As we’ve been discussing, there are a number of ways to workout and loads of equipment to help you accomplish your goals. So far, we’ve discussed the easiest devices to use—cardio and strength machines. Now, however, I would like to venture into the areas of your local gym that makes most women extremely uncomfortable and most men’s eyes gleam…The Weight Room.
Once upon a time, I was too timid to enter the sweaty, testosterone-laden atmosphere of the farthest reaches of my local gym known as The Weight Room. I am embarrassed to admit that I had actually been a trainer for quite some time before I became comfortable entering what is arguably the original man-cave. The few times I poked my head inside were enough to confirm that this was not the place for me. Rarely was a woman to be found within its darkened, hallowed walls and more often than not several heads would turn my way if it appeared I might enter within. It was a long time before I discovered the comfort level to overcome the intimidation factor I felt in contemplating using The Weight Room.
Naturally, as is often the case with overcoming our fears, necessity drove me to break out of my fear of The Weight Room. As my fitness levels increased and my desire to learn more, do more and be more developed, a real NEED for The Weight Room also developed. I simply could not get the workout I needed with the standard assortment of weights to be found in strategic locales throughout the rest of the gym. Basically, the bottom line is, The Weight Room served as the residence of all weights over 12 pounds. I had far outstripped the need of anything under 20 pounds long before I felt at home in The Weight Room.
To compensate, I turned to the “cardio barbell” set housed in the group exercise room. These I could load up as heavy as I needed at that time, and, for barbell work, these will still get the job done most of the time. When it comes to strength training with weights, barbells are one of my two favorite apparatus. They require a bit more work as they lack the near complete stability provided by standard machines. This results in the utilization of your stabilizing muscles to complement the primary muscles. Because they provide a bit more stability than dumbbells, barbells can allow you to go quite a bit heavier to work the muscles more intensely.
Being highly portable, barbells can go pretty much anywhere you can go in the gym. I love this for the creativity it allows. This means, if space allows in your gym, you can drag one out by a treadmill or elliptical, slap a Bosu on the floor, pump out a chest press series laying on the Bosu, flip the Bosu over to add in push-ups, then hop on the treadmill for a 3 minute interval set. Repeat 3 times and you’ve got an interesting little circuit working chest, core and cardio in a blink. Once you upgrade from a cardio barbell to an Olympic barbell the dynamics change up again. Working with a barbell longer than I am tall requires an increased ability to balance and stabilize the bar, which, by the way, now weighs on average 45 pounds by itself. Add plates and the balance and stability factor becomes even more significant. An overhead press challenges your core as well as back, shoulders, legs and arms. The two most significant limitations that I can think of are space and the bilateral nature of the bar itself. Maneuvering with a 4 or 7 foot long bar in the tight quarters of most gyms can present problems—though my original gym didn’t really offer the option of an Olympic barbell leaving chest or squat racks in The Weight Room—even a 48” cardio barbell is too long to safely use in tight quarters. The second limitation would be the bilateral nature seen in most strength machines—it almost always requires both hands on the bar working in tandem which allows the dominant side to take the edge off the non-dominant side.
These limitations notwithstanding, as a trainer I really like using barbells with my clients for the same reasons I like using them for my own workouts. There is, however, one other advantage when training my clients. Barbells can help clean up form for certain exercises and/or they can help train new clients who are having difficulty maintaining stability with dumbbells. In the studio I previously managed, we specialized in group training as my own studio does now. We relied heavily on dumbbells for strength training. While extremely flexible (and my other favorite apparatus), dumbbells often led to incorrect form that was easy to miss in a group where you have only a few seconds to cue the client into better form. Chest press form was notoriously a bit off even with my strongest clients. With their more rigid nature, barbells eliminate form breaks at the elbows fairly easily and allow much quicker adjustment of shoulder position. With that little bit more stability the barbell offers, new clients are better able to learn correct form cleaner and faster, setting in good muscle memory early on. With my more seasoned clients, breaking incorrect form is accomplished easier with a barbell. Once they’ve felt how it should feel enough times, most people are able to make the transition to dumbbells while maintaining their improved form.
Honestly, I can’t imagine a well-rounded fitness program that doesn’t use barbells as a consistent element in its workout design. They are highly flexible, offer a good amount of safety, and, let’s be real, who doesn’t get a bit of a thrill when their trainer sends them over to add another plate to their bar?