ***