The Specialist: Your Guide To Speciality Barbells
17/05/2022 | Andrew Tracey
Andrew Tracey is a long time collaborator with Bulldog Gear. A coach, writer and current fitness editor of Men’s Health Magazine, he has been in and around the fitness industry for the past 16 years. Having enjoyed and endured a number of disciplines from endurance racing, to strongman, to Crossfit AT enjoys getting neck deep in the practice just as much as the theory.
The barbell has long been the bread and butter of the strength athlete- reliable, versatile and ubiquitous. If utilised correctly a good barbell promises a lifetime’s worth of progress.
Although the barbell may be one of the most useful tools in your arsenal for a variety of tasks, there comes a time when a little bit of ‘specialisation’ is necessary. For pretty much any area of strength and fitness you can dream up- there’s a gizmo, gadget or piece of kit designed specifically to fill that niche, fix that problem or fill that void.
If you’re not ready to get too specialised just yet, there’s also a barbell for every occasion. Helping you to work around injuries, target specific body parts or focus on particular strength qualities. Variants of the trusted barbell can be brought into play to supercharge your training.
Consider this your ‘WHICH?’ guide to discovering the bar that will do more than just look good gathering dust in your rack- as we find the right speciality barbell, for you.
THE HEX BAR
Developed by Al Gerard and otherwise known as a ‘trap bar’, hex bars were initially designed to allow powerlifters and weightlifters to continue training pulls from the floor whilst suffering from lower back injuries.
Positioning yourself inside of the centre of mass, in contrast to a traditional deadlift where the barbell sits in front of your shins, allows you a greater degree of flexion at the knees, a greater ability to keep your torso upright and helps you to drive through the legs, mitigating lower back involvement whilst increasing quadricep development.
Add to this the ‘neutral grip’ of the handles and you have a tool that’s not just fantastic for those working around injuries, but for beginners who are honing their technique and advanced athletes with an eye on longevity alike.
Our ‘open hex bars’, go one step further: Removing the back section of the bar allows you to perform unobstructed farmers carries, split legged movements and adds the ability to ‘roll the bar’ up onto the built in deadlift jacks to load/unload, doubling down on the ‘lower back friendly’ nature of this versatile piece of kit.
SAFETY SQUAT BAR 2.0
Specially designed as a tool to alleviate the need for upper body mobility during squats, the additional ‘handles’ remove strain from the wrists and shoulders by allowing your hands to be positioned in front of the body.
Ideal for lifters carrying upper body injuries, niggles or mobility issues. Many report a psychological ‘boost’ in lifting with the safety squat bar, as they’re able to focus solely on their lower body without worrying about barbell placement, grip or any aches or pains in the upper body.
The safety squat bar also makes a great tool for those new to the squat pattern. Many regressions such as the goblet squat are fantastic to help beginners learn the mechanics of the movement, however they quickly become to difficult to progress in terms of weight; the safety squat bar carries many of the same ‘beginner friendly’ benefits of these regressions, with the added bonus of being able to progressively overload in much more manageable increments than kettlebells or dumbbells.
The slightly ‘cambered’ design of the loading pins that creates the ‘mass forward’ effect that’s so beneficial for beginners (as it forces them to stay upright in a more anatomically friendly position), can also be a great training tool for even advanced lifters. As you go heavier your posterior chain and core are forced to work overtime to keep your torso upright, building strength, power and stability that translates into the deadlift, as well as everyday life.
MULTI GRIP/ SWISS BARS
Switching to the upper body now. The Swiss Bar, unsurprisingly, is the Swiss Army Knife of upper body training. Giving you access a variety of grips, allowing you to tailor your pressing and pulling experience to your own goals, mechanics and injury history.
Right off the bat a ‘neutral’ grip creates an environment that’s far more anatomically forgiving to both your wrists and shoulders, allowing them to sit in a more (you guessed it) neutral position. This isn’t just optimal for those working around niggling injuries, but ideal for those looking to avoid those same niggles in the future.
Whilst dumbbells and kettlebells confer many of the same benefits, ‘fixing’ your arms together and allowing them to share the load takes away much of the necessity for stabilisation that dumbbells bring. Whilst this instability is a benefit in it’s own right, it can also act to distract you from your main focus of, ya know- lifting some heavy iron.
Moving from a wide grip that emphasises your pectoral muscles, right through to a narrow grip that biases the triceps, you can also flip the bar 180 to add a degree of rotation to the wrists, in order to find a comfortable position for your own body.
Perfect for both pressing and pulling and offering tremendous value for such a high quality piece of kit.
If upper body longevity is on your mind- this is probably the bar for you.
MULTI-GRIP CAMBERED BAR
With four variable distanced handles, the Multi-Grip Cambered Bar packs the same shoulder and wrist saving punch as other multi-grip or Swiss bars, with one important twist- this bar angles perfectly around your upper body, unlocking a huge range of motion, that’s usually limited by the barbell contacting your chest.
This additional range can add a huge stretch to the chest or shoulders during pressing movements, tapping into extra hypertrophy potential and building enormous strength in the often neglected end ranges. Flip to rowing movements and you’ll reap the same benefits, this time allowing for a huge contraction that’s usually hampered by your torso blocking the barbell’s path.
Once again, although this additional range of motion can be found by utilising dumbbells or kettlebells, removing the need for any additional stabilisation allows us to focus on moving more weight, perfecting our range of motion, or gives us a much greater ‘margin for error’ if we’re working our way back from injury.
If your goal is muscle growth, simply switching your straight bar out for it’s cambered cousin during the bench press could unlock some serious chest gains. As famed strength coach Christian Thibaudeau says- ‘the muscle that gets stretched the most, grows the most.’
FAT GRIP EZ CURL BAR
Look, we all know what this bar is designed for, it’s literally in the name. Whilst many physical pursuits may exude virtuosity, none have withstood the test of time quite like the quest for bigger biceps, have they?
The contours of the EZ bar are designed, once again, to relieve strain on the wrists. The slight repositioning of the wrist angle also works to pull the elbows and shoulders into slightly more comfortable positions. Curls in and of themselves may not be known as shoulder or elbow killers, but over thousands of repetitions (yeah, we see you), this slight tweak could add some mileage to your joints.
The thick diameter of this bar won’t just add size to your forearms and boost your grip strength, it can also improve your ability to recruit your biceps through ‘Sherrington's Law of Irradiation’ which states: A muscle working hard recruits the neighbouring muscles, and if they are already part of the action, it amplifies their strength.
Leaning away from joint longevity for a moment, we can also flip the bar, re-gripping into positions that target different areas of the biceps. Ideal if your goal is maximum growth.
Oh, and if you thought we’d gotten so carried away thinking about curls that we’d forgotten- you can also expect all of the same benefits for your triceps, by using the EZ bar to perform extension movements.
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