What is barbell training?
Weight training with a bar is called barbell training. You can equip the barbell individually and according to your training progress with weight plates. The barbell is available in different versions. For example, a classic barbell or a special SZ bar (explanation below) is conceivable.
Barbell training is considered one of the most effective forms of training among experienced athletes and fitness experts. Training with a barbell is very multifaceted and the exercise is correspondingly more demanding than on a machine. The explanation for this is very simple: on a machine, the movement execution is supported by it, while in barbell training you have to carry out and stabilize the complete movement alone.
Training with the barbell bar
A normal-sized barbell is usually used for bench presses or deadlifts and is approx. 1.25 meters long. The handle diameter of the standard version is approx. 30 millimeters, while the rod outside (where the weight plates are located) is a little thicker. A classic barbell is also straight and not curved.
The two markings on the classic barbell are particularly important. You should use this to orient yourself when you embrace the pole. This does not mean that you should also embrace the pole at the markings! The position of your hands differs depending on the arm length. With the markings, however, it is guaranteed at all times that you hold the bar straight and at the same distance between your hands.
Training with the curl bar and SZ bar
The curl or SZ bar (which can be used synonymously) differs from the barbell in that it is much shorter. It is also specially curved. This bend is required for certain exercises.
Especially with the biceps curl (therefore also called curl bar), the specific bending of the bar serves to position the hands more naturally. You can easily test this by stretching your hands in front of you with your palms facing up. You will notice that your hands are not completely horizontal, but rotate slightly inwards. If you want your hands to be completely straight, you have to turn your elbows a bit unnaturally. You can prevent this unnatural position of the hands during the bicep curl with an SZ bar. You can just grab the bar by the bend.
What is better? Barbell or SZ bar?
Both bars have their advantages and disadvantages and are each suitable for different exercises. As you saw while reading the previous section, the bicep curl with an SZ bar is more natural than the bicep curl with a barbell. However, the barbell is more suitable for other exercises. Exercises like the classic bench press or the deadlift should be mentioned here. Here you have your hands in a different position than for example with the bicep curl.
The barbell is usually larger or heavier than an SZ bar. Accordingly, you have to attach fewer weight plates to the barbell. Accordingly, an SZ rod is much more manageable. If you want to train at home and have a little less space, a SZ bar may be a better choice. So both poles are by no means only for the same exercises and are therefore to be regarded as completely equivalent.
Why barbell training – what does barbell training bring?
As already mentioned, barbell training is much more effective and demanding than training on a machine. So if you want to take the next step in your athletic development, you should definitely integrate various barbell exercises into your training plan. Another advantage is that you can use a barbell to train your entire body or a large part of your muscles with just one exercise (e.g. deadlift). With a machine, however, this is not possible or only with great difficulty.
Barbell training – which muscles are addressed?
Of course, this depends on what exercise you do. In general, however, it can be said that you exercise a lot more muscles when barbell training than when training with machines. With the bicep curl, for example, you address your biceps, your shoulders and your forearms. You also have to stabilize the weight when you do the curls while standing. This means that the abdominal muscles are also addressed.
How effective is barbell training?
The barbell training is very effective and should not be missing in any training plan. You can train your entire body with a single bar, with just a few exercises. Here is an example: You placed the barbell behind your head on your shoulders and do a squat. Then push the bar up behind your head. Immediately afterwards, you hold the bar in your hands in front of your body and perform a bicep curl.
You have just trained your entire legs (quadriceps, calves), your back, your shoulders, your biceps, your forearms and your abdominal muscles (for stabilization) with just one exercise or one device. The effectiveness is accordingly very high. This is not possible on a machine.
What is more effective? Training with the barbell or dumbbell?
It should be mentioned in advance that both types of training are very effective. It depends on how you use the barbell or dumbbell in your training and which exercises with which number of repetitions you do. With the barbell you can move a bigger weight. With the dumbbell, it is possible to better isolate individual muscles.
With a bicep curl, in which you alternately move both dumbbells left and right, you train the right and left biceps for yourself. If you exercise bicep curls with a barbell or the SZ bar, you cannot isolate your left or right biceps. Here both are always trained together to the same extent.
So if you want to move a lot of weight first (e.g. for building muscle or reducing fat), training with a barbell is recommended. If you have already built up a little more muscle or reduced fat, you can train individual muscles with dumbbells or balance muscular imbalances (muscles of different strengths on the right and left).
Barbell training for women
Training with a barbell or SZ bar is also ideal for women. However, many women do not exercise with a barbell, but only use the usual machines in a gym. However, this is not the best way to get a trained and toned body. Women should also use free weights (like a barbell) to exercise.
However, women often shy away from this because we associate barbell or dumbbell training with men or even bodybuilders. Women then often argue that they do not want to look like bodybuilders. However, this is a completely wrong picture that is stored in memory with a barbell or dumbbell. Because of the lack of testosterone in their bodies, women cannot build as many muscles as their male counterparts. You would have to train much more intensively and more often.
There are women who stand on the stage as bodybuilders. However, these women usually train for several hours a day and many of them use certain aids to look like this.
So it should be noted that women should definitely exercise with a barbell in order to achieve their fitness goals.
Barbell training what weight?
As with any exercise, weight depends on your training goal and the associated number of repetitions that you want to do. If you want to build muscle (so-called hypertrophy area), you should do a lot of weight with a few repetitions (6-8). If you want to do strength endurance training, you should do less weight and more repetitions (15-20) relative to hypertrophy training.
Your training progress is also decisive for answering the question. If you start as a beginner, you first need less weight. If you have been training for a long time and have already carried out training progress or weight increases, you can probably already attach several weight plates to your barbell or SZ bar.
The 4 best barbell exercises
Bench press and incline bench press with the barbell
Bench presses and incline bench presses are exercises specifically for the chest muscles. With the classic bench press, you train the entire chest, while with the incline bench press, you tend to activate your upper chest muscles. The shoulders and the triceps are used as additional muscles.
With a normal bench press, you lie flat on a weight bench while your legs are flat on the floor slightly wider than your shoulders. You should choose the handle so that your hands also encompass the bar a little more than shoulder width. You can use the markings on the barbell to orientate yourself so that your hands are at the same distance as possible. Make sure you have the bar at or near the nipple level.
When performing the exercise, you should make sure that you pull your shoulder blades together and fix them during the entire exercise. Now move the barbell slowly to your chest and push the bar up again until you are just about to stretch your elbows (but no further to protect your elbow joint!). Breathe in as you lower the bar, and exhale as you push up.
Also watch the following video about bench press:
The incline bench press differs from the classic bench press in that you have the bench at a different angle. You set up the weight bench almost like a chair. The correct angle is a little less than 90 °, while the exercise sequence is almost identical.
Barbell curls are designed to strengthen your arms. You mainly train your biceps. To do this, grab the bar about shoulder-width apart – the palms facing upwards – and now move the barbell up to just before your chest. Make sure that your elbows are tight against your body and that they don’t move upwards, especially when curling, but remain exactly in their position. Now let the barbell down slowly and in a controlled manner and use the negative movement, which also contributes a decisive part to the stimulus.
You should not push your elbows completely through this. Then carry out the movement again explosively upwards. Also make sure that you only move the weight out of your arms and do not strain your back.
The following video shows you the correct movement execution:
Barbell workout biceps
Another version of bicep training with the barbell is the bicep curl with the hand position upside down. You perform the barbell curl as just described, but you do not have your palms up, but down so that the back of your hand is above the bar. This will train the long side of your biceps and forearms.
Deadlift with barbell
The deadlift is one of the best barbell exercises to train multiple muscle groups simultaneously. You activate your legs, your back, your buttocks, your arms and your belly. Your entire body is also active.
The pole lies on the floor while you stand about shoulder-width apart. Squat slightly (you push your buttocks back out) and grab the bar shoulder-width apart. Make sure you do a light hollow back! Now lift the bar (with your thumb under the bar) by simultaneously moving your buttocks and back upwards. Once at the top, pull your shoulders back or your shoulder blades together.
Then you move the bar down again by simultaneously moving your buttocks and your back down and back. As a beginner, you can also squat when lowering the bar to relieve your back a bit and get used to the sequence of movements. If you’ve been training for a while, you can almost keep your legs straight to fully train your back. When lowering, you should inhale, while exhaling under positive load (i.e. when lifting upwards).
It is important that you always guide the bar along the legs! Furthermore, you should make sure that you wear flat or no shoes (no running shoes!) To stand stable on the floor. As a beginner, you can also use the so-called comb handle to have more grip strength.
Rowing with the barbell
Rowing with the barbell is also an exercise to strengthen the back muscles. What is special about this is that your latissimus is stressed more. You stand shoulder width as with deadlifts and your hands are a little wider than your legs around the bar. Now you lift the bar, you have almost stretched your legs, leaning forward with your upper body. Now pull the barbell up between the navel and chest while you move your shoulders back. Exhale as you pull the bar towards your body.
Jochen’s barbell exercises at home
You can find our article with the best barbell exercises by Coach Jochen here.
The barbell training is very effective and varied
When training with a barbell, you train many muscles at the same time
You also train your coordination through stabilization
You can train anywhere with a barbell
With the curl or SZ bar you have a different hand position
Women should also definitely use a barbell!
When training with a barbell, make sure you have a stable back at all times
Barbell training should be combined with dumbbell training
Weight and repetitions depend on the training goal
A lot of weight, few repetitions? Hypertrophy (muscle building)
Less weight, many repetitions? Strength endurance
The best barbell exercises include bench presses, bicep curls, deadlifts, and barbell oars