Barbells come in all shapes and sizes. All of them can serve a purpose. The best barbell for you depends on the results you’re looking for.
Barbells come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and weights. Here’s everything you need to know about barbells. That includes a rundown of the best barbell workouts for major muscle groups.
According to certified personal trainer John Wolf, there’s really no such thing as a perfectly “standard” barbell.
“A standard barbell can have a weight as low as 3 pounds and up to around 20 pounds,” he explains.
The lightest ones are made for children. Next up are barbells designed for adult beginners or non-competitive amateurs.
“On the lower end they may only hold 25 pounds, but some hold up to 350 pounds on the higher end,” Wolf says.
According to Wolf, barbells typically range from 4 feet to 6 feet long. Many feature fixed, 1-inch diameter collars that help hold weights in place.
There’s a big difference between Olympic barbells and your run-of-the-mill, home gym barbell. Unlike standards, Olympic barbells have more standardized sizing because they are used in competition. Here’s the sizing rundown, according to Wolf:
- Olympic Barbell: 7 feet long, 45 pounds (20 kg)
- Women’s Olympic Barbell: 6.5 feet long, 33 pounds (15 kg)
- Junior Olympic Barbell: 5.5 feet long, 22 pounds (10 kg)
These bars are longer, heavier, and can hold more weight than standard barbells.
“These bars’ loading capacities can have a huge range, but many will have a rating of 1,000 pounds or more,” explains Wolf.
Additionally, Olympic barbells have 2-inch diameter collars that rotate freely, unlike other barbells that feature smaller fixed collars.
Olympic barbells aren’t necessarily better than regular barbells. But they’re def better for competitive weightlifters or advanced lifters.
Here’s a quick rundown of specialized barbells:
- Powerlifting Bar: Powerlifting barbells are more rigid and feature the highest loading capacities, according to Wolf. Some also have a longer length to accommodate more weight. Most clock in around 7 feet long and weigh 44 pounds without collars.
- Trap/Hex Bar: These bars feature a hexagon shape that you stand inside of while you’re lifting, so you’re, uh, trapped. Hence the name. They also make it easier to perform safe deadlifts. BTW, dimensions can vary a lot from brand to brand.
- Safety Bar: Safety bars are specifically designed to sit on your shoulder, for safer back squats. TBH, they look a bit like a car exhaust. Like many other barbells, there is no standard size.
- Cambered Bar: A cambered bar is also for back squats, but is typically used by more advanced weightlifters. With a cambered bar, the plates sit 14 inches lower than normal — so there’s a bit of a swing that can throw off your balance as you lift. Again, weight and dimensions can vary.
- Swiss Bar: Swiss bars feature several different handles, allowing you to grip the bar in different ways to perform a variety of different exercises that typically can’t be done with a barbell (like hammer curls). They come in a variety of weights, lengths, and grip sizes.
- Curling Bar: Curling bars or “EZ Curl” bars have slight bends in the bar that look a bit like waves. These bars tend to be easier on the wrists when curling. P.S. There’s no standard size.
Here are some bomb barbell moves to target your whole body.
That’s why we always recommend working with a personal trainer who can provide you real-time feedback on the safest way to perform these exercises, and make a tailored training plan just for you.
The quintessential barbell move, the deadlift works the back muscles, glutes, and quads as you lift a loaded bar from the ground to hip level.
To perform the move, stand behind the barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees bent. Hinge at your hips and grip the barbell with your palms facing towards you.
Lift the weight by pressing down into your heels, straightening your knees, and lifting up from the hip hinge. Give them glutes a squeeze at the top of the move before you return to the starting position.
Chest: bench press
For this chest and shoulder strengthening move, you’ll need a bench in addition to your barbell. Working with a spotter is also a really good idea, especially if you’re new to the bench press.
Lie on your back on the bench and grip the barbell with both hands, over your chest. Slowly lower your arms by pulling your elbows down until the barbell sits just above your chest, then push the barbell back up by reversing that same motion.
Keeping your core engaged and your feet firmly planted on the floor can help you feel more stable when performing this move.
Shoulder: overhead press
Is getting super defined shoulders a press-ing issue for you? Enter: the overhead press. This is the perfect move for shoulder and upper arm definition.
To perform the move, hold the barbell at chest level with your palms facing outward. Push your arms upward to press the weight directly overhead, then return to your starting position. For more stability, you can perform this move from a seated position.
Arms: barbell curl
A straightforward barbell curl is great for strength and definition in your arms. And BTW, you don’t HAVE to have a curling bar for these. You can make a straight barbell work just fine too.
Hold the bar in front of you at waist level, with your arms at a 90-degree angle and palms facing upward. Slowly lift the bar by bringing your lower arms up to your chest while keeping your upper arms stationary, then return to starting position.
Lower body: barbell back squat
Last but not least, for a booty that don’t quit, the back squat is *chef’s kiss*. It targets the glutes and quads, but it’s not just for helping you look thiccer — it’s a challenging move that can build some serious lower body strength.
To perform the move, carefully transfer the barbell from the rack to your upper back (not your neck) and grip it with your palms facing forward. Your legs should be slightly wider than hip distance apart.
With control, lower yourself down into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Then, push down through your feet to return to the standing position. Your return to the top of the move should have some power behind it, but make sure that your feet, legs, and core are stable.
Barbells. The perfect one is waiting for you, somewhere — you just have to figure out which one it is. There’s really no such thing as a standard barbell, but beginner lifters typically end up with a bar that’s around 5–6 feet long and 20-ish pounds.
Olympic barbells are longer, heavier, and more standardized, since they’re used in competition. There are also several more specialized barbells that can make specific exercises — like squats or curls — easier and safer.
The best thing you can do after you find your BBBFF (barbell best friend forever) is connect with a personal trainer who can show you how to use it safely and effectively.