Free weight equipment: the once-and-future KING of progressive resistance training
When it comes to building muscle and strength, why do crude and primitive free weight tools trump Hi-Tech?
When it comes building muscle and infusing the body with strength and power, free weight equipment such as barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells blow hi-tech resistance training machines into the weeds. How can this be? How can it be that in the year 2019 science and technology have not yet invented a tool to trump the results obtain with the primal barbell? If the resistance training goal is tangible, measurable results, i.e., significant improvements in physique and performance, barbells and dumbbells are the undisputed champion.
Crude tools produce radical increases in raw power and dramatic increases in brute strength and muscle size. Low rep, high intensity power training maximizes absolute strength while optimizing muscle hypertrophy. Power movements are free weight exercises, overwhelmingly compound multi-joint prime movers: squats, bench presses, incline presses, deadlifts, overhead presses, rows and arm work.
Progressive resistance machines are decidedly inferior to the movements they mimic for many reasons: first and foremost, a resistance training machine eliminates the 3rd dimension of tension, the need to exert side-to-side control. With a machine, the user can concentrate 100% of their focus and effort on pushing or pulling. No need to apportion any available strength towards controlling side-to-side movement: with machines the groove is frozen so no need for muscle stabilizers to fire. Free weight equipment like barbells and most particularly, dumbbells cause muscle stabilizers to go crazy, thereby creating far deeper muscle inroad.
In addition to taking muscle stabilizer stimulation off the table, exercise machines make any exercise easier and in resistance training making things easier is not beneficial, it is detrimental. Resistance training is eviscerated by taking the struggle out of resistance training. It is gruesome struggle, fighting with all ones might through a sticking point is what sparks hypertrophy. The exercise machine maker would lead you to believe results are equal and they are not. Hi-tech exercise machines with their ball-bearing precision and smooth-as-glass resistance are the lite beer of progressive resistance training.
As the hardcore elite know, there are three distinctly different types of strength: absolute strength, explosive strength and sustained strength. Full range-of-motion Old School power exercises done with heavy free weight poundage and low reps are best for maximizing absolute strength which begets muscle and power. Olympic lifting, the quick lifts, are optimal for maximizing explosive strength. Explosive strength is optimized by handling moderate payloads for low reps using maximum velocity. These are push and pull lifts, snatches, cleans and push jerks are done with explosiveness. The goal is to pull or push on a barbell with velocity sufficient enough to generate momentum.
Sustained strength, strength endurance, is obtained using the kettlebell. The iron orb is the ideal tool for building sustained strength. Kettlebell experts are registering off-the-chart calorie-per-minute burn rates. European kettlebell experts are breaking new ground in elevating VO2 maxes using innovative protocols. Light kettlebells can be hoisted for extended periods using “steady-state” pacing. Heavier kettlebells can be hoisted in short, intense bursts, invoking a completely different physiological response.
In order to make their device more user-friendly, more palatable and more sellable, resistance machine makers remove the rawness, the crudeness, the awkwardness, the unwieldy-ness of free weight equipment, i.e. barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells. If results were equal, sit (or better yet) or lie down while you are ‘strength training.’ Unfortunately, results are decidedly not equal. The seductive siren song of resistance machines and devices is incredibly strong. Emasculating progressive resistance training makes it more palatable to the masses, and therefore, more profitable. The eviscerating of the free-weight experience produced a more user-friendly form of resistance.
The message? If you are serious about your strength training than you have to come to grips with using free weight equipment – otherwise you are just fooling yourself. If you are serious about your progressive resistance training, familiarize yourself with the crude tools: barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells. Avoid the seductive trap of machine training; ease and fun are wonderful – yet cannot and do not stack up to free weights. The inconvenient truth is that barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells are the once and future Kings of resistance tools.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of numerous books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others.