Barbell back squat vs smith machine squats

Many strength and muscle building experts will say, the barbell back squat is much more effective at building size and strength. They argue free weight squats are a more natural movement and require much more stabilization and balance, which increases its effectiveness. However, the Smith machine is much easier to learn, especially for beginners, which many argue is safer. I contend that it depends upon the person’s build. If one has long legs and a shorter torso, they will have a very difficult time performing a squat correctly in order to get optimum stimulation for strength or growth. In this case and in others, they would benefit greatly from performing smith machine squats. But what does science have to say? Which is better for gaining strength?

Researchers from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada compared the free weight squat to the Smith machine using electromyography (EMG). The purpose of their study was to determine which exercise was better at stimulating the prime movers and stabilizers of the legs (e.g., tibialis anterior, gastrocnemius, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis and biceps femoris) and trunk (e.g., lumbar erector spinae and rectus abdominus). Six healthy participants performed 1 set of 8 repetitions using a weight they could lift 8 times, i.e., 8 rep maximum.

Contrary to our hypotheses, muscles of the legs (specifically the vastus medialis and biceps femoris) displayed greater EMG activity during the free weight squat compared to the Smith machine squat, whereas there were no differences between exercises for EMG activity of trunk stabilizers.

Researchers conclude that the free weight squat may be superior to the Smith machine squat for training the major muscle groups of the legs and possibly would result in greater strength development and hypertrophy of these muscle groups with long-term training.
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(9), 2588-2591.


The most underated component of training programs, recovery

We all recover from exercise at different rates. Many people who recover quickly have reached a high level of success performing a high number of sets. Many who recover slowly have also been very successful performing low numbers of sets. Because everybody is unique in their ability to adapt and recover from different programs, the number of sets needs to be individualized.

A very important component of a training program that should be given consideration is training frequency. How often can, or more importantly, should I train per week? Optimum recovery time between training sessions is essential if one is going to continue to make progress. Training frequency, which is determined by ones recovery ability, is often a forgotten part of most training protocols.

Don’t be so concerned with how many training sessions you can handle per week. Be more concerned about the optimal amount. More is not always better. In fact, when somebody comes to me for advice because they’ve stopped making progress, usually I either reduce the workout volume or add days off. There is no reason to go to the gym if you’re not going to make progress.

Does it make sense to keep doing the same routine if gains are not being made? Isn’t the definition of “crazy”, doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. If your current program is not working, change it. The number one complaint people have is they’re not making progress or their progress has come to a halt. In both cases, the answer is more recovery time. Understanding the fact our bodies have a finite amount of recovery ability should help explain this concept.

The following is Mike Mentzer’s explanation of overtraining and recovery. I’m sure you’ll find it interesting.

In bodybuilding, the idea is to impose a training stress onto the body that will serve to induce the biochemical changes which result in muscular hypertrophy. Applying any more of the training stress (high-intensity) than is required by nature will result in the equivalent of over-dosing on a medicine; or, as we say typically in bodybuilding – overtraining.
A person exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays at the equator in summer would not have the slightest concern whether the intensity of the sunlight stress is high enough to disturb the physiology sufficiently to induce an adaptive response, i.e., the buildup of a suntan. His only concern, his overriding consideration, would be to properly regulate the volume (or duration) and frequency of exposure time so as not to overdose on the stress/stimulus; and, thereby, incur a sunburn or, in extreme cases, death. A person seeking to develop a suntan at the equator, or wherever the intensity of the sunlight is high has no concern that he will develop a suntan; but only if he doesn’t overexpose. (Note that bodybuilding science is largely based on the medical discipline of stress physiology. Also, that the end result of the healing of a sunburn is not a suntan, just as the end result of the healing of overtraining is not greater strength or added muscle.)
As the stresses grow progressively greater, they will eventually reach a critical point such that they constitute overtraining. The first symptom will be a slow down in progress; and if the individual continues with the same volume and frequency protocol, the stresses will continue to increase until there is a complete cessation of progress, typically referred to as a “sticking point.” One need not ever experience a slow down in progress, let alone a sticking point, if he bears in mind all the while that as the weights grow progressively greater so do the stresses; and he must do certain specific things to compensate for them.


Test your strength with the Deadlift

Men?s put together a strength test using your one rep max for the deadlift exercise.

Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, your toes facing straight ahead. Squat down and grab the bar with an outside-shoulder-width, palms-down grip [1]. Keep your lower back in its natural arch, and drive your heels into the fl oor and push your hips forward, lifting the bar as you rise until it’s in front of your thighs [2]. Reverse the motion and return the bar to the fl oor. That’s one rep.

Estimate your deadlift one-rep max?the most weight you can lift for one rep?and compare it to the calculations below.

Your 1RM (one-rep max) is…
? Less than your body weight = Damn, you’re weak
? 1.25 x your body weight = You’re average
? 1.5 x body weight = You’re pretty strong
? 2 x body weight = You’re a beast!

A 200-pound guy who can deadlift 300 pounds for one rep is pretty strong. If your number falls in the weak or average categories, see below for tips on how to bring it up.

Click here to see guide to deadlifting more weight.


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