Maximize Men's Fitness: Barbell vs Machine Workout

Maximize Men's Fitness: Barbell vs Machine Workout

Written by Strong Dad Protocol


Insert your best Ronnie Coleman “YEEEAAHH BUDDDDYY!”

Now before you throw away your favorite machine, if you're even strong enough to lift it, remember there is nuance to every answer. 

When referring to Barbells we are including dumbbells as well as pullup and dip bars. An example of machines would be a leg Extension or lat pulldown, where a cable pulley combination allows for the movement of weight.

Machines also refer to fixed machines that are plate loaded such as the Smith or Leg Press station. Now let's get into it!


PRO: Barbells represent the foundation of human movement.

What we do throughout the day can be replicated best through compound barbell style movements such as Deadlifts, Pull-ups, Bent Over Rowing, Military Pressing, Raises, and Carrying. 

NOTE: The compound Bench Press movement and Dumbbell lateral raise are exempt from this as these are typically unnatural movements. You are more likely to push up than bench press in daily life and your shoulder raising movements are from more stable planes. 

CON: These movements are only foundational if you learn their execution in a proper manner.

If you have incorrect form, musculoskeletal, or tendon issues and you lack corrective/rehab education you can do more damage than good. 

PRO: The nature of most barbell movements requires recruiting other muscle groups to a greater degree meaning if taken over time you are guaranteed to put on adequate size and strength.

Moving 3+ plates on most compound exercises across the board is going to translate to a good sized physique relative to your body type. 

CON: Muscular imbalances such as weaknesses to stabilizing muscle groups can go unseen or dismissed for a long time, sometimes years even decades.

A good example would be Shoulders, which seem to be almost every dedicated lifter's issue.

How many times have you felt that pinch on the bench press? If you can count on more than one hand chances are you are in this category.

PRO: Access to dumbbells, barbells, pull ups and dip bars are typically not an issue in most public gyms; you can essentially train the same almost anywhere with this in mind.

CON: If you are training for a balanced physique whether as a hobby or competitively you will eventually need more than the “Barbell”. 


PRO: Machines allow you to isolate a muscle group taking just that muscle group to failure without overly taxing other stabilizing muscles.

A perfect example would be a lat pulldown where the pads over your legs help hold you into a fixed position giving you maximum leverage to engage your Lats.

(A great supplemental exercise for those who are not strong at Pull-Ups just yet) 

CONS: Once you hit the maximum weight a machine actually allows you to load on it you will be forced to be creative.

Eventually you may have to leave that machine for an extended period of time just to experience growth in other avenues.

PRO: The fixed path that machines provide make compound movements safer to a measurable degree.

A great example is a Back Squat with the Smith machine, Chest supported rows, and Hammer Strength chest presses.

All of these machines can give you an equal stimulus as their free weight counterparts. The difference being they can be taken to complete muscular failure without endangering the lifter. 

CON: Everybody is built differently and it is hard to build a machine that fits everybody's structure perfectly.

If you are a person who experiences this, no amount of modifications may change the fact that a particular machine just isn't going to work as good for you as a barbell movement replacing it would. 

PRO: Some machines are just all the way around better at building a muscle, provided the lifter is giving his all to both the barbell and machine version of an exercise.

One of these machines could be the Hack Squat machine. This is debatable with few people and more so agreed upon as one of the best Quadricep developers. 

CON: A top-tier machine's effectiveness is still anecdotal and based on the individual.

Furthermore if a machine is poorly taken care of it doesn't matter how good it is, you're better off leaving it alone. This is a call out to the gym owners who don't keep their pulley systems clean and tightened!

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  1. You can get equally large from both and there would be, for the most part, no outstanding size and weight differences. Which means you could stick with one or the other if you truly felt inclined.

    However if you include both you will be larger and more balanced. Including both will give you much more of a bodybuilder aesthetic whether or not you're searching for it.

    NOTE: For the most part this is only debated between powerlifters and bodybuilders. 

  2. The path of barbells or machines still includes a long list of modification exercises that allow you to break through plateaus in strength, growth, or power.

    The art of Bodybuilding and Powerlifting have come really far and along the way there have been many creative techniques created to keep those who believe in “Barbell Supremacy” or “Machine Learning” satisfied with their chosen path. 

  3. Adherence will still be the primary motivator for either barbell exercises or machine exercises.

    If you love to Barbell Back Squat but you're having trouble, even though you could potentially go around this curve by using a Smith machine, it might be better to educate yourself on your leverages and stick with the Barbell Squat because you love it so much.

    If you love it you're more likely to stick to it and this can be the deciding factor in a lot of cases.


  1. Barbells, dumbbells, pull up and dip bars are far more numerous than good machines.

    Not to mention machines are so various in style that in a list of four gyms there could be four different types of chest machines, one of which suits your personal leverages best the others not.

    From this point barbells are far more reliable. 

  2. Fixed position strength is arguably less important.

    You are more likely to perform a compound barbell style movement in your daily life. Being proficient and even strong to a greater degree at these basic movements makes that life easier.

  3. Modification exercises to break through plateaus require lifting IQ. Lifting IQ is easiest learned from compound barbell movements.

    Yes all movements and exercises are functional, but like the above point, movements mimicking your daily life functions are by far easier.

    Thus, to correct and progress in proficiency with them will be a matter of improving intuitive movement. 


The lines may be blurred on this but they definitely do exist. It stands to reason after everything we’ve talked about that a balanced physique requires both applications. Not only will this make you stronger along all planes but this will give you the best visual appearance you could possibly attain naturally of course. 

Since the path to lifting IQ is in fact easier with intuitive movement patterns it would stand to reason that the foundation of your strength for which everything is built upon should be based off of your compound movements.

This does not require you to be highly advanced with compound barbell movements, however one should seek a moderate degree of proficiency with basic movements to ensure that they grasp basic Fitness Concepts.

The understanding of ‘Mechanical Tension’ is heavily involved when progressing with machines. If one takes the barbell route to building a foundation they will in fact find the concept of mechanical tension a lot easier to understand in the future. 

With this in mind it would be wise to build a beginner program around compound barbell movements suitable to your specific body type.

Spend time understanding these movements on a deeper level which includes improving your own personal leverages and making modifications to fit your body structure.

Progress with this in mind using machines as a supplement to your program rather than a staple or foundation.

As you become more advanced the efficiency of incorporating more machine movements, and swapping barbell movements out for machine movements, will become more apparent. Once you reach that point it would be safe to say your dream (attainable) physique is well on its way!!!! 

Our next topic, ’Bulking & Cutting’, which to do, when to do it, and for how long? If you've made it this far as always we appreciate you and your feedback.

Stay strong, Stay healthy, Stay wise, and most importantly...

HOTEP & BUILD Strong Dad out!!

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