The 5 Best Barbell Exercises for Mass Gain

There really is no secret to mass gain, it involves a lot of work and a lot of patience and then a lot more work and a lot more patience. Completing high repetitions of these barbell movement below on a consistent basis will massively help you in your endeavour to grow muscles.

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

Get weekly roundups of the best training tools in your inbox, every Monday.

No spam – just thoughtful training advice

In This Resource
  • Benefits of Barbell For Mass Gain
  • How To Use Barbells For Mass Gain
  • The 5 Best Barbell Exercises for Mass Gain

Benefits of Barbell For Mass Gain

The barbell is a great tool when it comes to mass gain, as you can see most body builders will use machines, barbell and dumbbell for The 5 Best Barbell Exercises for Mass Gain training programmes. The barbell comes in particularly useful for compound lifts like the back squat and deadlift, which have a systemic effect on the entire body rather than extreme isolation like you would get from a machine. This systemic work and fatigue cannot be replicated with machines and can have a huge effect on your hormone profile which will enable muscle growth.

How To Use Barbells For Mass Gain

The barbell can be used to induce a hypertrophic response through creating high amounts of fatigue in the muscle you desire to grow. By fatigue I mean work load at medium weight, this will result in a signal for the muscle to grow. Every muscle group is different and individual variation can be built upon this. But the key is to understand the general principle, in order to induce growth a stimulus must be created in that specific muscle, the amount of stimulus should be slowly increased over time based on the individuals response. This is true when your striving towards any form of adaptation, for hypertrophy the emphasis will be on high repetitions (8-20) for high number of weekly sets (8-15) as a general guideline.

The 5 Best Barbell Exercises for Mass Gain

The back squat is one of the best exercises available to create hypertrophy response in the lower body. If your capable in this movement then you can put 50-70% on the bar and get some serious volume in, which is a sure fire way to create a stimulus for hypertrophy. The only negative of this exercise for hypertrophy is that it can create a lot of systemic or central nervous fatigue, it requires the full body to work and doesn’t isolate a specific muscle group, it also loads the spine aggressively, which can mean it generates a of fatigue that needs to be recovered from. This is not a reason not to use this exercise, but it is a consideration when writing a training programme that has a high frequency of training.

The deadlift is similar to the back squat in the sense that it really is a full body lift, although it puts most of its emphasis on the posterior chain. This lift can be far more fatiguing than the back squat when done for similar high rep ranges and moderate weight so even more caution needs to be taken into consideration when programming this for hypertrophy. That being said, it is an excellent way to grow the upper back, hamstrings and glutes. there is a reason why people who have big deadlifts tend to have big backs and glutes. Build volume steady over time to ensure you don’t wreck yourself for the entire week with a very high volume deadlift workout.

The bent over row is much more of an isolation movement than both the deadlift and the back squat, but still remains a compound lift. It targets the upper back predominantly but requires great lower back stability to perform at heavy weights to stabilize throughout. This exercise is challenging to perform with precision because it can be done with momentum from the hips, the key thing to remember here is why your doing the exercise, to induce a hypotrophy signal to the muscle, not to lift the most weight in the bent over row.

The bench press is the most well known and classic barbell exercise for muscle mass gain, because it is extremely effective at achieving this. It should be the predominant horizontal pressing movement in your programme if your goal is to gain muscle. A key mistake people make with the bench press when trying to grow their chest muscles is bouncing the barbell off the chest. Remember just like the bent over row, the goal is to create the biggest stimulus with the smallest fatigue, bouncing the barbell off the chest reduces the stimulus created.

The barbell curl is another very well know exercise for muscle growth. This exercise is the furthest thing from complex, yet it is still difficult to perform well. Firstly because most people have very weak biceps and therefore cannot use much weight. This means most people want to use the momentum from their hips to send the barbell to the shoulders rather than creating the stimulus from the bicep muscle. Put emphasis on contracting the muscles of the biceps throughout this lift.

If you enjoyed this resource you can find more below or try Programme, a fitness app that plans every workout for you – based on your progress, equipment and lifestyle.

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


Programme is a workout app that plans every workout for you

Programme learns from your past workouts, training experience and available equipment to create your optimal workout plan that adapts to your progress.