“Yo, how much can you bench?”
“Yo, how much can you squat?”
“Yo, yo, how much can you dead?”
I hear these questions all too frequently in the industry and around the fitness forums. These lifts are routinely performed by many a gym goer and regarded by many as rites of passage into strength-hood.
These three lifts – the squat, bench press and dead lift (for those of you who don’t know them), are known as “free weight” exercises. These exercises are very productive and beneficial if you do them correctly – like any other weight lifting exercise.
However, the folks who perform these lifts often place heavy judgement on those who don’t. They’ll say that free weights are “real weights” and the use of machines does not mimic real life movements and thus any strength you develop using machines won’t carry over to the real world. So if your numbers in the free weight lifts are not up to snuff, you are considered weak by the people who are good at them.
This is, like, so silly!
You’re muscles don’t know the difference between weights that are round or square, attached to a pulley or a guide rod, fixed to a long bar or a short bar or any other configuration you can thing of. Gravity effects each of these in exactly the same manner.
Muscles contract and lengthen. They either experience a meaningful level of resistance and fatigue or they don’t. While it is true that some exercises can be more productive overall than others (FE: the squat is a better overall exercise than lunges as is the leg press vs. leg extensions), the bottom line is meaningful resistance and sufficient fatigue and then recovery.
Strength is strength. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.