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The barbell is making you weaker

Posted by Mason Dannatt on

The barbell is making you weaker.

Go on, collect your pitch forks and sharpen them up. Get the stake and fire wood and build the pyre high and prepare for a good, old fashioned witch hunt. How dare he say such a thing? Such blasphemous remarks about the very iron code we live by, burn him!

Very dramatic I know, but if you read on with an open mind, you will know I don’t actually mean it’s making you weaker (finger off the missile launch button, call the fighter jets off); it’s specificity that is our true enemy.

The barbell is just so comfortable.

The very reason the barbell is the primary weight moving implement of choice for a power lifter or Olympic lifter or Crossfitter, is it is the most efficient and ergonomically comfortable way to move maximum kilograms. Appropriate diameter handle to suit mens and womens hand sizes, knurled grip in just the right places and the right texture for maximum traction on the hand, suitable length, variation in bend and whip to suit particular lifts, and calibrated bearing sleeves to allow plates to spin JUST the right amount in a dynamic pull. Every component of the barbell is designed to aid you in moving the most weight possible. But how is that transferable to anything you want to do in real life?

Horsepower doesn’t always get you an ice cream

So you can heave 10 red plates off the floor, any day of the week in the gym, does that make you strong? Of course it does. But is it usable strength? Can you dead lift a 270kg fridge (damn, that’s a well stocked fridge)? Fridge doesn’t have knurling or correct bar flexion off the floor, so probably not. What if you can’t even pick up a 120kg fridge, because you are so used to the ergonomics of a barbell, and you don’t know how to apply your strength to the fridge?

What if your buddy can, but they can’t DL 270kg on a barbell, they can only do 120kg on the barbell too? Who is stronger now? Probably still you, as 270kg is waaay more than 120kg. But what if there are now 100 different shaped items in a room, and your mate can pick all of them up, and you none of them, because all you have ever lifted is a barbell. You can see where I’m going with this.

Let’s use a car analogy. A top fuel dragster has 3000+ horsepower, does a quarter mile in under 5 seconds, 0 -100km/h in I don’t even know many less. But how quick can you get to the shop to buy an ice cream in it? You have to get it off the trailer first. It doesn’t even turn corners. Your girlfriend or boyfriend can’t come along to choose their own ice cream so you get yelled at when you get home, which you probably won’t do, as the thing will rocket you into the side of a building and you will be dead. Getting a little carried away with the car analogy, but you see the point; despite being the fastest, specificity ruined the snack run.

By focusing too heavily on the barbell alone, you might be getting stronger, but not as strong as you could be, and definitely not as versatile.

If you have ever done an accessory lift, you have proven my point

We all know that you don’t JUST do dead lifts to get better at dead lift. You add accessories to target weaknesses. Human movement is complex, angles and direction of load must be changed to target all possible areas of strength. The barbell alone simply cannot do this.

Moving odd objects can. A sandbag, for example, requires completely different grip mechanics to pick up than a bar. Its diameter alone means it’s weight in relation to your centre of gravity changes completely to a steel bar. Varying the form in which weight is presented to you as regularly as possible, allows you to be as versatile with the application of the strength you have built.

Although some sports require a higher level of reliance on a barbell, if you rely solely on it for your training, can you REALLY claim to be as strong as you could be?


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