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And just like that, we’ve arrived at the start of a new year, a chance to refresh, create goals and set a tone for the next 12 months. In so many cases, that translates to more health-conscious choices — whether that’s eating better or losing weight — as we atone for the well-deserved carbs and sugar consumed around the holidays.
If your New Year’s resolution involves strength training (maybe in a bid to turn those Christmas cook calories into muscle), you should consider barbell workouts. The barbell is an integral fitness tool for compound exercises, movements that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Those compound exercises often play a foundational role in any strength training workout — the significant movement to knock out at the beginning to engage as many muscle groups as possible. So if the barbell is the foundation tool for the foundational type of exercise, you better believe it’s a big part of strength training.
The standard Olympic barbell is 7.2 feet long, weighs 44 pounds, and includes two outer sleeves for barbell plates. Most barbells feature a chrome knurling handle for added grip and small breaks in that knurling to position your hands. It’s the best tool to utilize for exercises that require heavy weight, like the barbell bench press, barbell squat or barbell deadlift. Because of those 16-inch sleeves, barbells can hold hundreds of pounds in plates. Really, if you’re trying to pack on muscle, you need to be doing barbell workouts.
We’re here to help kickstart that barbell journey for you. And it starts, predictably, with a good barbell. In the next section, we’ll link a few of the best barbells on the market. From there, we’ll share our favorite barbell workouts along with a few ancillary barbell products that are sure to help you gain muscle in 2022.
1. Rogue Fitness Ohio Power Bar
The best barbell comes from Rogue Fitness, a company with some of the best gym-quality equipment available. So if you’re in the process of building a serious home gym for 2022 and don’t mind splurging on the best of the best, the Rogue Fitness Ohio Power Bar is absolutely the barbell to buy. There are plenty of different finishes to choose from, some that will push the price north of $400, but this more-affordable bare steel option will still be one of the best barbells money can buy.
2. Body-Solid OB86B Olympic Bar
Those industry-standard Olympic barbells from strength training titan Rogue Fitness will run you more than $300. Their quality is worth every penny, but if you want something for half the price, check out this black barbell from Body-Solid. Its 7-foot, 44-pound frame measures up to Olympic standards and offers a 600-pound capacity. If you’re building a home gym on the budget, this might be the barbell for you.
3. CAP Barbell Olympic Barbell
Like Rogue Fitness, CAP Barbell makes gym-worthy fitness equipment you can purchase for your own home. This barbell doesn’t meet Olympic standards, as its 5-foot option only weighs 25 pounds. But for a home gym solution, it has the quality details and features you need for ripping out barbell curls and barbell shoulder presses. That small trimmer size makes it more convenient for storage as well.
4. Sunny Health & Fitness Barbell
Sunny Health & Fitness makes some of the best bang-for-your-buck fitness equipment we reviewed in 2021. This barbell, weighing only 12 pounds and measuring five feet in length, costs just over $30, allowing you to get your home barbell workout started for the price of a couple of movie tickets. With more than 5,000 reviews and a 4.7-star rating on Amazon, reviewers love this barbell but note that you should pay close attention to dimensions when purchasing plates, as this barbell won’t pair with standard Olympic plates.
1. Barbell Row
No barbell back workout is complete without the barbell row, often called the bent-over barbell row, for obvious reasons. This barbell back exercise helps strengthen your upper back and lats while also engaging your arms and shoulders throughout the movement. As with any barbell exercise, learn proper form before ramping up the weight. The barbell row can expose your lower back to all sorts of issues if performed incorrectly. For that reason alone, we will leave the instructions to the experts. Check out the video below for an informative look at how to tackle the barbell row. And while your arms will inevitably do some of the work here, focus on pinching those shoulder blades together and using your back to lift the weight.
2. Barbell Curl
If you’re training arms and going for those bulging biceps, start with the barbell curl, a foundational exercise during a barbell arm workout. The nuance here hinges on your grip. With your hands closer together, you target the outside of your biceps. But if you push your hands wider on the knurling, you’ll more effectively hit those inner biceps. Either way, your arms will thank you after a few sets of barbell curls.
Grip a barbell, so your pinkies rest where the knurling ends. Your palms should be facing up, and your hands should be about shoulder-width apart (move broader or narrower at your own discretion). Begin with the bar at your waist. Curl it up toward your chest, and pause as the bar reaches the top. Your elbows should stay still throughout the movement and should never fully extend. Keep that tension even as you lower the bar and finish a rep.
3. Barbell Squat
Rule number one of strength training? Never skip leg day. Though there’s always a temptation to train the so-called vanity muscles — particularly because leg day can be so grueling — you want to avoid that top-heavy physique and ensure you keep a strong foundation. The barbell back squat usually kicks off a leg workout and is one of the most effective leg exercises you can do. Once again, it’s a compound exercise where a lot can go wrong, and form is paramount. YouTuber Jeff Nippard has an incredible squat demonstration below, so we recommend checking it out before your next barbell back squat.
Approach a squat rack with the bar positioned at shoulder height. Let the bar rest on your upper back, grabbing the bar on each side, just wider than your shoulders. Lift the bar off the rack, take a few steps back and ensure your feet are positioned wider than your shoulders. Break at the hips and knees, so your butt falls straight down toward the back of your feet, moving past 90 degrees. Drive from your heels to push toward the starting position.
4. Barbell Hip Thrust
If your legs aren’t too toast after that barbell back squat, try incorporating the barbell hip thrust into your next barbell leg workout. It’s an excellent exercise that works to specifically target your glutes, as opposed to the squat, which works pretty much your entire lower body. This exercise can be a bit uncomfortable, so most experts recommend using a barbell cushion to ease some pressure.
Sit on the ground next to a flat workout bench, so your shoulder blades rest firmly on the foam of the bench. Roll a weighted barbell so it rests across your waist, and bend your knees, so your feet sit flat on the ground. Use your glutes to drive the weight up, squeezing your butt at the top of the motion, then return to the starting position.
5. Barbell Shrugs
Having jacked, oversized traps might evoke images of cartoonish bodybuilders, but the muscle plays a big role in posture and should be trained accordingly. The barbell shrug adds a weighted component to the shrugging motion you’ve probably done a million times. Depending on how you like to split up your strength training, you can incorporate it into a barbell back workout or a barbell shoulder workout.
Position a weighted barbell on a squat rack, so it sits above your knees. Using an overhand grip, grab the bar with your hands a bit wider than shoulder-width. Lift the bar straight up and pause as you contract the traps, raising your shoulders toward your ears. Return to the starting position, keeping your arms straight throughout.
6. Barbell Bench Press
If leg day is the one you never skip, chest day is something of a holiday in the strength training community. It’s a fun muscle group to train, one where new lifters often see their personal record bench press skyrocket in the first few months of training. Your barbell chest workout should include a barbell bench press, the holy grail of weightlifting exercises and the go-to compound movement for your upper body.
To start, lay flat on your back, with your feet flat on the ground and your knees bent. Position yourself under the bar so that your hands sit directly above your elbows when gripping the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Push the barbell off the rack and breath in as you lower it to your chest, keeping your shoulder blades tight and wrists straight. Let the bar touch your chest, then breathe out and activate your chest to push up and your legs to help support the movement.
7. Barbell Deadlift
The barbell deadlift is a CrossFit favorite, a grueling compound exercise that incorporates your entire body in a functional movement. Though it’s similar to the squat, it relies on your back and arms in a way the barbell back squat doesn’t. Try it out during your next full-body barbell workout. And, surprise surprise, make sure you dial in good form before cranking up the weight. Because the barbell deadlift incorporates so many muscle groups, it creates many opportunities for problems and injuries. The informative video below calls out five common mistakes made while performing it, so we suggest checking it out before your next barbell deadlift session.
8. Barbell Shoulder Press
So you’ve embarked on a quest for those coveted “boulder shoulders,” have you? Well, any barbell shoulder workout should prominently feature the barbell shoulder press, an exercise that will work your shoulders and triceps. It’s more straightforward than some of the other barbell exercises on this list, but you want to proceed with caution any time the complex shoulder joints get involved.
This exercise can be performed seated or standing, though the former allows you to rack the barbell between sets, making it easier to get the movement started. Grab a barbell with your palms facing away from you, with the bar resting across the top of your chest. Push the bar over your head, pausing as your elbows extend at the top, then return to the starting position.
1. Elevator Fitness Barbell Pad
Steel Olympic barbells are pretty unforgiving. And when you start adding weight to squats, lunges, or barbell glute thrusts, that only increases the pressure against your body. This barbell pad from Elevator Fitness helps alleviate that pain, making it a lot easier to rack up more weight on those two lifts. It’s a handy gym bag accessory made of synthetic rubber, and it only costs about $10.
2. Clout Fitness Olympic Barbell Collars
Barbell collars — or clamps — might not seem like much, but any experienced lifter will tell you that these little things make all the difference. They help keep barbell plates secure at the end of the barbell, ensuring they don’t slide around (making the weight distribution uneven) or off, a dangerous fate. These barbell collars lock right on with a breezy lever release, ensuring your barbell plates stay in place while you’re lifting and slide off easily when you’re adjusting weights. Most gyms supply these, but they’re often in high demand and scattered across the property. We recommend spending $15 on your own pair.
3. AMGYM Bumper Plates
So, you’ve got your barbell, a list of barbell workouts, and a couple of accessories to make those exercises more manageable. The only thing you’re missing, then, is the actual weights. These bumper plates from AMGYM feature a high-density rubber construction that makes them safer, easier to carry and less damaging to ground surfaces. AMGYM offers pairs of bumper plates at different weights — from 15 pounds up to 55 pounds — and combination weight sets so you can start building a complete home barbell set up in no time.