Beginners Guide – The Barbell Is King


Jan 18, 2023
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Beginners Guide – The Barbell Is King

by:Justis Cousins

It was around 2009 and I was a freshman in high school. My friend invited me to the school gym to start working out with him. I was ready to get big and strong! There was only one issue – we went to an art school…

As a result, the gym was about the same size of some people’s master bedroom and there was nothing even resembling a barbell in sight. There were only a handful of machines and dumbbells that went up to 30lbs.

Looking back, it wasn’t the worst situation in the world (especially being absolutely free), but it definitely wasn’t the best. The fact that there were no barbells not only hindered my gains while I used the school gym, but also for a while after as well.

My Case of Barbellophobia

I had barbellophobia (n.). That’s a condition where you make up excuses as to why you shouldn’t or don’t need to use a barbell because you don’t know any better. I had it and I had it bad.

The couple times I decided to mess with a barbell, I quickly left it alone because I was more comfortable using the machines and dumbbells.

Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with machines or dumbbells but barbells are king. There’s no doubt. Why can I say so with such confidence?

Well, it all rests on some pretty simple concepts. In this article we will take a quick look at volume, progressive overload, and muscle recruitment and see how the barbell helps you get the most out of all three. I’ll also tell you how you can make some easy changes today to use the barbell more, and improve your potential for strength and muscle gain.

The Importance of Volume

Volume can be defined by a very simple equation (volume = weight x sets x reps). Research has shown the key to muscle and strength gains basically boils down to total volume.

For the sake of this topic, let’s set up a hypothetical situation where two people are doing the same amount of sets and reps (ex. 3 sets of 10). Let’s also assume that they are doing the same type of movement and are equally strong.

The only difference is one is using dumbbells and the other is using a barbell. Who has the greater potential to accumulate more volume?

The person using the barbell will be able to push more weight, meaning more volume if all other variables are the same.

The point?

The barbell allows you to increase the amount weight used, which leads to more overload and more total volume per workout.

Progressive Overload

There’s another concept that is crucial for progress of any sort in the gym. It is called progressive overload and it refers to the fact that the human body will adapt to stresses placed on it and become used to it.

The body requires a new stimulus to create adaptations or growth. This stimulus doesn’t have to be new in nature, as in a whole new exercise. It can be an increase in reps or an increase in weight or a number of other different things. There just has to be an increase.

The barbell allows for a relatively fast rate of progressive overload due to the fact that you can use more weight on barbell exercises.

In other words, you’ll find it easier to increase the weight on a barbell movement than dumbbells, at least initially.

Muscle Fiber Recruitment

The last concept that ties this all together is taking a look at muscle fiber recruitment. In a sense this refers to the amount of muscle in the body used.

In this case, we are looking at how much muscle is used in a particular movement. Especially as a beginner, you want the majority of your time in the gym spent doing exercises that will recruit the highest amount of muscle fibers at the same time.

These are typically referred to as compound movements. Compound movements involve multiple joints and multiple muscle groups all working to cause the desired movement.

Almost every movement you will do with a barbell will fall into the compound movement category.

This means more stimulation of muscle in a shorter amount of time. It also means exercising in a way that will make you better at things you do outside the gym, like picking up objects or playing sports.

3 Key Points

So now you know why the barbell is king, but you may be unsure how to use them…I’m here to help.

Here are three main “barbell” points to take your training sessions to the next level.

1- Each workout should start with a barbell movement. This should receive most of your focus and energy. Big compound movements are the most important.

2- You NEED to become very involved in paying attention to your form on all exercises involving the barbell, as they have a greater chance to lead to an injury. You can’t make gains if you are hurt! If you are new to barbell training it would be very beneficial to hire a coach to analyze your technique.

3- Don’t worry if you can’t lift a lot of weight yet. Use the barbell (even if it’s just the bar), take your time, and progress. In no time you will be using weight that you can be proud of. Remember, the key is progressive overload. It doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you keep progressing.

Bringing It All Together

Years after I first stepped foot into my school gym, I finally started using a barbell in my workouts consistently.

The progress I was able to make was amazing and could have been made years earlier had I read the article that I’m writing now.

It is my hope that you will take this information and avoid doing what I did. Start benching, start squatting, start deadlifting, start overhead pressing, and start rowing and do them all with a barbell.