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Many of us are still loving working out at home. Perhaps you’re feeling ready to step it up a notch and enter barbell land. Here are some suggestions to get you going – although please note: I can’t go as far as calling any of the following “recommendations.” This is merely input from myself and two of my clients / on-line class members passing on some of what we’ve learned.

First, the Bar

…’cause you can’t do any barbell work without an actual bar!

The standard size is approximately 7 feet, and 20 kg / 45 lb, that will accept Olympic size plates – which means it’s the bigger style of hole (which is 2” – I know, not at all metric, eh?). I don’t recommend buying the smaller hole size because it limits your options way too much on a number of levels.

For myself, I am very happy to have a 5′ bar inside for cleans, front or overhead squats, and presses, and then a 7′ bar out in the garage, where the squat rack is. The main disadvantage to a shorter bar is that you can’t get as many plates on, but you might have to measure to make sure that the width of space where you would grip is still the same as with a standard bar.

There’s quite a price range when purchasing, and some research is definitely in order when you make such a big decision.

One of the main factors in pricing is regarding commercial quality vs home use. For example, how often and how heavily will it be used? Another factor is whether you expect people to typically drop the bar (as would an Olympic lifter in a CrossFit gym, for example) vs put them down nicely with control.

Precision of calibration makes a big difference too. A budget 45-pound bar (the standard size) may sometimes be a bit “more or less” regarding the 45.

Rusting is not usually a problem, but watch because some of the cheaper bars have a coating, sort of like shiny paint, that comes off in nasty little shards. This is where a serious discussion with prospective vendors can be very helpful before purchasing your bar.

You will want to decide how aggressive of knurling you like. In other words, do you want that criss-cross texture on the metal to really bite, or do you prefer lighter texturing? The former will help you grip, and the latter will be less harsh on your hands.

Finally, if you see a bar sold as a “deadlift bar,” these will typically have a little more bend or “whip” to them than a standard bar.

The Plates

Next up: get stronger by incrementally adding specific amounts of weight to the bar, depending what lift you are performing.

For versatility and ease of transportation, consider purchasing plates with grip holes.

Regarding plate composition, do you want all metal or bumper plates? A “bumper plate” is one that provides a “dead bounce.” This, technically speaking, means rubber coating over a metal core, for true Olympic lifting or CrossFit workouts, where the bar will often be dropped. I understood them initially, however, on a colloquial level at least to be lighter plates that are the same height as a 45-lb plate. This provides a nice way to train the bar at a good height with lighter weights for cleans and deadlifts. Although not easy to find, there are even standard-height plates that weigh as little as 3 lb. Do be aware, though, that a lighter plate, such as a 10 or 15-pound bumper, won’t tolerate too many small plates loaded on the bar next to it, particularly if it is a hot environment.

Again, cost factors will include precision of calibration.

Keeping your Workspace Work-able

I lift on a somewhat dilapidated garage floor, so I don’t really have to worry about taking care of it. If you’re inside, though, you’ll definitely want some good matting. Sorry, Canadian Tire, I have it on good authority that what you sell is not enough protection. You may be able to find used industrial quality matting, and don’t forget to check out places that sell to horse dealers.

One place I work at has a product that’s working well. It’s called a deadlift deadener. I’ve only used it with someone up for to 165 lb so far, but I see that Eddie Hall is shilling it, and hey, if it’s good enough for him… 😉

I find that keeping a tidy space really helps with mindset, and of course safety too.

My squat rack holds the plates that are 25-45 lb, and maybe later I’ll deal with the lighter ones, but for now they’re fine stacked on the base behind the rack.

One class member suggests using a 2-inch Olympic dumbbell to store plates. He’s also done a great job of rigging up some 2×8 with dowels to act as a weight tree.

Barbell Accessories

To hold the plates on, you need either the “Cadillac” version of a collar (again, not a recommendation, just information, but I use these) or the regular spring kind. I prefer the lockjaw style because the spring ones can give you a heavy grip workout that is not always welcome, plus they can really take a lot of time to get on and off, and finally they often tend to lose their spring over time.

Other niceties would include:

I don’t use a jack personally, but they are a nice treat to help you schlep around the plates, especially once it gets heavy. Photos shown are a homemade version. Thanks, Savannagh Marchell, for sharing this! Her info on the specs: “The height is about 10 inches at the bottom of the bar rest cut out and angled back 5 degrees. The wood is out of a pallet, strong but not pretty.”

Blocks are used to work on the top/lockout portion of your deadlift, and I’m also using them at the moment as a depth target for squats (with a blue Airex pad). Also made for me (lucky!) from a pallet… do you see a theme here?

For loaded hip thrusts, you would want either a bar pad or at least a towel.

Chalk! Especially in warmer weather or if you tend to perspire heavily. Squares of chalk are available at most strength product vendors or climbing stores, and when you’re in your own space, one nice bonus is that no one else worries about the mess factor.

If it’s cold: snug gloves with silicone dots for grip can be useful when benching, squatting, or just to put the plates on and off if they are metal. And don’t forget a hat!

Will You Squat?

If so, the minimalist way to do this is to simply clean the bar first for front or zombie squats, and/or to Zercher your squats — and feel free to get in touch with me if you need help with any of those. (Can’t promise, though, to get you into full-on beast mode as much as this guy is…at least not in our first week of working together!)

More than that, you’ll need a rack. The only thing I’m missing with my budget style rack is a way to do vertical pulls, so I’ve got rings hanging from a garage beam next to the rack. Someone lifting heavier than myself would probably need a sturdier rack, and someone with more space constraints could consider buying one of those ultra-fancy ones that folds back into the wall.

To Bench or Not to Bench?

If so, now you can’t get away without the rack, but also (please, please, pretty please) never skip using mechanical safeties unless you have an able-bodied spotter every time.

If you bench to competition standards, then you have to be a bit more specific with that whole interplay of having the safeties high enough that you can hollow out if necessary – due to bad math, a bad day, or just plain old failing – yet low enough that you can arch your upper back (not lower!) to touch the bar. Please contact me if you need help with this.

Finally, who wants to be aYouTube fail? Or to get seriously injured? Here is a video on an often-missed crucial element regarding how to secure DIY safeties… BTW, it’s the first one with enough views to warrant you sitting through an advertisement. Sorry/not sorry!

Over to You Now

Okay, ball’s in your court. As always, please be in touch if you need more input!