Many women may steer clear of the barbell when it comes to weight training. The barbell, however, is not just for the guys -- it offers women a multitude of valuable and effective exercises for all body parts. Using a barbell can strengthen connective tissue, improve stability, increase muscle mass and tone, and provide variety to keep a workout fun and effective.
Most fitness facilities provide Olympic barbells weighing 45 pounds, unweighted, at a length of 7 feet. One of the greatest challenges for first-time women barbell users may be adapting to the initial instability caused by an unwieldy, 7-foot length of heavy steel. However, finding the center of the bar and balancing under the total weight is effective stability training and becomes second nature with consistent use.
As with any weight regimen, using the barbell is safest when you properly warm up. Working with the barbell may place new or additional stress on certain joints through the instability generated. A proper cardio warm up with light stretching prior to moving weights is important to prevent injury.
Barbell squats are an effective, all-encompassing lower body exercise. Keeping the tailbone back while bending the knees and pushing through the heels on the way up focuses the work on the muscles of the lower body. Moving too heavy a weight too soon may generate unwanted muscle bulk and possible injury. Start with moderate to light weight to increase muscle tone, then progress to heavier weights if more muscle mass is the goal.
Deadlifts are still considered to be one of the best compound movements. Deadlifts can be done through the full range of motion -- starting with the bar on the floor in a wide squat and lifting the bar while simultaneously straightening the legs -- to work the lower body and the back simultaneously, or with straight legs to isolate the muscles of the back.
The barbell also challenges the back effectively during bent-over rows. With the tailbone back, knees bent and the trunk hinged forward at the waist, the weight is evenly distributed over the bar with the hands positioned shoulder-width apart.
As with the lower body, start with moderate weight to avoid injury and develop muscle tone, then progress to heavier weight if mass building is the goal.
Chest press may be one of the most popular barbell exercises. The motion on either the incline or flat bench press works the same -- once the bar is unracked, take the bar to the chest. Then straighten the arms, taking the bar back up and away from the chest.
Working with a spotter can ensure proper form and prevent injury, especially for first-time barbell users. Be sure to work with someone who is experienced in working with the barbell, and clearly communicate the number of repetitions that will be performed. If working toward moving heavier weight, be sure the spotter is capable of moving the weight on the bar to assist you if necessary.
- Bodybuilding.com: Barbell Squat
- The New Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding: Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Strength Training Anatomy: Frédéric Delavier
Jullie Chung writes regularly for various websites. She is a nationally certified fitness trainer and performance enhancement specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and trains regularly in yoga, flatwater kayaking, boxing and mixed martial arts. An avid outdoor fan, she regularly hikes, climbs and trail runs.