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Stoopid Question - Are Barbells Necessary?


I have only been powerlifting for six weeks and the only barbells my gym has are Smith machines. Here’s the stoopid question - do I really need to use barbells?

Assuming the answer is yes, it does make a difference, I’m planning to move to the new gym during a de-load week so I can get used to the unencumbered barbells. After the de -load, should I lower my training maxes? I will be starting my second cycle of 5/3/1 and am getting 15-20 reps on my PR sets in my first cycle, but I’m not sure how much of a difference being out of a Smith machine will make.



It’s probably best to treat the scenario as if you’re starting the lifts over again for the first time. The carryover is going to depend on how much you were using the smith machine to guide the weight up, translating all forces, no matter the direction, into vertically raising the bar. You may have to drop the weights 10% or 50%, it’ll just depend on how “cleanly” you were using the smith machine. It’s good your training maxes sound low, but it’s still going to be worthwhile to re-establish them. May be worth going to a 5’s progression template for a cycle or two while you get form down also. If it were me I’d find one of Jim’s beginner templates and try that after a few sessions of getting reacquainted with the lifts and setting new TM’s.


Start like you’ve never done the lifts before, start from scratch especially because you’ve never trained with free weights (not smith machine) and the movement pattern is a lot different.


If you’re training for the purpose of either competing in powerlifting, or you want to get better at the ‘big 3’ lifts, then yes, you need to train with barbells. If you just want to be a stronger human, you can accomplish this without barbells. Barbells are simply a convenient tool towards that end.

You’ll figure out in the first week how much you need to adjust to free weights. Use your first week at the new gym to determine the differences, and then proceed with your programming.


To do the 531 program, barbells are necessary. I don’t know about other programs.


Appreciate all of the knowledgeable responses. I didn’t really want to start over again, but I think it’s best. I joined the new gym starting Monday, so here’s my plan.

Finish week three of my current cycle at the old gym this week. On Monday of my deload week, go to the new gym and get acclimated, see how I feel without the Smith machine. After my daily routine, take a percentage of my max and do AMRAP to calculate an estimated max with barbells. Use that max to calculate training max and then start 5/3/1 for beginners (been doing BBB) the following week.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.

So, I’m probably over thinking this, but what weight should I use for my AMRAP set to determine TM? I son’t want to overestimate and be that guy that gets stuck under the barbell. I was thinking 80 percent of my estimated max. Does this sound conservative enough? I figure that would be eight reps before failure, all things being equal.

Thanks again!


I wouldn’t worry too much about percentages personally. Start with the empty bar. Do five reps. Add 20 lbs (or 10 kg, whichever). Do five reps. Keep doing this. When the fifth rep starts feeling pretty heavy, only add 10 lbs for the next set. Keep going until you hit a set where you feel like can get only maybe one rep after the fifth. That’s your calculation weight.


So, if my DL max is around 300, I’ll do almost 75 reps before determining the max? That sounds like a lot of reps - if it tires me out, will that make for a conservative TM?

What about warming up, then starting with 60% of my current estimated maxes, do five, add ten, do five, etc…?

Again, I tend to perseverate on shit like this. I’ll figure it out on Monday when I get under the bar.


I think your plan sounds good. 60% of your smith machine max add 10s then 5s until you feel like you have a solid number you can calculate with.

Before going into that though, I would go with bar only to start the warmups. Then 135 etc


When you get to the gym, and you start loading up the barbell with plates, be sure to pay attention!

Make sure the smooth sides of the plates are facing “out” and the sides with the label are facing “in.”


There’s one in every crowd.


Sorry, I should have been more specific. I was basing it off you not having used a barbell before, just the Smith machine.

Basically, you start with the bar and then add plates until you hit a set where you have maybe one rep left in the tank. I did that a few weeks ago for box squats. It went like this:

Bar x 5
Bar + 45 lbs plate per side x 5
Bar + 2x45 lbs plates per side x 5
Bar + 3x45 lbs plates per side x 5
Bar + 3x45 lbs + 25 lbs plates per side x 5

So, you can go up in 90 lbs increments if you want, but IMO if you’re new to a barbell from a Smith machine I’d go up at most 45 lbs at a time just to be safe.


That makes sense, appreciate the clarification.

I doubt that any of this is that important in the long run, just need to get a training max that has me between 10-20 reps for AMRAP set and then keep my head down and go. Working out the beginner program, feels like a step back after a month of BBB but will be patient, know I can always work up if I want with FSL’s.

Thanks man!