Barbell Exercises: Much of the strength-building comes from barbell work. Here is a breakdown of some of the most common barbell exercises, which muscle groups they focus on, and the main functional benefit it can bring to your everyday life.
Barbells are all about functional fitness. This is fitness that will help you accomplish more in everyday physical tasks such as pushing, pulling, lifting, bending, standing, sports, playing with children, rescuing cats from trees, wrestling bears, and so on.
Functional fitness is built by doing compound exercises. Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that work multiple muscle groups at once, such as squats. These are full-body exercises with large ranges of motion. The opposite of compound (functional) exercises are isolation exercises. Isolation exercises are single-joint, single-muscle movements such as bicep curls. These exercises are useful when recovering from an injury, for example, after you have a cast removed.
The following Barbell Exercises are all compound exercises:
Useful for: Picking up heavy things off the ground while avoiding back injury.
Muscles used: Pretty much everything. Deadlifts primarily work the spinal erectors (back). In the legs, the glueteus maximus, hamstrings, quadriceps, and adductors are heavily worked, while every single arm muscle is contracted during deadlifts – especially the forearm. Finally, your shoulders and trapezius are used at the top of each deadlift.
Useful for: Sitting down & standing up with a weight on your back.
Muscles used: Quadriceps are what straighten your legs, adductors stabilize your legs, hamstrings stabilize your hips & knees, spinal erectors maintain your posture, gluteus maximus powers the bottom of the squat, and your abdominals & obliques keep you upright.
Useful for: Sitting down & standing up while holding something in front of you.
Muscles used: All the same muscles as a back squat, but with much more emphasis on the quadriceps, abdominals, obliques, and spinal erectors, due to the increased challenge in maintaining an upright position.
Useful for: Sitting down & standing up while holding something overhead- without falling over.
Muscles used: All the same muscles as a back squat, plus it engages your upper body strength: Deltoids, trapezius, shoulders, and wrist/grip strength keep the weight overhead, while your abdominals, obliques, and spinal erectors are working much more than back & front squats to keep you balanced and stabilized. Overhead squats also require quite a bit of flexiblity.
Useful for: Heaving something overhead, or taking something down from a high shelf.
Muscles used: The deltoids first and foremost do most of the work at the top & bottom of the lift, while your traps, biceps, triceps, and forearms assist in moving the weight through a full press range of motion. Meanwhile, your hip muscles and quads keep you stable while doing presses in the standing position.
Useful for: Any heavy pushing motion from the chest, outwards.
Muscles used: The pectorals are the main muscle used in the pushing motion, followed by the shoulders (deltoids & trapezius). Your biceps & triceps assist in the range of motion for the bench press, while your abdominals are also engaged to stabilize your body.
Useful for: Picking heavy stuff off the ground, and getting it to shoulder-height.
Muscles used: The gluteus maximus is responsible for the “scooping” motion of the hips that characterizes a clean, while hamstrings, quads, and calves assist in squat & catch phase of the clean. Your back & shoulders make up the bulk of the upper body work, most during the catch.
Useful for: Lifting something from shoulder height to overhead.
Muscles Used: Some people find it surprising that the quadriceps are actually the primary muscle used, as they are what initially drive the jerk. The deltoids, triceps, and pectorals are what allow you to drive through and finish the jerk.
This olympic weightlift is very similar in terms of function to the clean and jerk (lifting something from the ground to overhead), and while is a very different movement, it uses the same combination of muscles as a clean & jerk.
This is a combination of a front squat to overhead press, and uses a combination of the muscles engaged for those two exercises.