Photographs by James Farrell
THE BARBELL. It’s perhaps the original fitness tool. You’ll never skill out of it, it’ll challenge your whole body, and there’s something deeply satisfying about picking up a weight and putting it down. But it’s possible your go-to routine has gotten stale, which means you might be missing out on certain areas, or are limiting your movement patterns. So we asked Adam Aguilera of CrossFit Sprag, outside Austin, Texas, to put together a set of moves you maybe don’t do. They emphasize functional movement patterns as well. (You can hoist a weight, but can you move it forward and to the side?) Aguilera has put a spotlight on flexibility, as well as greater depth of movement, to improve strength and help stave off injury. The first couple of times doing this workout, keep the weight lighter and find a good tempo, Aguilera says. If you want to load up at the end for a nice deadlift, nothing’s stopping you.
Get to Work
Load plates (the bar is usually 45 pounds) and do 4 sets of a move; rest 1 minute between sets. For each rep, take 5 seconds to move the weight, and hold 5 seconds at the end range of the movement.
Expert Tip: Super-Set Your Workout
While challenging, these movements are fairly straightforward, unlike, say, hang cleans. That’s by design. You can load on more weight, go slow, and focus on strength. Or ease up on the plates, aim for speed, and add in supersets. For instance, pepper in the warmup cardio movements between sets, or slot in flexibility/stability exercises (think Superman holds and bird-dogs). That’ll help maintain mobility through the workout, and it’ll also mean you can breeze through a post-lifting stretch session.
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Get your heart pumping and joints lubricated with these body-weight movements: jog in place; skips/high knees; air squats; inchworms; alternating lunges. Do them for 30 seconds nonstop, rest, and cycle through it again. During the workout, treat the first set of each move as a warmup, so use an empty bar.
1. Barbell Split Squat
Load a barbell with 20 to 40 pounds, and rack it in the back squat position. (Use a power rack, or clean and press barbell and rest it on shoulders.) Stand tall with feet hip-distance apart, knees soft. Step right foot back two to three feet so torso is equidistant between feet. Plant the ball of back foot on ground and keep heel raised to start. Lower right knee toward floor until left knee is bent at a 90-degree angle and shin is perpendicular to the ground. Press through left heel to rise and return to start. Do all reps with right leg back, then switch sides. Do 8 to 10 reps per set.
2. Barbell Dead Row
Load a barbell with 40 to 80 pounds, or about half of what you would regularly deadlift for a set of 8 reps. Stand with feet hip-distance apart, barbell an inch in front of shins. Squat, grab barbell with a neutral grip, and rise to standing for a deadlift (A). Pause and then, keeping shoulders back and abs engaged, press butt back, allowing torso to angle at about 45 degrees, arms near knees. Keeping shoulders high and without slumping over, pull elbows straight back and row barbell to stomach twice (B), then rise to standing, and slowly lower barbell to the ground. Do 6 to 8 reps per set.
4. Staggered Walking Lunge
Load a barbell with 20 to 40 pounds and rack it in the back squat position. Lift left knee (A), then take a big step forward and to the left, so feet are spread apart, at an angle with torso equidistant between feet. Drop right knee to floor so that left knee forms a 90-degree angle. Press through left heel to return to standing, feet parallel. Repeat on the right side for 1 rep. Do 8 to 10 reps.
3. Unstable Pushup
Set up a barbell on the floor with 20-pound weight plates on either side. Kneel behind it and place hands on the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-distance apart. Roll barbell so it is under chest, and press up. Step feet behind you to enter a high plank. Balance there, then slowly lower chest toward bar, stopping a few inches before touching. Reverse movement to start. Do 5 to 10 reps per set. (This can be done from knees for a warmup set. For an added challenge, bring hands closer together.)
5. Skull Crusher
Lie on back, knees comfortably bent, feet on floor and slightly wider than hip-width apart, a barbell loaded with 10-pound plates directly behind head. Grasp the barbell with both hands, elbows bent, upper arms perpendicular to chest. Use triceps to lift barbell so it’s directly over chest, arms straight, wrists flat, to start. Keeping upper arms still, bend elbows back to lower barbell behind head, a few inches off B ground, then reverse to start for 1 rep. Do 10 to 12 reps per set.
6. Barbell Reverse Crunch
Lie on back, an empty or lightly loaded barbell on chest, hands wider than shoulder-width apart. Press the barbell over chest, locking out arms, and lift legs, so they form an L with torso, to start. Keeping feet slightly flexed, press hips up so balls of feet reach toward the ceiling as high as possible, then lower for 1 rep. Do 12 to 15 reps per set, cycling through them fairly quickly.