Barbell training is the best way to train for strength. Bar none. Nothing else even comes close to the effectiveness of barbell squats, presses, deadlifts, and the Olympic lifts for the development of strength, power, and muscular size. The reason barbells are so very valuable is that they are the most ergonomically-friendly load handling tool in existence – they allow very heavy weights to be gripped in the hands and moved directly over the center of the foot. Their extremely adjustable nature allows small increases in stress to be applied to the whole body over the full range of motion of all the major leverage systems of the body increases that accumulate into amazing gains in size and strength for many uninterrupted years of progress. You should be using them.
First, some basic background material. The biological basis of all exercise is stress: stress is a physical stimulus that causes a change in the body’s current state of equilibrium. Stress can be physical exercise, an unaccustomed lack of physical exercise, an infectious disease, or a very long, very late party. Recovery from that stress is the body’s way of preparing itself for a potential future exposure to the same stress. The process of stress and recovery results in adaptation. Adaptation to exercise increases strength or endurance, adaptation to an unaccustomed lack of exercise decreases strength or endurance, adaptation to the party prepares the liver for the next one, and adaptation to infectious disease is immunity.
Training is the process of creating the desired adaptation for a specific physical task. Strength – the ability to produce force against an external resistance in the environment – is the basis of your interaction with that environment, since force is expressed whenever you touch anything with your hands and feet. Even for endurance activities, increased strength makes repetitive submaximal repetitions even more submaximal. Strength training is specifically designed physical activity that produces an increase in strength as the adaptation.
A long time ago, gyms were equipped with barbells. And that was pretty much what you went to a gym to use – a steel bar and iron plates that were added to increase the weight. If you used them while standing with both feet on the ground, a natural position for a bipedal creature such as yourself, there were a limited number of exercises that you could do. You could put the bar on your back or shoulders, squat down and stand back up. You could put it in your hands and press it up overhead. Or you could put it on the floor and pick it up. But these simple approaches worked very well, because they utilized the normal functions of all the joints and muscles in the body.
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