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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Would we be better off without the barbell?

Brent Brookbush

Brent Brookbush


Panel Discussion: Would we be better off without the barbell?

Excluding strength sports in which the barbell is used in competition, would we see fewer injuries and better programming if we ditched the bar?

Moderated by Brent Brookbush DPT, PT, COMT, MS, PES, CES, CSCS, ACSM H/FS

This Panel Discussion was originally posted on my facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/brentbrookbushHMS – on December 8th, 2016


Hassan Stevenson In the simplest of explanations. I think that in the interest of preventing injuries and muscular imbalances as well as promoting more "complete" muscular activation during movements we might be better off without the bar. I could go into more detail but that would be a very long post. - December 8 at 10:28am

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS Feel free to write away… these panel discussions are intended to promote some deeper thought about issues in human movement science Hassan Stevenson ;-) - December 8 at 10:44am

Catherine Honey Walsh I would love to read that, please post it!? - December 8 at 11:17am

Hassan Stevenson When I get some time I will elaborate. - December 8 at 11:24am

David Raymond Dumbbells, kettlebells, and bands are great assistance tools. Compound barbell lifts are the base for strength programming. There's no conventional way of building the explosive power required throughout the entire body without barbells with football players, cycling, motocross, etc. What training tool builds more explosive hip drive than barbell deadlifts? - December 8 at 3:39pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS Dumbbell Deadlift with Anterior to Posterior Pull? Any form of box jump would generate more force than a Deadlift. Kettle bell swings may generate as much force and hip drive. - December 8 at 4:16pm

David Raymond None of those can equal the barbell due to weight constraints. The dumbbells will create more imbalances and consequently injuries. You're not going to build more explosive power from a jump box than explosive barbell training that utilizes the whole body. Kettlebells do build hip drive and power, however as an assistance to a barbell program. - December 8 at 4:27pm

Drew Hutchins "A barbell will create more imbalances than dumbbell"? How so? What type of loads are you referring to with "explosive barbell training"? And what movements? Last question, Why use a barbell over a hex bar for pulls, especially tall athletes? - December 8 at 7:23pm

David Raymond I said the opposite, "dumbbells will create more imbalances than a barbell". The body exposes it weak points with barbell training and evens out imbalances.

Just about every compound movement can be trained for explosive power, and with more weight. One can train at 40-50% for explosive power with the DL for example. Of course, the OL's will be all explosive.

I would only use a barbell instead of a trap bar with a tall athlete if they have the mobility to hinge with nearly a vertical shin (DL). I also like how a barbell strengthens the grip better than a trap bar. Mostly about mobility though.- December 8 at 8:09pm

Arran McManus I am totally lost with this post, the majority of injuries are brought about through excessive load, lack of stability, microtrauma through repetition and lack of strength at end range. I don't see how a barbell can stop imbalances.. if i have a really stable right shoulder and a not so stable left shoulder my body will compensate with a bilateral lift using a barbell! - December 9 at 1:45am

David Raymond A barbell creates balances from exposing imbalances. It takes the entire body with proper tension to do a good DL with a barbell. If the lower back is weak, with the proper load, it makes the back strong in a short amount of time. Fighting with one knee being unstable from VMO after injury? Use a proper load and teach the barbell squat properly, and the knee will strengthen itself to stability in a short amount of time. There's no way to do it right with isolation exercises like it's taught to PT's most of the time.

With your example, your body will compensate a little at first, so you lower the load, and in about 3-4 weeks the left shoulder will be much stronger and stable then it was. - December 9 at 5:53am

Ryan Hart Cscs I disagree David. The barbell is a fantastic tool and the king for developing strength, but due to it being a primarily bilateral implement, it can actually encourage imbalances in the body, and I personally have experienced that. For general health, movement based training should be primary, regardless of the implement. And, for most general health/fitness, kettlebells, med. balls, bodyweight, dumbbells, and suspension training will do the trick. Barbells are great when it comes to athletic development above and beyond the basics, but you can't do many loaded carry movements, or rotational exercises with "traditional" barbell movements (squat, press, deadlift, etc). Never let a tool that has lead to great results dictate the manner in which you think (which I have let myself do in the past). It is just a tool to get the job done. In this case, I do not believe that barbells are a necessity, but a great tool.

Also, as far as low back strength is concerned, the deadlift is questionable outside of a purely healthy low back (which about 80% of our nation experiences low back pain at one point or another). So, the efficacy of the deadlift is at question because both sheer and compressive forces are at work. With great bracing skills, these forces become manageable, but the deadlift is not a starting point for someone to improve upon their back health (in most cases that I've worked with, but like most things in health and fitness, "it depends").

Also, with regards to VMO rehabilitation/strengthening… speaking from my own personal experience, it wasn't until I started using resistance band terminal knee extensions on my left side (which I had my ACL surgery on) that I was able to regain some hypertrophy and strength in my left VMO WITHOUT any pain. Prior to this, I relied on squatting (bilateral and isolateral) which lead to me developing imbalances between left and right side because my left VMO atrophied so much and couldn't catch up. - December 9 at 8:57am

David Raymond Ryan Hart Cscs - We can agree to disagree on that. I respect your wealth of knowledge greatly. My experience says otherwise though. Perhaps your issue with VMO early on was from bringing the bilateral training in too early. My VMO has disappeared since barbell training. My shoulders have gotten stronger where they were not that much with kettlebells alone. It's much easier to struggle with form with unilateral work and actually injure oneself more.

That said, we are talking about training for complete strength. As you told me early this year, it's almost impossible to get a certain level of strength without barbell lifts. One isn't training professional football players or cyclists without barbells.

Like you said, it really depends on the situation. Overall though, professional athletes aren't training without barbells all together. - December 9 at 9:11am

Ryan Hart Cscs Also, I would add that while research has proven that the Olympic style weightlifting exercises with a barbell have been proven to generate the highest amount of VERTICAL force, we need to analyze two things: efficacy of application of the Olympic style lifts for most purposes, and vector analysis. First, the Olympic style lifts require a great amount of skill, therefore, their application is limited unless someone is truly able to dedicate time to developing the skill in using these lifts. Barbell movements (aside from the bent over row, bench press, and hip thrust) make us good at dealing with vertical forces. In sports and for general health, this neglects some sagital plane movements, frontal plane, and transverse plane movements. There are many case studies of NFL linemen that can barbell back squat a house, but then sometime during practice, or a game, they take a hard cut and end up injuring their back/hip/hamstring… the bent over row, bench press, and hip thrust work horizontal movements in the sagital plane but are strength movements and don't typically move quickly enough to develop power due to the lack of being able to move significant weight at a high rate of speed in these movements. The Kettlebell swing, plyometrics, and medicine ball work do a better job in the horizontal sagital plane movements than barbells do. And, that's not even discussing any transverse or frontal plane movements. - December 9 at 9:20am

Ryan Hart Cscs I can understand your train of thought in how someone could potentially injure themselves with isolateral movements… IF they are progressing too quickly either in exercise selection, or in intensity. In general, isolateral lifts do a better job at working through the kinetic chains that cross from left-to-right and vice versa. If there's discrepancies in left and right side kinetic chains and you use a bilateral movement to train to attempt to balance these discrepancies, the body will adapt but not necessarily overcome the discrepancies in a good way.

In my own case, I used a lot of rear foot elevated split squats and standard split squats to train post-knee surgery prior to bilateral work and was able to see some progress, but there was still pain when trying to get the left to catch up to the right. So, I just kept trucking along and then got back into bilateral squat exercises and assumed the pain was just part of having a reconstructed ACL (this was prior to my formal education and certification). Banded TKOs really did the trick for my case. - December 9 at 9:27am

David Raymond I agree that for general fitness, everything you said will do the trick. When training elite athletes, I think program that also includes a few barbell lifts is important for overall performance. - December 9 at 10:21am

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS David Raymond and Ryan Hart Cscs,

Great conversation above. It has been my experience that a bar hides far more than it alleviates or exposes relative to imbalances and dysfunction. For example, a dumbbell bench press will show differences between left and right sides, just as step ups may show differences between right and left legs.

As far as barbells versus box jumps, you are wrong on this one David Raymond. I am really not trying to be a jerk here, but F = MA and the acceleration in a box jump is significant. Further, barbell training does not impose the demand required to result in adaptations that increase a vertical jump, explosive first step or ability to "cut" (eccentrically decelerate and change direction).

There may be a place for barbells, but I am not sure that a blanket statement about force production can be used here. For example, back squats may be the most effective leg exercise for bilateral strength and followed by box jumps may be a very effective super-set for PAP training.

I am really enjoying your conversation, so please keep going. - December 9 at 9:57pm

David Raymond We agree to disagree on dumbells vs. barbells. There is no convincing me otherwise as I've personally experienced it with myself. That's one thing that most PT's and coaches don't have. - December 10 at 9:07am

David Raymond You made my point with the barbell by saying that back squats and box squats may be an effective super-set for PAP. I'm not saying to not use all the other training tools, however the barbell is a safe and very effective tool when used and taught properly. Furthermore, training for the vertical is really a misconception. Athletes are predisposed with the vertical. One isn't going to add much to their vertical by training for it. - December 10 at 9:13am

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS David Raymond There is actually a fair amount of research pointing to an increase in vertical jump height post training. It is a very common outcome measure in research. - December 10 at 4:19pm

Ryan Hart Cscs Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS is right on this one David. There certainly is a "ceiling" of how much genetics affect someone's vertical, but training also has a great impact on vertical performance. I've experienced it for myself and by training others. An experience that this coach most certainly has.

Also, I have the experience of seeing how many people I have been able to deliver better benefit to with pressing kettlebells, vs barbells. I would say it's about a 7/10 ratio that I have seen presses get better with kettlebells vs barbells when starting off and for general physical preparedness. Another experience that this coach has. 😝 lol - December 10 at 4:32pm

David Raymond There's definitely a genetic ceiling to the vertical. This is why the vertical is minimally trained for the NFL combine. The little bit that is gained training a vertical at this level is time wasted. You guys are talking about training everyday people who participate in sports.

I hurt myself twice with pressing kettlebells (or reinjured). The barbell is helping my body understand the proper movement better. My kettlebell presses are getting better from the barbell training. It's easier for me to keep good form while adding weight safely. The kettlebells are awesome, but they are just like other training tools.. they need to be done right. Fortunately, there are people like Ryan Hart Cscs that really know how to use them. They are great for general strength/ fitness and can be excellent conditioning tools. Probably the best bang per buck one can get for that. - December 10 at 8:42pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS Regarding vertical, I think you are mixing the demands of sport and rather haphazourdly assembled group of assessments (combine) on what can be done for an individuals vertical. I have trained myself, recreational athletes and professional athletes to improve their vertical for basketball. - December 11 at 5:28pm

Scotty Butcher The implement is merely the tool, so no, it is not necessary……. until it is. For strength development, all other free implements have an inherent top end load for the major movements. The barbell is then required for top end strength development. - December 9 at 10:10am

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS So from your perspective, we should be using more dumbells, cables, bands, kettlebells, suspension training, etc., for our strength/endurance and hypertrophy training and save the barbell for Max Strength phases of periodisized model? - December 9 at 11:02am

Scotty Butcher Nope; not what I said. Assuming you're getting the movement pattern you want, the implement doesn't matter until it runs out of its loading potential. The implement can be any of the above, including the barbell. And, if the pattern is what I'm looking for, the barbell is one of my first choices because of its loading potential. - December 9 at 11:16am

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS So you never think in terms of relative stability or speed of motion Scotty Butcher? Just load and movement pattern? What about the ability to press in a standing position, the ability to pull from a standing position, the ability to jump off one leg?

In fact, let's turn it around…. what sporting activity would you expect an athlete to "feel better" doing because they trained with a barbell? - December 9 at 9:59pm

Scotty Butcher Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS sorry for the delay. I'm not sure where you got that that would be what I think. All of the activities you listed may be important. And not just in sport, but rehab and health too. Having said that, what do any of those activities have to do with the choice of implement? All could be done with a variety. Specific situations and goals would mean different prescriptions. But if we're talking strength, loading and patterns are key. - December 10 at 8:47pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS My point would be that a barbell is more stable than a dumbell or cable. If I can train for more stability I am going to, even the use of dumbbell and cable exercises during hypertrophy training (6 - 12 reps) generally allows for sufficient load. Barbells only come out when stability, inter-muscular coordination are literally set aside for the potential of greater motor unit recruitment during max strength phases. - December 11 at 11:53am

Scotty Butcher Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS interesting. Obviously not how I approach it, but good ideas for the goals you've outlined.

Ah, the whole stability issue…… so nebulous. I'm pretty sure I don't know what that means any more haha - December 11 at 12:00pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS Scotty Butcher Like everything else, stability training must be done with the intent of improving outcomes, i.e. squatting while standing on a stability is not a great idea, but a field sport athlete who cannot perform a single leg deadlift makes you wonder how they have not been injured yet… - December 12 at 8:13pm

Σταύρος Μπεγέτης Better off without it? The barbell isn't used enough. It's your job as the practitioner to know how to use it and how to teach the barbell movements effectively. - December 8 at 12:37pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS I am fine with a strong opinion, but what we are looking for in this debate is rationale…

For example, I use barbells in my training, but I have to admit I only see pectoralis major ruptures doing a barbell press. I have never seen a pectoralis major tear from dumbbell or cable press. - Brent Brookbush · December 8 at 2:34pm

Chris Wells Common mistake is that people use bench press as a pec movement instead of a bench PRESS. Better education and training for the millions of "trainers" out there is needed in my opinion. Learn how to make it a press exercise and not for pec development and it's much safer. - December 8 at 3:18pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS I don't think the cases I've seen were cognizant of the difference and we're essentially just trying to push weight off the chest. - Brent Brookbush · December 8 at 4:18pm

Chris Wells how many articles say bench press for bigger pecs? You would know that the barbell press isn't an effective developer of the pec due to the lack of full pec contraction, yet articles out there are pushing it because Arnold did it. My primary focus is powerlifting, and all my clients know bench press isn't a chest exercise, it's just a press on your back. We use it because you can stress the cns because you can generally use more load than other presses.

Unfortunately the systems in place to allow people to train are poor at best. You don't have to be competent in teaching free weight movements to get certified and this is where the problem is - December 8 at 6:20pm

Σταύρος Μπεγέτης No one said the barbell should be the sole tool. If you choose a different medium to train your chest, fine, I just don't see your point in cutting out the barbell altogether. - December 8 at 9:31pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS Σταύρος Μπεγέτης The point in cutting out the barbell could be two fold…. A. Safety and B. Function.

As I mentioned, I have only seen pectoralis major ruptures from bench press, which actually forces the shoulder through a fairly unnatural movement pattern, and functionally sports are not played laying down.

I did mention in the subject of this post that we are excluding training for power-lifting, olympic-lifting and other strength sports were the bar is used in competition. - December 9 at 9:49pm

Chris Wells I did not see that ha. Still, harder accreditation is needed. - December 10 at 7:40am

Jonathan Pietrunti I think this would, ultimately, depend on the goal. I could argue both ways, really. What I will say is that too many people jump straight into heavy barbell worth without owning the requisite patterns to ensure efficacy. - December 8 at 2:31pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS So, let's delve into that question: "What goal, sport or activity (outside of strength sports) would a barbell be more specific or functional than a dumbbell? - December 8 at 4:14pm

Jonathan Pietrunti Powerlifting, weightlifting, strongman, etc. the sports requiring performance and training specificity using barbells. So, indeed, it could easily be argued that they are not needed outside the realm of sport training that requires them. - December 8 at 4:15pm

Arran McManus ok.. outside of strength sports i would say rowing potentially in regards to obtaining neural adaptations which i believe would be higher but probably only relative to athletes… on this note though.. i disagree with strongman as using barbells. That as a competition is all about instability in every movement.. the barbell doesnt offer that. I wrote an article on strongman training which i know may be controversial, however my point was to argue its unpredictability in loading trains fixator muscle groups more effectively. The barbell doesnt offer this. - December 9 at 1:50am

Jonathan Pietrunti Arran, I was thinking log press on the strongman, as well as car deadlift. Specificity. - December 9 at 5:36am

Arran McManus log press would still offer instability due to its unwieldy size. - December 9 at 11:06am

Jonathan Pietrunti Agreed, but I wouldn't put someone in a strongman competition that hasn't used the implement in training. - December 9 at 11:10am

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS Okay Jonathan Pietrunti, I am not trying to be a jerk, but twice I have said "except for strength sports"… and you have come back with a list of strength sports. Most of the training community is not involved or has any interest in strength sports… field sports (basketball, football, tennis, baseball, etc.), fight sports (boxing, MMA, kick-boxing, etc.), and vanity (weight loss and hypertrophy) still make up the gross majority of training goals.

So asking the question again - What goal, sport or activity (outside of strength sports) would a barbell be more specific or functional than a dumbbell? - December 9 at 10:04pm

Jonathan Pietrunti I didn't say there WAS an activity, outside those that specifically require barbells, where a barbell would be more functional. I'm in complete agreement with you. Ahhhh, I seem to have misread your original response - December 9 at 11:18pm · Edited

Karl Dagenais Ostéopathe There probably would be less injuries, but only because most people don't get proper coaching about using them in the first place. - December 8 at 12:44pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS Lets turn this around a little bit… how functional is a barbell? What sporting or daily activity would benefit more from a bar than a dumbbell? - December 8 at 2:36pm

Karl Dagenais Ostéopathe Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS Agreed, but I believe most people cheat more with a dumbbell because of the independent freedom of motion. Most people I see doing dumbbell workouts are not actually doing the same thing with both their arms because of the deficiencies they have. I believe barbell exercise forces people into a more symmetrical pattern, from which it might eventually be interesting to move to dumbbells. - December 8 at 2:43pm

David Raymond Compound barbell lifts make the entire body stronger, while eliminating weak points throughout. In fact, the barbell is the most efficient tool for strength in most situations. All sports benefit from use of the barbell, hence why all professional athletes are still trained with a barbell base strength program. Karl is right, the injuries come from improper form and programming. - December 8 at 3:24pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS Karl Dagenais Ostéopathe It's forced symmetry or hidden compensation? My experience has shown a ton of hidden compensation in strength athletes. - December 9 at 10:05pm

AJ R. Mauricio Yes and no. IMO it all depends on the persons goal. If your goal is powerlifting or Olympic weighting, then you would definitely need the barbell to practice that movement for that sport. But for an athlete, a bodybuilder, or even just an average general health enthusiast, a barbell is not a necessity. - December 8 at 4:41pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS Thanks AJ R. Mauricio, I did mention in the question above that this conversation excludes strength sports. Your point, is almost precisely what I was thinking…. with a little… "are their more beneficial exercises that could be done"… thrown in. - December 9 at 11:00am

David Becker Fewer injuries? Yes. But I don't want to crush lil johnnies dreams of being an IG hero posting pics of himself pulling a half ton truck off the ground just so he can stay in his safe place. The barbell is more than just a tool for those that are driven to lift. For some it's a goal, even outside of competition. I won't deny the pursuit because statistically it's safer. You're not in control until you're out of control - December 8 at 10:27pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS If we are not pursuing what is better statistically for all, and we are going to allow ego to justify our training methodologies, than why not just light barbells on fire?


Extreme example, and I am being purposefully hyperbolic, but it is a point worth considering. How should we be training all athletes?

From my perspective I don't know that lifting a 315 pound barbell, looks anymore impressive than dusting off the 130 DB's for set. - December 9 at 10:47am

David Becker If lighting barbells on fire is the reason someone wants to train, I'm happy to help. Can you not justify the method based on the goal? I don't feel the need to sway them either way based on my preference. I get as Tony Robbins as I can in finding the underlying reasons for training but if initially it's ego, I'll feed it.

What I find impressive about both those lifts is not the lift itself but the process it took to get there. Feeling is understanding. I think it's important to experience that process. - December 9 at 11:55am

David Becker And there has to be a benefit to setting a barbell on fire! I mean, cmon! Heat gainz are real - December 9 at 12:08pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS I guess we may disagree, although it's hard to tell, I just like to start with a clean slate. Ask for a goal, and then select the best exercises and modalities for that goal. As you may imagine from this post, I have been using bars a bit less lately (I do still use them, just not as often). - December 9 at 10:01pm

Kathy Benson Zetterberg Don't let the CrossFit zombies see this post 😀 - December 8 at 10:41am

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS I hope they do… the only way we are going to change poor exercise selection is by confronting it.

Part of what made me consider this conversation is the study published by the Strength and Conditioning Journal that suggested that CrossFit results in a higher rate of injuries that require surgical intervention… specifically for the low back and shoulders. The first thing that popped into my head was the Snatches and Thrusters for reps. - December 8 at 10:46am

Kathy Benson Zetterberg Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS Agree. I just finished reading that study and was going to share it on this post. - December 8 at 10:51am

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS Kathy Benson Zetterberg Go for it. - December 8 at 10:52am

Arran McManus Hi Brent I love this question… i think the research on crossfit we have to be cautious about, there are so many limitations with that study.. however im not a fan of crossfit as i dont understand how a group of people all with individual joint articulations can carry out the same exercise at a high intensity.. even worse to fatigue!! With generally minimal or poor coaching. I believe you should use the correct implements to get the associated response with the greatest cost:benefit ratio. I personally don't do much barbell work at all, however I don't think i would totally disregard its use. I just think a smaller ratio than what probably most practitioners are using now maybe 75:25. I definitely think the use of dumbbells are far superior than barbells. However the barbell for me can still be a useful tool. For example in your bench press example.. attempting to bend the bar sets your shoulders into a good position, that's something a dumbbell cannot do. - December 9 at 1:37am

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS Hey Arran McManus,

As with any research I think we need to be careful how we "generalize" findings. What I took from the study was that rate of injury was similar to non-supervised exercise (i.e. their coaches are not doing much for safety - an education issue), but there was a higher proportion of injury that requires surgical intervention. I hypothesize that the severity of injury could be reduced if the barbell is removed from the equation. It may not be the ideal solution, but it is a simple and easily implementable solution.

I too use the barbell for bench, back squats and deadlifts, but I find that I use it less now then I did before because there are so many other great option and I seem to see more injuries in myself and others when I try to push my weight with the bar. - December 9 at 10:35am

Arran McManus great minds think alike!! i totally agree with you here, i think we are getting better in our approaches to training and in understanding which is only promising for the future. We just need to educate the cults!!

In regards to the study i totally agree with the idea of replacing a barbell with dumbbells to reduce injuries and promote overall safety, however i think that will never happen purely on the way crossfit is marketed, it appears to be an ego booster!! My biggest issue in S&C is coaches have a lack of understanding into the anatomy. Something Ive learnt much about from yourself and Mr Cressey!! I think understanding muscles, how they are suppose to function and their tolerance is key for the future. Not group training at high intensities to fatigue with a lack of understanding to everyones limitations and variations in movmement being largely individualised. I question why as we are becoming more active as a nation, we are seeing more hip replacements, knee replacements etc.. Im not sure if this is the same journal that i read a while back (questionnaire based) but what also was interesting were the sites of injury being the shoulder and spine. Two of the areas i would definitely not want to injure. Also i have noticed those who partake in crossfit to be very upper trap/pec minor dominant which is reflected on their training methods. Love your questions to challenge thoughts, keep them coming!! - December 9 at 11:00am

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS Arran McManus Keep up the great work Arran McManus, you are on the short list for the next round of writers ;-) - December 9 at 10:09pm

Arran McManus Thanks Brent appreciate the kind words! - December 10 at 2:13am

Justin Smith Yes. But that's not a world I want to live in. - December 8 at 11:54am

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS Fair enough Justin Smith, as long as you are separating what you are willing to do personally from what you are going to do professionally. - December 9 at 11:05am

Kenny Dobson Read Mark rippetoe starting strength - December 8 at 12:43pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS No thanks… I am not a fan. He is a contrarian and has made a career of bad mouthing other professions of which he understands little - most of those professions requiring more formal education than he has and a base in evidence (outcomes in research). Sorry, but that is one individual who lost my respect a long time ago for what I would consider unprofessional behavior. - December 8 at 2:41pm

David Raymond Although he does say some ignorant things about medical professionals, he knows how to build strength without injuries. There are absolutely no evidence based studies that show a barbell creating injuries when taught proper form. - December 8 at 3:29pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS That's a little like saying "when done the right way it works" and then using the same phrase as an excuse when research shows otherwise. You may be correct, but their is evidence of increased loads and muscle activity which may be foreshadowing an ability to lift more than soft tissues can accommodate, or more than the individual could stabilize with a dumbbell or cable. - December 8 at 4:11pm

David Raymond Research doesn't show that when done with proper programming and form with exception of highest level power lifters. No training tool is safe when done incorrectly. - December 8 at 4:17pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS Sorry, I am not understanding your point… research doesn't show that powerlifter's with proper programming do what?

If you have any studies I would really appreciate you sending a link to the abstract. We want to add a ton more strength and performance research to our reviews in 2017. - December 9 at 10:29am

David Raymond Research does not show any evidence that barbell training taught with proper loads and form cause injuries (except with high level powerlifters). I have not found any studies with these considerations that say otherwise. If you could provide a link to evidence based articles that support otherwise, it would be very helpful for learning. - December 9 at 11:25am

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS Hey David Raymond,

I am not saying I can provide studies either, which is why I think debates like these are important. They open our eyes to other view points in a grey area or gap in the research. If there was a definitive answer or a body of research leaning in one direction than why have a debate? ;-) - December 9 at 10:11pm

David Raymond With all due respect, I would expect an evidence based article to back up your ideas when coming from a site involving Science. - December 10 at 9:18am

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS David Raymond We do have a ton of citations through-out our content - including reviews of 125 research studies (we post a new review each week), but that is not what these panel discussions are for. As I mentioned they are designed to address the gaps in the research, the grey area. If I had a ton of research, I would just post an article, tell you what the evidence suggests, and how we are going to apply it… no room for debate. - December 10 at 4:23pm

Tony Moreno People kill people, not barbells. - December 9 at 12:39pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS People are also capable of higher level thought than what your comment implies… this is a debate to get people thinking about optimal training! We are trying to spark creativity, ingenuity, sophisticated program design and exercise selection…

Not "Barbell good, debate bad"! - December 9 at 10:22pm

Tony Moreno I want to develop power output. Human power output. How many watts can I produce with that dumbell, rubberband, or kettlebell? I think your debate is really all about specific exercises, not the barbell. Optimal for grandma is going to be different than optimal for a student-athlete. It's not an absolute term, as is "functional" which is quite relative. - December 9 at 11:33pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS Interesting you bring up Watts…. for many athletes Box Jumps with no weight produce more Watts than Olympic lifts (I am in this category for sure). Many individuals forget that Power = Force x Velocity… that is Power = (Mass x Acceleration) x (Displacement/Time).

Long and short of it is, there is a speed and distance component to the Power equation. If you can't lift it quickly or move the bar far you are not going to produce that many Watts regardless of the weight. - December 10 at 4:33pm

Tony Moreno Yes but linemen don't jump on boxes they have to move an inertial load. Newtons 2nd law. - December 10 at 11:23pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS Great point Tony Moreno, but there is more to speed than force production in the human body. I might agree that cleans are better for lineman than box jumps, but box jumps are better for basketball players than cleans. There is something to be said for preferential recruitment of type II fibers, rate of force development and intermuscular coordination. - December 12 at 8:16pm

Tony Moreno Amen! - December 12 at 9:31pm

Jeffrey Bennett Culp I think the barbell has it's place in a safe scientific approach to programming in training. Although injury is a risk of using the barbell, concentration on segment alignment, technique, and neuromuscular efficiency especially in regards to the principles of Specificity when training functionally for sports requires a barbell. Effective and efficient neuromuscular connections has to involve thought with performance! Many sports, football being one of them require efficiency in movement patterns that involve a coordinated push or pull using both arms and legs! Additionally, science says that all movement begins with a thought becoming an action potential, binding with hormones, traveling trough the blood with oxygen and nutrients to the axons and neurons, providing filament slide. The focus on this during training with a barbell helps with the functional performance in a coordinated all out max effort lift. Other training tools used such as dumbbells, kettle bells, and bands and tubes are great in conjunction with the barbell, making training more diverse thus more functional to our goals. Furthermore, I believe that muscular imbalances and injury can be found just as easily with other training tools as with the barbell. Barbell power cleans are very effective for neuromuscular efficiency, adding dumbbell hang cleans to the training program with the barbell power cleans compliments the effectiveness and efficiency of performance within that movement pattern. I believe that when the correct time is given to learning segment alignment as well as technique, a barbell is very effective in training, however, must be complimented with other tools that require independent movements of limbs during coordinated movement patterns as well! - December 8 at 11:35am · Edited

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS I appreciate your argument for neuromuscular effeciency, but I am not sure you have made a good argument for barbells over dumbells or kettlebells. Keep in mind, this discussion was not intended to knock power, max strength or performance training… just the use of the barbell within a training program.

Great stuff though! - December 8 at 2:39pm

Aaron Akin You cant work "max" power or strength with a dumbell, kettlebell, or band more safely than with a barbell. Ultimately ask the top 5 college football programs strength coaches if they could get the same results with no barbell training and how? - December 8 at 10:24pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS We have to be careful here Aaron Akin,

The top 5 Strength Coaches may have the luxury of being at the 5 schools with the best recruiting program, or have the benefit of a skills coach who understands rest and recovery, or have the luxury of a great physical therapy staff. I think the question I am posing is a legitimate question worth further research. I am an athlete myself, and I have found great transference (maybe even better transference) to sport from dumbell front squats (or Kettlebell front squats), dumbell deadlifts (especially with anterior to posterior pull), and dumbell press combined with a significant amount of standing chest press (know one plays sports lying down).

I think that the college programs you mentioned would be in a great position to do some very interesting research on this subject, and we certainly need more comparative research ;-)


Deadlift with Anterior to Posterior Pull

youtube.com - December 9 at 10:41am

Ryan Chow I find the kettlebell to be more practical. Pavel talks about how he got a 600lb. deadlifter up to 700lbs. without the athlete ever deadlifting, instead just doing kettbell swings (of course this guy was already good at deadlifting). He quotes Dan John, saying that one can become an Olympic athlete with just a kettlebell in his own bedroom. He also talks about how you can use the swing for both power production in both eccentric movement like a depth jump, and in concentric movement like in a box jump. I don't know if Pavel endorses this but the KB allows for asymmetric loading and reciprocal movement, which 90% of sports movements require, as opposed to bilateral symmetric loading. That being said, there is definitely some bilateral symmetrical loading in sports. For that and for CNS and hormonal systems, the barbell is probably superior. Although a barbell allows for compensations, I think in real life we ultimately need to compensate in certain athletic situations. Yes, we should try to maximize efficiency and have perfect movement and loading patterns but that just isn't possible or practical. I think the barbell has its place in the beginning of the offseason training program just to maximally overload whole systems. It's very practical for quick strength and muscle fiber hypertrophy (versus sarcoplasmic hypertrophy that bodybuilders get) adaptations for someone who is great at coaching it. But it shouldn't be done the whole time by itself, which I don't think anyone is advocating for. Eventually one has to "unleash" that strength to sport specific situations otherwise it's useless (picture a 1980s body builder trying to play any team sports)

In terms of programming, I like Stuart McGill's periodization model (which I know isn't entirely unique) - clean up movement patterns and stability, then work on endurance, then strength, and then power. I also like how he creates a list of the demands of the person's sport and then he creates a list of deficiencies in the athlete and then he chooses exercises that directly addresses the deficiencies and helps them meet their demands. With that logic, if strength is a limiting factor and everything else is in order, then barbell away. When someone gets good at barbells and strength is limiting higher performance and function, implement westside barbell method techniques like using chains and bands to address different sticking points, force and speed production limitations at different ranges of motion. But long before an athlete gets to that point, they should probably be doing loaded carries, kettlebell swings, and Turkish get ups probably. Those will fill in the holes and get better carry over into sport in most people. If those training modalities did their job, then it will show in a higher 1-RM. Maybe it should just be a strength measuring tool. But in summary, just like with everything else, it all depends but it's probably overutilized - December 10 at 8:59pm · Edited

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS You make a great argument for why even Strength athletes may over-utilize the barbell. Although some of the exercise selection you discuss are not my favorites, I like the general tone, which that there are so many options that may provide better results Ryan Chow - December 11 at 11:57am

Michael Durkin The programs I design revolve around the barbell. I understand that more injuries can happen using the barbell but I feel that if taught properly when young (14 or 15) that can be avoided. Barbells are an amazing tool to get the most out of each athlete. Every athlete that comes in does at least 3-6 exercises using the barbell and I have not had any issues and have seen great results. While I have no evidence that the programs wouldn't be as effective with out the barbell I feel that with out the barbell performance would suffer. - December 8 at 7:25pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS This is interesting… programs should be designed around a goal, not a piece of equipment. For example, how would you design a program for a Basketball small forward? Does a basketball player really need barbell work? Are there other exercises that would be more beneficial? -December 9 at 11:07am

Michael Durkin Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS I didn't mean that the program revolves around the barbell itself. Of course I am aiming for specific goals of the athlete. But I do not believe there is a relationship between the size of the athlete and using the barbell? How is using a barbell for a bigger forward any more functional then using it for a small forward?

I do think that all athletes can benefit from the barbell. It allows them to transfer high forces of weight in specific movements necessary for their sport. Not every sport will use every exercise but I don't think it is helping anyone to avoid the barbell completely. - December 9 at 7:46pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS "Small Forward" is a position, not a size… for example Durant often plays small forward. - December 9 at 10:13pm

Michael Durkin Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS oh I'm sorry hahaha I'm from the hockey world I didn't know that - December 9 at 10:27pm

Kathy Benson Zetterberg Brent, to address “Does a basketball player really need barbell work?” I guess the operative words are “really need.” According to Hackett et.al (2015), this study states “the vertical jump is pivotal in numerous athletic skills and is linked to successful sports performance.” The vertical jump test is regularly included as one of the assessments in many sports. This study found that while engaging in Olympic weightlifting training, the underlying mechanism for improvements in vertical jump height may be related to changes in peak force and rate of force development. These improvements have been found to be important for athletes involved in speed, agility, and power related sports.

Also, according to Clark & Lucett (2010) many sports require explosive power. One-way athletes can generate that explosive power is with Olympic Weightlifting. Olympic lifts don’t mimic particular sports skills, they develop the specific variables necessary for developing strength and explosiveness for those athletes that require it. When designing programs for performance enhancement one on the most important acute variables is exercise selection and the principle of specificity. Olympic lifts mimic the universal athletic position and is the most common position in all sports. It is described as being in a standing ½ squat, feet flat, weight on balls of feet, hands in front, hips back, knees over toes, shoulders over knees, and a neutral spine. The ready position is used in sports such as; football, baseball, tennis, etc. An athlete also moves through the universal athletic position in a dynamic fashion during a countermovement jump or the second pull phase in the clean or snatch.

The prerequisites for both the snatch, and clean and jerk require proper flexibility and mobility of the plantar flexors, knee extensors, hip extensors, elbow extensors, and wrist flexors during the deep catch position. During the snatch and jerk phase, the bar is held directly over the head and requires full shoulder flexion. The human movement specialist needs to be aware of any compensations in the low back that may be steaming from the Latissimus dorsi’s attachment to this region via the thoracolumbar fascia, which can place stress on the lumbar spine. Stability is another prerequisite and can be accomplished by the drawing in and bracing maneuvers, that activates both the local and global stabilizing mechanisms. Proper posture helps to make lifting easier and neuromuscular control is needed to perform Olympic lifts. Any deviation in the desired movement patterns can increase the chance of a breakdown in the human movement system that can lead to injury (Clark & Lucett 2010).



Clark, M., & Lucett, S. (2010). NASM essentials of sports performance training. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Hackett, D., Davies, T., Soomro, N., & Halaki, M. (2015). Olympic weightlifting training improves vertical jump height in sportspeople: a systematic review with meta-analysis. British Journal Of Sports Medicine, doi:10.1136/bjsports-2015-094951 - December 9 at 10:29pm

Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS The one thing your post does not address is whether Olympic lifts are more effective than box jumps or dumbbell Deadlifts for increasing vertical jump height. - Brent Brookbush · December 10 at 9:07am

Kathy Benson Zetterberg Dr. Brent Brookbush DPT, PES, CES, CSCS agreed. Those would be included in an integrated program design based upon the specific needs of the athlete or client. - December 10 at 9:43am

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