Is Barbell Purism the Answer to Strength Gains?

A foreword, this article is mostly aimed at beginners. If you are an advanced lifter with good technical execution and sound mobility go for barbell training.

Let us start by defining the idea of barbell purism. My definition of barbell purism is the practice of always using a barbell for an exercise when it is possible.
My answer is no, I do not think the barbell is the secret to strength gains and nor do I think it is often the correct prescription for most people.

While the barbell purists will argue that the barbell typically leads to the most strength gains. This statement is somewhat true, but trainees should consider what the cost of those gains is. While a trainee might be barbell bench pressing and progressing mostly well, besides some small pain in their shoulder. Over time the barbell bench press work could potentially be contributing to a chronic shoulder injury. Over time a chronic shoulder injury hinders the trainee’s ability to train push movements. What if this person had been doing decline dumbbell bench press or floor press. Would they be acquiring similar strength gains without contributing to an overuse injury? It is nearly impossible to know for certain, but it is possible. What I’m trying to say is, the goal is not to maximize strength gains blindly. Another variable in this equation is focusing on movements that significantly reduce the chance of injury or chronic pain.

The barbell is the most destructive option most, if not all of the time. The barbell variety of exercise usually places the most demands on the trainee’s mobility and joints. As a result, a barbell exercise typically has the highest adverse effects if the trainee’s form is technically acceptable. The barbell is unforgiving. Most people cannot perform barbell exercises well enough to the point where it is worth the risk-reward tradeoff. Most people do not have very good mobility or form, to begin with. Over time trainees should be introduced to barbell training once their mobility can handle such exercises. This may seem obvious to some of you. Good, you are the smart ones. Many trainers throw their clients in the deep end and start off with barbell training when they are not ready. Most people cannot simply begin with the barbell back squat when training. And this goes for barbell overhead press and other movements.
The main point I am trying to make in this article is to start trainees with movements that do not require high levels of mobility or form. For example, in the squat movement pattern progression, one could start with a goblet squat, then progress to other movements or the barbell back squat if they are ready.


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