Is barbell training really necessary?

Hasbro

Triple-Digit Post Count
I think it’s completely dependent on your goals. If muscle mass and hypertrophy is the goal then nothing will get you there quicker than barbells. But I’ve also seen guys that were jacked and did nothing but body weight programs. A few years ago I did Wendler 5/3/1 for a couple of years and in my late 50’s I was stronger than I’ve ever been in my life.

But it came at a cost. My CNS stayed taxed all the time and I felt like I was in a constant state of recovery and soreness. Once the weight got high and the easy newbie gains were over I got to the point of dreading to go to the gym because I knew how much it was going to take out of me. I finally decided GPP, feeling good, and not being sore all the time was more important to me than how I looked in the mirror. Doing S&S A+A style filled the bill in spades.

Yes I lost a little of the mass and strength but not much. Before I could DL over 400lbs but I guarantee I could walk into the gym today and DL at least 350 with no problem and I haven’t trained the deadlift in over 2 years. I’m not looking to be as strong as I can possibly be anymore...just strong enough.
 

North Coast Miller

More than 2500 posts
My thinking is:
1. Ballistics and endurance are what increase general athleticism. All of what I think of as "athletic" movements - sprinting, jumping, throwing, punching, dodging, dancing, tumbling, climbing, etc. - are about ability to generate bursts power over and over again, as opposed absolute strength.
2. But absolute strength is the base that you build power from. The whole "can't fire a canon from a canoe" thing.

So... I'd say the backsquat builds greater potential athleticism, but at some point you gotta do something else to convert it to actual athleticism.

And I have exactly zero data to back that up. Just my opinion.
I pretty much agree with this, the next question, does one need barbell to build the sort of moldable strength prereq for athleticism - I don't think so.
 

Ryan T

More than 500 posts
Great discussion. I've gotten much stronger with general kettlebell training than when I started down this path, specifically heavier snatches and working my way to Simple. Once I started hitting the 32kg for GUs, swings, and goblet squats it took me to a different level. A day between waving volume A+A snatches seem sufficient for recovery. I walk and do light jogging or rowing on my off days. I've also started shotokan karate with my son. The emphasis on being light on your feet and speed are starting to round things out. Not a lot of dedicated chest work though; that feels like a deficiency that a little GTG push ups could fix. So far this has not been overly taxing on my CNS and enjoyable.

I have a barbell but no weights or a rack yet. At some point I will and I plan on doing some barbell cycles in the next year or so. All these things are tools and its good and fun to have many options at your disposal.

As some others have said, it probably depends on your goals and what you can stick with to be consistent and move towards a general life time approach to wellness. We shouldn't chase gains. Strong first is great, but I would say focus on "well first" and you get the strength thrown with a longer more enjoyable life that offsets the aging process to whatever degree it can.
 

Bill Buck

Still New to StrongFirst Forum
No, you can be plenty strong and healthy with dumbbells, kettlebells and body weight exercises.
 

Alaska80

Double-Digit Post Count
I am always interested in how specific training carries over to basic physical activity - does heavy barbell provide more athleticism than training with other means. Is the added loading one can get from barbell backsquats going to provide better absolute strength in an unrelated task than you might achieve from doing (as an example) offset squats with a log at 2/3 the weight?

I am unconvinced of this. But...having those barbell numbers is a good way to keep you honest when working with odd objects or other implements.
I can conclusively state from experience that the answer to this is absolutely yes. BB work does have specific carryover into real life physical activity. I live in a fairly remote part of Alaska and hunt for all our meat for a given year, these hunts are hard. They often find me packing a 150lb-200lb pack of meat miles over very broken and difficult terrain. KBs do a great job of giving me core tension and SE, not to mention the amazing WTH effect, but it wasn't until I was DL 350+ and Squatting 300+ that his task of carrying heavy loads became much easier. Obviously, a conditioning base has to be maintained, but KBs could never take me to the level of reserve strength that I need to do what I do and enjoy it. Now at a BW of 185 my DL is 405 and squat is 320, and having that much reserve strength makes moving heavy loads over long distances an actual pleasure, assuming I maintain my conditioning base.

But to the OPs original question, are BB necessary? That depends. For most people living a normal life, no they are not, but for those of us who are type A and want to squeeze every ounce of genetic potential out of our bodies, yes they are.
 

North Coast Miller

More than 2500 posts
I can conclusively state from experience that the answer to this is absolutely yes. BB work does have specific carryover into real life physical activity.
Ahhh, do you really think the result would be substantially different if you'd been offset squatting a 230lb log and round back lifting a 150lb atlas ball? I personally wouldn't bet against it.

I'm not going to argue that more weight doesn't do good things for increased load bearing, but I do believe at some point fairly early in the process, a lot of the strength becomes increasingly specific. While this is true with every exercise, that's kind of my point.
 

Colby

Double-Digit Post Count
I've been a full-time office worker for such a long time without doing any exercise so I'm very new to lifting and weight training.
When looking up advice and programs to get me started- like the very helpful getting started a section in this sub- almost all insist on standard progressive barbell training like bench presses and barbell overhead presses.
In my understanding, though, dumbbells allow for a greater range of movement and recruit more muscles for stability.
I realize you can lift much more weight doing barbell versions of exercises, but is this really necessary for someone like me who cares absolutely zero about how much weight I can bench press and am working out solely to build muscle and improve my physical appearance? Can I just substitute barbell exercises for dumbbell exercises? Will this actually limit my progress?
Thanks!
Keep in mind that just because something has more weight to load doesn’t always carry over the same way. For example, you can get an amazing workout out of a zercher squat with a quarter of the weight you would use to back squat, with very good results. So load placement also is a huge factor. Double kettlebell front squats will feel much heavier pound for pound then putting a bar on your back because of the amount of tension and motor control involved.
 

Kaisersemmel

Double-Digit Post Count
You can get pretty big and strong without using them. And to be honest just doing some chin ups and not being a complete couch potatoe is probably more then enough to elevate you into "fit" territory in most peoples eyes. How many people at your workplace can even do 10 chin ups and run 2mi at a decent pace?

But in my limited experience the 2 things that really stand out with barbells are the possibility to 1.) load most muscle groups with a hand full of exercises, and 2.) to use micro loading up to very high loads.

A simplistic but serious whole body workout could look like this and make you very strong with about 2 hours of training per week using basic equipment:
Day 1: Squat, Bench, Sumo
Day 2: Front Squat, Bench, Deadlift

It's not perfect but how much more complicated would you need to make a program not using barbells if you want to replicate the strength gains of someone who works up to 200lbs bench presses, 300lbs squats and 400lbs deadlifts. And I think most healthy males of average size could work up to those numbers with minimal instruction and commitment. And barbells are accessible to most people in most places. Weak or strong. Big or small. My GF started training with me a while ago and we can do the same workout using the same equipment no problem. And even with my modest strength numbers I am already far strong than most people I interact with on a daily basis.
 

Anna C

More than 5000 posts
Elite Certified Instructor
Keep in mind that just because something has more weight to load doesn’t always carry over the same way. For example, you can get an amazing workout out of a zercher squat with a quarter of the weight you would use to back squat, with very good results. So load placement also is a huge factor. Double kettlebell front squats will feel much heavier pound for pound then putting a bar on your back because of the amount of tension and motor control involved.
"Amazing workout" and "feel much heavier" may translate to increased demand for tension and motor control, but they don't necessarily translate to increased force production; i.e., strength.
 

North Coast Miller

More than 2500 posts
"Amazing workout" and "feel much heavier" may translate to increased demand for tension and motor control, but they don't necessarily translate to increased force production; i.e., strength.
You can befuddle the upper body and core by shifting the load relative to center of mass, but from the hips down they only understand heavy loading.

You can do a lot with unilateral exercises and offset loads but they still need to involve hefty weight.
 

JW513

Double-Digit Post Count
Barbells are great but I have no interest. I'm working my way up to 200lbs sandbags... If I can shoulder one a bunch of times or carry it for 5 minutes, I'm strong.

I do like kettlebells, too. Love the simplicity.
 

DaveS

Double-Digit Post Count
What about weighted callisthenics? Take weighted pistols as an example. If you weighed 200lb and assuming a rough guide that doing a body weight pistol means you then have 100lb loading on the lifting leg, if you then add 100lbs of added resistance in your hands (kettlebells?) you would have approx 200lbs of resistance on that lifting leg. So relative to the barbell back squat you now have an equivalent of a 400lb back squat without a barbell in sight. Would building a weighted pistol therefore build leg strength every bit as good as a barbell back squat routine for everyone bar the powerlifter that specifically needs it to be a barbell back squat for specificity reasons?

Dave.
 
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North Coast Miller

More than 2500 posts
Barbells are great but I have no interest. I'm working my way up to 200lbs sandbags... If I can shoulder one a bunch of times or carry it for 5 minutes, I'm strong.

I do like kettlebells, too. Love the simplicity.
I'm hoping to need a 200lb bag at some point but will probably never get there. I might be able to shoulder a much smaller bag filled with steel shot, maybe 150lbs. 100lbs is pretty easy, but the difficulty goes up quick with heavier bags.
 

JW513

Double-Digit Post Count
I'm hoping to need a 200lb bag at some point but will probably never get there. I might be able to shoulder a much smaller bag filled with steel shot, maybe 150lbs. 100lbs is pretty easy, but the difficulty goes up quick with heavier bags.
I just added 10lbs to my overhead press bag... So now it weights 111lbs to be exact... Just adding a little weight, changes the size of the bag and you have to re learn how to lift it. Benching a sandbag is fun, because it works the grip too.

My shouldering bag has 140lbs, soon to be 155lbs... I finally have everything dialed in 200lbs here i come. I could probably shoulder a 200lbs bag once or twice, but I don't lift anything until my body is ready for it.

If size/ strength is your goal, then barbells are the easiest route... But to me, i'm more about being fit.
 

North Coast Miller

More than 2500 posts
I just added 10lbs to my overhead press bag... So now it weights 111lbs to be exact... Just adding a little weight, changes the size of the bag and you have to re learn how to lift it. Benching a sandbag is fun, because it works the grip too.

My shouldering bag has 140lbs, soon to be 155lbs... I finally have everything dialed in 200lbs here i come. I could probably shoulder a 200lbs bag once or twice, but I don't lift anything until my body is ready for it.

If size/ strength is your goal, then barbells are the easiest route... But to me, i'm more about being fit.
My heaviest bag has 105, a bunch of that is steel shot. I'll be making up a new bag soon with about 150lbs, at least half of it will be steel shot to keep the size of the bag down.

It sounds so cliche, but training w/ sandbag has done more for my real world "walk up and move stuff" strength than any other mode I've used. I feel more durable too.

For bench substitute I shoulder the bag and then push it up and over onto center of my back, do pushups on a board.
On a scale my 105 bag creates 250lbs of pressing resistance. Feels like a much better exercise than flat bench, cannot believe how much work my lats do.
 
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Blake Nelson

Double-Digit Post Count
Certified Instructor
If your goal is to build muscle, hormonal effects of heavy squatting and deadlifting with a bar cannot be replicated.
 

DaveS

Double-Digit Post Count
Hello,

Regarding strength, here is an intresting study that claims that bdw training, when properly done, can get you quite far, even if weights may be even more appropriate when you reach a certain point:
http://www.renegadeworkouts.com/push-ups-vs-bench-press-a-study/

Kind regards,

Pet'
Interesting article and study Pet. The conclusions that strength limits would be reached at the point of 10 one arm push ups is obviously in question though as it ignores the obvious that weight could be added to the OAPU by simply using the non lifting arm to balance a weight between the shoulder blades as Pavel recommends in NW. A follow up study with more advanced trainees to test this theory and if weighted OAPUs would continue to increase bench press 1RM would be a real interesting offshoot. Good find!

Dave
 

DaveS

Double-Digit Post Count
If your goal is to build muscle, hormonal effects of heavy squatting and deadlifting with a bar cannot be replicated.
Intersting Blake, so by implication, unless you are a bodybuilder or an athlete short on time needing to add a lot of muscle quick then the barbell not neccesary even for reaching strength potential so long as a similar level of resistance can be achieved by other means (weighted calisthenics, kettlebells, sandbags etc)?
 
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