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  • Chris Cooper

You Don't Need a Barbell

The barbell has been the epitome of strength and muscle building for a long time. And rightfully so as you’re able to load them with as much weight as you could possibly need. However, right now it may be hard to find them if all you're doing is working out at home. Secondly, a barbell can often be the wrong choice for many people as it doesn't fit what your movement capabilities are. You don't need the barbell to lift.


We have options.


We can gain strength and muscle without having to put unnecessary stress on our joints or locking ourselves into a certain range of motion or movements.

A tool is only as good as the person using it. If the user is unable to manage the tool effectively and safely, then how effective is it going to be?


So what are those options?


What can you do instead?

  • Dumbbells

  • Bands

  • Cables (once you're back in a gym)

  • Kettlebells

  • Weighted Backpack

  • Bodyweight


Each of these tools can be substituted for just about any exercise and when it comes to our fundamental movements of push, pull, squat, hinge, and single-leg, we can easily adjust in order to accommodate a different tool.


Let’s take a look at some alternatives:


Hip Hinge

When it comes to the hip hinge, we think of the deadlift right away. And with that comes the notion of not only deadlifting from the floor, but most certainly involves picking up a bar. However, some things get in the way of doing so, like mobility concerns, structural issues, or injury history.

We can offset these concerns by swapping the bar for a heavy kettlebell or dumbbell. If you happen to struggle with the deadlift because the load is in front of you, which could potentially cause some low back issues, why not bring the load in closer, like underneath you with a kettlebell. This will help lock in technique and lead to a more resilient body.

Romanian Deadlifts or RDL's, another hip hinge variation, can be performed with dumbbells to strengthen the hamstrings, and you can have more freedom to put the dumbbells in front of you or to the side. More freedom of movement, more variability in your program which leads to more gains in strength and hypertrophy.



Squat

Everyone can squat, it’s just a matter of finding the right variation that suits your needs and abilities. Squatting with a barbell, whether front or back, presents some challenges in terms of mechanics that some are just unable to achieve. So why force it? Because it looks cool in the weight room when you have the bar loaded with plates?

We need ankle, hip, thoracic spine, and shoulder mobility for a solid back squat. Additionally, for the front squat, a requisite amount of wrist mobility is needed. If our goal is to shed fat or build muscle, it can be frustrating to slow things down to work on those concerns. Pick a variation you can attack right off the bat, with either a Kettlebell Front Squat or a Goblet Squat.

Because of the loading position and counterbalance the weights give, it can be easier to hit a technically sound squat on day 1.




Pushing or Pressing

We all like to think that the barbell bench press is the king of all upper body presses and for good reason. We can potentially put up bigger numbers with it leading to bigger gains in strength and volume.

However, performing a chest press with a dumbbell provides greater freedom to explore various degrees of movement instead of a locked position as with a barbell.


Performing a bench press with dumbbells can help set the shoulders in a better position and allows each individual arm to explore a range of motion that’s appropriate for it. As an added bonus, each arm has to get stronger and develop more stability on its own, which means less imbalance from left arm to right.


Similarly, cables and bands require a degree of stability in the shoulder and also allow some freedom to change the angle of movement. With any of these tools (DB, cable, band) you can alter positions of the wrist and go from neutral to slightly angled to fully pronated, and get a different effect during each one.




Pulling or Rowing

If you have a set up for inverted rows or pull-ups, you're already covered. Those 2 are the basic bodyweight exercises we can use for our rows or pulling movements. However, if we can also add rows in various stances to build strength and muscle.


Just like pressing with other tools, pulling or rowing with them allows us to explore different angles of movement, and can target the back in different ways.



Single-Leg Exercises

Single leg exercises are ideal to build strength, power and improve ones balance. While bilateral or two-legged exercises like the squat and deadlift mentioned above are great, we can further improve with single leg variations.

When you think of single-leg exercises, lunges or step-ups come to mind, but there are also single-leg RDL's and bridge variations.



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