Barbells are standard weight lifting equipment and are an excellent way to increase muscle strength; it’s the only piece of equipment many people need. Designing a barbell workout involves seven key principles:
1. Always warm up and cool down. Using a barbell when your muscles are cold can result in injury. Before beginning your barbell workout, do some moderate cardiovascular exercise for 10-15 minutes to get the blood flowing through your body. Then warm up each muscle group individually by using a very light weight for the first set, then increase the weight for the rest of the exercise. After your workout, cool down with another 10-15 minutes of cardiovascular exercise; this helps remove waste products from the muscles and helps them repair more quickly.
2. Eat at the proper times. Don’t eat just before or just after a barbell workout. You want all of your blood flow directed toward your muscles, not digesting food. However, it’s a good idea to eat a high carb, high protein snack an hour or two before your workout to increase glycogen reserves and protein stores. Eating another, similar snack an hour or two after the workout is even more helpful in building muscle tissue quickly.
3. Perform each lift slowly and smoothly. The lifting, or working, part of each exercise involves concentric contraction (the muscle gets shorter) and is called the positive phase of the exercise. It should take at least 1-2 seconds.
4. Perform each return even more slowly and smoothly. The return, or eccentric contraction, is the negative phase of the exercise, where you return to your starting position. It is the most effective part of the exercise as far as building muscle goes and should take at least 3-4 seconds. If you cannot return slowly and smoothly, you have too much weight on the barbell.
5. Perform each exercise correctly. Make sure your technique is flawless. If you can’t perform the exercise for the recommended number of reps without using good technique, you are using too much weight. If exercises are performed correctly, at the end of your workout, your muscles should feel warm, slightly fatigued and you may experience a slight burning sensation. If you feel pain or excessive fatigue you are probably performing the exercise incorrectly and may be overtraining. Consult a trainer to make sure you know which exercises to do and how to do them.
6. Rest between workouts. Barbell workouts cause muscle fatigue and microtrauma. Your body’s healing response is what increases muscle mass and strength, but that healing response needs time to work. Always allow at least 24-48 hours between workouts of any muscle group. The one exception is abdominal muscles, which do not get as much microtrauma.
7. Increase reps first, then weight. As you get stronger, increase the number of reps you do in each exercise set. When you can do 15-20 reps or more slowly, smoothly, using correct technique and without muscle fatigue, it’s time to add more weight. When you add the extra weight, of course, you’ll have to go back to 8-12 reps per set.