The Only Training Tool You Need To Build Strength
The barbell is the ultimate strength training tool. There is a good reason why the strongest men on earth predominantly use barbells in their workouts.
Barbells are highly versatile yet simple pieces of equipment that allow you to perform a vast number of upper and lower body resistance exercises.
Furthermore, when it comes to free weights, there is no other piece of kit that allows you to lift as heavy as the barbell. This makes them an ideal piece of equipment for building serious strength at home.
This article will provide an at-home barbell only training program and guidelines to help you to make the most optimal progress possible.
The Barbell Only Workout
As the name suggests, the following training program utilizes the barbell only. You will not need any other piece of training equipment other than the barbell and weight plates.
The following section firstly provides information on training structure before moving on to detail the individual barbell workouts.
The barbell training plan is a three-day plan with the option of an additional accessory session.
It follows a traditional split with a leg workout, chest and triceps workout, and a back and biceps workout to complete.
The purpose of the accessory session is to increase total weekly training volume and is more speed focused.
This session is non-compulsory. If you are feeling fatigued from the other sessions, you may wish to skip the accessory session.
While the training structure can be adjusted to suit your lifestyle and preferences, the following table maps out the ideal weekly structure:
|Wednesday||Chest, Triceps, and Abs|
|Friday||Back and Biceps|
Session One – Legs
|Exercise||Training Volume (Sets x Reps)|
|Back Squat||4 x 8|
|Walking Lunge||3 x 20|
|Stiff Leg Deadlift||2 x 15|
|Standing Calf Raise||3 x 12|
|Front Squat||3 x 10|
|Farmers Walk||3 x 30 seconds|
The primary exercise in this workout is the back squat. There are few exercises that compare to the squat for leg development.
However, although the exercise does place a great demand on the quads and glutes, it also requires a great amount of work from the core muscles.
Walking lunges are an excellent unilateral (single-limbed) strengthening exercise. Although both feet are in contact with the ground during this exercise, the front leg does the majority of the work.
During the walking lunge, it is imperative that you keep the chest up and core engaged to enhance balance and stability.
While the squat and lunge place a great emphasis on anterior (front) muscles, the stiff leg deadlift highly activates the posterior muscles such as the hamstrings, glutes, and low back.
The standing calf raise which is an isolation exercise that specifically targets the calf muscles. To maximize range of motion, place the front of the feet on an elevated surface.
In terms of total weight lifted, front squats will not allow you to lift as heavy as back squats, however, they do place a greater demand on the quadriceps, core strength, and mobility.
Finally, to perform the farmers walk, simply pinch two weight plates in each hand and walk. This exercise specifically develops core and grip strength.
Session Two – Chest, Triceps, and Abs
|Exercise||Training Volume (Sets x Reps)|
|Bench Press||3 x 15|
|Incline Bench Press||3 x 8|
|Close Grip Bench Press||2 x 20|
|Seated Military Press||4 x 12|
|Tricep Skullcrushers||3 x 10|
|Barbell Rollout||2 x 20|
The bench press is the ultimate chest developer which explains why this session begins with three bench press variations.
Out of all of the variations, the conventional bench press will allow you to lift the most weight and maximize strength progress.
Moving on to the incline press which particularly targets the upper portion of the pectorals (chest) and the anterior deltoids (shoulder).
Shifting your grip influences muscle activation. Typically, a wider grip places more stress on the pecs while a narrower grip hits the triceps (arms) more.
Therefore, the purpose of the narrow bench press is to develop tricep strength and size.
The military press is a challenging exercise that will continue to work the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Performing it from a seated position negates the involvement of the lower body muscles.
Skullcrushers are an isolation exercise that targets the triceps and can lead to significant improvements in arm strength and size.
This session finishes with the barbell rollout which is undoubtedly one of the most challenging but highly effective core exercises that can be performed.
Session Three – Back and Biceps
|Deadlift||4 x 8|
|Bent Over Row||3 x 12|
|Pendlay Row||3 x 8|
|Shrugs||4 x 15|
|Bicep Curl||3 x 15|
|Reverse Grip Bicep Curl||3 x 15|
As with squats, the deadlift is a supreme exercise that works the entire posterior chain and the core. It is a particularly effective developer of the back which explains it’s inclusion in this session.
Moving on to bent over rows which target the latissimus dorsi which are the powerful, wing-like muscles found in the back.
Next, you are to complete the Pendlay row. This is similar to the bent row, however, instead of holding the bar in a suspended position, the bar is pulled from and returns to the floor with each rep.
The Pendlay row requires a greater level of mobility but will allow you to work on explosive power more so than the bent over row.
Shrugs are a heavy accessory exercise that particularly works the trapezius muscles. These are the distinctive muscles that are located either side of the neck.
You’ll finish this session by completing two bicep-focused exercises – the conventional bicep curl and a reverse grip curl.
Because curls are a single-joint movement, both of these exercises highly activate the biceps. The reverse grip also places a great demand on forearm extensors and grip strength.
Session Four – Accessory Day
|Sit-ups||2 x 20|
|Plank||2 x 45 seconds|
|Upright Row||3 x 12|
|Front Raise||3 x 15|
|Snatch Grip Deadlift||2 x 15|
As highlighted, this accessory day is non-compulsory, however, performing it regularly will facilitate a faster improvement in strength.
The session begins with some core work – sit-ups and planks. While these are perhaps not the most exciting exercises, they are undoubtedly effective developers of the core muscles, specifically the abdominals.
Moving on next to the upright row which is an efficient developer of the shoulders and the upper back. With this one, ensure you keep the barbell tight to the body as you vertically row.
Another highly effective isolation exercise is the front raise. This particularly targets the shoulders while also demanding a great deal of core strength and stability.
The session concludes with a deadlift variation known as snatch grip deadlift. This refers to the extremely wide grip assumed during the Olympic lift, the snatch.
Having an extremely wide grip on the bar places more demand on the upper back musculature and grip.
Optimizing Your Progress
There are a number of areas that you should prioritize in order to make the best progress with your training. This section will highlight four key aspects to focus on.
One of the most common mistakes that you’re likely to see with barbell-based training is either rushing the movement or overloading the bar.
Both of these mistakes tend to cause exercise technique to break down. Not only does this reduce the effectiveness of the exercise, it may also increase the chance of sustaining an injury.
Therefore, take your time with each exercise and prioritize technique first as this will ensure that you are performing the exercise safely and effectively.
If any of the aforementioned exercises are new to you, avoid the temptation to immediately lift heavy.
Instead, spend the first couple of weeks with light weight to allow the nervous system to get to grips with the movement patterns and gradually add weight from there.
Regardless of whether you are a beginner or an advanced lifter, progressive overload is a principle that must be applied to your training if you want to improve.
Progressive overload involves gradually increasing the training intensity of your workouts over time. The simplest way to do this is to gradually add weight to the barbell.
Strength training places a stimulus on the body that forces it to adapt and improve. However, as the body becomes more familiar with this stimulus, adaptations will slow and cease.
By consistently applying progressive overload to your training, the training stimulus changes which continually forces the body to adapt (1).
While physical training is of great importance and can have an array of benefits, eating well is of equal importance.
Firstly, ensure that you are consuming the right number of calories per day for your training goal. If you are looking to increase muscular strength and size, you may need to up your calorie intake.
Ensure you are consuming enough protein every day. Protein plays a key role in post-workout recovery and consequently influences improvements in muscle growth and strength (2).
It is also important that you eat a wide range of fruits and vegetables to optimize health and function.
If you want to ensure that you are progressing at the correct rate, it’s vital to track each training session and your nutrition.
Studies have consistently shown that those who track make better progress than those who don’t (3).
Although you have the workouts already scheduled, the weights that you use for each exercise are not prescribed.
Therefore, you will need to keep a log of the weight that you use for each exercise. As the weeks progress, gradually add weight to each lift and log your progressions.
In terms of nutrition, if you are upping your calorie intake to maximize muscle growth, tracking your daily calorie intake will ensure you are consuming the right amount.
There are many different strength training methods to choose from, however, few can compare to barbell training.
By following the barbell only training program and guidelines outlined in this article, it is possible to make significant advancements in both strength and physique.
1 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3438871/ Lorenz, Daniel S.; Reiman, Michael P.; Walker, John C. (2010-11). “Periodization”. Sports Health. 2 (6): 509–518. doi:10.1177/1941738110375910. ISSN 1941-7381. PMC 3438871. PMID 23015982.
2 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566799/ Carbone, John W.; Pasiakos, Stefan M. (2019-05-22). “Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit”. Nutrients. 11 (5). doi:10.3390/nu11051136. ISSN 2072-6643. PMC 6566799. PMID 31121843.
3 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5568610/ Ingels, John Spencer; Misra, Ranjita; Stewart, Jonathan; Lucke-Wold, Brandon; Shawley-Brzoska, Samantha (2017). “The Effect of Adherence to Dietary Tracking on Weight Loss: Using HLM to Model Weight Loss over Time”. Journal of Diabetes Research. 2017. doi:10.1155/2017/6951495. ISSN 2314-6745. PMC 5568610. PMID 28852651.