Almost 10 years ago I wrote a very popular and controversial article “RIP The Barbell”. One of the publications that picked it up got nervous and called it “An Argument Against The Barbell.” That was all fine, the points were still there. My hope was to open people’s eyes to a lot of false assumptions we make around the use of the barbell and having some perspective about the barbell being a tool we examine like any other.
Interestingly enough, but not surprising, I got A LOT of hate about the article. Heck, I think there are whole reddit threads about me and the article. I say interestingly because with all the negative commentary no one actually could argue the points I made. Sure, people made plenty of personal attacks on me, but nothing about the actual content of the article (the thing I actually care about).
I am not writing this to just rehash the article, but I will share some highlights. After all, one of the biggest questions we get about DVRT is, “when do you program barbells.” I find that question really interesting because if I wrote a program and I left out kettlebells, dumbbells, suspension trainers, bands, medicine balls, or Ultimate Sandbags, very few would be like “hey, why did you leave out X?!” If you don’t program the barbell though people often have a bit of a heart attack that they won’t get strong.
Is that actually true?
Program Purpose, Not Tools
It may surprise some to hear I never actually program tools first, even Ultimate Sandbags. I don’t sit there and think about how am I going to get an Ultimate Sandbag into someone’s workout program, I think about what I am trying to achieve and I look for the best methods to accomplish this goal. This happens even within each movement of a program too.
I DO start programming with movement patterns (squat, hip hinge, lunge, push, pull, rotation, and locomotion). In every workout I want as much balance as I can achieve of these patterns and I rotate priorities workout to workout so that we can get the best result.
Let’s take a real world example though of how I go about deciding what tool I am going to use for a particular purpose.
John comes to train with me, he is 40 years old and hasn’t worked out for several years. He wants to lose about 20 pounds, have more energy, and get help with some nagging back aches he has been having.
I already know that I am going to take John through these movement patterns, but what version of each? For this example, let’s look at the hip hinge. Since John is new and is not that proficient at hip hinging, I want to start him off with a stable lift that gives him feedback on how to use his body properly during the hip hinge. That leaves us with a deadlift.
We know I can deadlift literally any tool, so which one am I going to decide is right for John? Upon screening John, I find he has quite a bit of hip mobility restrictions and him getting into the standard deadlift from the ground seems difficult. John also has some upper body postural issues from working the office all day so he has a bit of rounded shoulders and forward head postures.
What am I thinking? First, any tool I am going to use I will probably have to elevate so John can start to learn in a safer environment while we work on his mobility (which may get better just by learning the deadlift better and better). Next, knowing he has a bit of an achy back, I want to make sure we really teach him how to use his core and lats to stabilize his spine so he doesn’t round his back and learns to use his hips and lower body. Since John is going to learn a lot of concepts to perform a proper deadlift at once, I don’t want to overwhelm him so I am going to think of tools that give him A LOT of feedback on how he is using his body instead of trying to bark out a million cues to him.
John says he is willing to be in socks while we train so I put a mini band around his feet. I tell him this is to remind him to push through his feet on all phases of the deadlift. If he feels the tension in the miniband get loose, then he probably needs to check that his feet haven’t collapsed.
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I sat a Strength Ultimate Sandbag around 40 pounds on a step for John. Why an Ultimate Sandbag? The handles being in a more neutral, rather than pronated position, will make it easier for John to engage his lats and core due to his rounded upper body posture. Why an Ultimate Sandbag versus a kettlebell? Somewhat similar reasons, but let’s add in the fact because John is a bit of a bigger guy, getting his hands close together actually causes him to round his upper back and it is very difficult for him to get his lats/core engaged properly.
Why a Strength Ultimate Sandbag? For most guys with no current orthopedic concerns, using the whole body to move 40 pounds isn’t a big ask. It is enough load where they have some weight to work against and have feedback and light enough if he does something incorrect he will be unlikely to hurt himself and we can correct when he is done.
The Strength Ultimate Sandbag is used too because the wider handles will make it easier for someone like John’s build to use the handles and actively pull them apart to get the proper tension to keep his back safe during the movement.
Hopefully an example like this helps better convey that I am not anti-barbell, but I need a reason to use it just like any other tool. In the next post I will cover the potential question coming into your head like, “okay, but once John learns to deadlift, do you THEN give him the barbell?!” I think my answer will help you feel free to create smarter workout programs that give you more purpose to your training.
Learn much more in our DVRT online courses and certifications such as our L.I.F.T. programs that show you how and when to integrate various tools. You can get 30% off ALL our courses and workout programs HERE and check out our L.I.F.T. series for 30% off with code “education” HERE
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