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The Only Barbell Moves You Need to Get Strong

There are lots of things you can do with a barbell. Here are the ones that really matter.

You’ve seen those dedicated men at the gym, twisting and manipulating that long tube of steel like cheerleaders with their batons. They can perform countless moves with endless permutations and seem to be practicing at all hours. There’s not a dad bod among them. Likely, this is not you. And that’s totally fine, because in reality, despite the variations and combinations of moves one can do with a barbell, there are really just 7 that you need to know for the kind of functional strength you need. You might not walk away with big arms or six-pack abs, but you will be fit and spry — which is all you really need.

Barbell Curls

Hold the barbell with both hands, palms facing forward, spaced about shoulder-width apart, arms straight. Exhale, bend elbows, and raise the bar to your chest. Inhale and release. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.

Pro tip: For maximum biceps engagement, keep your wrists still and elbows tucked at your sides while performing the curl.

Barbell Row

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your legs and back straight, bend forward and grab the barbell with an overhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart. Raise your chest slightly to lift barbell an inch off the floor (arms still straight). From this starting position, squeeze your shoulder blades together, bend elbows, and raise the barbell to your chest. Release. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.

Pro tip: Initiate the movement by pulling your shoulders back, keeping the motion smooth. If you have to use a “bouncing” motion to raise the bar, it means the weight is too heavy; go down 10 pounds.

Barbell Squat

Using a squat rack, place the barbell at chest height. Step under it, feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly turned out. Center the bar on your shoulders and grasp it with both hands shoulder-width apart. Straighten your legs to lift the bar out of its hold and take a small step back. Driving your heels into the floor, bend your knees, and imagine that you are sitting back in a chair. Counteract the backward movement of your hips with a slight hinge forward with your chest, keeping your back straight. Squat until thighs are parallel to the floor. Squeeze glutes and engage your hamstrings to return to standing. Do 2 sets of 10.

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Pro tip: Always maintain control of the movement; only lower to a comfortable position. Be sure to place the safety catch at knee height before you begin, in case you need it!

Barbell Upright Row

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, arms straight, barbell grasped in front of you with both hands shoulder-width apart. Engaging your core to keep your back straight, bend elbows and raise the bar to high-chest height. (Your elbows will bend out to the side and upward.) Release. Do 3 sets of 10.

Pro tip: To avoid excess neck strain, focus on keeping your neck long and relaxed as you raise the bar.

Barbell Hip Thrust

Lie on your back on a bench, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Place the barbell across your lap, directly over your hips. Inhale deeply, and as you exhale, squeeze your glutes and thrust your hips skyward, lifting the bar as you do (place your hands lightly on the bar to hold it in place). Inhale and release. Do 2 sets, 8 reps.

Pro tip: If you have a slim build, wrap hand towels (or a padded barbell collar) around the bar at the spot where it comes in contact with your hipbones.

Barbell Deadlift

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart in front of the barbell. Hinge forward at the waist, keeping your back straight, and grasp the barbell with hands shoulder-width apart. Softly bend knees, then straighten in one definitive motion, raising your torso up along with the bar, keeping arms straight, until you return to an upright position. Lower the bar back to the floor, keeping your back straight. Do 3 sets and 10 reps.

Pro tip: Keep your head facing forward and gaze slightly higher than eye level for the duration of the exercise to ensure proper alignment.

Barbell Shrugs

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, barbell grasped in front of you with both hands in an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keeping your arms straight, scrunch your shoulders up toward your ears as high as they will go. Hold for a second, then release. Do 3 sets of 10.

Pro tip: To give your pectorals and deltoids a proper workout, avoid bending your arms and engaging your biceps to raise the bar.