The Ultimate Beginner Barbell Workout
So you’ve mastered the basics of bodyweight exercises, dominated the dumbbells, and conquered the kettlebells? Congratulations! Now you’re ready to move on to barbell training.
But where and how do you start barbell training?
If you’re feeling a little intimidated by that heavy bar with its elaborate stand and piles of weights, don’t fear. We’ve come up with a beginner barbell workout routine that will have you bench pressing, front squatting, and deadlifting like a pro in no time at all.
Planning a Barbell Routine
Before pressing your first rep or lunging a single step, make sure you’re ready to advance your strength training with a barbell for beginners workout routine. Like all gym equipment, the barbell carries a risk of injury if used incorrectly or if you take it on before you’re able to handle the weight.
When starting with a barbell workout routine, you’ll need to make a thorough and thoughtful exercise plan and understand the proper barbell form to enhance your workout and avoid injury.
Basics of Barbells
Maybe you aren’t fully up to speed on the differences between a power rack vs squat rack, but if you’ve reached the point where you’re ready to try using a barbell, you most certainly have already seen a 15lb barbell in action. A staple at any gym, barbells are the most classic of classic weightlifting gear.
But do you know basic barbell terminology? Here’s a primer on some terms you might come across:
- Shaft – The part of the bar you grip
- Sleeve – Where the weights are loaded
- Plates – Weights, which are added to each side of the barbell
- Bumper plates – Iron or steel weights coated in thick rubber
- Collar – Safety feature to hold the plates in place, where the sleeve ends, and the shaft begins
- Knurling – The pattern of crossed lines on the shaft, for grip purposes
- Stand – A squat stand or a 3x 3 power rack are the two most common devices for holding a barbell when not in use
- “Men’s” bar vs “Female” bar – Circumference and weight are different but avoid restricting yourself to one or the other
While you should lift according to your personal threshold, it’s generally recommended that the ideal barbell weight for beginners is 45 pounds for women and 55 pounds for men.
Barbell Safety and Proper Form
As a beginner at barbells, it’s essential to abide by proper safety precautions before incorporating a barbell into your workout. To that end, always check that:
- No loose plates are on the ground
- The bar is evenly weighted on either side
- The plates are correctly collared
- Your spotter knows what they’re doing and is prepared to help you during the workout.
- You’re using a power cage, if you’re performing power rack exercises alone
- You’re using proper form with a foldable squat rack
When it comes to barbell lifting, it’s critical that you use proper form to avoid any injuries. To that end, when lifting a barbell, stand with your feet a shoulder-width apart. Then, with your palms facing down, you’ll want to lift the bar with a medium grip while keeping your hips high.
Make sure to lift your chest and keep your back straight, then pull the bar upward against your lower chest. Additionally, never hold your breath or lock your knees. You want to stay fluid.
No matter what kind of barbell exercise you plan to do, you should always prioritize safety. Eventually, these steps will become second nature, but as you start out, having a little mental checklist will help keep you safe—and free from embarrassing spills.
The Basic 5 Barbell Exercises
We’ve come up with 5 basic barbell exercises that you should learn and perfect before advancing to more complicated moves. These barbell basics include:
- Barbell back squat
- Barbell front squat
- Angled barbell press
- Barbell bench press
- Modified sumo deadlift
Read on for everything you need to know about each one of these exercises, including their proper form, and some guidelines when starting out.
As always, if you have questions—ask! Your friends, trainers, and fellow weightlifters will be happy to help you with their best tips and tricks.
#1 Barbell Back Squat
Of all compound exercises, barbell squats are the undisputed king. Good for building muscle mass, barbell squats engage the entire leg from calf to thigh, as well as the core, shoulders, and arm muscle groups.1 The barbell back squat is one of the first moves many trainers recommend when starting a new barbell workout routine.
To correctly execute a barbell back squat:
- Set the barbell on the rack at the appropriate height, slightly lower than your shoulders
- Pick an appropriate weight, starting light and building from there based on your capability
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart
- Take a deep breath and unrack your correctly-weighted and collared barbell
- Hold the barbell behind your head and across your upper back
- Keeping your chest up and your back straight, hinge at the hips, ankles, and knees
- Lower into a full squat position with your thighs parallel to the floor, then pause
- Begin to rise, engaging your core to stabilize yourself
- Start with low weight and low reps, like 2-4 sets of 5-8 reps
- Give yourself a minimum of 24 hours to recover
#2 Barbell Front Squat
Much of the actual squatting technique for a barbell front squat is the same as a barbell back squat. However, in this exercise the barbell rests on the meaty front part of your shoulders, at the top of your chest. To hold the bar in place, your hands will be more narrowly placed and your elbows will stick straight out in front of you.
Why should you do both the back squat and the front squat?
Simply, they work different muscles entirely.2 While the back squat focuses on glutes and hamstrings, the front squat pinpoints the quads. Because of this, you’ll be able to squat more weight in the back squat than in the front squat.
Nonetheless, build up to it. Start with a lower weight and get comfortable with the form before adding big iron. As with the front squat, start with 2-4 sets of 5-8 reps. And remember to get plenty of rest in between any lifting sessions that work your quads.
#3 Angled Barbell Press
Also known as a standing landmine press, this exercise is a favorite for trainers looking to build their clients’ shoulder stabilization and strength. All landmine exercises involve lifting, squatting, or pressing one end of the barbell (placed at an angle on the floor) in a heavy swiveling base (technically, this base is what is called the landmine).
An angled barbell or landmine press means the barbell is placed with one end in the base, at an angle, tilting towards you. Appropriate weights are placed on the “uphill” side of the bar. From there:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart
- Hold the barbell in front of your chest
- Engage your core and glutes, leaning slightly forward with knees slightly bent
- Press the barbell straight out until your arms are fully extended
- Hold for a long moment
- Return to the starting position
As with all your new barbell exercises, begin with a lower weight and nail your form before adding.
#4 Barbell Bench Press
If you’ve spent any time at all in a weight room, you are already familiar with the benefits of the bench press. A key to building chest muscle mass, a bench press can be done using either dumbbells or a barbell.
Both barbell bench press and dumbbell bench press activate the shoulder, triceps, and core, but you can move more weight with a barbell than you can with a dumbbell. To that end, there are three types of bench presses you can perform using a barbell:
- Flat – The bench is parallel to the ground
- Inclined – The bench is raised to some degree
- Declined – The bench is lowered below parallel so that your head is below your torso
Whichever version of the barbell bench press you choose, you’ll need to have a spotter or use a power cage for safety. After that:
- Position your bench directly beneath the bar
- Lay flat on your back with your feet on the floor
- Grip the bar overhand at a shoulder-wide position
- Tuck in your shoulders
- Lift and remove the bar from the rack, inhaling as you do
- Lower the bar just above your chest in a smooth, controlled motion
- Try to keep your elbows tucked in
- Press the weight upwards explosively while exhaling
- Repeat 6-12 reps for 4-6 sets, resting between
#5 Modified Sumo Deadlift
Deadlifts are controversial, and you should approach this exercise with caution and practice impeccable form.3 However, when done correctly, a modified sumo deadlift will balance out your new barbell workout routine to help you achieve massive gains.
To understand how to perform a modified sumo deadlift, first consider a conventional deadlift and a sumo deadlift. While a conventional deadlift is performed with your feet placed shoulder-width apart and your hands outside your knees, a sumo deadlift is done with a wider stance and your hands between your knees. In both cases, the loaded barbell is resting on the floor and then lifted.
However, the wider stance of the sumo position puts extra pressure and exertion on the glutes, quads, and inner thighs as well. To that end, a modified sumo deadlift incorporates elements of both a conventional and sumo deadlift—your hands will still be inside your knees, but your feet won’t be quite so wide as when performing a sumo deadlift.
To abide by proper safety precautions, always:
- Stand above the bar with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width
- Bend over with a flat back and grip the bar between your knees
- Pre-load by pulling against the bar without lifting it
- Squeeze your lats to engage your core
- Keeping your back flat, then stand quickly and hold
- Release slowly and set the bar back on the ground
Elevate Your Fitness with Tru Grit
These five barbell basics are the perfect starting point for the barbell newbies. However, once you’ve mastered the basics, you can start to incorporate additional workouts into your routine like landmine reverse lunges, push presses, and more.
The key to fitness success is to never quit—and to pursue your passion with Tru Grit Fitness.
At Tru Grit we’re dedicated to helping you reach your potential with a line of premium, safe, and reliable workout equipment to catapult you into the fitness world. From barbells to benches to power racks, we have you covered.
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Muscle Activation in the Loaded Free Barbell Squat. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/FullText/2012/04000/Muscle_Activation_in_the_Loaded_Free_Barbell.38.aspx
Men’s Health Magazine. Front Squats vs Back Squats. https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/a25584308/front-squat-vs-back-squat/
Strength and Conditioning Journal. Exploring the Deadlift. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/Fulltext/2010/04000/Exploring_the_Deadlift.4.aspx