“A commercial gym is better than a home gym because you have more equipment options.”
I hear this a lot when I suggest everyone should invest in a home gym. Objectively, it is true that a commercial gym offers more options than even the best-equipped home gym. And while that’s tempting, is it really better?
I’ll admit that from time to time it’s nice to have a machine that you can use to isolate a particular muscle or take a mental break from hard work on the barbell. In many cases, however, having more options can do more harm than good.
First, many people shy away from honest work on the big simple barbell and dumbbell lifts. These are not just exercises for building muscle and strength, but movements that aid your ability to move and use your body properly.
To master the primary movement patterns (squats, hip joints, pushing, pulling, lungeing and carrying), the most important pieces of equipment are a barbell, weights and dumbbells.
“Yes, but a commercial gym has them too.”
True. But the reality – and this comes from 25 years in gyms around the world – is that most people replace a large portion of barbell exercise with machine work when they are equipped with “simpler” options. And when you are honest with yourself, you tend to do this more often than you want to admit.
One of the largest gyms in the world is in Montreal, and I’ve trained there more than a couple of times. And while it’s super impressive – literally every machine ever invented is in there – I could never get a great workout.
Too many options can create confusion and make your program difficult to stick with. There is already so much conflicting information out there that makes your training decisions difficult. We don’t need any further confusion.
More machines, less power
Listen, you don’t need fancy machines to get great results. In the 50s and 60s, before steroids became widespread, most of the training was done with free weights. And these guys built more muscle naturally than today’s real natural trainees. And they were much stronger too!
I have also worked in a few high performance centers and most of them were built around a free weight model. Usually a hamstring and pulley station were the only machines we had. And I guarantee that customers have achieved far more results there than the training courses in the fanciest facilities.
Why? Multiple reasons:
1. Too many options create confusion, less confidence in the decisions you make, and less consistency in your workouts.
2. Working with free weights forces you to develop more body control and mind-muscle connection. Machines do both for you. Those who have better control of movement and better mind-muscle connection will get better results.
I’ll use a golf example. Ball-punching legend Moe Norman once said he envied those who are still trying to find the best way to swing the club. Why? Because experimenting and tweaking is the funnest and most exciting thing you can do while exercising.
The same goes for lifting. The best part of training is learning to make small changes to get a better response and improve your gains. At least for someone who is serious about building muscle. Check out the best bodybuilding trainers. They are geniuses at making exercise adjustments to milk every drop of stimulation they can get. Vince Gironda, Charles Glass, and John Meadows are good examples of this. Obviously, machines take that part out of the equation.
When you have fewer options, you need to learn how to optimize every exercise you do. You will become more intellectually involved in your training. You will learn how your body works and how to make the most of it.
Again, it is true that large commercial gyms have free weights too. But how many people do that in these gyms?
- Romanian deadlift
- Front squat
- Bentover Row
- Standing military press
Not so many. And a lot of them make them half-hearted.
It’s easier to just do leg curls, leg presses, the hack squat machine, lat pulldowns, and shoulder presses on the Smith machine. I’m not saying these don’t work, but they are inferior in many ways. And they are certainly not necessary to achieve your genetic potential.
Related: Exercising At Home, Getting Better Results
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