The 4 Essential Barbell Exercises For Strength

There is no doubt that the barbell is the most effective piece of equipment when you’re training to get strong. Exercise selection can be difficult when there is an endless amount of options, that is why we made curated the top four barbell exercises you should be using in your strength training regime.

5 min read
Sean Klein
Written by
Sean Klein
Published on
Last updated

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In This Resource
  • Benefits of Barbells for Strength Training
  • Easy to Load
  • Progressive Overload Friendly
  • Standardisation
  • How To Use Barbells to Get Strong
  • Strength Training Principles
  • The 4 Essential Barbell Exercises For Strength

Benefits of Barbells for Strength Training

Easy to Load

The barbell in so effective because it’s so easy to load compared to dumbbells and kettlebells. You just need a barbell a rack and some plates and you can get very strong. This is so different to needing 20 different kettlebell variations that take up a huge amount of space.

Progressive Overload Friendly

Progressive overload is the principle of augmenting training difficulty over time by increasing volume or intensity. Playing with the variables of volume and intensity is so much easier with a barbell than with a heavy kettlebell, having the ability to make very small increments when it comes to strength training is very important and the barbell provides this possibility.


Having a strength standard with the barbell can really help people understand how strong they are in comparison to others. This can help individuals set strength goals or help coaches understand where their clients are in terms of strength training metrics.

How To Use Barbells to Get Strong

Strength Training Principles

Strength acquisition is all about creating more force through muscular contraction. Through strength training (lifting heavy weights) we are able to improve the ability of the muscles contractile ability, therefore increasing force production. One interesting and important point is that strength training and hypertrophy are not the same by any means, people can get stronger without gaining any muscle mass. Obviously there is a lot of crossover, but the adaptation is very physiologically different.

Defining lifting heavy weights becomes very important then when it comes to strength training, something that is considered heavy enough to create a strength adaptation is usually around 80% or more of your one repetition maximum. This means that you will need to lift heavy weights (for you) at low repetition ranges (1-5) in order to increase force production.

Using Prilepin's Chart can be an extremely valuable tool when trying to use the barbell to increase strength metrics. It will allow you to pick the number of sets and repetitions at a given rep range based for the percentage being used.

The 4 Essential Barbell Exercises For Strength

The strict press is one of the most effective barbell upper body exercises for strength development. It allows us to put emphasis on increasing the strength in the both the shoulders and the triceps. In order to get the strength benefits from this lift, it’s important to not use a propulsion from the legs, this will mean your working explosively from the legs more so than increasing pure strength in the upper body, the push press has its uses, but it isn’t the strict press.

The bench press is probably the most well known barbell strength training exercise, likely because it is the most effective at increasing upper body strength and is one of the key lifts in powerlifting competitions. The bench press can be a great tool for strength development for both sports performance and general health.

The deadlift is my favourite strength exercise with a barbell. It allows us to use the full body to lift a weight from the floor, which to me seems like the most “pure” lift for testing how strong someone is. It puts emphasis on posterior chain strength (hamstrings, glutes, back) though muscles like the quads will also play their part. Training the deadlift at high percentages for low reps is one of the best ways to increase force production.

The back squat is another of the key movements to develop full body strength with a barbell. Like the deadlift it is much more of a full body lift in comparison to the upper body barbell exercises, which you will feel the next day as it creates vast amounts more fatigue. It mainly increases the strength of the legs but needs to be supported by the back, hence why it is more of a full body exercise.

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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.

Sean Klein


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