Barbells and weights are essential pieces of gym equipment for building strength. By focusing on compound movements and creating tension in different muscles with controlled movement, you stimulate muscle growth and gain strength. Depending on the exercise, you may even be able to work your whole body.
That said, you can get seriously injured by using heavy weights inappropriately while strength training. Before picking up a weight or a barbell set, it’s important to learn how to safely incorporate barbells and weights into your workout routine.
If want to build strength, whether at a public or home gym, here are six barbells and weights exercises you need to work into your routine.
1. Bench Press
There’s a reason that bench presses are so popular – they work. This barbell exercise works the chest and shoulder muscle group. A lot of people assume that a bench press targets the biceps, but it mainly requires pectoral and upper back strength. If you don’t have the back strength, you might not be able to do a heavy bench press until you build it up. It’s smart to start small and work your way up – starting too big risks injury and guarantees failure.
To do a proper bench press, begin by lying on the bench with your arms extended and locked holding the bar above your chest. Focus on keeping your shoulder blades fixed on the bench with your feet on the floor, squeezing your glutes. This position helps you engage stabilizer muscles throughout the lift. Bend your elbows to slowly lower the barbell to your chest, then press it back up to the original position.
Due to the risk of becoming pinned and asphyxiated under a heavy barbell, always use a spotter for this exercise.
2. Farmer's Walk
This exercise is also called the farmer’s carry, and it’s an effective way to build strength throughout your entire body. The best part? It’s really easy to do.
All you have to do is hold weights at your sides and walk. You can use any type of weight you want, from a dumbbell to a kettlebell. You could even use water jugs or buckets filled with rocks if you had to.
Choose a weight that’s challenging, but comfortable enough to carry while walking a distance. Start with your feet hip-width apart and place the weights just outside of your feet. Straighten your back, bend your knees, and grip the weights in each hand. Stand up straight, tightening your core and keeping your shoulders back. Then, walk.
3. Back Barbell Squat
To work on your lower body – specifically the quads, hamstrings, and glutes – try a back barbell squat. To do a back barbell squat, rest a standard barbell against your shoulders and stand with your feet shoulder width apart and point your toes out slightly. Keep your back straight, then lower your rear as if you’re going to sit down in a chair. Continue until your hip is below the knee, then slowly return to your original position using your heels to push up your body.
The most important thing to remember about this exercise is that you must lower your hip at least to the level of your knees. Maintain slow, controlled movements to get the most out of this workout.
You can change this exercise to a front squat or goblet squat by adjusting your barbell position.
Deadlifts work the whole body, so they’re perfect for building strength. Your technique is important, though. When beginning your lift, lock your shoulder blades by opening your chest and pulling your shoulders back. Pay attention to your lower back, too, keeping it straight, and squeezing your glutes to bring the hips to the front during the lift.
Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and grab the bar just outside of your legs. Then, lift. Watch your form and bring your hips forward. Hold and slowly lower the barbell back to the floor.
Here’s another exercise that’s great for your lower body. Start with the barbell resting on your shoulders, then pull the shoulder back and tighten your core. Step forward, lowering your body to the ground until your knees are bent at 90-degree angles. Then, return to your starting position. Short lunges work your quads more and long lunges work the glutes and hamstrings.
It’s obvious how lunges work your lower body, but they’re great for your core, too. Because your trunk is taking the weight of the barbell, keeping your core tight is essential as it helps maintain the stability you need throughout the lunge movement. If you want to change it up a bit, you can also do reverse lunges to get the same effects or continue moving forward with each lunge instead of returning to your original position.
6. Bent Over Row
It’s tempting to focus on your pec and biceps, but a solid back workout is essential for strength training. A bent-over row is a great way to focus on your back and upper body at the same time. This exercise works your biceps, core, and lats. To start, hold the bar with your hands about a shoulder-width apart and bend your knees and hips so your torso is at a 45-degree angle with the floor. Pull the bar up to your stomach then slowly lower it back to the ground.
The key to this exercise is to pull with your back and avoid using your biceps too much. Be sure you’re squeezing the muscles between your shoulders and expanding your chest throughout the movement. You should also be sure not to use weights that are too heavy and take your time with each lift, controlling the motion and the tension in your muscles.
Final Word: Barbells and Weights
There are a lot of ways to use barbells and weights in your workout, but it’s essential to know the proper technique. These exercises are highly effective if they’re done right, but they can cause injury if performed incorrectly. The best thing about the exercises that we covered here is that you can do them in a gym or at home with the right equipment. So, whether you’re hitting the gym before work or stuck working out at home for whatever reason, exercises using weights and barbells are perfect for personalizing your weight training routine.
Make sure to rest and heal appropriately after working out. Massage guns are very effective in this endeavour. If that is of interest to you, check out our article on our favourite percussion massagers.