Where Strength and Size are the only goals

Posts tagged “strength

Preparing for the European Championships

Where to start? Well, not long after last post I contracted a kidney stone & infection, needless to say, very painful and it knocked my training for 6. I pretty much couldn’t do anything for a month and had to pull out of the BPO British Championships in April as I wouldn’t be ready in time. These were qualifiers for the upcoming Europeans so needless to say I was a little gutted!

Thankfully, the president of the BPO has invited me to the Euro’s anyway as I have a ‘justifiable reason’ for not competing at the British, so wasn’t disappointed for too long J

Since then it has been a bit of a slog trying to get back up to previous strength levels. I’ve deliberately gained a little weight alongside training to help my lifts but unfortunately this mean I’m closer to 90kg than the 82.5kg I need to be at the meet and needing to cut 7+kg over the next 5 weeks.

Not an impossible task, but I will need to tighten up my diet and possibly water load again despite being advised against it by my GP. I know the risks and will put more into making sure I’m fully rehydrated for the comp – after this meet I won’t be competing till next year so will spend the rest of the year focusing on health and joint rehab/mobilisation, and possibly even move up a weight class next year to stop having to cut weight each time.

Training through April was just trying to get back to weights I’ve lifted this year and happily I’ve managed to do so, Deadlift back up to 190kg x3, Bench 150kg x2 and Squat 210kg x2. Equipment is a little tighter due to weight gain so pretty sure that’s helping, but still happy to hit my old numbers 😉

May has gone well, I’ve hit 160kg on Bench, 205kg Deadlift and 227.5kg for squat on max week. My goal is still to hit a 250kg Squat, double bodyweight Bench 165kg and another 5-10kg on Deadlift to take me up to my failed attempt at the worlds last year of 215kg. Got to have goals right?

So now it’s June, 1 week to go to the Euro’s, weighed in over the weekend at 87.6kg so I need to drop 5 kg, I’m eating as clean as possible and have easily dropped 3-4 kilos previously by water loading so feeling confident I’ll make weight … Watch this space J



Nailing The Overhead Press by Paul Carter

Christian-overhead-pressNailing the overhead press originally published on T-Nation by Paul Carter

Here’s what you need to know…

•  Using a thumbless grip on overhead pressing allows for a better path of the bar by bringing it in closer to the centerline of the body. It’s also easier on the shoulders and wrists.

•  Start with a shoulder-width grip. As a visual cue, rotate your hands back towards your delts. If your thumb grazes the outside of them, you’ve got it right.

•  Contract your glutes, abs, and quads when you press. The more tension you have throughout the body, the stronger you’ll be.

•  Activate the biceps on the eccentric portion of the press. When you lower the bar, think about doing a sort of hammer curl towards your face/ears.

•  Press with a purpose. That means press with violence and hate. Try to think about throwing it through the ceiling.


Lots of guys these days shit on any form of seated press, but I’m not sure why. The entire purpose of pressing overhead is simply to build bigger and stronger shoulders. Whether you’re seated or standing doesn’t really matter unless you’re a competitive strongman and … (read more here)

Powerlifting.. It’s time to compete!

I’ve been toying with the idea of competing for a while but after getting ill in February it put a stop to any pipe dreams and up till now I’ve just been working back up to previous strength levels. However …

Had a great training session Saturday with the current World Champion and holder of several records Paul Murphy and the tank Aaron Hosking (who hit a massive 370kg squat – see vid). I squat up to 180kg with belt only, and then hit 190kg x2 and 200kg x1 with knee wraps – Paul was very encouraging and is convinced I have ‘a lot more in the tank’ and has offered to help coach me and to compete in September! What a result! I have decided to take him up on this and am now planning on entering that meet coming in just a few months.

A bit sore over Sunday and Monday so just enjoyed some time with the family over the bank holiday. This week I’ll be starting the shift in training over specifically to powerlifting, however my interests are still in strength and size so will continue to post as regularly as I can and get some more articles out there – click here to read previous articles.

Silly BS – Can You Decipher The Good From The Bad?

 An old article by Mark Rippetoe, but one of my favourites! It’s no secret I’m a bit of a Rippetoe fan, despite his very strong opinions I enjoy reading his articles due to his style of writing and humour.

“There is a lot of advice, information, and well understood knowledge regarding the field in which I practice—strength training and fitness—that is just silly bullshit. Plain old “SB” (to keep from baiting the censors too temptingly). And it comes from numerous sources: chief among them are medical professionals who think that they are also exercise professionals, muscle magazines published specifically for the purpose of perpetuating it, home exercise and weight loss advertisers, Internet fitness sites, the academic exercise people, and the mainstream media, who are the mindless pawns of the others.” Continue reading –>Silly BS – Mark Rippetoe

A Year Of 5/3/1

Some serious strength gains after a year of 5/3/1 – My friend Pete demonstrating how effective the system is by simply following it for 12 months. Great work mate!

A Year Of 531  <——- Click Here!

Should You Squat Below Parallel? Squat Depth – Safety And Importance

The following is an excerpt from ‘Starting Strength’ by Mark Rippetoe and Len Kilgore. It breaks down in detail, why the squat should always be performed to full depth (where injuries do not prevent it) and describes the stresses on or around the knee and hips.


 The full squat is the preferred lower body exercise for safety as well as athletic strength. The squat, when performed correctly, is not only the safest leg exercise for the knees, it produces a more stable knee than any other leg exercise. The important part of the last statement is the “when performed correctly” qualifier. Correctly is deep, with hips dropping below level with the top of the patella. Correctly is full range of motion.

Any squat that is not deep is a partial squat, and partial squats stress the knee and the quadriceps without stressing the glutes, the adductors, and the hamstrings. The hamstrings, groin muscles, and glutes perform their function in the squat when the hips are stretched to the point of full flexion, where they get tight — the deep squat position.

The hamstring muscles, attached to the tibia and to the ischial tuberosity of the pelvis, and the adductors, attached between the medial femur and various points on the medial pelvis, reach a full stretch at the very bottom of the squat, where the pelvis tilts forward with the torso, stretching the ends of the muscles apart. At this stretched position they provide a slight rebound out of the bottom, which will look like a “bounce,” and which you will learn more about later. The tension of the stretch pulls the tibia backwards, the posterior direction, balancing the forward-pulling force produced by the quadriceps, which pull from the front. The hamstrings finish their work, with help from the adductors and glutes, by straightening out, or “extending,” the hip.

muscular actions on the kneeMuscular actions on the knee. The anterior force provided by the quadriceps is balanced by the posterior force provided by the hamstrings in the deep squat position. The depth is the key: partial (high) squats are predominately quadriceps/anterior and lack balance.

In a partial squat, which fails to provide a full stretch for the hamstrings, most of the force against the tibia is upward and forward, from the quadriceps and their attachment to the front of the tibia below the knee. This produces an anterior shear, a forward-directed sliding force, on the knee, with the tibia being pulled forward from the patellar tendon and without a balancing pull from the opposing hamstrings. This shearing force — and the resulting unbalanced strain on the prepatellar area — may be the biggest problem with partial squats. Many spectacular doses of tendonitis have been produced this way, with “squats” getting the blame.

Squat Variation

The variation in squat depth often seen in the gym. A Quarter-squat, B Half-squat, C A position often confused with parallel, where the undersurface of the thigh is parallel to the ground. D A parallel squat according to the criteria established.

 The hamstrings benefit from their involvement in the full squat by getting strong in direct proportion to their anatomically proper share of the work in the movement, as determined by the mechanics of the movement itself. This fact is often overlooked when considering anterior cruciate tears and their relationship to the conditioning program. The ACL stabilizes the knee: it prevents the tibia from sliding forward relative to the femur. As we have already seen, so does the hamstring group of muscles. Underdeveloped, weak hamstrings thus play a role in ACL injuries, and full squats work the hamstrings while partial squats do not. In the same way the hamstrings protect the knee during a full squat, hamstrings that are stronger due to full squats can protect the ACL during the activities that we are squatting to condition for. In fact, athletes who are missing an ACL can safely squat heavy weights, because the ACL is under no stress in a correctly performed full squat (fig below).

Another problem with partial squats is the fact that very heavy loads may be moved, due to the short range of motion and the greater mechanical efficiency of the quarter squat position. This predisposes the trainee to back injuries as a result of the extreme spinal loading that results from putting a weight on his back that is possibly in excess of three times the weight that can be safely handled in a correct deep squat. A lot of football coaches are fond of partial squats, since it allows them to claim that their 17 year-old linemen are all squatting 600 lbs. Your interest is in getting strong (at least it should be), not in playing meaningless games with numbers. If it’s too heavy to squat below parallel, it’s too heavy to have on your back.

Olympic weightlifters provide a perfect illustration of the safety and benefits of the full squat. As of the 2004 Olympics 167 of the 192 countries in the world compete in Olympic Weightlifting. More than 10,000 individuals compete annually in IWF (International Weightlifting Federation) events alone, and the number of participants in total from the 167 countries would be staggering, likely on the order of 2 to 5 million (China alone boasts over 1 million lifters). All over the world, weightlifters squat way below parallel safely, most often using some form of the exercise, either back squats or front squats, every day. That is correct: they squat way below parallel every training day, and most programs call for six days per week.

Isn’t it fascinating that they are both strong and not under the care of an orthopedic surgeon? There is simply no other exercise, and certainly no machine, that produces the level of central nervous system activity, improved balance and coordination, skeletal loading and bone density enhancement, muscular stimulation and growth, connective tissue stress and strength, psychological demand and toughness, and overall systemic conditioning than the correctly performed full squat. In the absence of an injury that prevents their being performed at all, everyone that lifts weights should learn to squat, correctly.

Forces on the knee

Forces on the knee in the squat. The hamstrings and adductors exert a posterior tension on the tibia, and the net effect of the anterior quadriceps tendon insertion is an anterior force against the tibial plateau. With sufficient depth, anterior and posterior forces on the knee are balanced. The anterior and posterior forces on the knee are balanced. The anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments stabilise anterior and posterior movement of the distal femur relative to the tibial plateau. In the correct squat, these ligaments have very little to do.

Article is an excerpt from the chapter ‘The Squat’  – Starting Strength 2nd Edition – Mark Rippetoe & Len Kilgore

Creatine Monohydrate – What, Why & How

What is Creatine?

Creatine monohydrate is a natural substance formed within the body from the amino acids methionine, glycine, and arginine. It’s stored as creatine phosphate (CP) or phosphocreatine. Creatine phosphate helps make a substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP in turn provides the energy for muscle contractions.

The average person’s body contains around 120 grams of creatine. Aside from supplementation, foods such as beef and some types of fish, are fairly high in creatine, but a person would have consume huge amounts on a daily basis to equal what can be found in just one teaspoon of powdered creatine as a supplement.

What is it for?

During short maximal exertion bouts of exercise such as weight training or sprinting,
stored adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the dominant energy source. It is also the immediate source of energy for muscle contractions. Muscle fibers only contain enough ATP to power a few twitches, then additional ATP must be taken in from the bodys stores. Creatine monohydrate is converted into creatine phosphate in the body to keep the ATP pool filled.
What does this mean in the real world? An increased pool of CP means faster and greater recharging of ATP and, therefore, more work can be performed for a short duration.

The Research – (Excerpt from Will Brinks Bodybuilding Revealed)
To date, research has shown ingesting creatine can increase the total body pool of CP which leads to greater generation of force with anaerobic forms of exercise,
such as weight training, sprinting, etc. Early research with creatine showed it can increase lean body mass and improve performance in sports that require high intensity intermittent exercise such as sprinting, weight lifting, football, etc. Creatine has had spotty results in research that examined its effects on endurance oriented sports such as swimming, rowing and long distance running, with some studies showing no positive effects on performance with endurance athletes.

Whether or not the failure of creatine to improve performance with endurance athletes was due to the nature of the sport or the design of the studies is still being debated. But one thing is for sure; the research is stronger in high intensity sports of short duration.
Recent findings with creatine monohydrate have confirmed previous research showing it’s a safe and effective supplement. More recent research has focused on exactly how it works, and has looked deeper into its potential medical uses.

Several studies have shown it can reduce cholesterol by up to 15%, and
may be useful for treating wasting syndromes such as HIV. Creatine is also being looked at as a supplement that may help with diseases affecting the neuromuscular system, such as muscular dystrophy (MS) and others. A plethora of recent studies suggest creatine may have therapeutic applications in aging populations, muscle atrophy, fatigue, gyrate atrophy, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and other mitochondrial cytopathies, neuropathic disorders, dystrophies, myopathies and brain pathologies.
The importance of creatine is underscored by creatine deficiency disorders: inborn errors of metabolism that prevent creatine from being manufactured. People born without the enzyme(s) responsible for making creatine suffer from a variety of neurological and developmental symptoms which are mitigated with creatine supplementation.
As for safety, some have suggested that creatine might increase the need for extra fluid intake to avoid potential dehydration and muscle pulls. Still, creatine has not been shown to increase either dehydration or muscle pulls in the research.
In some people, creatine may increase a by-product of creatine metabolism called creatinine, which is a crude indicator but not a cause of kidney problems. Some doctors have mistakenly thought that high creatinine levels (in athletes using creatine) are a sign of kidney problems, but that is not the case.
Creatinine is not toxic to the kidneys and most doctors are not aware that creatine may raise creatinine levels with no toxicity to the kidneys. People with pre-existing kidney problems might want to avoid creatine due to the effects it can have on this test, though creatine supplementation has never been shown to be toxic to the kidneys and the vast number, of studies to date have found creatine to be exceedingly safe.

It’s interesting to note that there has been a concerted effort by many groups and ignorant medical professionals to portray creatine as being somehow poorly researched (flatly untrue) and unsafe for long term use. They systematically ignore the dozens of studies that exist showing it’s both safe and effective. Even more bizarre, they ignore the recent studies that are finding creatine may help literally thousands of people with the aforementioned diseases. This is unscientific, unethical, and just plain immoral, in my view.

One question that often comes up regarding creatine is whether or not the loading phase is required. Originally, the advice for getting optimal results was to load up on creatine followed by a maintenance dose thereafter. This advice was based on the fact that the human body already contains approximately 120 grams of creatine (as creatine and creatine phosphate) stored in tissues and to increase total creatine stores, one had to load for several days in order to increase those stores above those levels.
The idea also seemed to work well, in practice, with people noticing considerable increases in strength and weight during the loading phase. All was not perfect however as many people found the loading phase to be a problem, with gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea and other problems. At the very least, loading was inconvenient and potentially expensive.
The need for a loading phase was a long held belief, but is it really needed to derive the benefits of creatine? The answer appears to be no, as both research and real world experience have found the loading phase may not be needed after all. A 1996 study compared a loading phase vs. no loading phase among 31 male subjects.
The subjects loaded for 6 days using 20 g/day and a maintenance dose 2g/day for a further 30 days. As expected, tissue creatine levels went up approximately 20 percent and the participants got stronger and gained lean mass. Nothing new there! And, not surprisingly, without a maintenance dose creatine levels went back to normal after 30 days. Then the group was given 3g of creatine without a loading dose. The study found a similar but more gradual increase in muscle creatine concentrations over a period of 28 days. The researchers concluded:
“…a rapid way to creatine load human skeletal muscle is to ingest 20 g of creatine
for 6 days. This elevated tissue concentration can then be maintained by
ingestion of 2 g/day thereafter. The ingestion of 3 g creatine/day is, in the long
term, likely to be as effective at raising tissue levels as this higher dose.”

A more recent study done in 1999 found that 5 g of creatine per day without
a loading phase in 16 athletes significantly increased measures of
strength, power, and increased body mass without a change in body fat
levels (whereas the placebo group showed no significant changes).
The researcher of this 1999 study concluded:
“…these data also indicate that lower doses of creatine monohydrate may be
ingested (5 g/d), without a short-term, large-dose loading phase (20 g/d), for
an extended period to achieve signifi cant performance enhancement.”
So, if you have suffered through the loading phase in the past thinking it
was the only way to maximize the eff ects of your creatine supplement, it
appears you can rest assured you don’t have to go through all that hassle.
A 3 – 5 gram per day dose over an extended period of time will probably do
the same thing.

Brewer GJ and Wallimann TW. Protective effect of the energy precursor creatine against toxicity of glutamate and beta-amyloid in rat hippocampal neurons. J Neurochem. 2000 May;74(5):1968-78.
Earnest CP, Almada AL, and Mitchell TL. High-performance capillary electrophoresis-pure Creatine monohydrate reduces blood lipids in men and women. Clin Sci (Lond). 1996 Jul;91(1):113-8.
Ferrante RJ, Andreassen OA, Jenkins BG, et al. Neuroprotective effects of creatine in a transgenic mouse model of Huntington’s disease. J Neurosci. 2000 Jun 15;20(12):4389-97.
Hultman E, Soderlund K, Timmons JA, et al. Muscle creatine loading in men. J Appl Physiol. 1996 Jul;81(1):232-7.
Klivenyi P, Ferrante RJ, Matthews RT, et al. Neuroprotective effects of creatine in a transgenic animal model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Nat Med. 1999 Mar;5(3):347-50.
Kreider RB, Ferreira M, Wilson M, et al. Effects of creatine supplementation on body composition, strength, and sprint performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1998 Jan;30(1):73-82.
Malcon C, Kaddurah-Daouk R, Beal MF. Neuroprotective effects of creatine administration against NMDA and malonate toxicity. Brain Res. 2000 Mar 31;860(1-2):195-8.
Matthews RT, Yang L, Jenkins BG, et al. Neuroprotective effects of creatine and cyclocreatine in animal models of Huntington’s disease. J Neurosci. 1998 Jan 1;18(1):156-63.
Matthews RT, Ferrante RJ, Klivenyi P, et al. Creatine and cyclocreatine attenuate MPTP neurotoxicity. Exp Neurol. 1999 May;157(1):142-9.
Odland LM, MacDougall JD, Tarnopolsky MA, et al. Effect of oral creatine supplementation on muscle [PCr] and short-term maximum power output. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1997 Feb;29(2):216-9.
Pearson DR, Hamby DG, et al. Long-term eff ects of Creatine monohydrate on strength and power. J Strength Cond Res. 1999 13(3):187-92.
Peeters BM, Lantz CD and Mayhew JL. Eff ect of oral creatine monohydrate and creatine phosphate supplementation on maximal strength indices, body composition, and blood pressure. J Strength Cond Res. 1999 13(1):3-9
Poortmans JR, Auquier H, Renaut V, et al. Eff ect of short-term creatine supplementation on renal responses in men. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1997;76(6):566-7.
Poortmans JR, Francaux M. Long-term oral creatine supplementation does not impair renal function in healthy athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Aug;31(8):1108-10.
Tarnopolsky M, Martin J. Creatine monohydrate increases strength in patients with neuromuscular disease. Neurology. 1999 Mar 10;52(4):854-7ealed
Volek JS, Duncan ND, Mazzetti SA, et al. No Eff ect of Heavy Resistance Training and Creatine Supplementation on Blood Lipids. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2000 Jun;10(2):144-56.
Walter MC, Lochmuller H, Reilich P, et al. Creatine monohydrate in muscular dystrophies: A double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study. Neurology. 2000 May 9;54(9):1848-50.

Which Creatine is best?

Aside from the obvious price differences, there are also several different types of Creatine in the form of creatine monohydrate, creatine citrate, creatine phosphate, tri-creatine malate, creatine-magnesium chelate and even liquid “ creatine serum”. The newest at the moment being Creatine Ethyl-Ester which is apparently the next best thing. The Problem here is that the overwhelming majority of research to date on the effects of creatine and muscle mass/performance used the monohydrate form and most creatine found in supplements and food is in the monohydrate form.

That fact alone should do it, or the fact monohydrate is the cheapest and easiest to obtain supplement should persuade you away from the lesser tested variations.
Many of these companies try to claim monohydrate is poorly absorbed or that it makes you bloat or hold water – However there is yet to be studies performed side-by-side to compare the differences and the research just simply hasn’t been performed to make these bogus claims. We basically have one of the most researched supplements known to man, shown to be safe, effective and cheap and yet for some reason people are still being drawn toward the new fancy unproven products. I’m not for a moment saying they are not effective, just that they are untested over time. Stick with what we know works!

Are You Training Or Exercising? Rippetoe ‘Throws Down’ (as usual!)

A great article (http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/rippetoe_throws_down&cr=) at T-nation by Rippetoe recently. I’ve always liked his straight talking opinion – here’s some others (http://www.t-nation.com/ALSAuthor.do?p=Mark%20Rippetoe&pageNo=1) if you’re interested.

Stop Doing Sit-ups! .. Why Conventional Ab Training Just Doesn’t Work

I’ve written a few posts now on Hyper Lordosis or Anterior Pelvic Tilt and it’s effects on lifting. The fact is, almost everyone has a degree of hyper-lordosis due to the fact we all use chairs far too often! From working to travelling to relaxing, it is all usually done in a seated position, this then in turn re-inforces the poor posture already lurking, causes tight lower back/hip flexors and weak or elongated abdominals/gluteals.

man-with-fat-bellyMost of us then try to address it with some stretching of tight muscles and strengthening the weaker ones. The problem with strengthening the abs is that the overwhelming majority simply don’t know how to. They will do something like sit-ups or crunches and hold a plank for minutes on end. The problem with these is:

  • Situps work your hip flexors more than your abs, especially with the classic jerking off the floor type, crunches are a little better, but still involve the hip flexors and tend to lead to…
  • Upper back rounding – When crunches are performed the movement reinforces poor posture by causing you to round your upper back each rep so leading into Kyphosis or a Neanderthal type posture – Instead of keeping your shoulders back and down with good posture, you’re constantly rounding your upper back and pushing your chin forward.
  • Too much flexion and extension of the spine. Alot of people do situps by arching the lower back, pulling their body up with the hip flexors, then rounding forward towards the top of each rep. Think about it – what happens when you keep bending something back and forward over time? SNAP!
  • Most people hold a plank ‘passively’ – hips sagging and upper back rounded (see post on RKC Plank for a better option)
  • Due to the law of reciprocal inhibition (when a muscle on one side of a joint contracts, the other opposing muscle relaxes), your already inactive or weak glutes get weaker every rep because your hip flexors are strengthened with every rep! In other words – Sit-ups exagerate the problem you’re trying to address!!

Real Abdominal or Core Strength is simply the ability to stabilise the spine especially when under load. This is the primary job of the abs after all! How often are we even required to perform a sit-up/crunch type movement? I can’t even think of an example after getting out of bed! But, I can certainly think of many an occassion where I am supporting a load – Carrying shopping, picking up the kids/pets, moving things around, picking things up, etc etc.

If you’re already doing heavy deadlifts/squats/press’s then your core will already be getting plenty of stabilisation, if not, or you want to focus on it a little more you can’t go wrong with looking at the olympic weightlifters (especially the lightweight category). They are required to stabilise huge loads overhead and generally have the physique to match! Makes sense really, if you’re going to lift something heavy over your head then your abs are going to have to work overtime to keep your torso upright and stabilized.

To work on stabilisation, you can’t beat a bridge/plank type movement (performed correctly!)the light-weight Olympic lifters do things like supporting weight on their stomachs while they’re laying over two chairs, making their abs a “bridge” for the weight and forcing their whole core to stabilize and work to keep their back straight. A bit of an extreme version for most, but it is the general ‘bridging’ principle we’re looking at – Try the RKC plank to start.

Instead of doing hundreds of reps of easy situps and causing so many muscle imbalances, un-even weaknesses and strengths… if you’re going to do abdominal exercises to train your abs to contract your body in half… you should try harder ab exercises.

Try and focus more on lower ab work. Most people have weaker lower abs compared to their upper abs. This is usually due to crunches and upper ab work like that.

On top of that, posterioral problems and muscle imbalances are common from doing so many situps and from crunching your ribcage down towards your pelvis. You need to work your abs in a different plane of motion.

If you are lifting heavily on a regular basis, there is a great move for strengthening the abs, but also to stretch (decompress) your spine from those heavy loads. The Hanging Leg Raise and its variations

  • They strengthen your abs
  • They decompress your spine
  • They stretch your back
  • They help Correct Lordosis by training you to tilt your pelvis posteriorly and up.

Train your abs the way they were meant to be – As spinal stabilizers and with harder contraction exercises.

Dumbbell Vs Barbell Bench Press – Which is Better?

A frequently asked question when it comes to chest training is ‘Are Dumbells better or worse than a Barbell?’ – There is no yes or no answer to this one, it is entirely dependant on your goals.

As you can load a barbell gradually with minor increases in weight, they are the ideal tool for building strength. To get stronger you need to progressively lift more weight over a period of time. If you can’t, something is not right – You can perform all the drop-sets/supersets/giant sets/forced reps etc etc, but if the weight is not increasing, you will not get stronger – You will plateau much quicker with Dumbbells due to the large increase in weight percentage between them. Even a well stocked gym will have the weight increases around the 2.5kg mark. This is as increase of 5kg on your lift which is going to be a challenge for most and makes progressive loading nigh impossible. If your goal is pure strength you can load significantly more onto a barbell due to its balance and stability and so is the perfect tool in this situation.

Muscular imbalance is another thing to address. Although you can try and be more aware of pushing equally or focusing on leading with the weaker side, with a Barbell imbalances can be masked. When using Dumbbells you will be much more aware of imbalances as one side will be unstable or will fatigue first, and will prevent your dominant side from growing faster than the other. Balanced body strength leads to greater performance and lowers the chance of injury.

The Barbell bench press is also harder on your joints than dumbbells. When pressing with dumbbells, your hands won’t remain completely pronated (palms forward), but will rotate slightly inwards reducing the stress on your wrists elbows and shoulders (particularly rotator cuff) and therefore reducing your chance of injury.

With regard to muscle recruitment, researchers noted that electrical activity or muscle stimulation in the arms was greatest in the triceps with a barbell, but when dumbbells are used the biceps also come into play as stabilisers. The Barbell activates more upper chest fibres and anterior deltoid due to the wide grip in the top position, however as your hands are free to move across your body with dumbbell presses there is greater lower pectoral activation. Although yes, you will use more stabilising muscles with the dumbbells, you will be limited by the weight increases as previously mentioned meaning you will plateau sooner.

In my opinion the barbell is the better option as you can handle a lot more weight doing the same exercises. More weight moved = bigger muscles. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use dumbbells, you should try and use both – Just keep the main focus on increasing the weight on the bar and use dumbbell sets to ensure you work the entire chest area, prevent imbalances and keep your joints healthy.

In a nutshell:

Franco ColumoBarbell – Heavier weight handled, better mass gain, easier for beginners, greater progression (stall less often).

Ronnie ColemanDumbbell – Better for balance and stabilisation, no need for spotter, less stress on joints, slightly increased range of motion.