The barbell is probably one of the most versatile and widely used pieces of gym equipment. It is used for the three main compound lifts – squat, bench press and deadlift.
Exercises are either classified as compound, which involves multiple joints and muscle groups (ie. Squat, bench press, deadlift), or isolation exercises, which are exercises that isolate a single muscle group only (ie. Bicep curl, calf raise).
To ensure you make the most of your time in the gym, complete a variation of each of these compound exercises during your workouts, that will cover all your major muscle groups. These exercises (or variations) should make up the bulk of your workouts, only adding in isolation and accessory work as needed and if you have time. Compound exercises will create the greatest change in body composition in the shortest time, while also having the added benefit of helping to develop the body proportionally.
1. The Squat
There are a few different variations such as the front squat and more commonly used back squat; both are great for building leg and core strength. They can be used for both hypertrophy and strength training while also being used to increase endurance and power in such athletes as sprinters and golfers.
The back squat works some of the body’s largest muscle groups – the quads and glutes – in order to establish a strong foundation of support to facilitate the development of the entire physique.
The front squat works the quads and core more than the back squat, but it tends to be a more technically difficult movement for many people. Having the barbell resting on your shoulders, with the barbell almost choking you can be uncomfortable for people but it is necessary, to ensure you keep your back straight and chest up.
2. The Bench Press
This can be done at a few different level – it can be done flat, on an incline or a decline, all targeting slightly different areas of the chest muscles. It is often referred to as the king of upper body movements. It builds muscle in the chest, shoulders, and triceps. The key to benefit from this movement is to focus on the negative or lowering phase of the exercise as this is where the strength building and muscle tearing (hypertrophy) comes in. It can be quite common to drop the bar and bounce it off the chest to get the weight back up, but this is counterproductive, though you may get more reps, they won’t be quality reps. You would be better to do less better quality reps than more lower quality reps.
The Incline bench press will work the shoulders and upper chest slightly more than the decline bench press which is more focused on the lower chest.
3. The Deadlift
This is a multi-joint exercise involving both the hips and knees working to execute the movement. There are several connected muscle groups working at once including the glutes, hamstrings, quads, lats, traps and deltoids. This is both an upper and lower body building exercise, while it can be more well-known for being a back exercise, it also involves using the major leg muscles so is a great lower body building exercise too.