Over the past several years I have heard many misconceptions about barbell training. The ones I hear most frequently are 1) the bulky and slow myth, 2) the fallacy that barbells are for younger athletes or “I’m not trying to be a weightlifter anyway,” and 3) “I’m not strong enough” or “I can’t”. Much has been written about each of these notions, so I’ll just touch on them briefly. Then I’ll share the experience of one of my clients, Mylan Dawson, a man in his early 50s with a primarily sedentary job, concerned about his loss of muscle and strength but not sure what to do about it; a man who had some common misconceptions about Barbell training and who now “could not be happier that I overcame my reluctance and committed to trying barbell training as it has made a significance difference in my life in a relatively short time.”
1) The Bulky and Slow Myth
First off, “bulky” is a subjective term about which plenty has been written, especially as it pertains to perceptions of female athletes. Suffice it to say “bulk” has more to do with nutrition, supplementation, and exercise volume (total number of reps) than it does to touching a heavy weight. People you might perceive as “bulky” worked intentionally and very hard for many years to build muscle; it will not happen to you accidentally. (In fact even with intentional eating and dedicated training, some people struggle to build muscle mass). For the average person, a heavy barbell poses less of a “bulking” threat than dessert and alcohol do.
Once we get past the false idea that weight training will leave you “bulky” and “musclebound,” it becomes more clear that increased strength actually improves almost all markers of athleticism, including speed. More strength means a greater ability to produce force against resistance – translated this means a stronger you can run faster or can run at your previous speed more easily.
2) Barbells Are for Younger Athletes or “I’m Not Trying To Be a Weightlifter Anyway!”
Yes, college athletes, powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters, etc train with barbells. That doesn’t mean that everyone training under a bar has the same competitive goals, just as everyone driving a car does not intend to be a NASCAR driver. I use barbells and barbell lifts because they are time-tested, effective ways to build strength and to maintain muscle and bone mass – not because I’m trying to turn everyone into a competitive powerlifter. My regular training buddies include women and men spanning all decades, including well into their 70s, and just a few of my training partners are interested in competing. Regardless of whether the goal is a competition or active and healthy aging, building strength increases one’s durability, independence, and quality of life.
3) “I’m Not Strong Enough” or “I Can’t”
Strength is a continuum and chances are you’re not as devoid of strength as you might imagine. Additionally, the road to strength has many different on-ramps. Regardless of your exercise or injury history, there is always something you could be doing to get stronger. Every main lift has modifications for those who are recovering from surgery or injury, and most ROM limitations are less restrictive than people are generally lead to believe. A properly equipped facility will have specialty and training bar options. I started my kids out with a 10# training bar, and we built from there. Weight can be added to a barbell in much smaller increments than is possible with other training modalities, as little as 1/2 pound at a time. In the world of strength one learns straight away that the focus is always on what one can do; not on reasons why one can’t.
“At 52, it became painfully obvious to me that I was experiencing significant muscle loss. My clothes were alternatively baggy and tight – and in all the wrong places. I was noticeably slow to stand up when getting out of bed and the times I need to lift our senior dog into and out of the car or up and down stairs was beginning to be more and more difficult. I knew it was time to get stronger but, as I did not have any real experience with weight training, I did not know how. Fortunately, six months ago I was referred to Rebecca.
“I was initially somewhat reluctant to barbell training as I was concerned about the time commitment and as well as my inability to perform the lifts due to my lack of strength. Rebecca introduced me to the Starting Strength method of training which focuses on lifting weights using a barbell and doing so in the most efficient and safest manner possible to gain overall strength. This has had the benefit of keeping my time in the gym down to a manageable level. Rebecca also explained that the movements we would be doing were generally reproductions of what we do in everyday life – squatting down to pick something up or lifting something heavy over our heads for example. I could not be happier that I overcame my reluctance and committed to trying barbell training as it has made a significance difference in my life in a relatively short time. For example, lifting and carrying the dog is easier and I feel more stable, my knees are nowhere near as balky in the mornings as previously and I carry my luggage and place it in the overhead far easier than before making my frequent business travel significantly less strenuous.
“I have found a good, qualified coach to be essential. Learning the lifts has been one challenge but interruptions from work and everyday life has presented other obstacles to reaching my goals. In overcoming these challenges, I have benefited immeasurably from having a professional give her perspective and guidance on all aspects of my training. Rebecca realizes we are all individuals and tailors my program to fit my needs and limitations to help me reach my personal goals. She has also been very helpful in providing guidance on nutrition. While I had little knowledge of the process of lifting weights, I had even less understanding of the nutritional needs of my body when doing so and how to eat in a way to best position my body to respond favorably to weight training. Rebecca has helped me make realistic and achievable long term changes to my diet that have helped me feel better as well as gain strength.
“I would recommend anyone of any age to seriously explore barbell training with Rebecca. The confidence gained from getting stronger cannot be understated, and Rebecca is the ideal person to help you begin your journey.”
Mylan overcame his misconception that he was “not strong enough” for barbells and began training mid 2018. During his first week, he squatted 95#, overhead pressed 55#, benched 65#, and deadlifted 115#. He trained fairly regularly 3x/week. We worked around his job, travel schedule, family obligations, and we made appropriate adjustments when necessary. Now he’s squatting 220#, benching 175#, overhead pressing 110#, and deadlifting 255#.