We have all seen a barbell in the gym or possibly in someone’s garage – often collecting rust. Sometimes seen as solely for the use of muscle bound young men in the “heavy weights” area of the gym, but the barbell is one of the best tools for strength, fitness and weight loss for everyone. In particular older people and women should not be afraid of the barbell and include it in their fitness regime.
Before we begin, this article is not aimed at those who are professionals, olympic weightlifters or body builders. It is rather aimed at “normal people” whose goal is to be fit, functionally strong, slim and healthy.
It’s also worth nothing that one type of equipment should not be the only one you use all the time. In strength and fitness variety is key, with 6-8 week periods doing a certain type of training before adapting your routine. This allows the body to change and adapt, but then the stimulus should be changed before a plateau can be reached.
There are a multitude of training tools that you can use, nearly all of them beneficial. But there will always be a hierarchy of equipment whose order will naturally be defined by goals, ability, preference and effectiveness. Dumbells, TRX, Swiss balls, kettlebells, cable machines, resistance bands and medicine balls all have their place; which one you choose depends greatly on what your goals are and what you like. For functional strength and accessibility the barbell sits fairly high up on that list.
Benefits of barbell training
Ease of use – the barbell is a a simple and straightforward tool and it’s easy to learn. Anyone with no debilitating conditions and proper coaching can learn most barbell lifts in an hour or so.
Great for compound exercises – the barbell isn’t great at isolation exercises which are ones that work only one muscle. Although these isolation moves can be useful, for the average person looking to get strong, lean and fit, exercises that work across multiple joints are much better value. With typical barbell exercises like back squats, deadlifts, presses, snatches and cleans, larger muscle groups are worked simultaneously. This means more calories will be burned in each session than with isolation exercises, plus there’s a greater increase in functional fitness and increased muscle mass (see below).
It is stable – the barbell is unlikely to deviate from its normal range of movement, so it is safer and easier to progress on to heavy lifting quickly. This speedy progression will lead to faster gains in lean muscle mass and will be hugely helpful in building up the metabolic rate outside of exercise. Increasing the resting metabolic rate helps to burn more fat (especially for women with lower levels of lean muscle) and create an athletic, lean look.
It can be used in multiple planes of movement – many articles and trainers criticise the barbell as being one dimensional and only working in one plane of movement – with no rotation or twisting. The barbell back squat, for example, is an exercise that has no rotation. However the barbell can be great for multi-planar exercises. Barbell landmine rotations, landmine squat with a rotating press and twisting one arm rows are all multi planar exercises.
It can help break through mental barriers – most female clients that we suggest barbell training to have a similar response – “isn’t that just for guys and body builders?” or “but that means I have to go into the guys section in the gym”. A standard barbell with no weights on it weighs around 6kg. Anyone can use it; we have a 74 year old female client who uses one (with weights on). As outlined above, the barbell will help you in so many ways you should never be afraid of using one. Remember that many top models use barbells and strength training to get the perfect bikini look.
One of the best tools to help you lose fat, get strong, lean and fit – ultimately, combining all the points above show what a great tool a barbell is, especially for women. As we grow older we start to lose lean muscle mass and bone density. In women this can be more pronounced as they don’t have as much growth hormone (testosterone) as men. This loss of muscle mass decreases the metabolic rate and explains why, as we age, we tend to put on fat while seemingly eating the same amount. The fast, stable progression that barbell training allows is what makes it such a great tool to counteract this.
Many women also fear barbell training (or strength training in general) as they believe it will make them big and muscly, or will be dangerous or too difficult. This post should dispel that but our post on the myths of strength training for women is also worth reading.