Over the past decade, two distinctly different trends have, arguably, influenced the way we work out—technology and a back-to-basics approach. Technology has made it possible to track everything from heart rate to calories burned to sleep patterns, and to bring outdoor workouts into the gym setting. The back-to-basics mindset is reflected in programs like CrossFit and body-weight workouts, which forgo machine-based technologies in favor of things like push-ups and deadlifts.

One of the stars of the back-to-basics movement is the barbell. Despite an increasing array of training tools and machines, the barbell remains one of the best ways to target a large amount of muscle tissue and help strengthen functional movements that we use every day. Plus, a barbell is a relatively inexpensive investment, depending on how many plates you need, and most exercises can be performed in limited space.

Barbell exercises also are really functional—things like squats, deadlifts and overhead presses require a higher level of balance and proprioception than that required by machine-based exercises. And compound and multiplane movements (as demonstrated in the video below) increase the challenge even further—think unilateral movements like barbell lunges, javelin press, step-ups and curls, which challenge the neuromuscular system to maintain proper form and alignment throughout the entire body.

“The most effective way to improve strength and increase lean muscle is with heavy resistance training,” explains ACE Certified Personal Trainer Pete McCall, “and barbells are one of the most effective ways to achieve these outcomes.”


Depending on the goals of the program, barbells can be used to isolate specific, smaller muscle groups (e.g., biceps) for bigger strength and mass gains or to hit multiple body parts using compounds moves that are more functional in nature. Barbell exercises like jump squats are also effective for increasing power, while also serving to enhance hypertrophy by recruiting a higher percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers.
If your barbell repertoire is currently limited to the chest press and deadlift, the ACE Exercise Library includes a wide selection of barbell-based exercises (like the two shown below) to help you get started.

Standing Barbell Curl

Lying Barbell Triceps Extensions

And check out this ACE Total-body Barbell Workout for some creative exercises that target the major muscles of the body.