What is a Barbell?

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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 25 April 2020
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A barbell is a metal rod fitted with end collars to hold various size discs in place, used in weightlifting to work the upper body. The end collars can be removed to slide off discs and replace them with alternate discs to achieve a different total weight. It should always be loaded with equal weight on each end to avoid injury when lifting. These weights are used in every day exercise and also in weight training, bodybuilding and powerlifting.

The length of the bar can vary from four to seven feet (1.2 - 2.1m) with the central portion of the bar featuring a stamped cross-hatch pattern to improve grip. Thickness is typically about one inch (2.54cm) and the weight of an empty bar varies depending on how much weight it is rated to support. Though a standard barbell is straight, curved bars are also available, specifically designed for curls.

A barbell can be used with or without a weight bench. Weight benches are often sold with a stand that is positioned over the upper portion of the weight bench. Lying flat on the back with legs bent at the knee and feet flat on the floor to either side of the bench, one grips the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width. Pushing the bar up off the stand, one then lowers it slowly to the chest, before pushing it back up until the arms are fully extended. This is known as a bench press. If lifting excessive weight, bench presses should only be performed with a spotter present. A spotter is a second person who stands at the head of the weight bench, ready to help lift the bar back onto the stand should the lifter require help.

Curls are another common exercise performed with a barbell. While standing with the bar held down at arms length using an underhand grip at hip’s width, it is slowly brought up to the chest keeping the elbows and upper arms still. It is then lowered the same way, maintaining body form. This can be performed with a straight or curved barbell. Some people find the curved bar more comfortable for doing curls. Reverse curls are performed the same way, but using an overhand grip.

Sitting on a weight bench or standing, one can perform an overhead press, good for developing the shoulders. In this case the barbell is gripped slightly wider than the shoulders, underhanded, with the elbows bent and pointed down, the bar held just under the chin. It is then pushed up until the arms are extended overhead, and lowered back to position. One can also lower the bar behind the neck in a slow, controlled manner, careful not to use excessive weight.

Bent-over rows, upright rows, deadlifts and squats are just a few names of the many more exercises performed with this equipment. It is extremely flexible and useful for any exercise program. It is important, however, to train properly using the correct weight and proper form. Before engaging in weight lifting, seek help from a professional trainer, training video, or other detailed guide. The exercises described here are exemplary only, not intended to be instructional.

The bar itself can be purchased with or without weights; generally, the larger the set of weights, the more costly. Be sure to note how much weight the bar is rated to support, and always leave a margin of error. In most cases, even the least expensive model will support plenty of weight for the average person, while powerlifters and bodybuilders will require heavier bars.

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