Barbell Strength Training

The Best Method

Barbell strength training provides the best available method for developing your full strength potential. It should be your primary training method if you are serious about achieving your full primal strength potential. 

Barbell Strength Training Advantages

The men who developed the barbell were seeking to improve on bodyweight training.  Here are the main advantages to use of barbells, dumbbells, and weight plates in strength training.

  • Barbell strength training properly performed is the best type of load-bearing training, consisting of natural multi-joint full range movements that load the entire body, including the axial skeleton (spine) while you stand, brace and balance yourself on your feet
  • With barbells and dumbbells you can train your whole body with just four basic, natural movements: squatting, deadlifting, pressing, and rowing. 
  • Due to the construction of the barbell, you can adjust movement performance to  accommodate every individual's unique body proportions of torso and limb lengths.
  • Barbells enable an individual to gradually increase the loads over a long period of time, and eventually lift very heavy loads in alignment with your natural center of mass. The world records for the barbell squat and deadlift exceed 1000 pounds. It is impossible to realize your full potential for primal strength unless you utilize barbell training.
  • Barbells allow you to provide sufficient resistance for training the hips and thighs to their full potential with exercises like the full squat and the deadlift.
  • Weight plates allow you to increase resistance in very small increments. I use plates as small as an eighth of a pound, and you can get plates as large as 100 pounds each. By using small plates you can increase resistance in small doses, to which your body can more quickly and easily adapt. For example, you can progress in your pull ups or dips by one or two pounds of resistance at a time, which provides positive motivation for continuing to train, whereas with bodyweight movements alone it can be hard to identify small improvements in performance.
  • Related to the above, using barbells you can more easily identify and track the resistance you are using. For example, suppose you have mastered basic pull-ups, and next progress to a tuck L-sit pull up.  By how much have you increased the resistance?  Unknown.  Also, if you change the position of your tuck L-sit only slightly, you can either increase or decrease the difficulty of the pull-up.  How do you standardize the performance so that you are certain that you are doing the exercise progressively from session to session?  Its practically impossible.  
  • Standard barbell exercises demand development of the proper body alignment and shoulder and hip mobility and flexibility.  (However, achieving the requisite mobility may in some cases require some basic mobility training.)
  • Barbells, dumbbells and weight plates are also useful for performing weighted flexibility and mobility exercises.
  • Barbells and dumbbells are relatively inexpensive (compared to exercise machines and gym memberships) and very durable. If well cared for, a quality set of cast iron weights and a power rack will last for several generations at least. 

For a more expert and elaborate explanation of the benefits of barbell training, click over to the Starting Strength website and read "Why Barbells Are Better Than Machines" by Mark Rippetoe, author of the excellent book Starting Strength

(BTW, this book is a must-read for everyone interested in maximizing his or her strength. If you are serious about building primal strength, BUY IT. NOW.).

Barbell Strength Training Disadvantages

Although barbell strength training is overall superior to gymnastic bodyweight training alone when it comes to developing your full primal strength potential, it also suffers from some disadvantages.  Here are the main disadvantages:

  • Unless you build your home gym outdoors, or find a commercial gym that has an outdoor training area, its more difficult to do heavy barbell training outdoors.  Who wants to move 200-400 pounds of plates and bars outdoors, then do deadlifts with that weight, and then move the plates and bars back indoors?  If you want to safely do barbell squats outdoors, you have to put your safety rack outdoors.  Its much easier to take a pair of gymnastic rings out to the playground to do some bodyweight training
  • For barbell training you need a decent barbell set and a safety power rack at a minimum.  These items are more costly than equipment needed for strict bodyweight training. However, it is possible to acquire these items at a reasonable cost.
  • Barbell equipment takes up more storage space in your home, or you need to purchase a membership at a commercial gymnasium.

Those last two items are not mentioned to discourage training with barbells, only to highlight the differences between the two methods of training.  If you have limited funds or space at home, you can get started with bodyweight training while you are saving money for a barbell set or a commercial fitness center membership, or figuring out how you can create your own home-based barbell training center.

Barbell Strength Training Plus
Basic Gymnastic Strength Training

The Best of Both Worlds

From a physical training and development standpoint, a combination of barbell training with some gymnastic movements – chin ups, pushups, dips, some waist exercises, bridges, and perhaps some optional levers, pike position, straddle split, and handstand training – provides a more beneficial outcome than barbell training alone. Training bodyweight exercises like pike position, straddle position, bridges, handstands, L- and V- sits, single leg squat variations, and levers develops body awareness, alignment, strength and mobility in ranges of motion that are difficult or impossible to train with exclusive conventional barbell strength training.

I believe that proper barbell training should be the foundation of all strength training programs. However, proper bodyweight strength training will identify and correct the weak links in your body awareness, alignment, mobility and flexibility that can enhance barbell training, and in some instances mobility and alignment issues must be corrected before you can profitably engage in or achieve your full potential in progressive barbell training.  Some of the remedial mobility and flexibility exercises employ barbells, dumbbells, or weight plates to correct your imbalances, so barbell strength and mobility training is almost essential for progression in bodyweight strength training.

Using barbells, dumbbells, and weight plates enables you to systematically progress in fundamental exercises like pull-ups and dips and to adequately load the hips and thighs in squats and deadlifts to develop the full strength potential of the lower body.  That's why Full Range Strength training programs incorporate both barbell exercises and some very basic exercises taken from gymnastics.