Each and every week there appears to be some brand new method of training or a fancy piece of equipment that is said to make you stronger, leaner, and more muscular (and often in less than 30 days too…).

And obviously, there is nothing really wrong with this (unless of course it is just a marketing ploy to make a lot of money – then it’s not so good). It is human nature to build and improve on old ideas in an attempt to make them better or more efficient – and the health and fitness industry should be no different

But while I am all for trying out new pieces of equipment to enhance both my own training and the training of others, I always find myself coming back to the roots of traditional strength training – yes, that’s right, the humble barbell.

In my opinion, there is a reason that Barbell-based training has been around for centuries, while pieces of equipment have faded away to nothingness (shake weights???).

Because it works.

And it works very well.

Barbell Based strength training has been used effectively for hundreds of years, offering a massive amount of benefit from what is a relatively simple piece of equipment. In this article I will outline the key benefits of barbell based training, and how to implement it into you’re your own training.

Barbell based movement’s replicate real life

Barbells allow us to load fundamental movement patterns (think squats, deadlifts, lunges, presses, and rows). Fundamental movement patterns replicate both movements that we perform on a day to day basis (such as walking upstairs, standing from a seated position, and lifting things from the ground), and athletic movements (such as jumping, sprinting, and changing direction).

By building strength in these movements specifically, we can greatly improve our functional capacity on a day to day basis, while also increasing our ability to perform physically demanding athletic movements.

This can vastly improve our athletic performance, while also allowing us to maintain a high level of quality of life into our older age – which is absolutely essential considering the increasing age of the population on a societal level.

Barbell based movements use a heap of muscle mass

Now, one the large benefits of training fundamental movement patterns is that they are quite complex in nature, and as such involve movement at a number of joints at once. Using the squat as an example, it involves movement at the ankle, knee, and hip, while also demanding a HEAP at the spine.

man squating with barbell strength training

This means that there is a multitude of muscle groups working at one time to successfully perform a single movement. This makes barbell based movements incredibly efficient, allowing us to train more muscle groups in less time.

As an added bonus, by prioritising these movements we can cause substantial increases in the amount of total volume a given muscle group receives each training session. This can greatly improve both the strength of that muscle tissue, while also promoting an increased rate of muscle development – leading to larger, more resilient muscle tissue.

Barbell based movements allow us to use more load

When it comes to maximising the absolute amount of load (simply the amount of weight on the bar) we can lift, barbells are king. Due to both the nature of the barbells themselves, combined with the large compound movements that they lend themselves to, barbell based movements allow us to use a heap more load than other training methods.

Now, while this may not sounds all that important, it actually has three key benefits when it comes to training adaptations.

Firstly, it greatly increases the amount of tension placed on the muscle tissue, which in turn increases the amount of mechanical stress that the muscle tissue receives. Mechanical stress is considered one of the key drivers for promoting muscle growth – so by prioritising barbell based movements we can vastly improve muscle hypertrophy.

Secondly, using greater load increases the demand placed on the nervous system to recruit muscle fibres (to overcome that load). This forces the nervous system to adapt, where it will become more efficient and more effective in its ability to recruit muscle fibres, which will in turn cause large improvements in strength. This strength will further impact our ability to develop muscle tissue and perform athletic movements.

And finally, using bigger loads vastly increases the systemic stress placed on the entire body, which results in an increased energy expenditure during the exercise. This can lead to an increased rate of fat loss over time.

Practical Applications

So we know that barbell based movements are a fantastic methods of training because they can improve our ability to perform both athletic movements and tasks of daily living. These same movements promote improved neural efficacy and subsequent strength development, while also increasing muscle growth and fat loss.

But what are the most effective exercises? And how should we implement them into our training?

As mentioned above, we want to focus primarily on large, compound, fundamental movement patterns as they have the best carryover to real life activities AND use the most amount of muscle mass.

An example full body training program based upon these core principals may look something like this:

1Barbell reverse Lunge3x8
2ABarbell Bench Press3x10
2BBarbell Front Squat3x8
3ABarbell Deadlift3x10
3BBarbell Overhead Press3x10
4ABarbell Bent Over Row3x10
4BBarbell Close Grip Bench Press3x12

Now, while this example does provide a valuable example of how a barbell based training program can be implemented using a full body training split, it may not be suitable for everyone. Some people find it best to use 2-3 core barbell lifts for the core of their training program, and then opt form dumbbell based assistance exercises.

Moreover, some people also find it best to split their training into upper body and lower body days (in which both the upper body and lower body are trained twice per week on alternate days).

Summary

Whatever the method of implementation, using barbell based lifts should be a staple in anyone’s exercise regime – they offer a versatile and reliable method of loading that results in serious improvements in both body composition, strength, and performance.

This becomes increasingly true when we ensure that the barbell lifts we implement into our program are based around the fundamental movement patterns mentioned in this article, as they both allow us to use the most amount of load AND the most amount of muscle mass.


Why not check out our other Strength Training Guides:


Sources

Cook, Gray, et al. “Functional movement screening: the use of fundamental movements as an assessment of function-part 2.” International journal of sports physical therapy 9.4 (2014). Viewed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4127517/

McBride, Jeffrey M., et al. “Relationship between maximal squat strength and five, ten, and forty yard sprint times.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 23.6 (2009): 1633-1636. Viewed at: http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2009/09000/Relationship_Between_Maximal_Squat_Strength_and.1.aspx

Bird, Stephen P., Kyle M. Tarpenning, and Frank E. Marino. “Designing resistance training programmes to enhance muscular fitness.” Sports medicine 35.10 (2005): 841-851. Viewed at: http://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00007256-200535100-00002

Schoenfeld, Brad J. “The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 24.10 (2010): 2857-2872. Viewed at: http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2010/10000/The_Mechanisms_of_Muscle_Hypertrophy_and_Their.40