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Joint-Friendly Alternatives to Barbell Training

When it comes to weightlifting, lifting weights, and strength training in general, the barbell is the signature tool we think of, and for a good reason. Various strength-training movements with the barbell can produce phenomenal results when done correctly. However, traditional barbell training can come at a cost.

Learning Curve

Understanding how to perform various barbell movements such as the deadlift and back squat takes a fair amount of skill. From the set up to the finish, many beginner and intermediate lifters will have trouble learning how to perform them correctly.

Lack of Mobility

Our daily lives require a lot of sitting which can lead us to become tight and lack the proper range of motion in the hip and shoulder areas. In order to perform many of the classic barbell lifts, an adequate amount of mobility is required.

Risk of Injury

Most of the barbell lifts load the spine, unparticular the lumbar area. If you have any previous or current issues, loading the spine, on top of lack of mobility and skill can backfire on you and lead to possible pain and injury.

There are many alternatives that produce great results that spare the joints while reducing great results. They are easy to learn and improve and are for beginners and avid lifters alike.

Instead of: Barbell Squats

Do: Goblet Squats

Goblet Squat Steps

  1. Use a dumbbell or kettlebell and tuck it into the upper chest.
  2. Keep your elbows in tight.
  3. Place your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart with 0-30 degrees of foot flare.
  4. Pull yourself down into the squat slowly.
  5. Push your knees out to the sides and have your elbows track inside the knees.
  6. Push all the weight of your body through the heals.
  7. Keep your chest up and stand up.

Instead of: Barbell Deadlifts

Do: Kettlebell Deadlifts

Deadlift Steps:

Stand with the feet approximately shoulder-width apart, the kettlebell in line with the heels. Begin standing upright in a neutral stance position with the ear, shoulder, hip, and knee in proper alignment, with the arms resting comfortably in front. Perform a hip hinge pattern by flexing at the hips while maintaining a neutral spine. Once the hands are near the weight, grasp the handle tightly to promote spinal stability.

Engage the hamstrings by slightly raising the hips, so that the knees are vertical. Once the hamstrings feel taut, begin to extend the hips forward until the proper posture is achieved. Pull your shoulder blades down and back as if you trying to put them in your back pocket. This will help activate the lats and other back muscles. Throughout the movement, make sure the head and neck are neutral and there is no rounding of the back.

Instead of: Barbell Overhead Military Press

Do: 1-Arm Kettlebell Military Press

1-Arm Military Press Steps

  1. Clean a kettlebell with a two-handed grip or perform a cheat clean. Press the kettlebell strictly overhead to lockout with one arm. Lower to the chest safely, pause and press again.
  2. In the rack position (in one hand close to chest and shoulder), the fist must be below the chin level.
  3. The kettlebell should pause in the rack and top position.
  4. Press with the knees locked and with no back hyperextension.
  5. Keep the quads, glutes and midsection tight.
  6. The torso may lean slightly sideways but the lean may not increase during the press.
  7. The shoulder stays packed
  8. Do not hyperextend the wrist, keep it straight.
  9. Forcefully exhale on the way up

Instead of: Barbell Bench Press

Do: Classic Push-ups

Push-up Steps

  1. Start by lying down on the floor to prep the body
  2. Bring your legs together and tuck your toes
  3. Straighten your legs out and keep them tight
  4. Squeeze your butt and abs
  5. Bring your hands near your armpits
  6. Tuck your chin and pull your head back
  7. Elevate your feet; use Olympic rings, or external weight to increase intensity. To decrease intensity, go on your knees. I will be going over some variations next!
  8. Hold your body tight and push-up!


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