T Nation

No Barbell


Hi Guys. My gym has no barbell, not even one, only a smith machine. Imagine that!? So why do I go to that gym?
1. It is in the building where I work - extremely convenient (I go during work)
2. It is $30 a month - very cheap for New York
3. I have made progress and I think I can continue to make progress in this gym

MAIN QUESTION: Cycle in exercises on smith machine occasionally or avoid it completely?

I have been weight training just under a year. I have come up with some workarounds and would like to hear some opinions and additional ideas.

Major exercises that I am missing out on due to absence of a barbell/squat rack:

  1. Squat Variations
    There is an EZ curl bar that I can clean and perform front squats, overhead squats, hack squats (useful exercise?). I also use dumbbells to perform lunges, split-squats, and step-ups. Sometimes I just squat in the smith machine - should I continue this or am I better off with above replacements?

  2. Deadlift Variations
    I use the EZ curl bar to deadlift.

  3. BB Bench Press
    I mostly bench with dumbbells. It's awkward to bench with the EZ Curl bar. I also perform dips and pushups. Cycle in smith bench sometimes?

  4. BB Rows
    I use the EZ curl bar here. I also perform various cable rows and bent-over dumbbell rows.

  5. Good Mornings
    I guess I can try this exercise with the EZ bar and see how that works. I have mostly been performing the Straight-leg Deadlift and leg curls for hamstring work. (No glute-ham machine)

  6. Calf Raises
    I cannot really find a replacement so I have been using smith calf raises. I have heard of ways to use the leg press machine for calf work. Also perhaps a buy a dip belt and do donkey raises?

Anything I am missing?
BTW my progress in the first year (almost) is 165lbs to 183 lbs (as of this morning) and only 1% increase in body fat.

Thank you.


I say if your still making progress and you're happy with the situation why change it. However, when progress halts and/or you are no longer happy training there it is probably time to find another gym.

Hope this helped.


Find a better gym.


If finding another gym isn't an option, why not just buy a bar and take it there? Hell, buy a cheap one and just leave it there. A cheap bar beats the smith machine.


Ask when they want to become a real gym and get a barbell.


Couldn't you donate them a barbell?


This has got to be one of the strangest gyms I've ever heard of. Is it named Curves, and is it frequented by overweight housewives who do a lot of step aerobics with pink dumbbells?


I second (or third?) that. I've seen that in small gyms before - a piece of equipment that says "donated by XXX, please do not remove." Never on a friggin barbell though... last I saw it was on a heavy bag.

As a guy that trains during "lunch" at work I can understand the appeal of this place. Allows you to sleep in the morning and have your evenings free. Very good deal.

OK enough babbling - go find yourself a barbell.

Training program looks good BTW.


This is a corporate gym for employees that work in the building. Most members and all of the staff (except for 1 dude) don't know how to train.

I think the reason they don't have a barbell is because it's a 'safety issue'. But even if I brought my own bar, I think I would need more than that. Wouldn't I need a power cage for squatting and benching?

My main question is - assuming there is no barbell, should I use the smith machine now and then, or stick to dumbells/EZ curl bar/dips/pull-ups exclusively? Or would you occsianlly use the smith machine (realizing you will not reap the same benefits as with a barbell)


You wouldn't NEED a rack (but it certainly would be helpful). From Dan John - "put a barbell on the ground and pick it up a bunch of different ways." Good advice. Deadlift variations, Olympic variations, etc.

I'd say use the Smith on occasion - better than nothing I suppose. You'll make progress.

Remember that what you get out of training is proportional to how much you put in. Visit any "fully stocked" gym and you'll find 90% of the jokers don't look different from the average guy (or gal) on the street (despite the fact that they've been "training" for years).

In the face of adversity - adapt.


I watched a rather buff couple working out one day and ended up thinking of them as "Mr. & Mrs. Smith". They did EVERYTHING in the smith machine. I don't condone its use for anything but close grip bench with bands and this partially bent over row thing I do that really hits my posterior delts but... If that's all you got, use it! Do as much standing dumbell/ez-bar work as you can think of to help develop your stabilizers and core muscles. That will at least help cover your bases. When you can get into a real gym of course, run, don't walk.


That makes me sad. ::teardrop falls into my protein shake:: Geez man, no barbell, no workout partner. I'm glad you're even lifting at all. :wink:

Very important question...How heavy do the dumbbells go?? If you've got a set of dumbbells, plus some cables, you're golden. A barbell would be a luxury that you're not afforded. The EZ Curl bars are gravy.

Any move you'd do with a barbell, simply use 2 DBs for. It's not ideal but, 'twill do, 'twill do. Instead of back squats, you've got DB deads/squats. Also DB overhead squats (1-arm'ers = tons o' fun). Chest, back, and shoulders are mostly self explanatory. You've got to play with the hand you're dealt. I don't think you're actually in too bad of a situation.


When you are a beginner it isn't too bad, as long as the dumb bells go up to at least say 50/60 pounds??? But after a bit of training and good progress its time to convince them to get one barbell and a rack at a bare minimum. If not, I would honestly consider buying your own barbell and using it and pester them to get even one of the most basic racks to use. I am sure they would eventually if you keep going on about how essential it is.


Yep, they got DBs up to 80lbs, which is plenty for me right now. They also got a cable station.

My main thing was whether I want to use the smith machine a little or not at all. From my exprience and the responses so far I am thinking to continue using it a little here and there as I have been.


No barbell in a gym...plus in NY, that's nut! Anyway, you can get some good workouts with DB's using creativity and hard work :
-DB snatch
-DB clean & press
-DB swings
-One arm DB overhead squats
-DB floor press
-DB overhead press
-Farmer walk
-Bent presses
-One arm DB bench
-DB pull and catch
-Turkish get up
-weighted pull-ups
....the list goes on and on...
Plus you can focus on good bodyweight movements such as dips, push-ups, pull-ups, pistols, bodyweight squats, natural GHR...