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Barbell training – essential for strength, fat loss and general fitness

The mighty barbell – to some, it’s the only piece of equipment that matters. To others, it’s intimidating as hell!

I get it – especially for women who aren’t yet comfortable in the gym, the barbell can seem like it’s just not an option, especially if it means venturing into that area of the gym, (you know, the one filled with big, sweaty, grunting men).

However, I truly believe that if you want to get strong, you need to be doing at least some barbell training. It’s incredibly versatile and functional, (yes, I’m using that word – because it’s true!) Also, if you pay your gym membership you have as much right to be in that area of the gym as anyone else in there.

Barbell training is most likely appropriate for whatever goal you have

Barbell exercises generally involve your entire body. Think squats, deadlifts, even overhead presses or bench presses. This means you get the most “bang for your buck” – by targeting your entire body at once, you don’t need to spend loads of time in the gym doing an exercise for your quads, another for your glutes, another for your back…


Even if you’re not so interested in getting strong af, barbell movements are great for burning fat. Think about how tired you feel after a set of 10 squats vs a set of 10 leg curls – that heart is pumping hard!

Barbell training is functional

Again with that buzz word!

I think it’s fair to say that most people who go to the gym would quite like to remain active for as much of their life as they can. Barbell training is useful for this for a multitude of reasons – squats and deadlifts mimic movement patterns that often decline with age (e.g. standing up from a chair, picking up heavy objects). Weight bearing exercise also helps to improve joint health and bone density which again, will help to keep our bodies fit and healthy as we move through life.

Technique is also extremely important with barbell lifts. If you shift out of balance on a squat or lose tightness in the bench press it can cause you to fail a lift. This therefore teaches us to focus on using optimal technique and maintaining tension and a braced core whilst lifting weights. This could just get us into the habit of performing all of our movements in the gym with good form, or it might mean that we learn to pick boxes up off the floor in a more safe way. It all adds up and helps to create a healthier, more “functional” body.

Barbell moves are the easiest to load appropriately

Obviously, we load barbells by adding plates. All gyms will have plates as light as 1.25kg and some will have even lighter plates – 1, 0.5 or 0.25kg. This means we can add tiny amounts of weight to ensure we are still progressing on the lifts, which is a lot easier to do than with dumbbells or machines. For example – you can add 2.5kg total to your barbell bench press, whereas if you were to use dumbbells you may have to jump a total of 5kg (2.5kg per dumbbell) in order to increase the weight you’re using. This can be very annoying – I know I have definitely experienced the frustration of one pair of dumbbells being far too light, but the next pair up being far too heavy for me to hit the prescribed rep range.

Furthermore, you have (almost) unlimited progression with barbell moves as you can always keep adding more plates. With pin loaded machines and dumbbells you will eventually run out of weight as you get strong enough, but it’s highly unlikely that’s going to happen with barbells (unless you’re using really fat bumper plates of course!)

Barbells are great, but they’re not perfect…

One of the obvious disadvantages of barbell training is the safety element. As I mentioned previously, technique is key – but if you’ve not been taught how to lift properly, you could end up hurting yourself (deadlifting with a cat back, anyone?!) The best way to ensure you’re lifting safely is to work with a coach or trainer who specialises in strength training and barbell work (like me!) who can teach you how to perform the movements correctly to ensure that good habits are enforced straight away. Whilst machines don’t come with the raft of benefits I mention above, they are a lot harder to injure yourself on.

The other main downside of barbell training is that it is a lot harder to target the smaller muscle groups. Focusing the majority of your training on compound movements is a great way to improve your overall strength but it’s important to not neglect the smaller muscle groups, such as your rear delts or rotator cuffs. Some light dumbbell, machine or bodyweight work is recommended to complement your barbell training to make sure you don’t put yourself at risk of injury by developing a “weak link”.

Do you love barbell training, or are you still not sure? If you want to get started, shoot me a message and I’d be happy to help!



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