Workouts

The Full-Body Barbell Workout

No machines? No Problem! Build beastly mass with just a barbell using these seven uncommon exercises.

By Jeb Roberts, MA | January 1, 2013

Floor Press



Target: Chest

Start: If you can’t get to a power cage, you’ll need to find a squat rack with adjustable safety arms or J-hooks set just below the barbell when your arms are locked out. Lie supine beneath the bar so that it’s directly above your eyes, just as if you’re setting up for a bench press. Spread your legs slightly and extend them flat on the floor to remove any assistance from leg drive and increase the stress on your upper body.

Execution: Using the same grip width as you bench press — you want your forearms to be about perpendicular to the floor when your elbows touch down — unrack the bar and lock it out directly above your sternum. From there, slowly lower it until your elbows contact the floor and press explosively back to lockout for each consecutive rep.

Pair It With: One-arm barbell flye, barbell pullover from floor

MMI Power Pointer: Really slow down the negative to keep from jolting your elbows; the range of motion is fairly short.

One-Arm Barbell Row



Target: Back

Start: Place the unloaded end of a barbell in a corner and load the opposite end. Facing away from the corner, take a staggered stance with the leg of your non-working side forward, and grasp the loaded end just beneath the sleeve (so that you’re your thumb is closest to the plates). To limit stress on your lower back, support yourself by resting your non-working forearm on your slightly bent front leg.

Execution: Maintaining a flat back, contract your working lat to pull the loaded end of the bar toward your shoulder, bringing your elbow as high as you can. Lower the weight in a controlled motion until lockout for a full stretch in the bottom position and repeat.

Pair It With: Pull-up, bent-over barbell row

MMI Power Pointer: Because your back is supported, do some heavy “cheat” reps at the end of your set.

Zercher Squat



Target: Legs

Start: If you’re training without a squat rack, start with a loaded barbell on the floor and set up for a narrow-grip deadlift, placing your feet approximately shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed slightly out and your shins touching the bar. Using a pronated grip that’s inside the width of your knees, lift the bar to your thighs. From there, squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, rest the bar on them close to the crease of your hips, and tuck both arms under the bar to secure it in the crooks of your elbows.

Execution: Maintaining a flat back and an upright torso, contract the muscles of your posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes and spinal erectors) to squat the weight up until your knees and hips are fully extended. Fight against the bar’s tendency to pull you forward as you descend back into a deep squat, letting your elbows sink between your legs until the bar touches your thighs, and immediately reverse direction. At the end of each set, rest the bar back on your thighs, quickly switch back to the narrow pronated deadlift grip, and hinge at your hips to set the bar back on the floor.

Pair It With: Barbell front squat, romanian deadlift

MMI Power Pointer: You might feel some pain in your elbows, but it’s not serious. Wrap the bar with a pad, towel or even a pair of Fat Gripz.

Close-Grip Barbell Curl



Target: Biceps

Start: Hold a barbell with a supinated (palms-up) grip that’s approximately 6–12 inches wide — any closer and you’ll put strain on your wrists without increasing the benefits of the close grip. Let the barbell rest against your thighs in the start position for a full stretch in your pecs. Stand with your chest out and shoulders back.

Execution: Keeping your elbows pinned to your sides and your upper arms fixed in place, contract your biceps to curl the bar toward your shoulders. To keep constant tension on the working muscles, stop when your forearms reach a 45-degree angle with your upper arms.

Pair It With: Wide-grip barbell curl, close-grip chin-up

MMI Power Pointer: If the close grip hurts your wrists, the outward angle of an EZ-bar will be easier on your joints.

Floor Skullcrusher



Target: Triceps

Start: Lie on the floor with a loaded barbell resting a few inches from the top of your head. Point your elbows toward the ceiling, and take an overhand (your palms should face up) grip on the bar just inside shoulder width. If you feel discomfort in your wrists, opt for a cambered bar.

Execution: Starting from a dead stop and keeping both elbows pointed straight up, contract your triceps to extend your elbows and lift the weight to a locked-out position directly above your shoulders. Squeeze your tri’s at the peak contraction before returning to the start position. Instead of letting the bar descend toward your forehead (giving the standard skullcrusher its ominous name), let your upper arms track back slightly so that the bar comes to rest on the floor just beyond your head before you start your next rep. Try to keep your elbows in tight to keep the stress on the tri’s.

Pair It With: Weighted bench dip, close-grip push-up

MMI Power Pointer: If elbow pain is a problem, try a thicker bar or Fat Gripz to reduce the strain.

Barbell Rollout



Target: Abs

Start: If you’re new to the rollout, start with the kneeling version. Load a barbell on the floor with small (usually 10 pound) plates, and kneel on a padded surface in front of it. Take a pronated shoulder-width grip on the bar and lock out your arms. The bar should be directly beneath your elbows, with your knees directly beneath your hips.

Execution: Maintaining a hollow (slightly rounded) back while looking straight down at the floor, roll the bar slowly out in front of you. Keep tension in your abs to control the eccentric motion as your arms and thighs simultaneously extend. In the fully stretched position, you’ll be almost completely prone on the floor, with your weight still supported by your hands and knees. Hold this extremely strenuous position for a full second before contracting your core to slowly return the barbell to the start position.

Pair It With: Floor crunch (rectus abdominis), suitcase deadlift (internal and external obliques)

MMI Power Pointer: If the kneeling version is too tough, focus on low-rep sets of negatives, walking your hands back to the starting position each rep.

Power Snatch

Target: Shoulders

Start: Hold a barbell with an extremely wide pronated grip such that the bar rests at or slightly below the crease of your hips when your arms are straight. If your grip gives out, use an Olympic-style “hook” grip by wrapping your fingers over your thumbs. Start extremely light until you’ve mastered the lift.

Execution: Maintaining a flat back, dip at your knees and bend slightly forward at your waist to lower the bar a few inches down the front of your thighs. Quickly reverse the motion, returning the bar to the crease of your hips. Once it reaches that point, explosively drive from your hips to propel the bar upward, leading with your elbows. As it approaches shoulder height, rotate your elbows downward and continue to explosively extend the bar upward until it’s locked out overhead.

Pair It With: Standing barbell military press, barbell front raise

MMI Power Pointer: Keep the bar close to your body throughout; it should travel in an almost straight line throughout the motion.

About the Author

Jeb Roberts, MA