Let’s face it, the barbell is one of the greatest tools out there for increasing muscular size and strength. Anyone who has ever engaged in REAL barbell training will attest to this fact and will ALWAYS gravitate towards barbells as their go-to training tool when fast and predictable results are needed. Let’s see why…
1) Barbell Training Is Measurable
Assuming you have the basic exercise technique down and can perform the movements with good and consistent form, barbell-based exercises produce totally measurable results. This is awesome for feedback and will let you know OBJECTIVELY if you’re progressing or just spinning your wheels.
For example, let’s say your 5RM in the squat was 315 lbs last month. And now, one month later, your new 5RM in the squat is 335 lbs. You KNOW with certainty that you have progressed during that month. You also know by what percentage you progressed. This data allows you to easily engage in a percentage-based program, which is a very good system that allows realistic, predictable and consistent progressions.
This, unfortunately, is not the case with many non-barbell exercises. For example, many bodyweight exercises don’t allow a trainee to easily and precisely determine what “weight” is actually being lifted.
You see, it is very difficult to determine how much your actual bodyweight is contributing to this type of exercise, as the number can drastically fluctuate based on your body position. Even with the use of chin/dip belts and weighted vests that are adjustable (and obviously measureable), it is still not as clean and precise (as far as progressions go) as adding plates to a barbell.
2) Barbell Training Works The Body In Natural Movement Patterns
Properly performed barbell exercises work the body in movement patterns that the body is designed to move in. Squatting, picking stuff up off the ground (deadlift variations) and lifting stuff over your head (standing press variations) are all movements that your body is designed to do. The barbell just adds external loading to these patterns, which leads to great gains in muscular strength. By respecting your body’s natural movement patterns, your body will function optimally and the strength gains will be transferable to other activities (work or sport related).
Note: These specific movement patterns can be done with other training implements as well, such as dumbbells, kettlebells, bodyweight and many strongman apparatuses. The barbell, however, has the greatest loading potential, which brings us to our next point.
3) Barbell Training Has The Greatest Loading Potential
I know guys who can barbell military press 135 for ten perfect reps. Mathematically speaking, this individual should be able to press a pair of 65-70 pound dumbbells overhead for ten reps also (135/2= 67.5). But the math doesn’t often work that way. In fact, the individual mentioned above could probably only overhead press a pair of 55-pound dumbbells for ten reps.
Let’s use one more example using an individual who can barbell squat 400 pounds for a triple. Do you think this individual could hold a pair of 200-pound kettlebells (if they even existed!) in the racked position and crank out a set of three? I don’t think so.
The barbell’s higher loading potential is possible due to the fact that it is more stable than the other implements I just mentioned, and that it allows for the greatest mechanical leverage. In certain training phases (deloading or stabilizer emphasis), those other implements may provide the desired training effect, but when you want to MAXIMIZE muscular hypertrophy and strength, they just don’t cut it.
4) Barbell Training Is Very Time Efficient
Since most barbell exercises work many major muscle groups under relatively significant loading, not a lot of volume is needed to elicit a great training effect. This is not the case with many other styles of training.
For example, if you were to go into the gym and did just one set of inverted rows before leaving, I doubt you would get much out of that workout. On the other hand, if you were to go to the gym and did just one hard set of squats, you would absolutely get a training effect. I’m not suggesting that this is the best way to train, but it does illustrate how time efficient training can be when barbell lifting is incorporated into the workout routine.
5) Barbell Training Is Insanely Effective
Every summer, I have a slew of new high school/college athletes coming into my training center to prepare their bodies for the following football season. And every year I try different protocols in an attempt to improve upon the prior year’s results. Some of these training experiments work out great, and I implement them into next year’s system.
After years of experimenting with different protocols, I have discovered with one simple but inescapable truth: every time I try to eliminate barbell training, my athletes’ strength and size results are immediately and noticeably compromised.
6) Barbell Training Is Just Flat Out Fun
Barbell training has the potential to be one of the most fun ways to train. This is especially true if you are training with a group of competitive training partners. It seems that no other implement gets the competitive juices flowing more than the barbell does. This competitive vibe often leads to greater focus, stronger desire and ultimately, better results (as long as it’s not pushed too far).
These are the blessings of the barbell. They are immutable truths, and will stay that way, until sports science finds a better way for us to get big and strong. And that may never happen. But every blessing has its curse, and it is extremely important for any trainee who loves the barbell to understand the flip side of this complex issue. So stay tuned for part 2 where we will discuss the downsides to barbell training and how to avoid them.
Dedicated to your success,
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