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Barbells 101: A Lesson in Specialty Bars

posted on May 7, 2018


Anyone who has ventured into the Strength Lab for a training session has seen bars of all shapes and sizes on the racks or stacked in the bar holders. Most are covered in colored tape too. At first glance it seems like overkill, but there is a method to our madness. I want to dig into the what and why of these bars and how you can incorporate them into your own training.

 

Specialty bars, for the most part, were designed with two purposes in mind:

 

1) Maintaining healthy joints while allowing the lifter to continue to train as they normally would.

 

2) Putting the lifter at a mechanical disadvantage to force the body to adapt and ultimately make progress.

 

There are specialty bars for the squat, bench and deadlift but they all have crossover uses as well. So let’s start with the specialty bars designed for upper body use. In the Strength Lab, they are all designated by RED tape (our all-purpose bars use blue tape for reference).

 

 

#1 The most specific of all is the COMPETITION BENCH BAR.

 

Uses: Benching and that’s all folks.

 

Weight: 55lbs.

 

It is thicker than an all-purpose bar to prevent ‘bar whip’ during heavy bench attempts. And the collars are longer so you can load as many plates as your little heart desires (or body can handle). You are certainly welcome to use a blue all-purpose bar to bench, but if you are going to a competition that will be using this bar on the platform, it’s nice to be prepared ahead of time for the thicker diameter.

 

 

#2 Up next is the FATBAR.

 

Uses: Benching, triceps assistance movements, bicep curls

 

Weight: 55lbs.

 

The purpose of the fatbar is simple and effective- it takes pressure off of your joints, mainly the wrist and elbow, by reducing the torque you’re able to generate at the joint.  A less “sciencey” summary- use this bar if your shoulders/elbows/wrists hurt. The other advantage to this bar is that it puts more of an emphasis on your triceps. So if your bench progress is stalling, this can be a nice curve ball to throw at your body.

 

Another favorite use for this bar- BICEP CURLS! In the same way that it forces your triceps to work harder in the bench, it will over emphasize bicep activation by reducing the work that your forearms can do during the movement.

 

 

#3 is where is starts to get a little funky- FOOTBALL BENCH BAR.

Uses: benching, rows, curls

 

Weight: 45lbs.

 

This is the ultimate shoulder saver. The angle of the handles puts your shoulder in a more natural pressing position. If you’ve taken our #powerful classes, you know we preach elbow position in the bench to help mitigate shoulder discomfort. Well, this bar makes that process dummy-proof.

 

When using it for a row, it can help stop the bicep from taking over the motion and allow you to target your back as intended.

 

When using it for curls, it allows you to mimic a hammer curl (typically done with a dumbbell) which is actually the healthiest version of a bicep curl because it puts your tendons in the safest position possible. 

 

 

#4 Last but not least, the SWISS PRESS BAR.

Uses: benching, triceps assistance movements, rows, overhead press

 

Weight: 33lbs.

 

To me it’s just the ugly step sister to the football bar, but that’s really just a bad opinion on my part. I’m obviously biased but don’t let my opinion sway you- try it for yourself.

 

I don’t like it for benching anything heavy (heavy being relative) because the thin handles make it tough to stabilize.  However, it is the BEST BAR for targeting your triceps because it puts your wrists in a neutral position, ultimately taking most of the pec and front delt out of the press.

 

Similar to the football bar, this is a great bar for rows because it limits the bicep’s ability to take over the movement.

 

And for an overhead press movement, this is another shoulder saver. In an overhead position, the neutral grip makes the press extremely safe and stable for the shoulder.

I recognize that it’s a lot to remember. I get asked daily what each bar weighs and what it can be used for. Please, keep asking! But I hope this serves as a quick guide to at least give some insight into how you can incorporate these tools into your own training.

 

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