4 Empty Barbell Exercises You Can Use to Build Strength and Stability

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There's a common misconception that a barbell has to be loaded with weight on both sides to be effective, but that's just a gym myth. A standard barbell weighs about 45 pounds all on its own. And according to Maillard Howell, owner of Dean CrossFit and founder of The Beta Way, both beginners and skilled weightlifters should incorporate empty barbell exercises into their workouts.

"An empty barbell should always be your barometer," says Howell. The baseline 45 pounds of the bar allows you to test—and eventually master—the mechanics required to lift heavier loads, he explains. Over time, your body will develop a muscle memory for all those deadlifts, squats, and presses. When you up the weight, you'll be able to maintain excellent form.

Barbells offer a stability that free weights simply don't. "I think that you can definitely feel your imbalances when you're holding free weights," says Howell. If your left side is stronger than your right, your left arm may take longer to tire than its opposite. Barbells even the playing field so you can get your sea legs (er, gym legs?) before diving into more complex compound movements that require dumbbells.

The 4 empty barbell exercises every strength-training beginner needs for gains

1. Back squat

Begin with a barbell securely placed on top of your traps with your feet hips-width distance apart. Flex your knees to descend while doing your best to keep them in line with your ankles. Keep your torso as upright as possible and keep the weight in your upper heel. When the upper leg hits the lower leg, push back upward.

Complete 8 to 10 reps. 

2. Barbell press

Begin sitting on the bench with the empty barbells at your chest (your grips should face forward). Lift the bar over your head. Lower the bar to your shoulders as you inhale; lift the bar back up as you exhale.

Complete 8 to 10 reps. 

3. Barbell row

Begin standing with your mid-foot under the bar. Bend over and grab the bar with your knees bent. Keep your back straight and your core engaged as pull the barbell upward against your lower chest. Return it slowly to the ground.

Complete 8 to 10 reps.

4. Deadlift

Begin standing with your mid-foot under the bar. Bend over and grab the bar so that it brushes gently against your shins. Keeping your core engaged, stand up with the weight. Lower down the way you came.

Complete 8 to 10 reps.

Ready to try free weights:

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