5 exercises you can do with a barbell

Tan Quddus Tan Quddus Regional Fitness Lead at Nuffield Health Surbiton Fitness & Wellbeing Gym
Personal Trainers Abby Carpenter and Tan Quddus give expert guidance on five simple exercises you can do with a barbell.

Getting to know the equipment at the gym can help to make the experience even more enjoyable and using equipment correctly is essential to help avoid injury and ensure you can continue on your road to fitness. 

The barbell is a standard piece of kit at every gym and comes in different forms. Some have fixed weights attached and Olympic bars come weight-free, allowing them to be used on their own, or by adding plate weights to increase the resistance. The bars themselves vary in length and weight, but a standard men's Olympic barbell is 2.2m long and 20kg in weight and the women's Olympic barbell is 2m long and 15kg. 

The barbell is very versatile and can be used to target many muscle groups, including your legs, glutes and back. A personal trainer will be able to advise you on how to adjust the weight, repetitions, sets and tempo of your lifts to suit your personal goals. 

It's advisable to use the barbell with a partner to 'spot' you, ensuring that you don't injure yourself by under or over-balancing or dropping the bar. If you are at the gym on your own you can ask one of the personal trainers to help you.

The following five exercises will get you started, and you can talk to any personal trainer in our fitness and wellbeing centres to find out more:

1. Barbell Curl

Muscles worked: Biceps

Safety notes: Keep fit hip-width apart, with an underhand grip, keep your elbows tucked in and curl the bar all the way up and control on the way down back to the starting position, making sure the elbows aren’t locked out.

2. Bent Over Barbell Row

Muscles worked: Upper back

Safety notes: Keep feet hip-width apart, stand in neutral position holding the bar with an overhand grip. Soften the knees and bend your upper body over so that your gaze is 1 metre in front of you. Row the bar into your belly button keeping the bar tracked in line with your toes.

3. High Bar Barbell Squat

Muscles worked: Legs (front of thighs)/Glutes/Whole body

Safety notes: Feet hip-width apart, lift the bar up and over your shoulders so the bar is resting across the upper back. Keep your head and chest up and break at the knee so that your glutes come down just above the knee joint, keep your knees in line with your toes and your back straight. On the upwards phase drive the bar up by thrusting your hips and squeezing your glutes, keeping your weight in your heels.

4. Deadlift

Muscles worked: Legs (back of thighs)/Glutes/Whole body

Safety notes: Feet hip-width apart with your toes under the bar, adopt an overhand grip. Lift the bar, keeping it close to your body, ensuring your back stays straight – this is key! On the way down break at the hips and lower the bar so the plates lightly touch the floor, keeping your gaze 1 metre in front of you.

5. Skullcrusher

Muscles worked: Triceps

Safety notes: Lie on your back on a bench using an overhand grip, lift the bar so that your hands are above your shoulders. Keeping your elbows tucked in and still, break at the elbow and slowly lower the bar down to your forehead. Reverse the movement on the way back up squeezing your triceps, ensuring the elbows are not locked out.

Last updated Wednesday 16 September 2020

First published on Thursday 6 October 2016