This Beginner Barbell Workout Builds Full-Body Strength in Only 20 Minutes

When starting a barbell workout program, talking to a fitness professional or going with a friend is important for safety.

Once you've gotten comfortable with dumbbell workouts, you may be looking for a way to lift heavier and progress your strength-training program. That's where barbells come in.

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Barbells distribute weight more evenly than dumbbells, which means you can lift heavier. They also allow more muscles to experience time under tension, which sparks muscle growth.

For example, when you squat, you are using your glutes, hamstrings and calves. When you push or pull a barbell, you are using your back, shoulders or chest. This is how you begin to progress your strength when barbells are included in your program.

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Tip

There are three common grips used when handling barbells: overhand grip, hook grip and alternated grip.

Overhand Grip:​ Place your hand over the bar with your thumb wrapped around the bar, which prevents the likelihood of the bar slipping from your hands, according to the National Institute for Fitness and Sport (NIFS). This grip is common for exercises like the bench press, shoulder press and barbell squat.

Hook Grip:​ Similar to the overhand grip, but you place your thumb underneath your middle and index fingers. This grip also prevents the bar from slipping from your hands and is common for heavy, explosive exercises like the clean, snatch and deadlift, per the NIFS.

Alternated Grip:​ A combination of underhand grip (where your hands are placed under the bar so your knuckles face toward the floor) and overhand grip, commonly used for heavier deadlifts or spotting someone, according to the NIFS.

The downside to barbells is they aren't as convenient as dumbbells because they are more expensive, require more space to use and store and have a bit of a steeper learning curve.

Keep in mind when beginning a barbell workout program it's best to consult a fitness professional or go with a friend to help spot you.

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The beginner barbell workout is designed to nail the basics and build confidence with this piece of equipment. You can do this workout two or three times a week. Rest 30 to 90 seconds between sets and between each exercise.

Things You'll Need

  • 35- to 45-pound barbell

  • 5- to 25-pound weighted plates

  • Squat rack

1. Back Squat With Pulse

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Sets 4
Reps 12
  1. With the bar resting on the J-hooks on the squat rack, step underneath the bar and make sure it sits comfortably on your traps.
  2. Place your thumbs right outside your shoulders and hook your fingers around the bar.
  3. Stand up with the bar on your back and take 2 to 3 steps back from the rack.
  4. With your feet hip-width apart, perform a squat by sending your hips back to lower toward the floor. Focus on lowering your body as if you were going to sit on a chair.
  5. Lower down as far as comfortable, or until your thighs are parallel with the floor.
  6. Pause for a moment at the bottom of your squat.
  7. On an exhale, reverse the motion by pressing through your heels to return to standing.
  8. Repeat, but this time perform three pulses while in the squat position.
  9. Alternate between one regular back squat and three pulse squats.

Tip

The J-hooks on the rack should be shoulder height for a back squat. If your knees are bent more than 45 degrees when underneath the bar with the bar resting on your traps, adjust the J-hooks higher.

2. Romanian Deadlift

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Sets 4
Reps 12
  1. Fix the weight plates on your barbell and position it on the floor in front of you. If needed, position it on an elevated platform to allow for a reduced range of motion.
  2. Step up to the bar, shins almost against it, feet planted firmly hip-width apart. Keep your spine straight, chest up and shoulders back and down.
  3. Hinge from the hips, softening your knees as your hips sink low enough to let you grasp the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  4. Check your posture: Your spine should be straight and long, chest up and open, shoulders back.
  5. Engage all the muscles of your core to maintain this position as you push your feet into the floor, as if you were trying to push the floor away from you, and lift the bar.
  6. Finish the motion by lifting your chest and engaging your lats to stabilize the bar in front of your hips.
  7. Return the bar to the ground by reversing the motion, pushing your weight back into your hips and softening your knees, letting the bar travel in a controlled path back down to the floor along your body.

Tip

When adjusting the barbell on the floor, pull the bar toward your shins. This keeps the bar in a position where it won't hit your knees as you pull.

3. Push Press

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Sets 4
Reps 12
  1. With the bar placed on the rack, step under the bar with the bar resting on your shoulders (called the rack position).
  2. Lift the bar up off the rack and take 2 to 3 steps back.
  3. Standing with your feet hip-width distance apart, grasp the bar just outside shoulder-width distance.
  4. On an exhale, bend your knees slightly, then push through your feet and straighten your legs.
  5. Press the weight above your head.
  6. As the bar comes up, slightly move your head back to avoid hitting the bar.
  7. Reverse the motion and return to the starting position.

Tip

Set the J-hooks at shoulder height, just like for your back squat.

4. Military Press

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Sets 4
Reps 12
  1. With the bar placed on the rack, step under the bar with the bar resting on your shoulders (called the rack position).
  2. Lift the bar up off the rack and take 2 to 3 steps back.
  3. Standing with your feet hip-width distance apart, grasp the bar just outside shoulder-width distance.
  4. On an exhale, tighten your glutes and core and press the weight straight overhead without using your legs.
  5. As the bar comes up, slightly move your head back to avoid hitting the bar.
  6. Reverse the motion and return to the starting position.

Tip

Set the J-hooks at shoulder height, just like for your back squat.

While the push press and the military press are similar movements, they involve different muscle groups. The push press recruits your leg muscles (in addition to your shoulder muscles) while the military press isolates your shoulder muscles.

Check out more of our20-minute workouts here— we’ve got something for everyone.

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