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Raise the Bar


A barbell may seem like something reserved for grunting meatheads, but it’s a great training tool for women and an efficient way to create the lean, sculpted body you want. With a barbell, you can increase the amount you lift in smaller increments, which of course leads to more muscle, and using only one piece of equipment makes for a faster workout.

Before you attempt a move with a barbell, you need to first master the exercise using only your bodyweight and then with dumbbells or kettlebells. When you feel ready for the bar, perform the exercise without any weight and slowly add plates as you feel more comfortable and gain strength, but always be sure you’re using proper form.

While there are certainly some advanced barbell exercises that will take time to build up to, two of the simplest and most effective exercises you can perform with a barbell are front squats and deadlifts. While they might seem like solely lower-body exercises, they actually engage the entire trunk, shoulders, and back muscles because the rest of your body has to work to stabilize the load of the barbell. Both will take your strength (and your booty!) to fabulous new heights. Try 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 10 repetitions of each.

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Barbell Front Squat: Set the bar on the rack so that you have to bend your knees a little to get underneath it. Make sure the bar is lying right across the top of your shoulders and is close enough to your neck that you could balance it on your shoulders. Then cross your arms so that your hands are touching the opposite shoulder. Let the bar sit flush on your shoulders, keeping your elbows up high in order to keep the bar from falling forward. Stand up and take two small steps back.

 Once you have the bar in the “rack” position, breath in and sit down and back until your hips drop below your knees. It is important to stay as upright as possible, keeping your midsection tight, your upper arms parallel to the floor, and your heels planted firmly on the ground.

Breathe out as you ascend back to the rack position, taking care to keep your knees spread out (not caved in) and squeezing your glutes and abs at the top.

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 Barbell Deadlift: Set the bar up on the rack so that you back to bend your knees slightly to reach it. Place your feet under the bar, bend at your hips and knees, and grab the bar with hands shoulder-width apart, engaging your lats by squeezing under your armpits. Stand up and take two small steps back.
 Once you have a firm grip on the bar, breathe in and, without allowing your lower back to round, hinge forward from the hips while keeping your knees soft and maintaining a straight spine. The bar should be very close to your body, even touching your shins if possible, and your torso end up parallel to the ground.
 Then breathe out and aggressively push your feet through the ground to return to the starting position. Make sure you squeeze your glutes and abs at the top.

Neghar Fonooni is a fitness coach, presenter, and blogger on the east coast via Los Angeles. She is the founder of Eat, Lift and be Happy, a blog and online business that educates and inspires readers to find their best possible nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle strategies. Fonooni is also a co-founder of Girls Gone Strong, the Women’s Fitness Authority, and a contributing writer at


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