Back to the Basics: The Barbell

Sure, it’s not neon colored or made of a ultra-durable rubber coated shell and have 5 attachment points for accessories on it, but the barbell can still be super adorable (see above again).

*Lately it has started to make a comeback with the help of Crossfit workouts and their high usage of barbell lifts, especially the Olympic lifts.

With this being said, I still feel that full size barbells still are kind of kicked aside in a lot of gyms for “cooler” things like kettlebells, BOSUS, and even their little brother the dumbbell. Not saying these other implements are inherently worse than the barbell (I could argue against one of them), but the barbell has its huge upsides over the previously mentioned tools of the gym

Not these tools of the gym…

The benefits of using a barbell for any given exercises include:

  • Very simple, minimal complexity of exercises. Easy for newer exercises to learn some of the essential strength exercises.
  • The weight is fixed and stable. You usually are holding the barbell with two hands, thus have more control over the weight, as opposed to holding two dumbbells.

These benefits lead to the biggest benefit of the barbell:

  • You can lift some heavy weight, and get much stronger.deadlift


(Click here if you don’t get my sarcasm) 

The barbell isn’t perfect and some of the downsides include:

  • You must be able to lift 45 pounds to use a full size barbell.
  • The only way to progress a barbell exercise is to add more weight, and everyone has their limits.
  • Because you can go heavier, there is more risk for injury without proper technique or through overload of the muscles and joints. Train smarter, not just harder.
Getting swole at a young age…

With these pros and cons out of the way, I still feel like the barbell could maybe get more love than it does at a lot of gyms. You can train any and every muscle in the body with the barbell, so why not give it a shot? Before you jump in a try every single exercise you can think of with a barbell, I recommend the following:

  • Make sure you have a spotter/trainer with you, especially if going heavy or unsure of form or weight being used.
  • Just because a squat or deadlift looks basic, they are NOT basic lifts. Get proper training on technique and how the lift should FEEL.
  • Olympic lifts are even more advanced and are not for your everyday gym goer. These lifts include the power clean, the jerk, and the overhead snatch. I would say if you have never heard of these lifts, then don’t bother trying them, as they are very advanced.

Now that we have that out of the way, lets look at some of the basic movement patterns that can be worked with a good, ol’ fashioned barbell (lots of videos here):

Horizontal Push:

Bench press (chest, arms)

Close Grip bench press (chest, more tricep emphasis)

Skullcrushers (triceps)

Vertical Push:

Shoulder press (shoulders, duh!)

Horizontal Pull:

Bent over row (back)

Bicep curls (biceps)

Hip dominant lower:

Deadlift (glutes, hamstrings, lower back)

Romanian Deadlift (same, with bigger hamstring emphasis)

Hip Thrust (glutes, glutes, and more glutes)

Knee dominant lower:

Back squats and front squats (quads, glutes, and hamstrings)

Split squats (glutes and quads)

Step ups (quads and glutes)


Next time you are looking for the next crazy thing to do with your workout, maybe you don’t need something more advanced, but need to look to the lonely barbell in the corner of the gym, and give it a little love. It’s not just for the muscle heads and powerlifters, it can be your friend too!

Published by Mike Gorski

Registered Dietitian and Fitness Coach OWNER OF MG FIT LIFE LLC

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