In this article, we will showcase ten barbell exercises that you may not have tried before. These exercises are less well-known but deserve more recognition. It is of course important for you to have mastered the basic compound lifts before attempting these variations.
But if you already feel like you have got a good handle on things then the following ten exercises should really help spice up your training program.
For these exercises you will of course require a barbell, but you will also need a bench, a squat rack, a box, and a T-Bar set up. Basically, you want to be in a decent gym or have an amazing home gym set up!
Barbell Exercise #1 Close Grip Barbell Bench Press
Let’s start with an easy one, not that performing the exercise is actually easy! The close grip barbell bench press is a fantastic tricep exercise, but its main benefit is that it can really help you to improve your regular bench press.
Lie on a bench press with a barbell loaded. You want to use a weight that is about 50% of your normal benching weight. This will vary from person to person, some have strong triceps while others have a strong chest. Whichever it is, try 50% to start with.
Pull your feet back under your knees so that there is some tension on your quadriceps. Pull your shoulder blades together, this will push your chest out slightly. This is an ideal benching position. Now, grab hold of the bar using a narrower grip than usual. Just inside shoulder width apart.
Take a deep breath and unrack the barbell. Bring it over your chest and hold it. Now, you want to lower the barbell until it is touching your chest. As you bring the barbell down, keep your elbows tight to your torso (unlike a regular bench press where your elbows are flared out slightly).
Pause when the barbell touches your chest and then breathe out explosively while driving the barbell up. Keep your arms close to your sides and let your triceps to the majority of the lifting.
Barbell Exercise #2 Push Press
The push press is a seriously good alternative to the regular shoulder press. It utilises the lower body, allowing you to lift a heavier weight and burn some more calories.
Grab a barbell off a squat rack and walk backwards, the bar should be resting at shoulder height. Your feet should be shoulder width apart. Bend your knees slightly, and then push the bar upwards by straightening your legs and driving the bar up with your arms.
The bar should arc back slightly once it has past your head so that it finishes directly above the centre of your head when your arms are fully extended. Pause, and then return the bar to the starting position. Bend your knees and repeat the movement.
Barbell Exercise #3 Underhand Bent Over Row
The bent over row is a great back exercise that is used by the majority of lifters. But the underhand version is a little rarer. There are many benefits to using an underhand grip though. It increases the activation of your bicep muscles, reduces the risk of shoulder injury, and it is an easier exercise for performing with excellent form.
Set up a barbell on the floor, or alternatively you can set it up on a squat rack. It depends on whether you want to deadlift it up or lower it from waist height. You should use a weight that is lighter than that which you would use for a regular bent over row, as the underhand version is more challenging.
Use an underhand grip, so palms facing out rather than in. Stand upright with the barbell at waist height, arms fully extended. Push your chest out and pull your shoulder blades back. Bend your knees slightly and then bow forwards so that your torso is at a 45 degree angle.
Take a deep breath, then pull the barbell towards your ribcage. Pause when it touches, and then slowly lower the bar back down again.
Barbell Exercise #4 Deficit Deadlift
The deficit deadlift is a fantastic way to work on your speed off the floor when deadlifting. The number one mistake people make when performing a deficit deadlift is creating too large a deficit. All you need is to stand on a bumper plate, or something similar (low to the ground and stable).
Set up the barbell as you would for a normal deadlift, but then place a raised surface such as a couple of bumper plates for you to stand on. Roll the bar back so that it is touching your shins, grab hold of the bar using a mixed grip.
Push your chest out, pull your shoulders back and squat down into position. Take a deep breath and then drive your hips forward as you stand up. Pause at the top with your hips pushed into the barbell, and then return to the starting position by pushing your hips backwards as you go down.
Be extra careful as you lower the weight that little bit extra, your form is going to be tested here more than usual.
Barbell Exercise #5 Good Morning
The Good Morning is a fantastic lower back exercise which can improve the hip-hinge movement. This will make it easier for you to deadlift, row, squat, and perform exercises such as Romanian deadlifts with excellent form.
Most people will find that using the bar alone is difficult enough, so do not try and go too heavy with this movement. 20-30kg should be enough, until you have built up your strength.
Set up a barbell in the squat rack as you would for a normal squat, unrack the barbell and have it resting on your shoulders. Walk backwards so that you are outside the rack. This will give you enough space to perform the good morning properly.
Bend your knees very slightly, push your chest out and pull your shoulders back. Then, with the barbell nestled into your shoulders bow forward at the waist until you are as near to parallel as you can get. At first, you may not be able to go too far until the backs of your legs are screaming. Do not try to force this, just stop.
Pause when you have reached your limit and then drive back up to the starting position.
Barbell Exercise #6 Keystone Deadlift
As with the deficit deadlift, the keystone deadlift has been developed to help improve your overall deadlifting ability. Namely the lockout. The keystone deadlift is basically a modified Romanian deadlift, with a shorter range of motion. Because of this you can use a heavier weight and be more explosive when driving back up.
Set a barbell up on a squat rack so that it is waist height. Unrack it and walk backwards to give yourself space. Your feet should be slightly narrower than shoulder width apart with your toes facing straight forward.
Bend your knees slightly, push your chest out, and pull your shoulder blades together. Bow forward like you would for a Romanian deadlift, but only go half the distance. Pause, then drive back upwards, squeezing your glutes when you reach the top.
Barbell Exercise #7 1.5 Rep Bench Press
The 1.5 rep bench press is a great way to increase time under tension, or to assess weak points in your technique. All you are doing is adding a half-rep in between each regular rep. So, you go full rep, half-rep, full rep. You don’t want to overdo this but sprinkled into a hypertrophy program every once in a while, it can be surprisingly effective.
Set yourself up on a bench press, hands on the bar around shoulder width apart, feet pulled back under your thighs, shoulders pulled together to push your chest out. Unrack the bar and bring it over your chest.
Lower the bar down to your chest, pause, and then drive the bar explosively up in the air. That is one full rep.
Now, you are going to lower the bar back down to your chest, pause, and then drive the bar up, but only for half the distance. Return it back to your chest, and then drive all the way up for full rep number two.
This technique can be done with many other compound movements; squats, overhead presses, close-grip bench presses etc …
Barbell Exercise #8 Landmine Squat
To perform a landmine squat, you are going to need a T-bar row platform. These are surprisingly inexpensive but do take up quite a bit of space so not every gym has one. If you are lucky enough to have one, then the landmine squat is an amazing exercise. If you don’t? Just perform some goblet squats instead.
Set up a bumper plate on the T-bar and raise the bar to chest height. You will find that you are leaning forward slightly. This is how it is supposed to be. Squat down while holding the bar to your chest. Because of the angle, you will find it amazingly easy to squat low while maintaining a straight back.
Pause at the bottom, then drive the bar back upwards. You can turn this into a full-body exercise by pushing the barbell upwards like a shoulder press. But to do so you would need to lower the weight significantly.
Barbell Exercise #9 Box Squat
The box squat is a fascinating exercise … well it is to us okay? When you first learn to squat, the box squat can really help. Just the act of sitting back onto that box can drive home how to squat properly. Then you learn how to squat, and forget about the box squat for ages.
After a while though, you may learn about the barbell box squat. At first you may think of it as an easier version of a regular squat. You get to sit down on a box halfway through, how difficult can it be?
Turns out it is very difficult! Sitting on that box completely takes all momentum out of the movement, you then have to rely on your strength and power from a sitting position. The barbell box squat is an incredible exercise for building explosive power from the bottom position of the squat.
This exercise requires a box (big surprise). A sturdy plyometric box is preferable, but you can use a weights bench or several stacked bumper plates if you need to. Just make sure that the box/bench is strong, secure, and can take your weight plus the weight of the barbell.
Unrack your barbell from a squat rack and step backwards until your heels brush up against the box. Stand in your normal squatting stance, squat down until you feel the box and sit on it. Hold that position then explosively drive upwards. It is best to have a spotter for this exercise as once you’ve lost momentum it can be really hard to get off that box!
Barbell Exercise #10 Rack Pulls
The final exercise on this list is yet another deadlift variation, known as the rack pull. This is similar to the keystone deadlifts in a lot of ways, but focuses more on improving grip strength, lifting really heavy weights, and on the lockout.
You will need a squat rack that has parallel bars to rest a barbell on. These need to be at just below waist height. You can really load up the bar here. After a few warm up sets, you can build the weight to 110% of your deadlift 1rm! Or go for higher reps at a lower weight. Whatever fits your needs.
Stand in the squat rack with the barbell resting at just under waist height. Place your feet under the bar, bend your knees, and grip the bar tight. Push your chest out, pull your shoulders back, and take a deep breath.
Drive your hips forward as you raise the bar upwards, stop when you are fully upright. Breathing out all the way. Pause, and then lower the bar back towards the rack.