If you want to build strength and muscle tone in the simplest way possible, with the minimum equipment and maximum flexibility, then the humble barbell is definitely the way to go. If you own just one piece of gym equipment at home, make it a barbell because of the flexibility it gives you out side the gym.
You can use this bad boy even if you are working out at home. They are cheap to buy as well. It isn’t going to cost you a lot to get a good quality barbell, and more variations in weight than you can ever hope to use (even at the top end of resistance training).
Barbell workouts give you a full range of workouts in a very controlled manner. They are also great for beginners because you are not dealing with large pieces of equipment, or complex maneuvers.
The one piece of advice I would give you, especially if you are just starting out is to make sure that you start with a light weight. Especially if any of the exercises going to be lifting above your head, that puts compression on the spine and the shoulders, as well as other areas the body. Under pressure, this can create problems. Start slowly, with light weights, and concentrate on your form rather than the weight you lifting.
Also, starting light means you will get the full range and motion of each exercise. Do them in a controlled manner, and you get the full resistance both on the way up and the way down, maximizing the muscle groups time under pressure, which is the key to building strength and then/defined muscle tone.
So my advice is to just buy yourself a good quality barbell and enough weights to see you through a year or so of progress, and to work through this basic 10 step barbell exercise routine (in around an hour), three times per week, in order to maximize your strength and muscle development, while the high level of reps involved will also burn energy and cut fat.
First up are deadlifts, the number one lifting exercise you should be doing with barbells. The beauty of these is that they train many muscles in your body, and lead to an overall strength increase in a very short time.
Although it’s a simple exercise, it is difficult to get right. You can cause yourself serious injuries if you don’t, so it’s important that you also watch plenty of YouTube videos to get the correct form.
I’m serious here, getting deadlifts wrong can wreck your back, by crushing the discs in your spine. I mean permanently damaging them, which is not going to get you anywhere in life at all.
To start, stand with your feet apart, at shoulder width. Have a barbell on the ground in front of you, not too heavy, especially the first few times out. As I said at the start, all of these exercises are about getting them right with good form, before increasing weight to get the resistance you need.
Bend yourself down at the knees, but make sure you keep your back straight. You need to be looking forward as your hands come down to touch the bar. Don’t look down, because that creates a curvature in the top of the spine.
Grasp the bar firmly, using an overhand grip, which means your palms are going to be facing towards you as you lift the barbell up.
Bring the barbell up by lifting with your hips and legs. Keep your back straight and your arms straight. You need your hips and legs to be doing the heavy lifting here, not your arms or back.
This exercise will work your forearms and shoulders, legs, back, and your glutes. You’ll need to do about three sets of 10 deadlifts.
Next up squats, one of the best compound lifts you can do. It will build mass, and deliver lower body strength.
Because it’s a compound movement, it uses a lot of different muscles in your legs. Always start small with squats, because it can be quite intimidating at the start.
Make sure that when you put the bar on your shoulders that you can cope with it. Make sure it’s balanced, and that it’s not too stressful.
You’ll want to get a nice wide grip, and then keeping a straight back at all times, bend at the knees to swap downwards.
You’re not going to squat all the way down on your bum here. You going to bend your knees to about 90°. You can go deeper than that, but I wouldn’t advise it in the beginning, you need to build up your power and technique first.
Once you reach the bottom angle, push-up to a standing position again to complete one rep.
I’d recommend you do three sets each of around eight squats.
3. Bench Press
Bench pressing is another great barbell exercise for building strength and muscle.
It’s the most well known of all lifts, and it’s where most of us will start. But it’s developing the technique and building up the weight you are lifting over time that develops the real power and mass.
Either from the bench, or on the floor if you haven’t got one, lie under a barbell and grip it with both hands. Your hands should be shoulder width apart.
Let the bar drop down slightly to touch your chest (all round an inch above it), and then simply press it back up until your arms are fully extended.
The key part is also making sure that on the way down, you don’t go too quick. That will give you the full time under pressure you need to get the most out of this.
4. Clean & Press
To do clean and press, is pretty straightforward but it is a potent exercise. It’s a lift that strengthens the shoulder, and helps build mass all over.
You’ll use a barbell with an overhand grip. Pull it as you would pull for dead lift. But you going to press yourself forward and throw your body weight up into an overhead press grip.
Again, make sure you focus just as hard on bringing the weight down to maximize that time your muscles under pressure. This will work your hamstrings, triceps, glutes, and deltoids.
You’ll want to do three sets of around eight reps.
5. Overhead Press
Let’s now talk through another great exercise, the overhead press. This will be great for building strong shoulders with plenty of muscle.
You’ll start with a barbell at your chest, palms facing outwards, and your arms slightly bent.
Your legs will be shoulder width apart, and your back will be straight, with your shoulders rolled back.
From there, you’ll push your arms straight up in one smooth, powerful motion. Then, keeping the resistance on, slowly lower the bar down to your chest.
This is great for building up overall shoulder strength and definition, and is best done in three sets of 10 reps.
6. Reverse Barbell Curls
Next up we have reverse barbell curls. Actually, reverse barbell bicep curls. This is a great exercise that is not widely used, or at least not in my opinion.
This is great for building forearms, biceps, and your arm muscles generally.
You’ll start with a barbell with an overhand grip. You going to pull it up as you would a standard bicep curl.
The difference is that when you lift, you going to squeeze it tight, by pulling your hands to the shoulders in a curling motion.
Make sure on the way down, you maintain the resistance by moving down smoothly and slowly.
This fantastic exercise is best done in three sets of 10 reps.
7. Front Squats
Finally, I want to talk you through front squats. These move the emphasis from a standard squat to target the quads and better target your core.
I’ll also put some power into your abs even though it’s primarily about working out through the legs.
Be gentle here, because they can be a bit tough to do at the start, especially if you lack strength in your shoulders.
You’ll lift less weight than you would using a standard back squat. That’s because your arms simply cannot support as much weight and remain in a good position.
Hold the barbell palms facing away from you, with the elbows bent and the barbell close to your chest in a squatting position.
Then drive upwards, keeping your back straight. Come back down in a smooth motion to maintain the resistance.
This is a great compound exercise but it is the slightly more advanced users. I’d always tell you to master back squats before trying front squats, because of the fact you need stronger shoulders to maintain the posture you will need to keep the arms and upper body straight, so that you don’t roll the body forward as you push upwards.