You typically only see experienced individuals at the gym grabbing a barbell and putting on the weights doing what seems to be outdated exercises. You might be wondering why to use a bar when you have 50 machines to choose from. Well, there is a reason for that.
A barbell is one of the only pieces of gym equipment that can boast of giving you almost any result your wish. This is because a barbell not only works your neuromuscular connecitons increasing strength but most exercises utlize your core and are compound exercises.
This article will look at a barbell in detail, covering every question you have ever considered concerning it. From strength training to muscle gain and even barbell cardio, this article will cover it all.
Is a barbell really enough?
Long before all the fancy equipment that you find in the gym nowadays, like cable machine free-weighted machines, plate machines, cardio machines, and everything else, the only way to train was primarily with barbells.
You would take a bar, put weights on either side and work through your exercises. Tens of thousands of people got fitter, healthier, and stronger just using barbells, so yes, they are enough. But how come?
A barbell is enough to accomplish just about any fitness goal. You can use it for building muscle, toning, endurance training, strength training, and just about everything else, even for cardio.
Cardio is a form of exercise that is sustained over long periods of time for fitness and weight loss purposes. To a degree, this can also be achieved with barbells, but primarily to accomplish those goals, cardio is the best way to go about it.
What does a barbell do to your body?
Contrary to popular belief, a barbell will work your body and muscles groups just like any other exercise using different types of weights or machines would.
A barbell is different from other free weight exercises in that it provides you with stability where other forms of free weight do not, such as dumbbells.
What are the advantages of using a barbell?
For the reason of stability, an exercise with a barbell tends to utilize your core when the exercise is being performed. Moreover, using a barbell typically means that exercises you perform will be compound exercises (utilizing more than one muscle group).
This means that utilizing a barbell does not only strengthen your core, but you will work many muscle groups with fewer exercises.
Take, for example, squats, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press. By using a barbell for each of these, you are essentially getting a full-body workout that would otherwise require many different machines.
This means that using a barbell in your workout routine will save you time, so if you only have 30 minutes in the gym, I would highly recommend considering a barbell as part of your workout.
Another advantage is that because a barbell is so rigid, exercising with one means that you will have to focus on form. This means that it will increase your athletic performance.
As your technique improves with a barbell, it will strengthen your neuromuscular connections, and these are considered to be responsible for major strength gains.
Another factor to consider and that studies have shown is that working with free weights (barbells) increases free testosterone levels.
Furthermore, beginners will greatly benefit from a barbell because it equals out your body. Everybody is born with a dominant side of their body. this means that one side will naturally be stronger than the other.
You will see this straight away with someone who has not trained in the gym before; they will be able to do more reps with one side of their body than the other. Using a barbell forces the body to even itself out.
Not only that, but we stated that barbells could be used for cardio as well, but that will be discussed under its own heading further on.
Do you really need a barbell?
If your goals in the gym are to build muscle mass (get bigger) and to train for strength, then you will have to use a barbell without a doubt.
We said that using a barbell strengthens your neuromuscular connections, and these specifically help you with strength gains.
Furthermore, we also stated that barbells are key to evening out your body because both sides of the body are not as equally as strong.
Also, due to the fact that barbell exercises typically incorporate the use of your core, they are one of the most fundamental and important pieces of exercise equipment that you can use and should.
Can you build muscle with just a barbell?
You can indeed build muscle with a barbell as with any other piece of exercise equipment, and in fact, many professional bodybuilders and experienced gym fanatics swear by it.
This is because of the reasons above that we explained, such as a barbell will utilize the core, be a compound exercise, even out the body, and strengthen neuromuscular connections.
Another factor to consider, however, is that when you use a barbell, you have to use heavy enough weight that tears enough muscular tissue.
This typically means your rep range will be between 5 and 8 reps. Also, no matter what type of weight training you are doing, you always need to use sufficient enough weight to achieve the rep range but go to failure.
Barbells are so great that Frank Rich creator of Massthetic Muscle states you only need 5 barbell exercises to build the ultimate amount of mass. Check it out.
Can you do cardio with a barbell?
To a degree, you can even use a barbell for cardio. However, cardio is best done by performing an exercise that uses the glutes and quads and can be sustained for a long period of time (no less than 30 minutes), where your heart rate is working at about 70 to 75% of its max. By doing this, you will increase your fitness levels and the overall health of your cardiovascular system.
This is the best possible way to do cardio besides other training methods such as HIIT or CrossFit.
Check out my article here on how often you should use weights with HIIT.
Due to the fact that using a barbell will work your core, will be a compound exercise, and specific exercises will utilize your glutes and quads, you can, to a degree, get a cardio workout.
This is because you are using so many muscle groups, which can elevate your heart rate to 70% and sustain it to a degree while burning calories because of all the muscle groups involved.
If you took a look at my other articles, you would see that I recommend no more than 20 reps to failure when performing any exercise for endurance training.
To perform a cardio-like exercise with a barbell, you are looking at 20 to 30 reps with moderate weight.
It is important to note that these types of exercises are meant for experienced and fit individuals and that normal cardio will be more beneficial for weight loss.
This type of exercise with a barbell will thus fall into the CrossFit and HIIT training regiments.
Performing an exercise with a barbell that utilizes your quads and glutes such as a deadlift, squat thrusts, and squats, you will try to hit between 20 to 30 reps and go to failure. It should take you approximately +- 40 seconds or so to perform this, and that’s why we can classify it under HIIT and CrossFit.
Check out this video where this type of barbell cardio exercise is performed.
How heavy should my barbell be?
Depending on your goals, the barbell will be weighted accordingly. For muscle building and strength training, your rep range will be between 5 and 8 reps. The rep range will be between 9 and 12 reps for toning, and for endurance training, it will be between 13 and 15 reps. It is important to note that the actual amount that you lift is not important but that you hit the rep range and then go to failure. This is the most fundamental aspect of weight training that many individuals get wrong.
Take a look at the chart below;
|Fitness goal||Rep range||Weight needed||Exercise involved|
|Strength and muscle building||5 – 8||Will vary||Will vary|
|Toning||9 – 12||Will vary||Will vary|
|Endurance||13 – 15||Will vary||Will vary|
Many individuals will argue that you could incorporate a rep range that does not exceed 3 reps or that you exercise and increase your 1 rep max for strength training.
You can do this, but there are many downsides to training this way unless you are a professional athlete getting paid to do so.
The first and biggest downside is the risk of injury. I can’t tell you how many individuals I’ve seen at the gym trying to push out their one-rep max on bench press or squats, and something pops or tears. It is a gruesome sight to behold, and trust me when I say it is something you do not want to experience for yourself.
The next downside is the stress that it places on your body and, specifically, your joints. Trying to exercise with your one-rep max or a rep range as low as three for years and years will wreak havoc on your joints, and you don’t want to be using a cane when you are 50.
Due to that, I always recommend a heavy enough weight that you are comfortable enough to pump out no less than 5 reps, and in some cases, for some exercises, I don’t even recommend 5.
Why some people don’t use a barbell
Some individuals don’t like to use a barbell for the aforementioned reasons we stated above.
Due to a barbell being rigid and you can use supporting muscles and your core, you can lift much heavier weight with a barbell than with any other free weight equipment.
Hence some individuals think they are stronger than they are and pile on the weight. In conjunction with a narrow mindset that lifting extremely heavy will build muscle, they incorporate training regiments that utilize a very low rep range or even their one-rep max.
This results in injury and wear and tear on your joints. Hence, many individuals tend to stay away from barbells.
However, if utilized correctly, barbells are one of the greatest pieces of gym equipment and will give you results that no other piece of gym equipment can.
What do you do if you don’t have a barbell?
If you find that you would like to use a barbell, but perhaps they are all being used, or perhaps your gym does not have one, then I would suggest utilizing a lock rack (also typically known as a smith machine).
A lock rack is just like a barbell, except the bar is placed in a machine and can only be moved up or down. It cannot be removed from the machine. This is different from a traditional squat rack where the bar is just placed on. For the most part, you can do almost every single exercise with a smith machine that you can with a free weighted barbell. The only exercise you won’t be able to do is curls because your ROM (range of motion) extends and comes back in when you are doing curls.
Other exercises like squats, deadlifts, shoulder press, and the like can all be done on a lock rack.
You would employ the same technique and the same principles regarding lifting for strength, muscle mass, tone, or endurance. Nothing would change.
Check out this incredible video where they go over 58 exercises incorporating a smith machine. Some of them don’t use the actual bar, but still, it is incredible.
Why can I lift less with dumbbells than a barbell?
You can lift less with dumbbells that a barbell because dumbbells offer little in the way of support, meaning that your body will have to use its stabilizing muscles in conjunction with the muscle group being worked.
Stabilizing muscles are your supporting muscles that surround your main muscle groups. A good example of this is your rotator cuffs in your shoulder.
These muscles will have to work extra hard in order for your body to compensate for the instability that dumbbells provide. Thus, due to the fact they are smaller and weaker, you will be able to lift less than with a barbell.
We said already a barbell will work your core along with other major muscle groups creating compound exercises. These major muscle groups can support a much heavier load, and due to a barbell being rigid, meaning it will have the support, you are able to lift relatively more weight with it.
How can I get stronger without a barbell?
Stronger is a relative term and can have different meanings for various individuals. I would suggest, as stated above, that if you are looking to increase strength to a large degree, then using a smith machine would be your next best bet after that.
Dumbbells are primarily used for isolation and conditioning, and you will need to be strong enough to use them. They are not primarily used for strength gains.
After that, the only other thing I would recommend is using free weight machines. Those are similar to cable machines, but you place free weights (plates) on them.
I would neither recommend using cable machines because those are typically used also for conditioning, toning, and endurance.
Full Body Barbell Workout
If you have read this entire article, you will know that using a barbell is beneficial to any type of training, whether for muscle size, strength, endurance, or toning. In fact, utilizing a barbell is responsible for improving your neuromuscular connections, which is essential for strength gains.
We put together the 5 best exercises that you can use with a barbel to give you a total body workout. As with our dumbbell exercise guide that you can find here, you will only have to consider the rep range in terms of what you are trying to achieve, and once again, we have put the rep range chart below for your per usual.
|Fitness goal||Rep range||Weight needed||Exercise involved|
|Strength and muscle building||5 – 8||Will vary||All exercises in this PDF|
|Toning||9 – 12||Will vary||All exercises in this PDF|
|Endurance||12 – 15||Will vary||All exercises in this PDF|
These exercises can be turned into a split routine and used in conjunction with other exercises, or you can use them as a total full-body workout during one workout; the choice is yours.
Remember that splitting up your body parts (training them on separate days) will allow you to train for size and strength. While combing multiple body parts, working through the exercises quickly will help achieve endurance and tone.
Bench press is probably the be-all and end-all of chest exercises. Anybody who is somebody and anybody who has gone to the gym has probably done this exercise before. It is popular because it works. Not only does it work your chest but your triceps as well and, to a degree, your lats.
Laying flat on the bench, push your arms out perpendicular to your body (at perfect right angles). Grab the barbell and push it off the rack. With a steady up and down motion, work through as many repetitions as you need to taking the bar all the way to your chest and moving through the full ROM of your arms.
Barbell Shoulder Press
This can be done by placing a chair under a squat rack utilizing a barbell or with a smith machine. The choice is yours. Again, sit straight up on the chair, place your arms at your side, and raise them perpendicular to your body.
Grabbing the bar and with the same up and down motion as a bench press, push the weight into the air working through your arms full ROM (range of motion). When you bring the weight down, make sure it comes all the way down to your chin.
Make sure for this exercise and bench press that you have a spotter available because if the weight is too heavy, you may not be able to get it back up. Remember that you are always working to failure with any exercise, no matter the number of repetitions.
Barbell Curls or EZ Bar Curls
The illustration depicts an EZ bar which is just a barbell with slight curves which will be more forgiving on your wrists. In essence, they are the same, except that an EZ bar will work your inner biceps a little bit more while a barbell will work both the inner and outer biceps.
From a standing position, with your hands at your sides, pick up the barbell. With a curling motion, work through your repetitions through your arms full ROM.
Make sure that you are standing up straight and squeezing your core. This will provide additional stability, and if you have a strong core, you will, in fact, be able to lift heavier weight.
Squats are basically going to work for all muscle groups from your chest downwards, including your core, lower back, hamstrings, glutes, quads, and calves.
Standing under the barbell of the squat rack, place the bar on your traps and do not place it on your neck ever. Lifting the bar off by elevating your back, move into a standing position with your legs shoulder-width apart. Moving through your legs ROM into a seated position, go down and then up.
Make sure to squeeze your core and your glutes to provide you with extra stability and power. Take note that you do not have to go all the way down, and in some instances, going past a seated position can cause injury to your knees.
Deadlift in and of itself is a full-body workout. If you have ever attempted to pump out lots of reps or lift heavyweight for this exercise, then you will know what I mean. Even though its primary function is to work your back, it works for many supporting muscle groups like your traps, core, quads, hamstrings, and calves.
With your feet shoulder-width apart, bend at your knees, lowering your body until you can reach the barbell on the floor. Keeping your back as straight as possible, grab the barbell with your arms slightly away from your body. Your arms need to be fully extended, and remember that you do not pull with your arms. They are only there to hold the bar.
Pushing your legs up almost like a squat and pulling with your back that is as straight as can be, move into a standing position. It is almost like lifting a box up but lifting with your legs.
This exercise can be difficult at first, so be sure to use lightweight and build some endurance before attempting anything heavier.
The barbell exercises explained and illustrated here will give you a total body workout and help you achieve your desired results. No matter if you are looking to gain muscle, build strength, train for endurance, or tone, a barbell will help you get there.
There is no need for all the fancy equipment in the gym. A barbell is more than sufficient, and you will be surprised at the results they yield.
We discovered that indeed a barbell is enough to achieve any fitness goal that you may have, including cardio to a degree.
Using a barbell strengthens your neuromuscular connections needed for strength gains, and with this, we discovered that a barbell is probably the most important piece of gym equipment you will use for strength and muscle building.
This is because a barbell turns an exercise into a compound exercise depending, and it also utilizes your core. Furthermore, we found out that it is great for beginners because it can be used to even out the body making both sides equally strong.
Without a doubt, I always recommend you use at least one barbell exercise when it comes to any muscle group and incorporate this training myself.