Barbells are beautiful things. Free weights offer the opportunity to develop strength, stability and even stamina (in the case of CrossFit). But walking into a gym and picking up a bar isn’t as simple as it may seem. Fundamentals and form must be a focus for every athlete from beginner to elite. There are important pieces of barbell work that athletes must understand, not only from a safety perspective but also from a developmental standpoint. I offer a few basics that are often neglected but are super important for your successful barbell future.
1. Hook Grip
Make using a hook grip a habit. While the insides of your thumbs might hate you for a few months, your forearms and lifts will thank you. A hook grip allows lifters to keep control of the bar with a stronger hand position, removing the risk of the bar slipping free or frying the forearms. To hook-grip, you’ll wrap your pointer and middle finger over your thumb. For some ladies (with small hands), it might be difficult, but give the glorious hook grip a go.
2. Don’t Drop an Empty Bar
Barbells have ball bearings. The ball bearings allow the bar you grip to rotate free of the weighted ends. This assists in quick motions like cleans and snatches. When you drop an empty bar or let the end hit the ground, those bearings can be destroyed. Even when stripping weights, it’s important not to let the bar drop to the ground. Although they can hold a sh*t ton of weight, you’ve got to treat your barbell with respect if you want it to perform perfectly.
3. Core Control
When people begin any sort of lifting program, breathing should be a big part of what they learn. A big breath helps an athlete engage his or her core. Letting that breath out at the wrong time can lead to a more relaxed core, which during any lift, can lead to failure or injury. Core control plays a huge role in successful and safe lifting.
4. Keep It Close
The further you hold something from your body, the heavier it feels and more difficult it is to control. The barbell is no exception. All Olympic lifts (clean, snatch, jerk) occur as close to your body as possible. Catching and/or moving weight close to your body lets you keep movements efficient and allows access to skeletal support versus a movement far away that requires pure muscle. Keep that barbell close to see gains.
5. Know How/When to Bail
While it’s imperative to learn the proper way to complete a lift, failure is inevitable. So is imperfect form. The appropriate reaction to a fail is to get the barbell away from your body (rather than getting stuck under it). For anybody interested in gaining strength and developing as an athlete, exploring limitations is a key component of the journey. Knowing how to fail and bail offers confidence, safety and success in lifting.
6. Make It Your Mistress
When you have a break from your life outside the gym, spend a little quality time with the barbell. Learning complex and technical movements and continuously developing strength requires a little commitment. If Olympic lifts and strength are a priority for you, it’s imperative that you give that aspect of your fitness some extra attention. Most of us didn’t grow up with a barbell in hand, so it takes time and repetition to achieve a comfort level and significant gains.
Your relationship with the barbell is a little bit like love. If you treat it with respect and work hard at it, you can become better and stronger through the experience. But if you get lazy or fail to apply the lesson you’ve learned, things will not end well. Remember these six barbell best practices daily. Do the work.