Why Barbells Are Better Than Machines

Barbells are more versatile than machines, and can be used for a variety of exercises. Machines require maintenance that is costly to the user, which makes barbell’s cheaper in the long run.

Weight machines are great for the beginner, but they often lack the variety and intensity that free weights provide. Weight machines also tend to be less safe than free weights because of their heavier weight loadings.

Vintage man lifting a heavy barbell.

Note from the editor: This is a guest article by Mark Rippetoe.

When a man comes into a gym, he may be unsure whether to spend his time in the part with shining, easy-to-understand equipment, or over by the barbells, where he may be more frightened both by how to use them and by the kind of people who are congregated there.

Let’s get one thing straight right now: barbell training is the greatest approach to build strength. Without a doubt. Nothing compares to the benefits of barbell squats, presses, deadlifts, and Olympic exercises in terms of developing strength, power, and muscle hypertrophy. The most ergonomically favorable load-handling instrument in existence, barbells enable very large weights to be clutched in the hands and carried precisely over the middle of the foot, making them very important. Because of their highly adjustable nature, modest increases in stress may be given to the whole body across the complete range of motion of all your main leverage systems; these little increments add up to incredible improvements in size and strength over many years of continuous growth.

Barbells were used in gyms a long time ago. And it was essentially what you used in the gym — a steel bar with iron plates added to boost the weight. There were a limited amount of exercises you could perform if you employed them while standing with both feet on the ground, which is a natural stance for a bipedal creature like yourself. You might crouch down and stand back up with the bar on your back or shoulders. You could hold it in your hands and push it up against the ceiling. You might also drop it on the ground and pick it up. These basic methods, on the other hand, were very effective since they made use of all of the body’s typical joints and muscles.

Why Barbell Training Works Against Gravity

Standing barbell training is simple: move your body’s mass and a weighted barbell in a vertical line over your center of balance — the middle of your feet. Gravity is responsible for the movement’s efficacy. Gravity, strangely enough, only acts in one direction: straight down. As a result, there is only one method to operate against gravity: straight up. While you assume an even stance, like we do when lifting big items, your body balances over the center of your feet. This implies that lifting a weight as near to your torso – and hence as close to the center of your feet – as feasible in a straight vertical line upward is the most effective method. This is easier with barbells than with weirdly shaped devices like lawnmowers.

Any load you work with should be handled by keeping the weight close to your body. You already do things in this manner without even realizing it. Pay note the next time you take up anything heavy off the floor, for example. Before you lifted it, you stood as near to it as you could since you know that the closer the burden is to your feet, the simpler it is to lift. When you’ve been wounded while using a lawnmower, it’s likely because the weight was not near enough to your center of balance.


The expanded usage of different kinds of benches changed the fundamental structure of barbell training, allowing the bench press to take over as the primary upper-body exercise in the gym. Benches enable you to shift your center of balance to your back or buttocks, which is how the bench press or any other seated barbell exercise works. Otherwise, standing with the load, both feet equally separated beneath the weight, should be the normal posture in barbell training.

The barbell allows you to load your body’s natural movement patterns with ever higher weights, thereby forcing your body to get stronger whether you want it to or not. After example, if you start with an empty 45-pound barbell on the floor and add 5 pounds each week, you’ll be deadlifting 175 pounds in six months. You’ve climbed to 305 in a year. And nearly no one begins with under 45 pounds – your mother is stronger than that after years of picking your ungrateful ass up off the floor.

Barbell training is straightforward, rational, efficient, low-cost, and, most importantly, effective. It has been the effective strength training basis for athletes since the early twentieth century, and it has worked for millions of individuals in its present form. So why do contemporary gyms have so many equipment instead of simply barbells and weights?

A New Company Is Founded

Exercise machines that exercised a few isolated muscles at a time were devised as an alternative to this totally sensible strategy to growing stronger from some bits and ends that were hanging about in gyms owned by people who could weld. Leg extension and leg curl machines have been around for decades, and ancient images of them may be seen in periodicals from the 1950s and 1960s.

Arthur Jones started promoting his Nautilus machines to health clubs, sports teams, high schools, colleges and universities, and everyone else on the earth in the middle of the 1970s. He sold roughly $300 quadrillion dollars worth of the wonderfully welded, brilliantly designed electric-blue devices, 12 pieces at a time, within a couple of years. Nautilus transformed the fitness club market by inventing the contemporary gym idea, which includes sales offices in the front, a large room full of sparkling equipment in the rear, and many personnel wandering the floor.

The Nautilus circuit consisted of 12 separate exercises that were done one after the other in a prescribed sequence, with one set being completed to failure. It obliterated you. You’ve been thrashed. You were fried, barbecued, blasted, demolished, and slain. Even the most pompous former high school athlete was humbled by the Nautilus circuit, since training a small set of muscles at the limit of their potential is challenging and painful. It did not, however, make anybody stronger on anything other than Nautilus machines, where it worked for around 6 weeks. Anything will drive an adaptation and make you stronger for someone who hasn’t been training for approximately 6 weeks, since for beginners who are unadapted to any physical exertion, anything will drive an adaptation and make you stronger. For around 6 weeks.


Because the machines only went one direction, Nautilus was simple to comprehend, run, and coach from a business viewpoint. That’s why the Nautilus-club model worked so well: it was centered on sales rather than instruction or exercise. Because learning how to “coach” all of the exercises took only 35 minutes, a gym could suddenly recruit anybody who looked the part to work the floor in a machine-based club. There was nothing to learn except how to change the seat height since there are no variances. Then sales staff development might be a good place to put your money. This makes excellent sense from a managerial standpoint.

At the university level, the machine-based club model gave rise to a new strategy in the fast increasing physical education industry. Because PE graduates needed to find jobs, and health clubs were cropping up all over, the academic community secretly supported the machine-based approach to exercise as well. The employment of exercise machines as the tools with which we explore the human body’s reaction to physical stress has greatly contributed to the formation of a complete corpus of peer-reviewed journal-published material.

It, during the last several decades, an unusual scenario has arisen in which more people than ever before are actively participating in regular exercise, yet the vast majority are doing so ineffectively. Machine-based exercise is ineffective, and it’s critical to understand why.

Why Do Machines Fail?

If it seems counter-intuitive that something physically difficult enough to make you vomit hasn’t made you significantly stronger, consider the definition of strength: force generated against external resistance. Strength is the most widespread physical adaptation, since it has a favorable impact on all other physical characteristics. When someone is “strong,” it refers to their whole physique, not just their quads, biceps, or triceps.

Machines have never been the foundation of a competitive strength athlete’s program because they lack the barbell’s capacity for long-term progress: you can’t increase the weight on a leg extension for years like you can on a deadlift because muscles don’t normally work in isolation from the rest of the body. They function as a set of motors that control the levers of the whole skeleton, which shift the weights we experience on a daily basis. Machines only utilize one or two levers at a time, but the deadlift employs all of them simultaneously. And when they all work together, they can move greater weight than if one or two of them worked alone.

Because your whole body can move bigger weights than individual muscles, strength training with barbells puts the system under much more stress – in a healthy manner — than a machine that just works one isolated muscle group at a time. Working a single muscle group to failure may cause physical pain, but since its ability to create power is limited by the mass of the working muscle, so is its potential to gain strength. As a result, isolation workouts such as deadlifts, squats, and presses may stress more muscle mass and provide a stronger strength adaptation than deadlifts, squats, and presses.


As previously mentioned, certain devices pick a few muscles at a time to control one or two joints. The issue with them is obvious: they don’t train enough muscle mass to produce enough total tension to effect improvement. You can work them hard enough that they make you feel like hell while you’re on them, but they won’t make you stronger for anything else. There’s more to usable strength than a single joint’s mobility. Squats, on the other hand, build strength whereas leg extensions do not.

Everything comes crashing down.

Some equipment, like as the Hammer Strength football-market machines, engage more muscles and joints. Some, like as the renowned Smith Machine used in most contemporary clubs, may even resemble a barbell on the surface. All workout machines have one thing in common: they don’t allow you to fall down while you’re using them.

This apparently little point cannot be overstated: typical human mobility — the conditions in which we utilize our bodies to interact with our surroundings on a daily basis – is a very difficult endeavor. It’s the consequence of hundreds of muscles working together to move hundreds of skeletal components under the supervision of thousands of neurons. You must not only balance your body weight over the middle of your feet as you move through the day (a task that is becoming increasingly difficult for the frail-trending elderly population), but every physical object with which you interact requires a coordinated interplay of your strength and its mass.

You’re creating force and balance at the same time when you learn to move the barbell through the body’s regular range of motion without going down. When you utilize your ankles, knees, hips, spine, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers, as well as all the muscles that move them, while staying upright, all of your joints and muscles are working together to grow stronger while standing on your feet.

Furthermore, the typical application of power in everyday activities, particularly in sports, necessitates the ability to do so from an unbalanced stance. The phrase “field strength” refers to a strong athlete’s capacity to produce large quantities of power even when his or her body is out of balance. Because the greatest weight can be lifted when balanced equally on two feet, strength is gained most efficiently. However, field sports, and frequently life itself, need the capacity to demonstrate power in less-than-ideal situations. The capacity to accomplish things when imbalanced improves as your total strength increases.

Move The Way Your Body Is Made to Move

The limited, artificial movement patterns imposed by the device’s design are an even more crucial factor for machine exercisers. Knees and hips flex and extend in a coordinated manner is the typical method for legs to move. Agonists and antagonists working together; calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, and hip muscles all working together – squats and deadlifts, running and walking, for example. Sitting on a machine with your buttocks kept in place by your hands and your legs extending on their own, or bending your elbows while your shoulders and upper arms remain motionless…plain that’s silly. And it’s a formula for overuse problems, since having one moving joint among multiple others that are maintained artificially still strains tendons and ligaments to do things they weren’t supposed to accomplish. Moving Arthur Jones’ Nautilus machine through Arthur’s concept of the optimal movement for a single muscle group falls well short of proper physical preparation for sports and life.


Strength, or the power to generate force against external opposition, is the foundation of your physical life once again. Only one form of strength exists: the kind produced by your contracting muscles against your skeletal components as they engage with the ground and items you control with your hands. Strengthening implies increasing your capacity to create force, which necessitates the usage of ever bigger weights. Machines are an ineffective means to do this since the intrinsic nature of isolation exercise restricts development; also, the lack of a balancing variable inhibits the exercise’s capacity to generate “functional” strength that can be employed in typical human physical settings.

Strength is crucial, and barbell training is the most effective technique to get it.

Since 1978, Mark Rippetoe has worked in the fitness sector. Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, which has sold over 250,000 copies worldwide, Practical Programming for Strength Training, Strong Enough?, Mean Ol’ Mr. Gravity, and other essays are among his works. Since 1984, he has been the owner of the Wichita Falls Athletic Club.



The “machine vs free weights bodybuilding” is a debate that has been going on for years. Some say that machines are better than free weights, while others believe in the benefits of free weights.

Frequently Asked Questions

Whats better machine or barbell?

A: A machine is better than a barbell because it allows the user to do more exercises with less weight.

Why are barbells the best?

A: Barbells are the best because they can be used to train any muscle group, and they have a lot of different uses. They help build strength which is important for sports and fitness goals like running, weight-lifting, or doing pushups.

Why Free weights are better than machines?

A: Machines are like the old school pen and paper before computers. They give you a single, finite solution in that they can only offer one answer to your question or set of questions with no room for doubt. A machine will have the same predetermined outcome each time its used; proper form is not always maintained by either user nor equipment as machines require little-to-no human interaction other than inserting coins into an apparatus to turn them on/off.

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