Must-Do Barbell Exercises to Maximize Muscle Growth

by Evelyn Valdez

If there’s one definitive way to make your muscles grow bigger and stronger, is by adding a barbell to your strength training workouts! This isn’t to say that bodyweight and dumbbell exercises aren’t good enough, on the contrary, they’re key to building muscle when you’re just starting your journey and they work great even when you’re already an advanced lifter.

So, what makes barbells so special?

Well, when it comes to lifting heavy, nothing beats the amount of weight that you can load on a bar! There always comes a point in your strength training journey when you need heavier weights to keep progressing, which is why barbells are the staple equipment in any advanced resistance workout. They gradually offer the necessary tension to keep your muscles working hard each time.

Barbells will help you target all your bigger muscle groups as well as the smaller ones that are often overlooked, helping you maximize muscle growth and develop better control and stability.

So, if you’re ready to add barbell exercises to your workouts, here are some of our favorite effective barbell movements for your strength training days!

Barbell back squat

If your goal is to build a stronger lower body, then barbell squats should be a staple exercise in your workout! By placing a heavy load over your traps, making it a back squat, you’ll make it more challenging for your legs to come back from the squat, really making them grow.

How to do it:

  1. Place a loaded barbell at chest level on a squat rack and step under the bar, grabbing it with both hands in an overhand grip so that it rests on your traps and along your shoulders.
  2. Unrack the bar, take a step back from the rack, and firmly place your feet shoulder-width apart on the floor. 
  3. Keeping your back straight, begin the movement by lowering yourself to a squat position, bending your hips and knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  4. Squeeze your muscles in this position, then slowly stand up to go back to the starting position while keeping the bar under control and repeat.

Barbell sit-ups

Just like the name suggests, in this exercise you repeatedly sit up while holding a barbell. So, instead of doing a regular sit-up with your hands free, you’ll hold a barbell with your arms extended throughout the full range of motion for a more challenging ab workout.

How to do it:

  1. Lie face-up on the floor with your knees bent and your feet firmly planted, and place a pair of dumbbells or a weight plate over your feet so they don’t move.
  2. Grab a barbell with your hands shoulder-width apart in an overhand grip and lift it so that your arms are fully extended above you, perpendicular to the floor.
  3. Engage your core and begin by sitting up, hinging forward at the hip without removing your feet from the floor. Make sure you keep your arms extended overhead while you move so that at the top of the movement you’re sitting with your back straight and the weight directly over your head.
  4. Squeeze your muscles in this position, then slowly go back to the floor while keeping the weight under control and repeat.

Neutral-grip T-bar row

When it comes to barbell exercises, bent-over rows are some of the best exercises you can do, and the T-bar row is a great variation that you can add to your upper-body workouts! It mainly targets your lats, traps, rhomboids, and rear delts for a stronger back, plus some recruitment of your lower body.

How to do it:

  1. Load one end of a barbell and secure the other end on a power rack or against the corner, then position yourself over the bar so that it goes between your legs.
  2. Grab the bar by the loaded end with both hands in a neutral grip, giving your back to the wall or the rack. Your feet should be firmly planted on the floor at a shoulder-width distance.
  3. Bend your knees slightly and your torso at a 45-degree angle and begin the movement by pulling the bar to your chest, rowing it with both hands without curving your back.
  4. When the bar is close to your chest, pause for a moment while you squeeze, then slowly lower the bar and repeat.

Barbell hip thrust

When talking about powerful barbell exercises, barbell hip thrusts are definitely top of the list! This movement takes the standard hip thrust, which is already a killer leg workout, and adds a barbell to it to make it more challenging for your posterior chain.

How to do it:

  1. Sit on the floor while resting your back on the long side of a bench, and place a loaded barbell in front of you. Your shoulder blades and upper back should be resting on the bench. 
  2. Roll the barbell up to your hips and place your feet firmly on the floor at shoulder distance while you grab the bar with an overhand grip.
  3. Begin the movement by thrusting your hips off the floor and upward, driving the bar up as you move. Your body should be supported by your upper back on the bench and your feet on the floor.
  4. Hold for a moment when your torso and thighs are parallel to the floor and squeeze your muscles, then return to the starting position and repeat.

Close-grip barbell bench press

While the classic barbell bench press emphasizes your chest area, this variation uses a close grip while holding the bar that helps move the focus to your arms, more specifically your triceps for a more dedicated workout.

How to do it:

  1. Load a barbell and lie on a bench under it, grasping the bar with a close overhand grip. Not so close that they touch, but not so far that you would place the stress back on your pecs.
  2. Unrack the bar, holding it above your chest with your elbows to the sides, and begin the movement by pushing the weight upward until your arms are extended above you and perpendicular to the floor. Make sure not to lock your elbows.
  3. At this top position, squeeze your triceps while keeping the bar balanced, then slowly lower it to your chest and repeat. 

Barbell Romanian deadlift

Few barbell exercises are as popular as the deadlift, and the Romanian variation is perfect if what you’re looking for is strengthening your posterior chain! It mainly targets your hamstrings, as well as your glutes and back muscles.

How to do it:

  1. Place a loaded barbell on the floor and stand with your feet hip-width apart in front of it, hinging at the hips and very slightly at the knees to grab the bar with an overhand grip.
  2. Stand straight with the bar resting on your thighs, keeping a slight bend on your knees, and begin the movement by bending forward at the hips. Drive the bar down until it’s past your knees while keeping your back straight.
  3. Feel the stretch on your hamstrings in this position, squeeze your muscles, then return to the upright position and repeat.

Barbell overhead press

Overhead pressing with a bar can seem intimidating at first, but once you work your way up to it, it’ll probably become one of your favorite shoulder exercises. It’s known as shoulder press for that same reason, giving your deltoids a good burn as well as your core for stability.

How to do it:

  1. Place a loaded barbell at chest level on a rack and grab it with both hands in an overhand grip.
  2. Unrack the bar and step away from the rack, placing your feet shoulder-width apart from each other. The bar should be resting on your chest along your shoulders with your elbows pointing forward.
  3. With your shoulder blades down and back, begin the movement by pressing the weight upward and overhead until your arms are extended above you.
  4. Squeeze your muscles in this position without locking your elbows, then slowly bring the bar down to your chest and repeat.

Skullcrushers

This exercise has a scary name, and it sure can be challenging, but that’s what makes it so effective! Instead of a regular straight bar, you’ll be using an EZ bar to target your triceps and really tone your arms for a more sculpted upper body.

How to do it:

  1. Lie on a bench under a loaded EZ bar and grab it with both hands in an overhand grip at a shoulder-width distance. Your feet should be planted on the floor for stability.
  2. Press the bar up so that your arms are extended above you and perpendicular to the floor. This will be your starting position.
  3. Begin by bending your elbows and lowering your forearms, keeping your arms perpendicular, so that the weight goes down and close to your skull (which is why it’s called skullcrusher – be careful!).
  4. When your arms and forearms form a 90-degree angle, pause for a moment while you squeeze your arm muscles, then go back to the straight arm position and repeat.

Take your strength training workouts to the next level

Make sure to include barbells in your workout routine to get the most out of your time at the gym, but don’t forget about other lifting equipment! Dumbbells, kettlebells, cable machines, and even your own body weight are all effective ways to achieve your goals, whether you’re looking to improve your strength, your size, or your resistance.

Need high-quality fitness gear that can support you on your fitness journey?

Check out UPPPER Fitness Gear! We have durable and super comfortable Lifting Belts, Wrist Wraps, Barbell Pads, and more – so you can safely do heavy lifting on your strength training days!

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