What are the best barbell exercises?
One of the best pieces of gym equipment for strength training is the barbell.
A barbell allows users to stack plenty of weight on them, delivering great muscle growth through multi-joint exercises.
It’s an essential item for many compound lifts, which you’ll benefit from throughout your training.
We’ve checked a range of barbell exercises to identify the 10 best exercises you can use with a barbell.
Taken together, these exercises will make sure your body gets a great all-over workout, with a particular emphasis on strengthening your core and improving balance.
The 10 Best Barbell Exercises
Our exercise routines are created by determining the best exercises for muscle growth, core strength, and overall health and well-being.
Here’s our list of the 10 best barbell exercises:
10. Barbell Hip Thrusts
The barbell hip thrust is perfect for lower body strength training, which lifts the lower back and torso while your upper body is resting on a bench.
How to do it:
You’ll need a bench to perform this move, so grab one of these, and you’re ready to begin:
- Place a loaded barbell parallel with the bench
- Sit on the floor with your back to the bench and roll the barbell over the crease of your hips
- Place your upper back on the bench, the lift your hips slightly off the ground
- Rotate your shoulders to engage your lats, so the bottom of your shoulder blades contact the bench
- Pause at the top
- Hinge from your hips to move back down to the starting position
When performed with proper form, the barbell hip thrust hits muscle groups throughout your entire lower body, especially the gluteal muscles, and also improves your hip flexor muscles too.
A great lower body exercise, the barbell hip thrust, can be performed 1-2 times per week, for instance, as a strength movement using heavier weights and lower repetitions.
9. Barbell Clean & Jerks
The barbell clean and jerk offers fitness enthusiasts a fantastic total-body move that builds your core while accelerating your heart rate.
It takes a little practice to nail the form, but the results are worth the effort.
How to do it:
To correctly perform the barbell clean and jerk:
- Stand with feet at hip-width and squat down to grab the barbell shoulder-width apart with an overhand grip
- Swiftly lift your chest and thrust your hips forward, using the momentum to bring the barbell up towards your shoulders
- Shrug and bend your elbows, lowering into a front squat with your palms facing upwards
- Press into your heels and stand, then pop the bar overhead with arms extended as your feet come into a split stance
- Reverse the movement, lowering the bar to a front rack position then down to the floor
The barbell, clean and jerk, use glutes, hamstrings, and triceps throughout the course of the exercise, and its explosive nature makes it a great exercise for developing both speed and power.
You can use the barbell clean and jerk to improve your upper body barbell exercises and also to help improve your overall cardiovascular fitness levels.
8. Barbell Snatches
The barbell snatch is trickier than some other barbell moves to master, but in doing so, you’ll improve your timing and engage the right muscles with just the right amount of force.
How to do it:
Once you’ve added the appropriate weight to your barbell:
- Adopt a hip-width stance
- Place your hands wide enough to the bar rests on the crease of your hips when legs and hips are extended
- Use a hook grip on the bar
- Rise up with your hips and shoulders at the same rate
- Rapidly extend your hips
- Push your heels down until hips and legs are extended
- Shrug shoulders, followed by a pull under with your arms
- Receive the bar overhead, then reach and stand up
The barbell snatch uses a nice range of muscles and helps to improve the strength, function, and coordination of your posterior chain.
You should consider performing the barbell snatch as part of a full-body routine or a workout focusing on core and leg strength.
7. Barbell Lunges
The barbell lunge delivers a single-leg strength exercise that is designed to build strength in the lower body while improving core stability and muscular balance.
How to do it:
Here’s how you can perform a barbell lunge:
- Choose your weights, then place the barbell across your back while standing
- Step forward into a lunge with your right foot so that both legs bend, with your back knee as close to the ground as possible
- Drive yourself back up to the starting position, then repeat the process with your other leg
If you’re after a fantastic lower body strength builder which allows you to build up to heavy loads, the barbell lunge is an exercise well worth considering.
This exercise gives your quads, glutes, and hamstrings a thorough working and improves hip mobility.
This is a great exercise to use for gym sessions that focus largely on leg development. Aim for 10-12 lunges in each set, with this exercise added to a routine 2-3 times per week.
6. Barbell Front Squats
If you’re a little more advanced in the gym and want a fantastic compound exercise, the barbell front squat will target your lower body even harder than a regular squat, thanks to the extra weight.
How to do it:
Once you’ve loaded up the barbell with your weight of choice and placed it on the squat rack:
- Step up to the rack and place the bar across your upper chest
- Grip the bar with your elbows lifted up and away from the body with all four fingers under the bar
- Puff your chest muscles out, so it supports the bar as you lift it off the rack
- With feet a little wider than your hips and toes slightly outwards, lower into a deep squat
- As your hamstrings nearly touch the back of your calves, keep your elbows lifted and chest upright
- Extend upwards thrusting with hips and knees back to the starting position
This exercise is perfect for strengthening your legs and hips, especially your quads and glutes.
They’re also a little easier on the lower back than traditional squats, so if you’re concerned about back injuries, you should consider adding these to your workout routines.
Barbell front squats are a welcome addition to an all-round gym routine that seeks to impact the full body and can be done 2-3 times per week.
Make sure you include a rest day between each front squat session to avoid damaging your muscles.
5. Barbell Shoulder Press
Otherwise known as the military press, the barbell shoulder press is a compound move everyone should add to their routines.
It’s especially good for motivating muscle growth in the shoulders and upper traps.
How to do it:
You can perform a barbell shoulder press from either standing or seated position.
Here are the steps you need to take to perform this move:
- Sit on the bench with the barbell on a rack slightly above your head
- Grab the barbell at shoulder width with the palms of your hands facing forward
- Unrack the bar, holding it over your head with arms extended
- With an upright posture, slowly lower the bar down to your chest
- Push the bar back up to the extended position
This comprehensive movement builds strength in the shoulders, traps, upper pecs, as well as the abdominals and erectors.
Of course, it’s the shoulders that gain the most benefit, so if you want to boost your shoulder size, you should include the barbell shoulder press in your workout.
Before overdoing it with shoulder presses with barbells, you should make sure you get your form nice and tight.
Once you’re confident with the exercise, consider adding it to your weekly sessions 2-3 times per week.
4. Barbell Bent Over Rows
The barbell bent-over row targets a selection of back muscles in both the upper and lower back.
It’s also a multi-jointed exercise, so it hits different aspects of your body when performed.
How to do it:
Performing the barbell bent-over row incorrectly can lead to back injuries, so make sure you follow these instructions:
- Stand behind the barbell and lean down to pick it up with knees slightly bent
- Use your hips as a hinge and grab the bar with an overhand grip at shoulder width
- Pull your shoulder back and down and drive your feet into the floor
- Keep your hips high as you pull the bar
- Pull the bar up to your stomach area
- Keep your elbows tight to the side of your body as you lift, pointing them backwards
Your back muscles are the main beneficiary of this exercise, and when performed correctly, can also aid improvements to posture.
This exercise stimulates lats, traps, rhomboid, and rotator cuffs too.
The barbell bent-over row lends itself to heavy training and can be done 2-3 times a week with an average of 6-12 reps for each set.
Try not to overdo it, and make sure you use lighter weights while you’re mastering the form.
3. Barbell Deadlifts
Deadlifts are essential for anyone looking to target their glutes and hone their butt, but they also help improve total-body strength through targeting of the lower and upper back as well as a range of leg muscles.
How to do it:
Once you’ve stacked the relevant weights onto your barbell, follow these steps to perform the exercise:
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart
- Grasp the bar with your hands just outside your leg position
- Drive your hips forwards to lift the bar, keeping your back flat
- Lower the bar in a controlled motion back to the ground
Widely considered one of the best total body exercises, the barbell deadlift increases strength and stability and greatly improves your core.
Hamstrings, quads, traps, and glutes are all impacted through barbell deadlifts.
This compound move can be incorporated into a full-body workout as it hits a wide selection of muscles and helps to strengthen your core.
Make sure you plan for a rest day, as the barbell deadlift can require recuperation, especially when performed with heavyweights.
2. Barbell Bench Press
The barbell bench press is the go-to exercise for gym bros trying to impress their friends, and for a good reason.
This exercise delivers impressive results for growth in the pectoral muscles as well as arms and shoulders.
How to do it:
To perform a barbell bench press, rack up the barbell with your weights then you’re ready to go:
- Lie back on the bench holding the bar at shoulder width with your arms fully extended over your head
- Slowly lower the bar down to your chest as you inhale
- Breathe out as you push up back to the extended position
A common fixture in most weekly routines, the barbell bench press delivers optimal results for the chest with additional benefits to muscle stability for good measure.
Depending on how quickly you recover from your training sessions, barbell bench presses can be included two days per week at a minimum as part of a session geared towards targeting your chest muscles.
1. Barbell Back Squats
Our final entry for this overview of the best barbell exercises is one of the most commonly used barbell exercises out there.
And for a good reason: the barbell back squat is an extremely safe exercise that works a range of leg and back muscles while also delivering a great core workout.
How to do it:
When performing a barbell back squat, you need to ensure your form is correct to avoid back injuries.
Here’s how to do it:
- Place the barbell on the squat rack stacked with the weights of your choice
- Bring your body under the bar, resting the barbell over your traps and shoulders
- Place your hands on the bar slightly wider than your shoulders
- Take a deep breath and lift the bar off the rack, then step away
- Keep your feet evenly apart and bend your knees, lowering the bar as you descend
- Exhale and push up back into the standing position
Barbell back squats are among the best exercises for delivering on core strength while also building up lower body strength.
Most lifters will include barbell back squats 2-3 times per week as part of their workout regime, giving them time to improve their technique and increase weights as they advance.
FAQs About Barbell Exercises
If you’re still not sure why you should introduce a range of barbell movements into your regular workouts, check out our answers to these commonly asked questions.
Q: Which muscles does the barbell work?
Barbell training can impact a wide range of muscles depending on the exercise you choose.
They are particularly effective for compound barbell exercises involving leg, back, and core muscles as part of comprehensive compound movements covering a range of motions.
Q: Can you build muscle with just a barbell?
You certainly can.
In fact, the barbell can be used as a solid foundation for any resistance-based workout and is one of the most versatile pieces of equipment you’ll find in the gym.
As this overview of the best barbell exercises has shown, they can be used to build strength throughout your body and improve core stability.
Q: What size barbell is best?
Standard barbells vary between 5 and 6 feet in length, weighing between 15lbs and 25lbs.
The bar’s diameter can also fluctuate, although most barbells are between 28mm and 29mm.
Q: What weight barbell should a beginner use?
If you’re new to the gym and are unsure what weight barbell to use, consider using one which weighs in the range of 45lbs (women might want to consider using a lighter barbell that weighs around 35lbs before any weights are added).
Gym newbies should practice their exercises with the bar only to begin with to help produce the correct form before adding additional weights.
You should also ensure you secure the barbell correctly using the best barbell collars you can get your hands on.
Q: Are barbell workouts good?
They certainly are. A barbell workout allows lifts of heavier weights than other exercises, targeting larger muscle groups and strengthening functional movement.
Fitness enthusiasts looking to boost core strength and target their legs and back muscles are likely to choose barbell exercises to accomplish many of these objectives.
This guide should help you choose the best barbell exercise for these outcomes and deliver stability, strength, and better overall performance in the gym.
Here’s a quick recap of the 10 best barbell exercises:
- Barbell Back Squats
- Barbell Bench Press
- Barbell Deadlifts
- Barbell Bent Over Rows
- Barbell Shoulder Press
- Barbell Front Squats
- Barbell Lunges
- Barbell Snatches
- Barbell Clean & Jerks
- Barbell Hip Thrusts