The barbell is just a tool

By Sean Wells

many different barbells

A barbell is tool, no different than a dumbbell or a kettlebell.

The barbell gets a lot of love and a lot of hate, online with social media, and in a gym setting.

It seems like everyone has an opinion on whether people should be training more with the barbell or less with the barbell. What it ultimately boils down to is the fact that the barbell is just a tool. If it helps you reach your goals awesome, you should use it, if it doesn’t then you shouldn’t use the barbell just to use it. Let me explain.

The barbell is a great tool to build strength.

A person can lift heavier loads using a barbell then a person can utilizing Kettlebells, Dumbbells, Sandbags, Bulgarian Bags, etc. Why can you use heavier loads you might ask? The answer is pretty simple; you get to use two arms to manipulate it. This allows a person to squat, bench, and deadlift using a barbell and get full body exercise in, while also moving more weight typically than doing single arm exercises. In turn, these movements, when using a barbell, are a great tool to get stronger.
The barbell in regards to building strength probably has no equal, that is why we use it a lot for our squats, benches and deadlifts. We can put bigger weights into play, we can build strength and get stronger. We know that getting stronger is going to make us more durable and less likely to get injured, getting stronger, research is pointing out, also slows the aging process. The barbell trains our “core” very effectively, especially with deadlift and squat variations, so it gets results fast. Including the results most people want, around the belly (6 pack abs anyone).

There are some disadvantages, because we can lift bigger weights with it, since we are using both arms when manipulating it, sometimes the barbell can hide a weakness.

Maybe it is a weakness between the right and left arm, or maybe in the legs, but because both sides are working together the barbell can hide a weakness – a bilateral deficit. We have talked about using accessories:… and how they can really help you overcome any discrepancies and stay healthy.

Another disadvantage the barbell has is that when we start looking at conditioning and using it in a conditioning workout – it can actually slow us down and make the workout less effective for the goal of the training session.

Picture this scenario: you are in a conditioning piece(#METCON, #WOD, #sweatyworkout) and you stop and stare.

You don’t pick the barbell up to do another deadlift or power clean or snatch – you stop and stare at it. This is you using the barbell as a “rest” when maybe you do or do not need the “rest”. But in the same conditioning workout there is a kettlebell and you need to snatch it a few more times – very little rest required and more work getting done which equals greater results in regards to the purpose of the workout.

This question always comes up next, “But Sean, when I started CrossFit in 2001, or (insert any “early” years of CrossFit) we used the barbell all the time”.

OF COURSE YOU DID!  The barbell was one of very few options to have “weight” in a conditioning piece. In 2009, when OC opened we had some dumbbells but no where close to what we have now. The same goes for Kettlebells. And when we opened we had zero sandbags, D-balls or stones.

When CrossFit started there were rowers but you would “drop in” to another gym and there would be one rower for a class of 5-6 people. Everyone would share, now if you come to OC to “drop in” you can pretty much choose – should I bike, ski, or row? All are great tools to help us reach our goals.

The final point I want to bring up – I have countless examples of athletes not being able to utilize a barbell and getting stronger.

Off the top of my head I can think of two OC athlete’s who saw significant strength gains(#GAINZ) but couldn’t use a barbell due to one arm being in a cast. Another who wasn’t able to to put a barbell on their back because of a shoulder injury(#Anotherskiingvictim) but a few short weeks after getting cleared they PR’d their back squat(they drug a ton of sled and used single arm DB squats, lunges, step ups, etc).

So the next time you think man I really want to do some power cleans, think about if it is necessary to do power cleans with a barbell or could you be better served utilizing a sandbag, cheese curd, dumbbell, or kettlebell. All of these are great tools, but there are a variety of tools to challenge you and to help you achieve your goals. Nothing more, nothing less.

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