Transferability of Barbell Strength

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Hit the barbell lately after some time away. It isn't going as well as I would have hoped. I feel like when I'm doing some good barbell training, I can do good kettlebell and bodyweight training but the inverse doesn't seem to be as accurate for me. This is new for me; I have taken a long time away from the barbell and focused on kettlebells for a few years and when I came back to the barbell and I felt fine. Regardless, when I do train with barbells primarily, when I go back to something they seem just as easy as they ever were. Has anyone else experienced something similar either direction? Is this an age thing and my ability to adapt or retain? Perhaps it really is a case of barbells prepare me for kettlebells but kettlebells don't prepare me for barbells. Thoughts?
 

Antti

Level 9 Valued Member
A good question which I hope sparks up a lot of interesting discussion.

I have to make the caveat that I have started barbell training only recently, about six months ago. So my experience is limited and my insights so as well. Still, I am about to hit decent weights with the barbells, as in planning a five wheel squat for next week and having deadlifted more already, so I think there's some merit to my opinion.

Before the barbell I did mostly kettlebell training: swings, cleans, presses and front squats mostly. I have about five to ten years of experience with the kettlebell, though my training has been leisurely instead of goal-oriented apart from the pressing.

I think the kettlebell training has had an influence on how my barbell training has developed. The years of training with the kettlebells have taught me the core principles, like tension, bracing, breathing etc. I developed a good hinge. My body awareness was high. So, I wasn't surprised I managed to progress adequately with the barbell. But I don't think the kettlebells I had, at max a 40kg or 2*24kg, prepared me at all for the sheer absolute weight I was about to get involved with, apart for the overhead press. So there was little carryover that way.

But, I have found the carryover does work the other way. I have done little kettlebell training due to circumstances lately, but have tested them out some times. The first time I tried swinging my 40kg again I had deadlifted 500 pounds. The old bastard was light. I think I made more progress in the swings with two months of barbell training than I would have made in two years of kettlebell training. If not more.

In my case, the barbell benefits don't stop at making things light. I had done plenty of bodyweight and kettlebell front squats. They had really helped me move better and enabled me to easily do crouch walking at work for length, for example. But, I still had some problems in the hole. I needed a counterweight to be comfortable with my heels on the ground. I originally thought it was an ankle mobility issue, but I flew perfectly through the tests. So I took it to be case of acute bellyitis, as in being too fat for the thing. Not so anymore after the barbell back squats. My waist circumference has remained constant and my weight has come up a bit. I can squat down easily without a counterweight for minutes now instead of seconds. My shoulders haven't been better in a long time since doing a lot of barbell pressing, rowing and back squats. So, by no means do I agree with the viewpoint that barbell training makes one immobile or inflexible. I think it's the opposite. And don't even try to get me started on back pain...

If it doesn't strike out as obvious yet, I have, due to my personal experience, become a true believer in the barbells. I think they're the best thing I've ever done, training wise. The kettlebells have carryover to the barbell world, but I think it is greater the other way round. So I agree with @Bro Mo . I have yet to make a new cycle of pure kettlebell training and then come back to barbell training and see how the carryover goes. I don't know when that will happen. The thing is, I don't think I ever want to do it.

In the end, I'll just leave this article link here: Absolute Strength Is the True Master Quality
 
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krg

Level 5 Valued Member
From experience:

I had worked up to 28 kg KB C+P. Switching then to barbell MP I could not hit 56 kg by any means - things got tough over 45 kg. After several months I can hit 60 kg barbell press and I can do 32 kg KB C+P fine with either arm. So for me, for pressing barbell seems to carry over more to kettlebell than vice versa.

On the other hand I have been deadlifting quite a bit recently and have just gone back to a week of swings with kettlebells and the swings have definitely suffered, mainly through getting gassed.
 

Shahaf Levin

Level 5 Valued Member
I had worked up to 28 kg KB C+P. Switching then to barbell MP I could not hit 56 kg by any means - things got tough over 45 kg. After several months I can hit 60 kg barbell press and I can do 32 kg KB C+P fine with either arm. So for me, for pressing barbell seems to carry over more to kettlebell than vice versa.
I think it just uni/bi-lateral. Unilateral strength does not double up to bilateral strength from several reason (not in any particular order):
  • Total load on the body/trunk - working with 28kg OH does not make the body ready to handle 56kg OH. Furthermore, the stabilization strategy is different. Unilateral work is more about preventing rotation, bilateral is about preventing flexion/extension.
  • Mobility demands - Unilateral work have more "wiggle room" than bilateral.
  • Different groove - As result from both earlier points.
  • Bilateral strength deficit - Don't remember the details, I think it is something about neural recruit... Read it in Supertarining a while back
Maybe the reason your KB C&P went up due to barbell work is that you loaded your trunk more and your groove for the movement was already well established from all the 28kg work.

Just my 2 cents
 

Bill Been

Level 6 Valued Member
This is an excellent topic because it really cuts to the nub of what we're doing.

What has been offered in the posts above are excellent examples of the general applicability of strength. Contrary to what is often offered in "the fitness world", strength NEED NOT be developed in movements designed to mimic the expression of that strength on the field of play/battle or in ones activities of daily life. The other fact that's helpful to have at your fingertips is that strength is the ability to produce force against an external resistance. And that's all it is. If we overlay these two facts we can make sense of these Real World examples. Antti and Bro Mo have used a barbell to gain the generally-applicable quality known as strength - to increase their ability to produce force against an external resistance. It's broadly applicable and they now have more of it. The barbell's the best tool there is for developing this strength. So it logically follows that more "barbell strength" (really just "strength") translates into more "kettlebell strength" (also just "strength"). As an aside, a few reasons the barbell works so well for this purpose are the brute simple fact that you can load it heavier and that it's finely titrate-able, that it is ergonomically agreeable and that it's always available.

One lesson the barbell taught me is that you can't make the 158lbs of a double 36kg KB front squat "count" like a heavier load just because a 2x36kg DFSQ is very difficult. "Hard" does not equal "effective" for the purposes of developing a body that can move heavy loads and opponents. Yes, it was "hard". But it was not "heavy". This fact neatly explained why those and such other movements as Beast GetUps had done so little to prepare me for having a 225lb barbell on my back. Conversely, Neupert's "KB Strong" program of heavy double KB C&Ps (32s for me) did an excellent job of jumpstarting my barbell press because 2x32s is actually a fairly heavy press. The fact that the implement is not clumsy for the Press the way it is clumsy to the point of limiting loading in the squat and deadlift helps explain this.
 

IonRod

Level 5 Valued Member
Rite of Passage is pre-requisite to Return of the Ketllebell, so you are expected to press half your bodyweight with one arm before you start the program. Yet, the ROTK has you start at much less than your full bodyweight, so kettlebell one-arm pressing does not double even the kettlebell two arm pressing, leave alone barbell, which is a different move altogeather.
 

Kettlebelephant

Level 7 Valued Member
So far both modalities transfered over to the other.
I started with barbells and hit a 2x BW DL (180Kg) and a 1.6x BW squat (145Kg) before switching over to KBs only.
The result was that I already could swing the Beast and do goblet squats with it, but lacked the anti-rotational and stabilizer strength for one-handed swings, snatches or TGUs.
After improving those and gaining strength there my barbell lifts increased again, at least the press and DL. I haven't tested a squat in ages.
For me though kettlebell strength transfered over to the real world (moving furniture etc.) much, much more than barbell strength, but I aknowledge that it may be the case for me, because only after working those stabilizers etc. that I was fully able to express the strength that I got from the barbell work in the past.
I think I wouldn't have been able to progress so fast to working with heavy KBs (40+ Kg) without the foundation from heavy barbell training.
One thing that @Bill Been said is definitely true. No amount of KB, bodyweight or machine training can prepare you for the sheer load of a heavy barbell on your back, that's why things like pistols don't carry over so well to barbell squats.
 
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305pelusa

Level 6 Valued Member
The other fact that's helpful to have at your fingertips is that strength is the ability to produce force against an external resistance. And that's all it is. If we overlay these two facts we can make sense of these Real World examples. Antti and Bro Mo have used a barbell to gain the generally-applicable quality known as strength - to increase their ability to produce force against an external resistance. It's broadly applicable and they now have more of it.
If I may give a different perspective.

I'm going to be honest, I also used to think strength was just some general quality that you can build (like aerobic fitness, or amount of muscular mass). But I really agree with Pavel that strength is really just a skill. Like juggling. It's not that juggling balls versus pins is better for juggling. It just depends how you're measuring how good of a juggler you are.

Likewise, your definition of strength is just "how much force can you produce". My question to you though is, on what? On a Bench Press? Guess what builds the most strength there. On a Pull-up bar? Guess what will build the most strength there.

So I personally don't think of strength as some quality that you just have "more of", like it's money or bitcoins. It's specific to the task you are performing.

This Pavel quote really resonates with me:

"You cannot be "just strong". The idiotic question of "Who is stronger, PLers or strongmen?" can be compared to "Who will win in a fight, a shark or a lion?" On land or in water?"

"Strength is the ability to generate force under given conditions"

This fact neatly explained why those and such other movements as Beast GetUps had done so little to prepare me for having a 225lb barbell on my back.
But maybe it's not because the Get-up does not build as much "strength" as barbells. Again strength is specific. You know why Beast Get ups didn't prepare you well for a BB on your back? Because they're too totally different skills! Do you think BB presses and Benches are going to help any more? I don't think so. You know what does prepare you for putting a heavy barbell on your back? Putting heavy barbells on your back.
Conversely, Neupert's "KB Strong" program of heavy double KB C&Ps (32s for me) did an excellent job of jumpstarting my barbell press because 2x32s is actually a fairly heavy press.
Well I don't know if it's because they're heavy. It's because they're much more similar. You could have grabbed much heavier KBs, bent pressed them, and found much less carry-over. It's not just about the weight, it's about the groove and the skill.


@Bro Mo : Many people in Calisthenics, especially gymnastics have found totally opposite results. The barbell doesn't seem to prepare you one bit for any gymnastics strength exercise. As Coach Sommers says "Regardless of how strong your bench may be, if the proper straight arm strength progressions have not been adhered to and meticulously followed, the super strong bench presser will be no closer to a planche than your average joe who struggles with bodyweight."

Yet these same gymnasts (like Sommers himself) later on went to try weights, and would pull things like 400 lb DLs and 250 lb + Benches on their first attempts.

And Pavel, in his books, has mentioned countless examples of the KB WTH effect where being strong a KBs just seems to translate to virtually everything. Doesn't happen to everyone, but it happens.

So things can carry-over in funny ways. I'm not personally convinced one carries over better to another, it all seems very individualistic and totally dependent upon what exercises you even measure strength with.

Just my 2 cents.
 

Bill Been

Level 6 Valued Member
Fun discussion.

Strength is not specific. If you develop strength in full-body, incrementally loaded normal human movement patterns like squats, pulls, and presses/pushes there's not some "hole" left that must be filled with specificity. The example of the Get Up being a "skill" is true in that the movement is a very particular series of sequential parts. This is evident the first time you try one and especially so the first few times you try to teach someone how to do one. However, that first movement is also instructive with respect to the general nature of strength. Let's take a hypothetical to illustrate the point. Let's say we land Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys quarterback, as a client. He wants to learn how to do a Turkish Get Up. So you teach him the sequence of sub movements which comprise the TGU and after a surprisingly short period of time (because he's an elite athlete and has be solving movement problems with natural excellence his entire life) he picks up a reasonable facsimile of the TGU. Now.....how heavy will Dak Prescott be able to execute the TGU relative to a generic, competent male trainee of the same general size as Dak? If you instinctively answered "much heavier" go to the front of the class. Dak Prescott is a strong dude. His TGU will be heavier (stronger) than another theoretical trainee of identical "skill" in the TGU. Because he's freaking strong. He did not get strong doing TGUs. That is not to say one cannot become strong(er) doing TGUs. But a strong guy - who got strong through whatever means you'd like to assume - is always going to be able to exert more force (strength) in an unfamiliar situation than someone who is not. I have a friend who squats in the mid-5s and deadlifts 6 and presses in the mid to high-200s. If I took an afternoon and taught him how to do a Turkish Get Up, who do you think would be able to perform a heavier Turkish Get Up by nightfall; him? Or Steve Friedes? Steve Friedes is "strong" by the standards of his age bracket. He's certainly strong by the standards set by his organization. But, again - if you saw my friend and Steve standing next to each other you would not bet on Steve in any sort of strength contest, irrespective what the test might be or how exquisitely well matched it is to Steve's training. Because strength is general. And my friend is stronger than Steve and will outperform Steve in any strength test, no matter how arcane its structure. Cuz....strength is general.

Steve is still a true gentleman, however.
 

305pelusa

Level 6 Valued Member
@Bill Been : Maybe I didn't explain myself well enough. Strength built in X exercise isn't exclusive to that exercise. Carry-over clearly happens. My point is that you call strength some generic quality that just exists. And I insist "strength" is just a skill; it is a quality that depends on the test at hand.

Here's why that's relevant:

Now.....how heavy will Dak Prescott be able to execute the TGU relative to a generic, competent male trainee of the same general size as Dak?
You're thinking here that I'm saying strength is exclusive to the exercises your QB has done. Hence, it shouldn't carry-over at all to the TGU right? So you're comparing it to some sedentary fella.

A better question (which shows my way of thinking) is pit your Pro QB trained with BBs, versus a Pro Gymnast purely trained in gymnastics. And now, see who can TGU the most.

The answer isn't very clear right? At least it isn't to me.

If the gymnast wins, I personally wouldn't say it's because the gymnast is "freaking strong". Like Pavel says "you cannot be "just strong"". Rather, I would attribute it specifically to the gymnast's massive amount of Handstand work which is extensively carrying over.

Like I said, we can totally agree to disagree. I just want you to understand my point and the way I personally see this :)

I have a friend who squats in the mid-5s and deadlifts 6 and presses in the mid to high-200s. If I took an afternoon and taught him how to do a Turkish Get Up, who do you think would be able to perform a heavier Turkish Get Up by nightfall; him? Or Steve Friedes?
Ok but you're introducing a bunch of variables. Based on those numbers, I'm going to guess your friend is much younger and much heavier. It's no offense to Steve but weighing 130 lbs and 50 +, how is this a fair scenario to prove your point at all? I can Deadlift heavier than a 16 year old 5'2'' female powerlifter without ever doing a DL in my life but that doesn't prove anything.

Take a Steve as young and built as your friend and pit them on the TGU. And again, to me, it isn't very clear who takes the price. I don't think your friend's DLs or SQs mean much in this challenge. Core and shoulder strength are far more relevant and Steve has that.


If you develop strength in full-body, incrementally loaded normal human movement patterns like squats, pulls, and presses/pushes there's not some "hole" left that must be filled with specificity.
I agree. Once again, I didn't mean to say strength is some exclusive quality and you need a million exercises to strengthen your body. You can select a few good ones to cover the bases and you'll be fine.
 
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jca17

Level 3 Valued Member
Fun discussion.
And my friend is stronger than Steve and will outperform Steve in any strength test, no matter how arcane its structure. Cuz....strength is general.
Steve is still a true gentleman, however.
Van Damme lift. I'd tune in to watch.
While I get what you are saying and generally agree, I feel you are going over the top in one direction in the conversation for reactions. Observationally, it seems there is a "brute strength" in general that guys build up that they can seemingly apply in many situations, and then there is the refinement of strength in specific movements or skills. Get two guys of equal height, weight, and age, and the distinguishing factors are probably going to be specific strength-skill factor and genetics. But to illustrate Bill's point in a few cases:

A 5'8" 200 lb body builder picks up a (less than strict) ring muscle up in one training session. As Bill said, it takes time for him to learn the skill, but he could get his acquired strength applied to the skill, going through a progression that would take many people months to get through.

Brian Shaw finishing an endurance lifting crossfit workout faster than the crossfitters, with less than textbook (non existent?) technique. Brute strength. I don't think he's specifically training for WODs, but who am I to know for sure.
 

Deleted member 5559

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@All
Thanks for all this great conversation and content.

For me, I find it more instructive for myself that for a general purpose or base level fitness, my program has to be either oriented toward a specific skillset or be extremely broad in order to be at a better starting point for a new related or unrelated training program, respectively.
 

Antti

Level 9 Valued Member
@Bill Been I agree. Once again, I didn't mean to say strength is some exclusive quality and you need a million exercises to strengthen your body. You can select a few good ones to cover the bases and you'll be fine.
But that is the essential question. What are the best "few good ones to cover the bases"? I don't think anyone is disputing the fact that a person can get stronger through bodyweight, kettlebells or barbells. But how does the carryover between the modalities compare to each other?

There are some limitations that each modality imposes on itself. You can't really swing a barbell like a kettlebell, for example. But you can train explosiveness, endurance, and limit strength.

In short there are two main points driving the barbell: incremental loading and absolute loading capacity. And I like to think that those two aspects are among the most important aspects there are when it comes to resistance training.
 

North Coast Miller

Level 7 Valued Member
"Strength is the ability to generate force under given conditions"
This^

Adaptations to strength training are specific. You will have carry-over to be certain, but it will always show most in whatever mode/means was used to create the adaptation in the first place. It is never linear.

The videos @jca17 have linked demo this pretty well - compare the weight that Shaw is using to what the other lifters are using as a % of bodyweight or max for that lift. Its not even close.

Likewise for the BBer, compare his max lift #'s as a % of bodyweight to the gymnast's. On paper he should be able to easily manipulate his own mass, but again, not even close.

I look at it as "leakage". Only a percentage of any strength one possesses is going to translate to a novel task. To really do well on a completely unknown strength check you need to have huge reserves. You will do better than an untrained person or equally unskilled person of somewhat lesser strength, but you will seldom if ever outperform a skilled person of lesser strength.

@All
Thanks for all this great conversation and content.

For me, I find it more instructive for myself that for a general purpose or base level fitness, my program has to be either oriented toward a specific skillset or be extremely broad in order to be at a better starting point for a new related or unrelated training program, respectively.
This has been my observation as well. In fact, the times I am able to cross to a new mode or one I haven't practiced in a long time and not suffer a major penalty in force production are a pleasant surprise (usually means my program is very broad based, per your observations). Over the long haul I don't restrict "periodizing" to just power, strength, endurance - these have to be done with different modalities as well.
 

Antti

Level 9 Valued Member
Personally, I think the more important question is how is the carryover when you're outside the gym? Are you jumping higher, running faster, shoveling snow with less fatigue?
An interesting and valid question that is a natural follow-up to the original one.

When it comes to high jumps and short sprints nobody beats a weightlifter. I don't know about shovelling snow.
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
For snow shoveling, my experience has been that the kettlebell snatch is the king of building work capacity. We share our driveway with our next door neighbors and it's quite long - 50m x 5 m (150 x 15 feet). I've shoveled a half-meter of snow (18") by myself back when I was regularly training my kettlebell snatch - nothing quite like that movement, IMHO.

-S-
 

Kettlebelephant

Level 7 Valued Member
When it comes to high jumps and short sprints nobody beats a weightlifter. I don't know about shovelling snow.
I think we should leave statements and examples like that out of the discussion, because they are chicken-or-egg examples.
It's true that oly weightlifters have been tested and have some of the most impressive jumps among athletes, but is that because they perform weightlifting or do they excel at weightlifting because they can naturally produce higher power (-> jumping & sprinting) than others?

The whole question can't be generalized, because people are different. If I understand your original post correct you had a better carryover from barbells to "life". Like I said in my earlier post, my carryover from KBs was much, much bigger than from barbells.
Barbell training made your back better and improved your mobility (or at least your squat mobility). For me KBs did all that and barbell training (which I'm partly doing these days) makes me stiff and immobile.
So here we are, both fairly strong individuals using the same tools, yet with opposite results.
 

Antti

Level 9 Valued Member
The whole question can't be generalized, because people are different. If I understand your original post correct you had a better carryover from barbells to "life". Like I said in my earlier post, my carryover from KBs was much, much bigger than from barbells.
Barbell training made your back better and improved your mobility (or at least your squat mobility). For me KBs did all that and barbell training (which I'm partly doing these days) makes me stiff and immobile.
So here we are, both fairly strong individuals using the same tools, yet with opposite results.
To be clear, there is of course more than just the selection of the tool that plays the part on what the effects are. There is the selection of the exercise with the tool. I can do snatches with both the barbell and the kettlebell, overhead presses, deadlifts, squats, TGUs, rows, cleans, etc as well. I think the question really is, what changes when one does relatively similar exercises with different tools? And I think I gave one answer to that question already in an earlier post.
 
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