Gym Equipment Article By Stuart McRobert at IRON COMPANY

Gym equipment: what really matters

I’m a big fan of free weights. I’m also a big fan of good weight machines. I love all good gym equipment.

But more important than the gym equipment itself is how the training tools are used and by whom.

Bare-bones gym equipment used properly will yield better results than a comprehensive range of excellent gym equipment that’s not used properly.

But unless you’re properly using exercises that are well-suited to you, you’ll never realize your potential for muscle and strength.

Free-weight exercises, especially the major compound ones, are much more technically demanding than their machine alternatives. But most trainees never learn the proper form for the major free-weight exercises, so they never experience the potential great benefits of those wonderful movements. Many of those trainees get injured and some of them give up training as a result.

If you’re a powerlifter, you must squat, bench press, and deadlift. If you’re not a powerlifter, you don’t have to squat, bench press, and deadlift, but properly used, those three lifts/exercises are excellent bodybuilding movements.

Major free-weight exercises aren’t just the classic barbell and dumbbell movements such as the squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press, and dumbbell benching and pressing. Here are other examples: parallel grip deadlift, safety bar squat, hip belt squat, Romanian deadlift, parallel bar dip, and chin-up/pull-up.

Free-weight exercises are premier tools for building muscle and strength only when they are performed in excellent form and within the context of a good training program. Of course, those form and programming caveats apply to all exercises.

Home gym equipment has come on leaps and bounds over recent years. There are many attachments nowadays that fit power racks to produce limited-space home gyms that have far more good training options than a bare-bones rack and traditional barbell set. Such an upgrade can reinvigorate training that’s become stale.

And today’s range of different bars provides grip options that can make a world of difference in the safety and effectiveness of some exercises. That, too, can reinvigorate training with free weights, especially for middle-aged and older trainees.

Some trainees, because of age or damage from accidents, illnesses, or training-related injuries, can’t use some free-weight exercises effectively even when excellent form is used and different grip options tried. That’s when good machines, used properly, can be invaluable.

For example, I’m unable to perform any free-weight compound exercise safely with a meaningful poundage. But I can train hard on the belt squat, leg press (on a good machine), and some machine versions of the major upper-body compound exercises.

And that’s why I still train hard now (at age 64, in early 2023) and still love my workouts and the benefits they provide.

If you train at home, what extra gym equipment could you add to give you more good options? That doesn’t necessarily mean machines, though. Properly used, a few low-cost rack attachments, and some weightlifting bars that give you different grip options, could transform your training and its effectiveness.

If you train at a commercial facility, would a different gym with better equipment, including good machinery, give you more options?


The tie-in between gym equipment and self-motivation

A sustained, high level of self-motivation is the first priority for training success. Unless you’re chomping at the bit to train, you’ll never train hard enough, often enough, for long enough to make a difference to your physique.

And even when you’re in middle age or later, and have trained effectively for many years, you’ll still need that level of self-motivation if you’re to hang on to your muscle.

You must also be highly knowledgeable about how to train effectively, but even expert know-how won’t work without a sustained, high-level self-motivation.

So taking action to maintain such self-motivation is vital.

The right change of a commercial gym, or the upgrading of a home gym, can instantly boost self-motivation.

That I train seriously at age 64 shows I’m still strongly motivated, even after nearly 50 years of lifting. I recently changed where I train because I’d moved to a new home. I was so excited about my first workout at the new gym that I couldn’t sleep well the previous night. I was as fired up as I was when I started weight training as a teenager. And it triggered off-the-scale self-motivation that will persist long term.

Where I train now lacks a four-way neck machine, but in all other respects, is better equipped than where I trained previously. It has the best selection of good weight machines I’ve ever seen and plenty of free-weight equipment.

An adequately equipped home gym that’s properly used is essential if you don’t have a well-equipped commercial gym locally. But if the home gym has only the most basic equipment, it would severely limit your options. And that could be a serious shortcoming, especially for middle-aged and older trainees who can benefit the most from the savvy use of good machinery.

If you have a home gym with free weights only, and train effectively there, still consider having every second or third workout (based on good machines) at a well-equipped local gym.

But if you prefer free weights exclusively, perhaps there’s a super-equipped, free-weights-focused hardcore gym in your area you could use for some or all of your workouts.

Either way, such a change could yield off-the-scale self-motivation for you.

And when such a change is combined with expert knowledge of how to train, there’ll be improved results, greater satisfaction, and another boost in your motivation.

So, have a thorough search of gyms within easy traveling distance of your home. Perhaps there’s a gem of a gym there that you’re not currently aware of.

There’s no time better than the present to make changes that boost your motivation to train and, in turn, improve the effectiveness of your workouts.


About the author

Stuart McRobert has been a voice of reason in the training world for 41 years and counting. He was first published in 1981, in IRON MAN magazine, when he was 22 years old, and has had over 1,000 articles published in US and European bodybuilding print magazines other than his own, including IRON MAN, FLEX, MUSCLE & FITNESS, and MUSCLEMAG INTERNATIONAL. He also published HARDGAINER print magazine for 15 years—from 1989 to 2004—and is the author of BRAWN, BEYOND BRAWN, BUILD MUSCLE LOSE FAT LOOK GREAT, and several other books.

But Stuart’s not an armchair coach. Drug-free, he built himself up from a skinny youth to 195 pounds and deadlifted 400 pounds for a set of 20 reps. And he still trains seriously today, at age 64.

Success stories from those who also use hard-gainer-style methods for their training and coaching include Marty Gallagher and Chuck Miller.

Stuart currently publishes HARDGAINER 2.0 digital magazine. Visit his website to get your FREE sampler issue: