Barbells may look big, scary and barbarian all hidden away in the depths of the gym, while your nice, new, chrome, shiny dumbbells look just oh-so enticing next to the safety of the cardio section. But barbells could be just what your routine needs. As a beginner, getting into barbells can be tough, but the more you use them, the more you love them. Whether you want to rival the men at your gym in the strength stakes, or simply want toned, feminine curves, barbells are one way forward.
Barbell training is a bit different to your average machine or bodyweight workout. The techniques are similar, but if you've never touched a barbell before, you'll want to start light. Olympic barbells weigh 45 pounds -- and that's just the bar, but you can also get slightly lighter training bars that weigh 33 pounds. Alternatively, you can start with a standard barbell -- these are thinner than Olympic bars and only weigh 5 to 10 pounds. Ideally though, you'll use an Olympic bar and should also have access to weight plates from 2 1/2 pounds and up as well as a squat rack or power cage.
Exercise selection is where many women fall down. As a tough, well-educated, fitness and health-savvy woman though, you know that basics are best. Don't try to get too fancy with your training -- just learn the simple exercises first. Back squats and front squats should be at the top of your list, closely followed by deadlifts, bench presses and barbell rows. Between them, these five moves work your entire body. If you want to get a little more varied, throw in some lunges, overhead presses and barbell cleans too. When you're starting out, get the eye of a trainer at the gym to ensure that your form is correct.
You can't go wrong with a basic full-body workout performed three times per week. This is ideal for beginners as it gives you plenty of practice learning the key barbell lifts. Start each session with a squat and deadlift variation, then pick two or three upper-body moves. Take a day off between workouts to let your muscles recover. If you'd rather not design your own workout, there are some excellent pre-made programs you can follow, such as Staring Strength and Stronglifts.
Sets, Reps and Tips
Don't fall for the hype of lighter weights and higher reps being best for toning -- this is complete nonsense, claims Jessica Matthews of the American Council on Exercise. Pick a simple repetition scheme such as five sets of five or three sets of eight on each workout and aim for more reps or more weight each session. Focus on getting stronger and don't worry about getting too big and bulky, advises strength coach Nia Shanks -- you won't suddenly wake up one day looking like Ms. Olympia. Feel free to add other forms of training such as bodyweight moves or dumbbell and kettlebell exercises into your plan if you wish, but make barbells your main weight.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.