Workin’ It with Barbells

Credit: Rdella Training
Lift that thing and lift it right.

When I was a kid, I’d occasionally join my dad for workout sessions. He kept a handful of different exercise machines in the basement, but the one that I always found most intimidating was the barbells. While I don’t recall their exact weight, they were a pretty big pair; I couldn’t even roll them, let alone lift them, and the very notion that anyone could seemed like complete fantasy to me. Now that I’m older and wiser, though, I can say with conviction that not only can anyone lift barbells (within reason), but doing so is, unsurprisingly, great for strength training. If you’ve got a set of barbells handy and can reliably lift them, then you can get a serious burn going.


The classic barbell technique is the Clean and Jerk. Technically these are two separate exercises, but since they flow so well into each other, they’re often paired up. That’s how they do it in the Olympics. A Clean occurs when you lift the barbell from the ground and bring it to rest on your shoulders. The key is to gradually shift your weight downward so you can support the weight of the barbell with your lower body. You also need to do this in a single, swift motion; holding it too long may hurt your back.

Credit: BarBend

Once the Clean is complete, you move on to the Jerk. It’s super simple; just shift the barbell from your shoulders to your full arm length above your head. The difference between a Clean and Jerk and a Deadlift is that the Deadlift is a single, constant motion, so it takes long. A Jerk, on the other hand, should only take you a second. You’ve already got the weight on your shoulders, so you’ve just got to throw your arms up in a single, explosive motion. Once the Jerk is complete, carefully bring the barbell back to the Clean position, and gradually bring it back to the ground.

As with hand weights, barbells come in lots of different weights and densities, so start with something you can lift reliably and gradually work your way up to the more intense stuff.