This post was updated 15th January 2018
In this post I’m going to highlight some of the benefits of barbell training over the traditional resistance machines found in normal gyms and health clubs. Before I go any further though, I want to make clear that I am a fan of some resistance machines and they have their place in a well balanced strength training programme but for most people they’re not the optimum training tool.
- Resistance machines
These are usually found in normal gyms and health clubs, typically you sit down and adjust the resistance (weight) by either a weight stack or by loading weight plates and then using your arms or legs you will move the levers along a fixed path to isolate a certain muscle group.
- Barbell training
A barbell in most cases is plate loaded but some gyms do have lighter fixed barbells, barbells vary in size and weight depending on their specific usage but a standard Olympic men’s bar is 2.2m long and weighs 20kg.Let’s look at the advantages.
For the purposes of this post I will be referring to compound barbell movements that hit multiple muscle groups.
- Works the body as a whole
When you use a barbell in a compound movement such as a squat you work your entire body, your core is used to stabilise, your upper back is engaged to hold the bar, your glutes and quads are used to squat.In comparison to a leg extension machine you are only using the quads as no muscles are used to stabilise as you’re sat down and not supporting the barbell.
- Burns more calories.
The more muscle groups you use while performing a movement the more calories you’ll use. As barbell movements use more muscle groups you will get a better return on your training then if you used a resistance machine.
- Increased mobility
Barbell training will increase your mobility, getting below parallel in a squat is more difficult then using a leg press machine as you need to keep an upright torso to support the barbell. One of the main reasons for back problems in the uk is the inability of most people to fully squat, a machine won’t help this issue, a high bar back squat will.
- Injury Proof
Another disadvantage of using machines is that it’s very easy to build imbalances as you’re not working the stabilising muscles like you would with a barbell. So for instance if you do a seated shoulder press on a machine instead of a standing shoulder press with a barbell, when you actually have to lift something above your head in real life you may not be able to support the same load you’ve been using at the gym which often leads to injury.
- Real life transfer
We don’t do lateral should raises in real life, we lift things from the floor, lift things above our head and squat (getting off the loo or chair is a squat). Building strength in these movements will make you stronger and help you move better and increase the quality of your life. This becomes even more important the older we get, real strength fights decrepitude, generally older people don’t go into homes as they haven’t got the cardiovascular endurance to get on a chair by themselves, it’s because they lack the strength to do so.
- More bang for your buck!
As I said earlier I feel certain resistance machines have their place in a structured strength training programme, especially if you train twice a day 5-6 times a week. The reason for this is that barbell training is harder to recover from, if you did 2 heavy barbell sessions per day you simply wouldn’t recover quickly enough to hit the next session.That being said if your training 3-4 sessions per week like most people then you need to optimise your sessions and step away from those machines. In your four 60 minute sessions you need to be efficient with the exercises you choose and that ultimately means compound barbell movements as you don’t have time to waste sitting down.
- So why do normal gyms use machines?
When you go to a normal gym you may get a 30min intro and then you’re let loose, it’s hard to hurt yourself sitting on a leg extension machine moving your legs along a fixed path so for a business model that offers limited support this is the safest option for you and their insurance!Also many gyms are staffed by kids straight out of school who are on some internship, basically they’re underpaid and under qualified and wouldn’t be able to coach you how to squat and deadlift correctly as they haven’t be taught themselves.
At Dorchester Strength and Conditioning all new members go through a fundamental course which comprises of 5-15 personal training sessions where you will be coached on how to squat, deadlift, press, clean, jerk, snatch and use Kettlebells correctly. All our coaches are massively qualified and will coach you to your highest standard possible.
If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you then please get in touch via the form below and a member of the team will get in touch.