When it comes to muscle growth, it’s no secret that the heavier the weights are, the bigger the gains will be. Everyone starts out doing bodyweight exercises, and then slowly progresses to resistance bands, dumbbells, and kettlebells. But when you’ve built enough strength, barbells enter the picture to give you that good burn that your muscles have been preparing for.
Whether you start with a very low weight or build enough strength to lift a more heavily loaded barbell, you’ll still make significant muscle gains in no time. Barbell lifts allow you to train all the bigger and smaller muscle groups in your legs and back, as well as your core, arms, shoulders, and chest. And the ability to add more weight, whether it’s more plates or just heavier ones, allows you to make progress gradually and organically without making extreme jumps between your usual lifting weight and a new one.
All in all, barbells are a piece of great gym equipment that will not only help you build bigger and stronger muscles but also develop overall control by making your muscles work together efficiently, focusing on your form while moving the heavy weight around. Because of this, we’ve prepared a list of some of the best exercises to do with a barbell that you can add to your strength training routine, so you can spice things up and make more gains in less time.
Sumo barbell deadlifts
Starting strong, we have the king of barbell exercises: the deadlift. While this killer movement has many variations, the sumo barbell deadlift is the best one when it comes to focusing on your legs and reducing the load on your back.
The sumo deadlift has a wider stance, bringing your body closer to the ground, and helping you primarily target your glutes, quads, and hamstrings while recruiting your lower back muscles and the erector spinae for stability without too much strain. And since the range of motion is reduced, you’ll be able to lift heavier and make serious gains!
How to do it: Stand in front of a barbell with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, and point your toes slightly outward so you can bend comfortably. Hinge at the hips and bend your knees so reach for the bar, grasping it with a slightly narrow overhand grip so that your hands are between your legs instead of in front. Begin the movement by lifting the bar with the help of your legs while you drive yourself up, keeping your torso upright and your shoulders down and engaged. Remember that the movement is through the extension of your legs, so focus on tightening your leg muscles and make sure to squeeze them at the top of the movement. When you’re standing upright and the bar is past your knees, hold for a couple of seconds, then slowly bring the bar back to the floor and repeat.
Reverse-grip bent-over row
Also known as Yates row, this bent-over barbell row variation uses an underhand grip (palms facing up) to emphasize the middle portion of your back, such as your lower lats, trapezius, and rhomboids. It also targets your deltoids and biceps while recruiting your erector spinae for stability without putting too much stress on it. This is a key movement that you should definitely add to your routine if you want a stronger back!
How to do it: Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart and grab the weight with an underhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and hinge forward at the hips while maintaining a neutral spine position until your torso is near parallel to the floor. Begin the movement by bracing your core and lifting the weight up and towards your body, near your belly button, keeping your torso stationary. Pull your elbows back while moving the barbell in a controlled manner. At the top of the movement, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pause for a couple of seconds, then lower the weight with control and repeat.
Incline bench press
When you think about the gym, you probably picture someone in the background doing a bench press - and for a good reason! This staple chest exercise gives your pecs a good burn, and by doing it on an incline bench you’ll be adding even more focus to the upper chest area as well as your shoulders while reducing the stress on your rotator cuffs. This makes it an effective hybrid between a standard bench press and a shoulder press that definitely deserves a spot in your resistance training routine.
How to do it: Find an incline bench and adjust the seat to around 30 degrees, enough to have an incline but to so much that you fully leave the work to your shoulder muscles. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip and your hands shoulder-width apart at a comfortable position. Take the bar off the rack and begin the movement by lifting it away from you until your arms are fully extended. Remember to lift in a straight line, without swinging the weight forward or backward. Pause for a moment, then lower the bar until it’s close to your chest, and repeat.
Barbell ab rollout
If you want to develop a stronger core and nicely shaped abs, look no further than the barbell ab rollout! The addition of the barbell to the standard ab rollout makes it a more challenging movement by increasing the weight that’s going to be pushed and pulled, further engaging your core muscles, particularly the rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques, and the erector spinae. It also targets your shoulder and upper back muscles during the contracting part of the movement, challenging your stability and core control.
This barbell exercise is an advanced one, so be very careful. Only try this one out if you’re comfortable doing the standard ab rollout.
How to do it: Kneel on the floor and place a barbell centered in front of you, grabbing it at a shoulder-width distance. Lean slightly forward so that the bar is underneath your shoulders. Begin by rolling the barbell forward, keeping your core tight and engaged throughout the movement so you don’t lose control of the bar. Go as far forward as you can, keeping in mind that the further you go, the harder it will be to go back up. Keep your form without arching your back, and then reverse to the starting position and repeat.
Close-grip barbell curl
Barbell curls are known for being a killer bicep exercise, and close-grip barbell curls are particularly great for helping you grow your outer biceps head and peak to make it pop! Aside from your biceps, this movement targets the muscles in your forearms, an area that’s usually neglected when doing upper body and specifically arm exercises, so it helps you build stronger and more toned arms.
How to do it: Grab the barbell from the power rack with an underhand grip, keeping your hands just a few inches apart. Step aside from the rack and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and keep your elbows close to your torso. Keeping your torso straight, begin by curling the weight up to your chin. Throughout the movement, you should keep your upper arms straight and stationary, only recruiting your biceps for strength and moving your forearms. When your forearms touch your biceps, hold and squeeze for a moment, then slowly lower the bar and repeat.
Barbell hip thrust
Few exercises are better for your lower body than the hip thrust, and adding a barbell to the mix only makes it more effective! This strength training exercise primarily targets your glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and your hip muscles, truly challenging your posterior chain by making it work against a big resistance created by the barbell. This movement is great to build power and speed in your lower body, helping you perform better in a variety of other exercises such as squats and deadlifts.
How to do it: Find a bench and sit on the floor with the long side of the bench behind your back, placing a barbell directly in front of you. Roll the barbell back and place them directly above your hips while you position your shoulder blades and upper back on the corner of the bench. Your feet should be planted on the floor shoulder-width apart with your knees bent. Grasp the bar with an overhand grip and begin by raising it upward with your body, driving through your heels, and extending your hips until your upper body is parallel to the floor. Hold for a moment, then slowly lower yourself back to the starting position and repeat.
Half-kneeling landmine press
When it comes to giving your shoulders a good burn, overhead press variations are the best way to go. The half-kneeling landmine press is a unilateral movement that targets all three heads of the deltoid muscle and your triceps, with secondary support from your core muscles for stability and control.
Since it’s unilateral, it’s the perfect movement to spot any muscle imbalances that you might have on your shoulder area, particularly your delts. And because the weight goes up in an angled path, it’s less straining for your shoulders, making it a great overhead press regression for those with mobility issues.
How to do it: First, load a landmine with weight plates and lock it against a power rack or corner so it doesn’t slip out of place. Get into a lunge position by placing your left knee on the floor for stability, and your right foot firmly planted on the floor. With your left hand, opposite to the knee that you have up, grasp the upper part of the landmine and hold it close to your shoulder with your elbow bent. Begin the movement by pressing the landmine up and forward in a straight line until your arm is fully extended, without tilting the weight to the sides. Squeeze your shoulder and core muscles, then lower the weight slowly and repeat.
Another bent-over row variation, this time using a neutral grip to move a landmine and give you a total back exercise that will make it thicker and stronger. This movement targets your lats, middle traps, rhomboids, and posterior deltoids, as well as some arm muscles and your erector spinae. And while it might be a killer back exercise, it also recruits your legs muscles such as the glutes and quads for stability. The neutral grip will help you lift more weight at once, allowing you to make serious gains in no time!
How to do it: To perform this exercise, you’ll need either a T-bar row platform or a rack or corner where you can place the bottom end of a landmine. Stand with the bar between your legs with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at the hips and knees, keeping a slight arch on your back until your torso is at around 45 degrees from the floor. Grasp the bar with both hands with a neutral grip and begin the movement by leading with your elbows to pull the bar up to your chest. At the top of the movement, squeeze your shoulder blades together for a moment, then lower the weight and repeat.
Barbell Z press
When it comes to strengthening your upper body, the barbell Z press is one of the best exercises out there! This seated variation of the overhead press targets your chest (more specifically your upper pecs) as well as the front deltoid muscles and scapular stabilizers in your shoulders, and the triceps in your arms. Not only that, but it also recruits other stabilizing muscles such as your core muscles and the erector spinae in your back, helping you develop a better posture and core control.
How to do it: First, find a power rack and sit on the floor below it with your legs extended in front of you. Separate them at a comfortable distance to create a strong base for your movement. Keeping your back straight and your core fully engaged, grip the bar on the power rack with both hands at a shoulder-width distance and place it in front of your shoulders. Begin the movement by lifting the bar upward until it’s over your head at full arm extension, making sure that you’re keeping your spine straight while you move the weight. Hold for a moment, then lower the weight back down to the starting position and repeat.
These barbell exercises are some of the most effective that you can try, but the list doesn’t stop here! There are countless exercises and variations that you can try with a barbell because it’s such a versatile piece of equipment to have at the gym. And if you can have one at home, even better!
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