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How to Use a Barbell

How Not to Look Stupid Picking Up a Barbell

It's time to learn all about the barbell. Self shows you how to look like a pro in the weight room.

Dumbbells and kettlebells. You've mastered those.

What about a barbell?

Trust us, you'll want to learn. That's because the back-to-basics barbell is one of the most effective ways to get stronger; you can tone your legs, butt, abs, arms with a few basic moves. And more and more women are squashing the stereotype that it's just for dudes. They're nailing Olympic lifts in CrossFit, taking Barbell Strength group classes (Crunch, LifeTime, Gold's Gym and Les Mills all offer versions), or crushing sets of barbell front and back squats at the gym (Equinox sees the trend; check out their Rise of the Barbell video).

But your first time lifting one can be intimidating. That's why we asked Michael Bultman, a coach at CrossFit NYC who specializes in Olympic lift training, for an easy how-to guide to using a bar for three body-sculpting moves. These exercises don't require fancy machinery like a bench press or squat rack, either.

  1. What size bar do I use? In most gyms, you'll only find one size — a 44-pound Olympic lifting bar, usually on the bench press or inside a squat rack. Steal one from there; 44 pounds may sound heavy, but when it's distributed over a six- or seven-foot bar, we promise, it's not too much to pick up. If you're at a CrossFit box, you'll be spoiled with an easier-to-wield ladies' bar, which has a smaller diameter and shorter length, and weighs 33 pounds. You should not grab an EZ bar or fixed-weight bar. If your gym doesn't have a barbell available, or you want to try the movements at home, it's cool to use a Body Bar. Just aim for the heavier side (16+ pounds).
  2. Will I get calluses? You're wondering because you think calluses are hot and are dying to have them, right? Ok, either way, the answer is probably no, not for your first or even fifth time. Calluses take repeated, frequent pressure and rubbing to develop — think daily lifting, with heavier weights that make you squeeze the life out of the bar — and if you're using a barbell regularly, you really do want them; gripping the bar is easier, especially if your hands are sweaty. If you remain unconvinced, take this excuse to buy some sweet accessories.
  3. Do I need to use chalk? For picking up just the barbell, nah, you don't really need it. You want chalk for extra grip when you lift super hefty weights (it also helps when your palms get sweaty). If you are adding more weight to the bar and want/need to powder up, "just don't be a chalk monster," warns Bultman. "You only need to cover the fleshy parts of your palm that touch the bar, not your whole hand."
  4. How do I actually grab the bar? Stand with your feet hip-width apart and grip the center of the bar so hands are just outside your knees, Bultman says. While you're using it, you want to keep the bar as close to your body as possible, too.

Now, on to your moves. Bultman demonstrates three common lifts that will tone your entire body (and look pretty freaking cool when you string them together for a continuous exercise): The deadlift, the power clean and the push press. Get them over on Self.com by clicking below:

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