Training | POSTED July 31, 2023

Barbells Are Hard to Beat

Barbells and IvyTraining go together like peanut butter and jam. You’ll notice a theme if you train with us – more often than not you’ll see clients training with a loaded barbell and pushing themselves hard. There are countless exercises you could perform at a gym, and many are effective. So, what guides the decision making behind prioritising training around the barbell? Let’s get down to some basics.

Barbells have a high return on investment

As trainers we are delivering a service where time is at a premium. We want to maximise the output of each training session and ensure clients get the most “bang for their buck”. We believe barbells reign supreme. Barbells are designed to be incrementally loaded, allowing for jumps as small as 0.25kg each side. They sit somewhere between two ends of the spectrum of freedom of movement and stability and therefore allow us to load reasonably heavily while working large amounts of muscle mass. They require skill to use while developing many muscle groups through large ranges of motion. As such, they are excellent tools for developing muscle mass and movement proficiency. On this last point, it’s not uncommon to see someone who’s proficient at squatting pick up other lower body movements easily, but the reverse isn’t always true!

Barbells are engineered for strength

Getting stronger is at the forefront of well-manufactured barbell’s design. For instance, the knurl, spin and length of the sleeves, diameter of the shaft, bearings used, and more, all reflect the goal of loading more weight. We’ll zoom in on the knurl as an example. Knurling can come in three major variants: mountain, hill and volcano. Knurl is simply the raised surface that provides a better grip and more surface area to contact with the hands. A good knurl makes all the difference. For example, the Rogue Ohio Power Bar uses a volcano grip with a relatively aggressive (sharp) bite. Although this may feel uncomfortable at first, it means the bar remains securely in your hand, especially during movements using a tension grip such as deadlifts and barbell rows. Finally, the Ohio Power Bar has a centre knurl which helps secure the bar on your upper back during squats.

Barbells teach you physics

We mentioned “skill” earler, so let’s talk about that. In a very practical way barbell training helps a client improve their performance by developing an awareness of basic biomechanics. Let’s use the standing overhead press as an example. When pressing, it’s common to push the bar up and away from the upper body during the lift. This causes a disadvantageous moment arm (distance between the bar and shoulder). Instead, by learning to position the elbows and wrists, and chest, we can press the bar upwards and back, resulting in the least amount of horizontal travel. This loads the body for the most efficient stimulus to the target musculature. While neither good or bad, you will not experience the same technical demands during any dumbbell or machine press variations.  Barbells provide a task-led constraint that teaches an individual about movement proficiency and biomechanics in a very tangible way.

Barbells are for the long haul

We believe in a life-long career of strength. Strong knees and hips mean you can get up and walk. Stronger backs mean you can reach down and pick things up. Sturdy shoulders mean you can reach up and not worry tweaking something. But how does a barbell offer unique benefits compared to other exercises with different implements? Well, simple progression. Dumbbells or pin-loaded machines often they come in fixed increments that can be hard to progress or limited in absolute load. Moreover, there are countless permutations of a lift that can be performed with a barbell, allowing for novelty that is purposeful. Remember how I mentioned skill and physics? If someone is shooting their hips too far back during a low bar squat, a front squat can be used as a supplemental lift, to help improve the performance of the low bar squat by encouraging more forward knee travel.

Don’t ditch the baby with the bathwater

It’s true, we are obsessed with barbells, but we know they aren’t the only tool in the toolbox. A life-long career of strength will involve many paths but we believe you’ll travel them best by using the barbell as your foundation. Machines, cables, dumbbells and more all have roles to play and we use them for accessories (a discussion for another day). At Ivy Training we aim to give our clients the best ROI, help them become strong, skilful and aware lifters and set them up for a lifetime of strength. If you’d like to know more, get in touch with us here.