Old-School Barbell Workout
Build power, strength and muscle mass with this barbell-and-bodyweight workout.
By Michael Berg, NSCA-CPT
At-home workouts in magazines tend to have one thing in common — they all assume you have a well-stocked dumbbell rack at home, or at least an adjustable pair, along with a bench.
So what about those of us who kick it really old-school, and opted for nothing but a barbell and weight plates for that dusty old corner of the basement or garage? Well, here’s the dirty little secret: Not only can you get a workout equal to those fancy dumbbell-centric routines with the barbell, you might just find that it’s better.
The following full-body routine combines powerlifting with Olympic and bodyweight exercises to absolutely annihilate you head to toe, engaging all the muscle groups in a synergistic style while driving up your body’s growth hormone production.
It starts with compound lifts — which call upon multiple muscle groups to complete — and ratchets down to a key selection of isolation moves to ensure no bodypart goes untouched.
You can either do the routine religiously two to three times per week, with at least a day of rest in between, or use it once a week or occasionally as part of a more standard bodybuilding split. Either way, you’ll quickly discover why the barbell may be old, but still reigns supreme when it comes time to get huge in a hurry.
Stand directly over a barbell with shins in contact with it, feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees to lower yourself down, keeping your torso almost upright, and grasp the bar just outside shoulder width. Your shoulders should be positioned directly over or slightly forward of the barbell and your core should be tight, arms straight. Extend powerfully at your knees to start pulling the weight from the floor while maintaining the angle of your back. From there, your back straightens while your knees and hips move forward as the bar reaches hip level. Now, powerfully shrug and drive your elbows quickly upward — position your body under the bar, catching it at shoulder level with soft knees. At this point, your elbows should be underneath the bar and high (the “catch” position). Return the barbell to the floor and repeat.
Stand in front of the barbell, then lower your hips as you bend your knees to lower yourself. Now grasp the barbell with your hands outside shoulder-width, feet directly below your shoulders, head up and core tight. From here, bend your knees to bring the barbell to hip level, then explosively “throw” the bar straight overhead, catching it with your elbows locked and knees slightly bent. Bring the bar back down to your hips, then to the floor, and repeat.
If you don’t have a power rack, you’ll want to clean the bar into position, holding it with elbows out, creating a shelf to cradle the bar at your front delts and upper chest. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart. Keep your chest up and back flat, eyes focused forward as you bend your knees and hips as if sitting in a chair until your thighs are parallel to the floor or below. Reverse the motion by driving through your heels and pressing your hips forward to return to the start position. (If you’re uncomfortable getting the bar into the front squat position, you can use a variation where you do squats while holding the barbell behind you — you bring it from the floor to your glutes at the standing position, i.e. a barbell hack squat.)
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and grasp a barbell with a wide overhand grip. Lean forward at your waist until your torso is roughly parallel with the floor. The barbell should hang straight down in front of your shins. Without raising your upper body, pull the barbell up toward your belly button, bringing your elbows high and above the level of your back. Hold the bar in the peak-contracted position for a one count, then slowly lower along the same path.
With your feet flat beneath the bar and it resting against your shins, squat down and grasp it with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip. Keeping your chest up and back flat, lift the bar by fully extending your hips and knees, dragging the bar up your body until you reach a standing position. Be sure to keep your arms straight throughout. After a brief pause at the top, lower the bar downward along the same path to the floor.
Stand holding a barbell with a shoulder-width underhand grip, arms extended. Keep your abs tight, chest up and head straight as you contract your biceps to curl the bar toward your chest, keeping your elbows at your sides throughout. Hold and squeeze the biceps at the top, then slowly return the bar along the same path.
Standard and Close-Grip Push-Up
Assume the standard push-up position on the floor, legs together and lower body balanced on your toes, upper body supported with your hands spaced just outside shoulder width at your nipple line and your elbows out — your head to your feet should be flat with no sag in the middle, and should remain that way throughout. From there, you bend at your elbows to lower your torso to the floor, getting as low as you possibly can before flexing through your chest, front delts and triceps to push yourself back to the “up” position. For close grip, put your hands closer together under the midline of your chest.
Behind-the-Back Wrist Curl
Hold the barbell at shoulder width behind your back, so it crosses your glutes, your palms facing backward. First, unfurl your fingers and wrists to let the bar roll down as far as you can while still controlling it, then flex your wrist up as you tighten your grip on the bar. Flex and extend in a rhythmic fashion for reps until you can no longer move the barbell an appreciable distance.