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In today’s day and age, it seems that everybody is encouraged to look for shortcuts where possible with huge advances in technology constantly looking to take the labour out of almost everything we do. We live in a world where a vast majority of people seek instant gratification rather than taking the hard road and even within the beautiful world of building size and strength, this can be the case.
Modern day gymnasiums are packed full of high-tech machines that allow the user to achieve full body workouts without having to go within five feet of a single bar, plate or dumbbell. It could seem that the golden era of blood, guts, chalk and hard work is fading away with Bluetooth connectable chest press machines left counting the reps for you. Whilst advances in training technology are not to be feared and whilst modern day equipment is relatively effective, you have to stop and ask yourself one question... Bro... Do you even lift?
If you are looking to pack on muscle and increase size and strength then the answer to that question has to undoubtedly be, yes.
By ‘lift’ I am sorry to say that I don’t mean,
Do you regularly visit the chest press machine?
Do you keep a good tempo on the seated leg extension?
Are you maintaining a tight lower back and contracting the lats on the wide grip pull down?
No. When I say ‘lift’ I mean do you bench, squat, deadlift and press?
If the answer that comes immediately to your mind is either no or sometimes then this is the point where you should start.
Multiple joint compound movements such as the bench, squat, deadlift and press have all stood the test of time with any bodybuilder, strongman or power lifter worth their weight unquestionably agreeing. These four big lifts have been the backbone of workouts across multiple disciplines for decades with very few movements coming close in terms of building strength, size and power. When conducting any/all of the big four lifts there can be no doubt about it, it’s hard work and it doesn’t come easy however if you are serious about building strength and size then you’ll need a barbell.
The reasons that the big four lifts are so effective when compared to single joint isolation exercises are as follows. Multiple joint compound movements work more than just one muscle group at a time leading to improved functional strength and greater release of testosterone and growth hormone. Additionally, choosing a barbell over a machine will burn far more calories following your workout in an attempt to return your body to a rested state whilst repairing damaged muscle fibres. This greater demand for caloric consumption can lead to a leaner physique overall whilst promoting muscular size and strength.
As an example we can compare the squat to leg extensions performed on a machine. The squat will look to work the entire musculature of the lower body whilst the upper body still plays a huge part in stabilising the movement. The leg extension will simply focus on the quads only and whilst this is a useful tool, if it is overall leg development you are looking for then you need to get squatting. Additionally dropping below parallel and utilising the full range of motion during a squat has been shown to effectively develop glutes, hamstrings, quads, adductors and abductors.
Put simply, machines are fantastic ways to develop size and strength however these should mainly be used as finishing movements on top of the big boys. If you want to be a bigger and stronger you then get yourself a barbell.