A long-time member and friend recently texted me an article about why top trainers are moving away from barbells in training for both clients and themselves. I realized that this was an unspoken truth about our gym that I hadn’t shared with all of our members, many of which have come from a CrossFit background and previously utilized barbells in their training programs.
Well, here’s the reason: barbells are limiting and they can be dangerous for many, if not most athletes.
Barbells are great tools. They help athletes move a lot of weight through different movement planes (there are 3, to be exact).
I’ve spent the last 20 years training with barbells from my time as an NCAA athlete, working with excellent personal trainers, and in my time as a CrossFit athlete and Level 2 coach. I’ve learned from some excellent S&C coaches, and even better human beings about how to get strong and do so safely.
I became very, very strong using barbells as a key implement, I moved them with near-perfect form, and I respected their power and ability to provide strength and overall fitness results in a very effective manner.
But there are situations in which barbells become harmful to the long term health of the athlete, and that’s what we’re going to dive into on this post.
We often see younger athletes moving barbells with ease, regardless of how much weight is on the bar. Social media has increased awareness of Kids and Varsity Crossfit programs, as well college strength and conditioning coaching, and strongman and other elite strength competitions in which barbells are heavily utilized. This is not the reality of how most adult athletes ought to train day in and day out.
You see, our bodies move in 3 simple movement planes:
- Sagittal – The sagittal plane bisects the body into left and right sides. This allows for forward and backward movements, as well as flexion (bending), or extension (straightening) – squats, bicep curls
- Longitudinal – The frontal plane bisects the body into anterior (front) and posterior (back) sections. This allows for side to side movements or side bending, as well as abduction (limb away), or adduction (limb towards) – lateral arm raises, lateral lunges.
- Transverse – The transverse plane bisects the body into superior (top) and inferior (bottom) sections. This allows for twisting movements, as well as limb rotation (inward & outward). Key for stability – russian twists, woodchops.
Not only is it impossible to hit all 3 movement planes using a barbell, but attempting to do doing so can be harmful.
On the other hand, engaging in a fitness program that focuses solely or the majority of exercises in just 1 or 2 planes can have detrimental long term health effects on the bones, joints, and muscles of the body as it can lead to imbalances and overtraining.
We are entering an age of focusing on long term health over pure aesthetics and athletic competition results and this is our approach at Capacity Fitness & Nutrition.
Every day, in every class, in every programming cycle we run, our athletes move (well) across all 3 movement planes. We aren’t simply squatting and deadlifting using a barbell. We aren’t doing russian twists once a month. And we aren’t pressing until our shoulders are worn out and arthritic and ignoring the resulting mobility and stretching work that MUST accompany such programming for real people who have real jobs and can’t focus on athletic performance 24/7. Our athletes trust as and we don’t let them down. Our program design is truly varied and focuses on health span (the longest and highest quality of life and overall health we can achieve).
By leveraging heavily the use of dumbbells, kettlebells, and aerobic capacity ergs, we do it differently and, more importantly, we do it safely.
I can honestly say that in 2 years of programming and coaching at our gym, we have not had a single catastrophic injury. I cannot say the same for my time learning and coaching others in 20 years with barbells from my days as an NCAA athlete to a CrossFit coach. I have seen backs compressed, I have seen shoulders dislocated, and I have seen poor movement patterns perpetuated for the sake of “lifting heavy” and “going fast”.
We are not partnered with a Physical Therapy business (although we are friends with many of the best in the area and appreciate the great services they provide). The fact of the matter is that our program does not produce injuries by and large, due to the simple fact that we do not use barbells in our training programs.
Can our athletes deadlift over 300lbs? Absolutely.
Can our athletes strict press 135lbs? You bet they can.
Can our athletes boast healthy backs and strong cores? Damn straight.
Have they accomplished these feats, moved better, avoided injury, and felt better than they ever have…without the use of barbells? Simply put, yes they have.
So the next time you’re wondering why your shoulders are always sore, why you’re having to see a physical therapist on the regular, and why your body may not move like it used to under the barbell, you might consider whether there’s a safer way to exercise and feel better.
And if you’re looking for that methodology, come check us out at Capacity Fitness & Nutrition. We’ve got just the program for you to get stronger, feel better, and live longer…without using a barbell!