Changing it up with special lifting bars
Variation in your training program is absolutely essential for continual progress, especially if you’ve been training for a few years and get past the glorious “newbie gains” phase where even looking at a weight packs on a few pounds. There are a few ways to do this from simple stuff like incorporating new exercises to complicated program periodization. In this article i’m going to show you a simple way of changing your current exercise selection to keep your training fresh and stimulate new gains – changing the bar.
It’s pretty simple, but you’ll be surprised at just how much difference this’ll make. We have three special bars here at Dave’s Gym: the Hex Bar, the Axle Bar, and the Ladder Bar.
Using these bars we’re going to breathe new life into some exercises you probably didn’t think you could change, so without further ado lets get on to the exercises!
Exercise #1 – Hex Bar Deadlifts
These are very similar to regular deadlifts but performing them with a hex bar changes the feel of the exercise considerably. For one thing because the bar is surrounding you rather than in front of you the lockout portion of the exercise needs to be a lot tighter or you’ll go too far and get off balance. For another, perhaps the biggest difference in this exercise is the switch to a suitcase style neutal grip, a change a lot of people find far more comfortable. There’s also a tendency in this exercise to use slightly more quadricep than with a regular barbell deadlift, but that’s fine!
There isn’t a massive range of exercises you can do with the hex bar, mostly variations of the squat and deadlift. I’ve also used it for shrugs and frame carries (a bit like farmer’s walks) in the past. Hex bar deadlifts are fantastic, though!
Exercise #2 – Axle Clean + Press
This is a great exercise. Obviously the clean itself is almost exactly the same, but not only is the bar thicker making it a lot more difficult to hold onto, it’s also completely fixed and unlike a barbell doesn’t rotate a single bit. With a clean this rotation is very important. Don’t believe me? Give axle cleans a try! If you want an extra challenge add an overhead press or jerk to the end of each clean.
The axle is a great bit of kit, and if you want to improve your grip strength and forearm size you could theoretically use this bar for every barbell exercise and do it without any extra exercises at all. The sky is the limit with this one.
Exercise #3 – Ladder Bar Bench Press / Floor Press
Ah the bench press, a staple of pretty much everybody’s routine but one exercise that rarely changes at all. Is it any wonder so many people plateau on bench? Using this bar for bench really improves your stability in the movement because the neutral grip tends to be a bit unstable at first. I’ve also found it recruits a lot more tricep than regular bench which might be useful if you have trouble with your lockout.
Or if you want to train a little more tricep or lockout strength to change up your bench day try using this bar for floor press.
You can use the ladder bar for a variety of different exercises, not just bench. Clean and press, hammer curls, and bent over rows are also really fun with this bar.
Bonus Exercise – Vertical Bar Pullups
A little while ago myself and Dave’s Gym regular Chris decided, after trying out some excellent pullup handles at the bodypower expo, that we could do better and for cheap. With that in mind we popped to our local bargain shop, loaded up with rolling pins and climbing rope, and set to work. The result was pretty cool, and you can use these for pretty much any exercise using the DAP station as well as vertical thick bar pullups.
Give them a try! These really work your grip, and are really comfortable on the elbows when using them for cable rows and pushdowns and things. We keep them behind the counter at Dave’s, and if you’re not from Dave’s I suggest you make your own! They cost about £6 each.
These are just a few of our “odd bar” exercises, but if you’re looking to do something new there are hundreds more possibilities just using a single bar! Any exercise you can think of can be performed with a different bar, dumbells, and even using a slightly different grip or hand spacing.
Be inventive in your training and don’t be afraid of trying new things! You’ll have more fun and get better gains in the process!