To paraphrase Shakespeare, “Training tools don’t make the athlete.”
All right, that’s not Shakespeare, but what I mean is, you don’t need fancy equipment to get stronger, build muscle or improve your performance. You can do a barbell-only workout. Free weights and other strength training equipment were nonexistent until the 20th century. Before that, athletes trained only with what they found in nature.
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Don’t get me wrong, I love the fancy cable systems, platforms and dumbbells as much as the next guy. But I also love simplicity. A barbell-only workout is the epitome of simplicity. You can work your entire body—effectively—with one piece of equipment. So whether you are training in a home gym, a gym with limited equipment, or just want to get back to basics, give the following exercises a try.
Below each exercise you will find several coaching cues to keep in mind for form and technique. Most of the exercises work best as hypertrophy-focused accessory work, meaning they are effective at building muscle and shouldn’t replace lifts like the Barbell Squat or Deadlift. For this reason, optimal set and rep schemes for the exercises fall between 2-4 sets of 8-12 reps.
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Landmine Press (Kneeling)
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- Squared shoulders—avoid twisting with each rep.
- Tight, braced core.
- Elbow remains relatively close to your torso (no chicken wings).
- Upright torso—avoid leaning forward or backward.
Landmine Reverse Lunge
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- Knee in line with toes.
- Squared shoulders.
- Pull shoulders back and down (shoulder blades in hip pockets) and lock your arm into your side.
Barbell Bent-Over Row
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- Maintain flat back (no rounding).
- Pull the barbell toward your belly button with your lats and muscles of the back, not your arms.
- Elbows shouldn’t travel too far past the midline, or torso.
- Squeeze your muscles at the top of every rep—each rep should be controlled on the eccentric and concentric portions, unlike the Pendlay Row.
Barbell Stiff Leg Deadlift
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- Knees slightly bent, nearly locked at the top part of the movement.
- Maintain flat lumbar spine (low back) with minimal upper back rounding at the far end of your range of motion—loads should be lighter than a traditional Deadlift
- Bar path travels away from your legs and over your toes, unlike the Romanian Deadlift (RDL), which travels close to the body
Barbell Overhead Press
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- Elbows should always be in front of or underneath the barbell—this prevents you from pushing away from your body and center of gravity.
- Athletic stance with a wide base—screw your feet into the ground.
- Tight, braced core with glutes squeezed and abs tight.
- Move your head back slightly so that you can press up without pushing away from your body. Push your head through as the bar clears your head (exaggerated in video for effect).
- To press a lot, press a lot—improving the Overhead Press takes time. Avoid going too heavy, too soon.
Barbell Bicep Curl
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- Elbows locked into sides—shoulders should not move.
- Shoulder-width grip or grip most comfortable for wrists.
- Avoid rocking back and forth—standing against a wall can help keep you honest.
- Use slow and controlled eccentrics (lowering the weight) for optimal hypertrophy.
Barbell Glute Bridge
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- Barbell should rest in your hip crease (between pelvic and pubic bones). If you have never tried this exercise, use padding to ease the discomfort.
- Push through your heels and contract your glutes (squeeze your butt) as hard as possible to move the barbell off the floor. Lift your toes off the floor to ensure you’re pushing through the heels.
- It’s important to lock your hips out fully on each and every rep. Pausing for a second at the top is a solid reminder.
- Maintain a neutral spine and neck whether you use a bench, BOSU ball, or the floor.
These are only a few options in the vast world of barbell training. If you enjoy this style of training and would like to learn more, guys like Ben Bruno (a Landmine wizard), Bret Contreras (the Glute Guy and hip thrust/glute bridge master), and Tony Gentilcore are all great resources.
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Remember, effective training doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep it simple, my friends.