The barbell is a beautiful thing. So simple, so primal and yet so effective. The barbell has made countless athletes brutally strong, densely muscled and crushingly powerful.
But there comes a time in every athlete's life when he or she must move on from the barbell. New goals and new aspirations require new approaches. We're not abandoning the barbell—nearly every good strength and conditioning program includes one—we're simply adding new tools to the toolbox.
Specialty barbells are a fantastic way to hone your training specifically to meet the needs of your sport. Football requires different training than baseball, soccer requires different training than hockey, and so on. These athletes cannot use the same equipment and expect to maximize their performance.
Colleges and universities across the country pour millions of dollars into gorgeous weight rooms. Those, along with the increased popularity of private strength and conditioning facilities, give athletes greater access than ever before to state-of-the-art equipment. Some of these pieces, especially fancy bars, can be confusing and intimidating at first. This article walks you through three specialty barbells and how to use them to transfer your weight room gains onto the field or court.
The trap bar is the most user-friendly bar in the weight room. A fantastic facilitator of squatting and deadlifting exercises, it places the lifter inside the bar, evenly distributing the weight around his or her center of gravity. This lets the lifter stand more upright for more quadriceps involvement than a regular Deadlift. By holding the bar by the sides instead of in front of your body, you place less shear on your lower back, making it a safer, easier-to-learn Deadlift experience.
Nearly any Deadlift variation can be done with the Trap Bar, including Romanian Deadlifts, Deficit Deadlifts, and Deadlifts with bands or chains. Most Trap Bars have both high and low handles so the height of the bar can be changed to accommodate taller or shorter lifters.
Looking for an awesome core and grip exercise with a conditioning twist? Look no further than the Trap Bar Farmer's Walk. Pick up a heavy Trap Bar, get your core tight, and get walkin' for Popeye forearms and grip strength like a steel bear trap.
Safety Squat Bar
Do your stiff shoulders or bum biceps hurt when you Squat with a straight bar? No problem. The Safety Squat Bar eliminates the aches and pains of the Back Squat while retaining all the lower-body benefits.
Back Squats can aggravate upper-body injuries, especially in overhead athletes who are commonly stricken with shoulder impingement or biceps tendonitis. The Safety Squat Bar sports a thick bar pad and vertical handles, allowing the lifter to hold the bar with hands at chest level while reducing strain on the shoulders and biceps.
But don't let the word "safety" fool you. This bar is a beast. The thick pad puts the bar higher on the back, and the cambered sleeves make the plates sit lower than a traditional barbell. This shifts the entire weight of the bar forward, forcing the lifter to engage his or her core and upper back much like during a Front Squat.
The Safety Squat Bar caters to Squats of all variations, especially Box Squats, which force the lifter to load the hips and hamstrings while keeping the chest tall. Split Squats, Lunges and Good Mornings are other solid options to build your legs while giving your arms and shoulders a break.
Multi-Grip Bench Bar
The Bench Press catches a lot of flack for being a shoulder injury waiting to happen, but if used properly, it's one of the best upper body exercises for building Herculean size and strength. The Multi-Grip Bench Bar lets you press with a neutral grip for a safer, more natural movement pattern.
The safest way to Bench Press (i.e., to press the most weight with the lowest chance of wrecking your shoulders) is to do it like a powerlifter rather than a bodybuilder: upper back slightly arched, shoulder blades pinched together, elbows tucked tightly to the sides and touching the bar to the nipple line instead of the collar bone. The closer your elbows get to your ears, the more strain you place on your shoulders and the less powerful the press.
Think about it. If your car ran out of gas and you had to get out and push, how would you set up? You'd get your elbows tight to your sides, because it's the most efficient movement. Benching is the same. The Multi-Grip Bench Bar caters perfectly to this technique.
The Overhead Press with a barbell spurs shoulder pain in some people, but the Multi-Grip Bench Bar often cures these ailments, because the bar puts the shoulder in a more stable position. With a regular bar, the wrists are pronated (palms facing forward), which tends to internally rotate the shoulder and may lead to impingement as the arms reach overhead. The Multi-Grip Bench Bar turns the palms toward each other, called supination, which externally rotates the shoulder joint into a secure position in the socket.
Here are two sample workouts, one lower-body and one upper-body, that incorporate specialty bars for increased strength, power and safety.
A1. Multi-Grip Bench Bar Overhead Press – 4x5 (use a weight you can lift 7 times)
A2. Med Ball Overhead Stomps – 4x6
B1. Multi-Grip Bench Bar Incline Bench Press – 2xmax (shoot for 15-20)
B2. Face Pulls – 2x20
C1. Dumbbell Rows – 4x10 each side
D1. Trap Bar Farmer's Walks – 5x30 yards
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