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Free Weights: Irreplaceable Tools

There was a time in my younger years when, after reading some extremely convincing arguments from the late Arthur Jones about the superiority of his Nautilus machines, I was sure that free weights had been made obsolete and were about as relevant to building muscle as horses and buggies were to interstate travel. It wasn’t long before I learned that simply wasn’t true, and the point continues to be proven again and again. Most recently I witnessed the effects of removing free weights from a bodybuilder’s training regimen in the case of top IFBB pro Dennis Wolf.

Dennis is a true genetic freak, and I challenge anyone to argue with that. You simply don’t place in the top five at the Mr. Olympia for two years in a row, as he did in 2007 and ’08, without outstanding genetic gifts of structure, size and shape. Wolf built his world-class physique in Germany with plenty of cold iron. After the ’08 Olympia he underwent a hernia repair procedure that unfortunately did not heal as quickly or smoothly as it should have.

“The surgeon completely forgot to remove a large calcium deposit that had formed before stitching everything back up, and that continued to cause me pain,” Wolf reported. Throughout 2009 he was unable to do his usual workouts, which were based around barbell and dumbbell movements, and made do with machines and cables instead. Theoretically, it should have been enough to at least maintain the physique that had many predicting a Mr. Olympia title in his future, but it wasn’t. With his formerly full and granite-hard musculature appearing softer and flat, Dennis was humiliated at the ’09 Olympia when he couldn’t even crack the top 15.

Finally the pain in his lower abdominal region subsided, and Dennis resumed using free weights in 2010. He also teamed up in the gym with a monstrous Lithuanian immigrant named Robert Burneika, who would become that year’s superheavyweight and overall NPC National champion. With squats, bench presses, barbell rows, military presses and deadlifts back in his routine, Wolf’s physique soon took on greater mass, density and detail. The result? Dennis left the ’10 Mr. Olympia with fifth place, putting him back on pro bodybuilding’s A-list and helping to erase the memories of his dismal showing a year earlier. Is that proof that free weights are a must? Maybe so and maybe not, but it goes a long way toward proving that as tools for sculpting the human body, they’re anything but obsolete.


Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding—Muscle Truth From 25 Years in the Trenches, available at


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