Friday, September 20, 2019

Thick Bar Thursdays - By Jim Duggan

     Serious Lifters have known about the benefits of using thick-handled barbells for years. It's hard to say who originated the idea of using thick bars.  Their use dates back to the days of the old Strongmen from over a hundred years ago.  The use of thick bars as a training tool probably goes back to Peary Reader's old "Ironman" magazine. My first exposure to thick bars was through an article by Dr. Ken Leistner, over thirty years ago.  In the article, he described how he used them to train his clients. He mentioned how Kim Wood, the legendary strength coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, used thick bars ( and other implements) to train his players. Several years after reading the article, I had the good fortune to join Iron Island Gym, and I got to see first-hand how thick bars can build strength in a way that was different from a standard barbell.
     Dr. Ken had several thick bars in his gym. They were painted blue, and they were quite scary looking. Of course, I had to try them, and I found that they definitely added a different dimension to my training.  It was about this time when I began reading "Hardgainer" magazine.  There were articles by Bob Whelan, and Brooks Kubik which described their experiences using thick bars, and the many benefits they derived from their use.  A few years later, Brooks Kubik's classic book "Dinosaur Training" came out, followed by his "Dinosaur Files" magazine. Brooks was a strong advocate for thick bar training, and, more than anyone else, was responsible  for the resurgence in the popularity of using thick-handled barbells and dumbbells.
     Among the many benefits of using thick bars is the fact that they activate more muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the hands, fingers, arms, forearms.  Consequently, there will be a corresponding increase in strength.  Not many people think about tendons, and ligaments when training, but they play a big part in the development of strength.  Stronger hands and forearms will increase your grip strength.  Improved grip strength will translate into better performance on any movement which requires a strong grip.  Whether you're  lifting a heavy barbell, anvil, or large stone, thick bars will improve your performance and make you a better lifter.
     You can utilize thick bars with just about any upper-body movement.  While you can use them for various Presses, thick bars would be more effective for "pulling movements." Curls, and Deadlifts immediately come to mind when you try to incorporate thick bars into your workouts.  You must be very careful when using them for overhead Presses, for obvious reasons.  For many years I used thick bars for overhead work.  In fact, in 2000,  at the York Strongman Contest, one of the events was an overhead Press for weight.  The bar used was a 2" axle, lifted from a rack.
     By far, my favorite upper-body thick bar movement was doing Bench Presses inside a power rack.  Pushing a thick bar off the chest from a motionless starting point is pure, unadulterated power.  There's absolutely no comparison to doing a typical "touch and go" bounce press found in a typical commercial gym.  Incidentally, if you are planning on using thick bars for Bench Pressing, it is vitally important to only do them inside of a power rack where the pins can be set to catch the bar, in the event of a missed rep. Always train safely.
     For the past few weeks, I have been using my thick bars for various movements.  I like to vary the exercises from week to week, just to avoid boredom.  However, the challenge of doing the Lifts with a thick bar has made for an interesting change of pace.  Here are a few movements which I have been doing:
1) Trap Bar Deadlift.  I recently purchased a 2" Thick Trap Bar.  The thing is a monster.  It weighs 45 Lbs., but feels much heavier, if that makes any sense.  A couple of months ago, on my 55th birthday, I did 400 Lbs. for 75 reps in a little over 50 minutes.  I had hoped to get 100 reps, but two torn calluses on my hand made it impossible ( did I mention that this bar is a monster?)  Recently, I've been using the Trap Bar off a 2.5" block. I suppose the modern term is "deficit deadlift," but I prefer to use the phrase "deadlift off a block."  However you wish to describe it, it is an intense movement. I usually work up to a heavy single or triple, then drop the weight for a high-rep back off set.  By the way, each rep is done with a pause between each rep. No bouncing off the floor! I encourage you to do your reps strictly.  You will develop better strength through proper form, rather than relying on momentum. In other words, don't cheat.
2)  Thick Bar Deadlift off the Block.  About a year ago, I purchased a 2" revolving olympic bar from York Barbell.  It weighs 25kgs ( 55 Lbs.) Let me tell you, this bar is a beast! By standing on a 5" platform, I do Stiff-Leg Deadlifts for sets of ten.  Of course,  the rep selection can vary, but I prefer the higher reps.  I perform the movement by lowering the bar just above the floor, and then raise the weight upward.  This keeps continuous tension on the muscles throughout the movement.  It really taxes the grip, especially when using a double over-hand grip.
3) Thick Bar Curls.  Again, I use the York 2" revolving bar.  Between the thickness of the bar, and the fact that the bars revolves, it is an intense exercise. While I've never been a big fan of direct arm work, this is my favorite way to perform barbell curls.  For further variety, you can do Reverse Curls.
4) Thick Handle Dumbbell Rows.  These are simply dumbbell rows, but performed with thick-handled dumbbells.  There are many brands available, but I use mu Ironmind Dumbbells. Naturally, you will not be able to use as much weight as you would for regular DB Rows, but the intensity, and difficulty of the movement makes it a worthwhile change of pace.
     These are just a few of the movements you can do with thick bars.  Naturally, there are many different exercises, and with a little creativity, you can come up with an effective routine.  Unfortunately, most commercial gyms do not have thick bars, so you might have to resort to buying your own, and training at home.  The general public has never really embraced the idea of lifting thick-handled barbells and dumbbells.  One of my favorite lines from "Dinosaur Training," and believe me there are MANY great lines from that book, goes something like this: "Muscle Pumpers and drug babies wouldn't touch a thick bar on a bet."  Don't follow the crowd.  If you can get your hands on a thick bar ( pun intended), then by all means do so. You'll be glad you did.
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