Want Serious Strength? Grab a Barbell

by Jay Cardiello for SHAPE.com

Grab a barbell for better strengthGrab a barbell for better strengthSome women believe that barbells are meant for just men. They are not. But before you head to the gym tomorrow and attempt to use one, you should know exactly how and why.

Both dumbbells and barbells are equally effective in building strength and lean muscle mass. To figure out what exercises are best to complete with each, it's important to understand the mechanics of both.


1. Mimic real life situations. Your body typically moves through three plans of motion throughout your day: sagittal, frontal, and transverse. From carrying a child to picking up groceries, we bend, twist, turn, and stand daily. Training with dumbbells effectively allows the body to mimic these natural movements and strengthens you for real-life situations. Exercises such as step-ups, single-leg deadlifts, squats, and shoulder presses will help you in everyday life as you walk up stairs, pick a child up out of a crib, or place luggage in an overhead plane compartment.

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2. Improve balance and symmetry. Dumbbells allow you to work one side at a time, which allows for an equal gain throughout the muscle and joint. If you use only a barbell for moves such as shoulder presses, bench presses, and rows, you may limit your strength gains since one arm can end up taking over more of the work.

1. Allow for safer, heavier lifting. Grabbing heavier dumbbells when performing a bench press or deadlift can make for an unsafe training environment that can lead to a dangerous situation without an educated spotter. On the other hand, for barbell variations of these moves, the bar starts off in a safe holding arrangement, either in a rack or on a raised platform.

2. Are better for Olympic lifts. Enter any CrossFit gym, and you will see men and women cleaning, pressing, and snatching their way to Adonis-like physiques. Strength exercises that are Olympic in any sense are easier to perform with a barbell than two dumbbells because most individuals who are learning these complicated exercises will struggle to create enough hip speed when trying to move two separate objects. Plus muscle imbalances will show up quickly in moves like a dumbbell clean, which can cause a dropped weight or, worse, injury.

Heavy Lifting: Get a Stronger, Slimmer, Leaner Body

Work Your Way Up to a Barbell

Whether you stick with dumbbells or start using a bar, it is imperative that your lifting program be progressive and gradually increase stress on the body. This will keep your body adapting to new stimuli, while creating a healthier and safer frame for you to move through life and complete your workouts. In order to start thinking about lifting with a barbell, you should be training your core, increasing your flexibility, and building your posterior chain to create stability along your spine.

The next step to getting to a barbell is to understand the right form and exactly what the lift feels like before you actually do one. I recommend you grab a broom stick. This may sound bizarre, but a broom stick is one of the most effective ways to do this. Begin by working on your deadlifts, bench presses, cleans, and snatches. Once you have mastered the form, progress forward with a weighted body bar and then finally an Olympic bar.

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