Ashton's Top 5 Simple and Effective Barbell Exercises

I am in love with the simple barbell as it is such an amazingly simple and versatile piece of equipment. Why?  

Barbells are easy to hold and the exercises we use them for promote very natural ways of moving, from standing and lifting to squatting. The weight range is highly adjustable and the types of exercises possible are endless. Unlike machines and dumbbells, you only need one bar and a set of weight plates. 

Yet many gyms lack enough barbells and a lot of people are intimidated by the thought of using one. So here are 5 simple and underrated exercises that you could do using a barbell or dumbbells/kettlebells if a barbell is not available. 

  1. Squat 

Stand with feet just outside of hip-width apart (the width between your feet can vary depending on how wide you want to squat). Place the bar onto the trapezius muscles (meaty part of upper back). Hold the bar on either side of shoulders in a comfortable position and ensure that you are central to the bar. Sit back, bend knees and push them outwards as you squat down. Aim for the glutes to reach knee level or wherever is comfortable. Use backs and heels to push back up to standing position. Target area: Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and hip flexors. 

  1. Lunges 

Place bar onto trapezius muscles (meaty part of upper back). Again, ensure that you are central to the bar. Brace the core and take a long step back and lower the knee towards the floor with one leg. Try to ensure that the torso travels straight down in the lunge and that both knees are at roughly 90 degrees. Step back to your starting position before lunging with the other leg. Avoid: the chest travelling forwards and the front knee going over the toes. Target area: Glutes, quadriceps and hip flexors. 

  1. Tricep Extensions 

Lie on a mat or bench, ground heels into floor with knees bent and hold the bar above your head with your hands at shoulder width. Hinge at the elbows and lower the bar overhead so that it stops just an inch above the forehead. Target area: triceps. 

  1. Bench press 

Hold your bar with a medium grip (so that when you lower the bar halfway down to your chest, your elbows create a 90 degree angle), in the air above your chest, take an inhalation as you slowly lower the bar so that it touches you mid-chest. Hold the bar in this lower range for a second and then exhale as you press the bar back up into the air. Try to lower the bar twice as slow as you press the bar into the air to stay in conctrol of the bar at all times. Target area: Pectoralis major and minor, triceps and shoulders. 

  1. Rows 

Stand with feet just outside of hip-width and under the bar. Roll shoulders back slightly and engage core for a strong posture. Bend forward and down to pick up the bar with hands at shoulder-width. Pull the bar into your lower chest. Return the bar to the floor. Try to avoid locking out the knees or rounding the shoulders when rowing or putting the bar down. Target area: Upper and mid-back muscles and core. 

What weight do I use?  

If it's your first time using a barbell, start with the lightest weights available on each side of the bar, carry out 5-10 reps and then see if you can add a few more kg each time until you get to a weight that challenges you. When ready, move to 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps of each exercise with a 30 second to 1 minute rest in between each exercise.  

Remember that using a lighter weight in good form is much more beneficial to your health and safer than using a heavy weight with incorrect form so go easy and steady when increasing your weights! Enjoy the beautiful barbell to its fullest! 

We love supporting people on their fitness journey. Why not book a Focus on Change starter experience for a two-week taster of bespoke personal training? Our clients have been amazed by how much they can acheive when they have an expert guiding them and cheering them on. If you haven’t already, I’d definitely recommend booking on today!

Ashton Leung