Welcome back for Part 2 of this beginner barbell guide! If you missed Part 1, read that first as it covers the basics of equipment and etiquette. And remember that while you may think you’re the only one in the gym who doesn’t know the basics, I promise you that you’re not. Even some of the people using them regularly don’t actually know the basics. My goal is to make sure that you’re not one of them.
We covered points 1-6 in the first guide, so let’s pick right up where we left off …
7. Stick with what you know first. Start with barbell variations of moves that you’re used to doing with dumbbells — bent over rows, squats, deadlifts, overhead shoulder presses, and bench presses. Don’t immediately jump into complicated lifts until you’ve developed some comfort in working with a barbell. Most people find the barbell more stable than dumbbells, but until you’ve got some reps under your belt, work with what you know. And if you need some help, here are some of the best beginner-friendly moves to get you rolling.
8. Start with just the bar. With the barbell, since both of your hands are gripping the same bar (as opposed to two separate dumbbells), the path of your hands and arms are limited. Ultimately, that will be one of the reasons you can lift more with a barbell, but at first it’s an adjustment, since you can’t change the path of your arm mid-lift. So start with an empty bar and do a few warm-up sets to familiarize yourself with how the weight is distributed and where to place your hands on the bar so that it’s comfortable through the full range of motion for the lift.
9. Don’t get sloppy. When the time comes to load up or remove weights from the bar, do it slowly and with your full attention focused on what you’re doing. Think about good lifting form (use your legs, not your back) and don’t get lazy in this process — imagine how embarrassing it would be to have to tell people that you injured yourself loading (or deloading) the bar.
Safety Considerations (Listen Up, This is Important)
10. Before you lift, know your exit plan. The more confident you become with working with a barbell, the more likely it is that you will challenge yourself — and therefore, the more likely it becomes that you will need to bail out of a lift at some point. This is a normal part of lifting; all lifters fail lifts and/or need to bail at some point. But it does mean that you must have a strategy for how to put it down quickly and safely — and you should practice bailing out so you know what to do when you actually need to bail. If you’re unsure of how to do this, work with a coach or trainer. Always lift with an exit strategy in mind and have all the appropriate safety mechanisms in place.
When using a power rack or lifting platform, the adjustable side bars are there to catch the end of the barbell for you when the barbell is racked across your upper back so there’s not need to drop the barbell. When the barbell is in front of you (deadlifts and front squats), you should let the weight drop onto the platform in front of you as you step backward — don’t throw the weight forward. If you’re using bumper plates (which you should be if there is any potential that you will need to drop the barbell to the floor), be aware that the bar may bounce a bit off the floor or skip around a little, so it’s important that anytime you drop the barbell, you also step back away from the bar simultaneously.
11. Ask for a spotter when you need one. The biggest place that this will come up is on the bench press; unlike the side rails that will catch the bar in the racks, the bench typically has no bail out option. If you don’t have a buddy with you, ask a trainer at the gym or look around for someone who looks like they know what they’re doing.
Let your spotter know (A) how many reps you’re trying for and (B) what you need them to do. For example, on the bench press, would you like help unracking the bar and getting it into place above your chest, or do you just want help if you get stuck? Then communicate. When doing your lift, if you’re on the struggle bus but want to work through it, let them know that. If you don’t have it under control and you need help, speak up clearly. No spotter? Just use lighter weight or less reps. Safety first.
Feeling ready to give it a shot? Let us know how it goes in the comments below. –Alison