Today, I am going to give you a simple 4-week barbell workout (strength and conditioning) program.
The program may be easy for some of you and very difficult for others. However, this program can be done with one barbell, some weight, and space to run. It’s incredibly simple. The workouts will not take you very long and it will get you in great shape.
But you have to want it!
One more time…you need a barbell, weight and space to run. No rack, no wraps, no special shoes, no pull-up bar and there isn’t even a need to do a project from the End of Three Fitness DIY Corner.
But first, I want to talk about the history of the barbell – as a self-proclaimed barbell connoisseur. If you have an unending level of curiosity, like me, keep reading and we will talk barbells. If you are a “cut to the chase” type of person, scroll down for the workouts.
Let’s begin: Iron Game
Throughout history mankind has known the importance of strength.
For many, it was the strength of their back which earned them a living. It meant something.
As we progress, on a more consistent basis, we aren’t out in the fields cutting wood, hauling rocks or gathering food.
Today, we pay for our hardships and mental toughness through GoRucks Challenges and mud runs. If you want to be strong in this day and age it’s a conscious effort in the gym or the garage gym.
Some may think this change in history makes us weak or soft, but I beg to differ.
It makes us the strongest we’ve ever been, but you have to want it. In our current time we have polar extremes; those who have succumb to a sedentary lifestyle, and we also have among us some of the strongest, fastest and fittest men who have ever walked the planet.
You decide the fate of sedentary or strong. You make your own excuses, or you blaze your own trail.
The key to strength in the past was a matter of profession. A blacksmith had to have the strength to wield heavy metal objects single-handedly, a farmer had to possess stiffened-back strength to till his field, and railroad worker had to be able to produce 1,000’s of swings with a spike maul to drive railroad spikes into the tracks.
Today, it’s all different and there is a new key to strength beyond profession: the barbell. Learning how to properly wield a barbell can lead to a level of strength and conditioning unparalleled by our ancestors.
However, the barbell is no new instrument, and neither is a barbell workout.
In 1849, Hippolyte Triat opened a gym in Paris unlike any other in the world (at that time). Triat’s gym was 9,500 sq/ft. with two tiers of balconies for spectators, which is impressive even by today’s standards. The best thing about Triat’s gym is it had one of the coolest mottos in the world:
For the Regeneration of Man
On Triat’s gym brochure and equipment list he had: “A Sphere De 6 Kilos” (bars with spheres of six kilos) and “Gros Halteres et Barres A Deux Main” (large dumbbells and bars for two hands).
While he is not credited with “inventing” the barbell, he had the first gym which showed illustrations, in 1854, with racks of barbells on the wall and men pictured doing barbell workouts. Triat was ahead of his time and adopted the emblem of a spherical barbell as a large contributor to strength and health.
Now, let’s continue Triat’s barbell revolution!
Barbells: As simple as they are complex
Today, a barbell is as simple as it is complex. Simple, because it’s just a long piece of metal fashioned to help you manipulate objects and challenge gravity. Complex because there are bars for powerlifting, weightlifting and general purpose. You have to decide on: tensile strength, bushings or bearings, snap rings or screws, knurling type and finish.
Not to mention we’ve gotten a lot smarter on lifting these things. Turns out certain methods such as velocity and raw power can dramatically change the results you see from the use of a barbell. Science also says we need to factor in dynamic efforts, maximum efforts and repeated efforts to gain strength efficiently.
Personally, I’ve immersed myself in the of study of strength training, strength programming and how lifting a singular barbell in different ways can lead to dramatic increases in strength, health and fitness. I’ve written countless articles on this topic, I’ve developed my own strength program through application and study and I’ve even interviewed some of the top strength coaches in the world. A question I always ask in these interviews is:
If you could only have one piece of equipment to train with for the rest of your life what would it be, and why?
The answer, more often than not, is a barbell (plates included, of course). Why? Why, if you could only have one object to train with, would it be a barbell?
To some, this answer is obvious, and yet to others the concept escapes them.
The answer lies in the barbell’s versatility and potential to make you a better human.
So what is the power of a barbell? Let’s put ourselves in the extreme situation of only a barbell and some weight…
No fancy equipment. No racks. No pull-up bars. What can be done? What can we achieve?
I’ve actually been in this situation before. When I first started training in my garage I literally had a plyometric box, a barbell and some weights. I trained this way for months before I beefed up my garage gym with a few DIY projects. I can tell you from this experience there is only one rule to follow if you are in this situation and still want to achieve a high level of strength and conditioning.
Do what matters.
Your Barbell Workout Blueprint (for doing what matters)
Do what matter and become the fittest you’ve ever been.
It is time to drop the curls, calf raises, and other miscellaneous exercises. Focus on the big barbell movements and only do 3-4 of them a week…and run. Cancel the gym membership and sell some crap on craigslist. Now, use that money and buy a good barbell with some weight (iron or bumper).
Now use it. Don’t complicate anything.
*Note: The template below does not take into account warming-up, recovery, mobility, cool down, nutrition, hydration etc. Furthermore, you should be familiar with how to perform the lifts below with proper form. This is not a “beginner’s” program, rather a “beginning” program to those in a one barbell situation, who have some barbell experience.
However, even if you are a beginner, taking a few weeks to properly learn these movements is all you need before you can start. If you are truly a beginner I recommend starting with bodyweight workouts.
Week(s) 1-2: Deadlift – Power Clean – Run
Start with the deadlift [demo video] and power clean [demo video]. Why power clean? Aside from making you stronger, faster and more explosive, mastering the power clean is extremely important in a one barbell situation. If you can power clean weight you now have the ability to put a barbell in the rack position; which is the bar resting on your collar-bone and anterior deltoids supported by your hands . If you can get into the rack position you can start to perform movements like the front squat and standing strict press.
But first, we will start with deadlifts, power cleans and running:
Painfully simple. Amazingly effective.
Week(s) 3-4: Deadlift – Power Clean – Front Squat – Press – Run
Adding the front squat [demo video] and strict press [demo video] will be game changers. When you start getting to heavy loads with these lifts you will see your abdominal strength increase from the insane pressure of the front squat, your biceps and traps grow from the significant deadlift loads on the body as well as your back and triceps will from pressing movements like the standing strict press. Focusing on those other (isolation) movements (curls for the girls) may seem productive, but really it is just increased volume. It’s certainly OK to throw these movements at the end of a workout, but they should never be your focus for maximal strength gain.
Remember, we have no rack. So the only way to press or front squat is to power clean into the position. We will keep front squat reps high and loads light (since you most likely can’t clean anywhere close to maximal front squat weight), but you should be able to clean more than enough to keep strict press heavy(ish).
Now, we introduce the front squat and strict press:
Got it? Not too hard, right?
This is a VERY SIMPLE barbell workout program of basically…. barbell + run.
So what’s after this?
A few weeks strengthening these movements while working on your mobility and you can start to toy with the Olympic movements like the snatch and clean and jerk. The Olympic lifts are explosive movements which require a great deal of practice and skill. I highly recommend starting with nothing more than a PVC pipe or broomstick working the basics of these movements before you graduate to the barbell.
It doesn’t stop there. You have to continue following the one rule: do what matters. Even if you have only one barbell and are focusing on the movements which matter, now you have to move the barbell in a way that matters. Heading down the one barbell path doesn’t allow you to enjoy simplicity without a degree of complexity. You have to know how to lift the barbell properly, not just form, but methodology. Now, to truly get into an effective long-term program we will need a rack (at a minimum) to get to those heavier loads where we will be able to implement the maximal effort method, dynamic effort method and repeated effort method at a different level.
But that’s not today and that’s not this program; seeing as we are already 2,000+ words into a simple way a barbell workout + running program can significantly improve your fitness and health. So we will save the methodology of another article.
Please, let me know if you have any questions!
One barbell, for the regeneration of man!
photo credits: grounded via (license) (altered), barbell via photopin (license) (cropped)