Several years ago on a hot summer day in upstate New York, I decided to visit my uncle for a few hours.
My uncle has always been somewhat of a hero of mine. He is a mans man. A hard working blue collar badass who takes no shit from anyone.
He is also the biggest strongest man I’ve ever known and physically been around.
In his younger days, he was a competitive powerlifter who could squat over 800 pounds and bench press over 500.
Now, that is some serious weight, but the most amazing fact about those numbers is that he achieved them despite being handicapped (he tore his right knee playing football in the 70s before effective surgery was invented).
Anyway… let’s get back to the story.
While I was visiting my uncle, he asked me to go down into the basement and feed the dogs (2 big black labs) because his knee had been bothering him and he didn’t want to walk down the long staircase.
I happily agreed and began my descent into the dark dingy basement.
Once I got to the bottom of the staircase I flicked on the light, looked up, and saw something that took my breath away.
In the middle of the basement sat a gigantic smith machine, pullup bar, pec dec, cables, 800 pounds of weight plates, and some dumbells.
I felt a huge smile creep across my face and I knew that my bodybuilding journey was about to begin.
The Journey Begins
As soon as I got back upstairs I asked my uncle if I could work out with his equipment and he happily obliged.
Within a week, I had a key to my uncles’ home the ability to lift weights whenever I wanted.
When I first started training I was a skinny fat 160-pound weakling who had some basic knowledge of bodybuilding but I still didn’t know how to train as a natural bodybuilder.
Most of my knowledge came from various websites and magazines that showed how the pros trained. From what I saw, they hammered each muscle group once a week with 10 different exercises while using 10-15 rep sets and then rested that muscle group for 7 days.
“Alright”, I thought to myself, “I can do that”.
Training With Machines
After a few months of machine based training, I had put on a few pounds of muscle and a little bit of strength.
I was proud of my progress but deep down I knew something wasn’t right.
Even though I looked a little bigger and stronger I still felt weak, like I didn’t have any real-world strength.
I remember getting to a point where I could bench press 185 pounds on the smith machine for reps, but I wasn’t all that proud.
I knew that If someone asked me to perform that same feat using a normal free weight barbell I wouldn’t be able to come close to lifting it.
In my mind, I had built strength but it was nothing but fake gym strength.
Simply looking bigger and stronger wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to actually be strong.
Discovering The Truth
While all of this was going on, I was obsessed with watching a TV show called Spartacus.
Spartacus is about a man who gets captured by the Roman army and sent to a gladiator school.
One of the characters on the show, Crixus (Manu Bennet) was the champion gladiator of Rome. He was my favorite character by far and more importantly, I was obsessed with finding out how the actor trained in order to achieve his physique.
I searched night and day sifting through page after page of google results, looking for a hidden gem that would reveal all of his training secrets.
Aside from finding a few bullshit men’s fitness articles that proclaimed he got his body by doing a bunch of bodyweight exercises and kettlebell movements, I found nothing.
Finally, just as I was about to give up my search for good, I found what I was looking for. As it turned out, the actor had done an interview with an Austrailian magazine that outlined his entire life.
Bennet had grown up in a rough environment at an all-boys boarding school where rugby was played night and day.
He was the smallest and weakest of the boys and routinely got the shit beaten out of him.
Eventually, he got sick and tired of being small and weak and hit the weights hard.
After reading that, my life changed forever.
Building My Own Gym
I knew that I could never go back to using a smith machine or any other machine exercises ever again. It was time for a change in my training and I had an important decision to make… join a gym or build my own.
The choice wasn’t hard because at that time I lived in rural upstate New York. The closest gym was at least 20 miles away and I wasn’t up for that kind of drive.
So, I quickly made up my mind, researched what I’d need to buy, and headed over to Amazon to pull the trigger.
One week later everything had arrived and my home gym was set up and ready to go.
Training With Free Weights
After a few months of training exclusively with free weights and performing nothing but squats, deadlifts, and bench presses, my body completely transformed.
I went from a medium sized t-shirt to an XL almost overnight, my muscles grew big and dense, and people at work started asking me questions.
“Hey man, you are looking really big, what are you taking?”
My body had changed so quickly that people literally thought I was taking steroids. It was amazing. I felt like I was on top of the world.
And the best part was that I finally felt like I was strong. I had real-world strength that actually helped me in my daily life.
Why People Love Machines
By now, You might be asking yourself; If free weights are so great, why do so many people choose to use machine based training?
I’ll tell you why.
Machines Are Easy – People Like Easy
I have said it before and I’ll say it again, proper weight training with a barbell and heavy weight is hard work. Most people don’t like to do things that are hard.
In fact, the vast majority of people don’t go to the gym to actually workout.
They go so they can tell themselves they did something healthy and productive for the day (even if all they did was jerk off on an exercise bike for 30 minutes).
Machines Look Cool
As childish as that may sound, machines are big and shiny and more visually appealing to the eye than a barbell and iron plates.
People prefer big shiny things from the time they’re are a little kid till the day they die.
Its just part of being human I suppose.
Corporate Gyms Prefer Machines
Big box corporate gyms especially like machines because they do two things really well.
1) Provide an easy way for people to “workout” with minimal risk of injury.
2) They make things easy for unqualified personal trainers who go through bullshit certification courses.
You see, the fitness industry is all about sales, not helping people.
Gym membership sales help pay the bills but they aren’t the real deal money maker.
The real deal money maker for a gym is personal training programs.
An average training program costs $2,500 a year and If they can get uneducated people to sign up for training, they need to make sure that they have plenty of “trainers” on staff to run the sessions.
Machines make trainers glorified babysitters and clients weak but hey, who gives a shit when you (as a corporate gym owner) are raking in so much dough.
Pro Bodybuilders Use Them
Almost every pro bodybuilding video on youtube shows competitors working out on nothing but machine after machine.
This gives people the idea that machine training is the way to go. If the best in the world are using them that must be the right thing to do…
Those men are elite genetic freaks and anything they do will produce amazing muscle gains.
The truth is that most of them spent years under a barbell before turning pro and switching to machine based workouts.
“Man, I remember the old days when I use to do barbell squats until blood came out of my nose”
– Jay Cutler
Stick To The Basics
If you have been training with machines and aren’t seeing the results you were hoping for, do yourself a huge favor and stop using them.
Learn how to do the basic barbell exercises instead and put all of your efforts into them.
Give yourself 3 months and watch as your body changes right in front of your very eyes.
From The Man Himself –