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The Essential Barbell Exercises Every Woman Should Master

Slowly but surely, women are taking over the weight room. They're realizing that, no, lifting weights doesn't make you bulky—and there are some serious mind-body benefits to picking up the heavy weights

But even if women are conquering their fear of the weight room, it doesn't necessarily mean they're taking full advantage of everything in there. Dumbbells and kettlebells are a bit more approachable. But barbells? TBH, they can be a little intimidating to tackle on your own, even for the most confident gym-goer. That's why Alex Silver-Fagan, Nike trainer and creator of the Flow Into Strong program, created the book Get Strong for Women, which covers everything you need to know about strength training for your healthiest body ever.

Here, she shares six essential barbell exercises to help you build total-body strength, with all the tips, instructions, and guidance you'll need.

How it works: Try these moves individually or do one after another for a total-body barbell strength workout.

Total Time: up to 1 hour

You will need: Barbell, Bench

1. Conventional Barbell Deadlift

A.

Step feet under the barbell, shoulder-width apart, so the bar grazes shins. Grip the barbell so forearms touch the outsides of thighs. Hinge forward at the hips and push glutes back. Align shoulders over the bar and retract shoulder blades to activate back muscles. Inhale. 

B.

Exhale, push through your heels, and use glutes and hamstrings to stand up. Keep the barbell close to body and stack shoulders directly over your hips. Push hips back and bend knees to return to starting position, keeping shoulders over the bar the entire time.

Sets:

3

Reps:

8 to 12

Mistakes and Tips:
  • Maintain long, neutral spine and engage core
  • Hinge at hips
  • Keep back flat and shoulder blades retracted
  • Palms face toward you (or you may find it helpful to flip one hand's grip for mixed over/underhand grip)

2. Barbell Push Press

A.

Set the bar just below shoulder height on the rack. Grasp the bar with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, palms facing up. Straighten legs and step forward to unrack the bar. Place feet shoulder-width apart. Rest the bar on collarbone.

B.

Push hips back and bend knees to enter into a slight squat. Keep core engaged. Inhale.

C.

In one swift movement, exhale, vigorously press through heels, straighten legs to stand up, and straighten arms to press the barbell overhead. Keep knees soft. In a slow, controlled manner, lower the weight back to shoulders to return to starting position.

Sets:

3

Reps:

8 to 12

Mistakes and Tips:
  • Point elbows to floor
  • Slightly turn out toes
  • Keep weight in heels
  • Press straight up, not forward
  • Look straight ahead
  • Biceps frame ears at top of movement
  • Keep core tight and spine long
  • Engage glutes

3. Barbell Glute Bridge

A.

Sit on the floor in front of a bench with legs extended. Place the bar over thighs. 

B.

Get into position by lifting hips and leaning back onto the bench. Rest shoulder blades on the bench, bend knees, and plant heels firmly on the floor. Position the bar over hip joints to start. Inhale.

C.

Exhale and push through heels to lift hips to the ceiling, forming a straight line from knees to shoulders. Squeeze glutes at the top of the movement. In a controlled manner, return to starting position. 

Sets:

3

Reps:

8 to 12

Mistakes and Tips:
  • Place bar directly on hip bones
  • Lift chin
  • Rest hands on bar next to hips for stability​
  • Push knees outward
  • For comfort, wrap a towel or bar pad around barbell

4. Barbell Front Squat

A.

Set the bar just below shoulder height on the rack. Grasp the bar with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, palms facing up. Rest the bar on collarbone.

B.

Straighten legs and step back to unrack the bar. Hold the weight on collarbone (not in hands). Place feet shoulder-width apart and turn toes slightly out.

C.

Brace core, inhale, and push hips back. Bend knees and squat back until thighs are parallel to the floor. Keep glutes and core engaged and weight in heels. Exhale and push through heels to stand up. 

Sets:

3

Reps:

8 to 12

Mistakes and Tips:
  • Elbows point forward with triceps parallel to floor
  • Bend knees to get under bar
  • Push knees outward
  • Keep weight in heels and hips

5. Barbell Bent-Over Row

A.

Stand behind the barbell with feet shoulder-width apart and feet under the barbell. Bend knees and push hips back. Grip the barbell with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Inhale.

B.

Exhale and push through heels to stand up, keeping back straight, until legs are extended and torso is upright.

C.

Hinge forward at the hips, bring chest forward, and push glutes back. Lower the barbell until it is below knees to start.

D.

Exhale and use mid-back to pull the bar up and back to lower chest, guided by elbows. Squeeze shoulder blades at the top of the movement. In a slow, controlled manner, lower barbell to return to starting position.

Sets:

3

Reps:

8 to 12

Mistakes and Tips:
  • Shoulders should be over bar
  • Keep back flat and head up
  • Retract shoulder blades and elongate spine
  • Retract shoulder blades
  • Slightly bend knees
  • Fully extend arms between reps

 

6. Barbell Bench Press

A.

Lie faceup on the bench with shoulders beneath the bar. Hold the bar with hands shoulder-width apart, palms facing away feet. Straighten arms to unrack the bar. Hover the bar above chest without letting it drift forward or backward to start. Exhale.

B.

Inhale, and in a controlled manner, use chest muscles to lower the bar and gently tap lower chest. (Do not let the bar bounce off body.) Exhale and straighten arms to return to starting position.

Sets:

3

Reps:

8 to 12

Mistakes and Tips:
  • Keep core firm to stabilize lower back
  • Move bar down in smooth line
  • Bring elbows down past bench
  • Keep glutes on bench

Excerpted from Get Strong for Women, reprinted by permission of DK, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2018 by Alex Silver-Fagan.

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