If you’re too intimidated to touch the barbells stacked in the corner of your gym, prepare to get un-afraid. These weight room staples aren’t just for CrossFit fiends and meatheads. Beginners, it’s time to step up to the weight plates — because it turns out barbell exercises are much simpler than they seem.
These basic exercises come together to make up a killer workout. Case in point: You can burn up to 590 calories in a BodyPump class — a barbell-based strength training workout founded in 1990 by Les Mills Snr, a four-time Olympian from New Zealand. The popular group fitness class, taught in 30, 45 or 60-minute sessions, can now be found in gyms nationwide. “I think the biggest benefit is that it is a total-body workout,” says Tara Sue Gally, Area Group X Manager at 24 Hour Fitness in New York City and a Les Mills national trainer for BodyPump. “You’re going to work all major muscle groups.”
“We always want them to bend their knees when they lift the bar.”
If you’re a workout newbie, it may be tempting to stick to bodyweight-only workouts. But adding weight to your strength routine can have many benefits. “It helps to build lean muscle mass, which is easier to attain when you’re adding weight,” Gally says. Studies show that lifting weights can improve bone density, too.
Not sure how to pick your weights? Practice each move using just the bar (depending on the equipment available at your gym, that weight alone may be enough!). When in doubt, lift light, increasing that amount depending on what feels right. “With a BodyPump class, usually we recommend that they go lighter than what they believe they can do,” Gally says. The class relies on the ‘rep effect’ to produce results — high numbers of reps that will help you feel the burn even if you’re lifting light.
Ready to make the barbell your new best friend? Get acquainted with the simple moves below (demo’d by Allan Korsunsky, Area Group X Manager at 24 Hour Fitness in New York City) before trying out a BodyPump class for yourself. Plus, since BodyPump is all about the music, you better believe we’ve got a playlist, too.
5 BodyPump Strength Exercises to Try Now
First, you’ll want to start each of these exercises in ‘set position,’ according to Gally. Your feet should be positioned directly under your hips, feet hip-distance apart. Toes should be slightly turned out, knees soft, abs in and braced. Your eyes should be looking straight ahead, and your chin should be tucked in, as opposed to jutting out. Don’t just bend at the waist to pick up your bar, either. “We always want them to bend their knees when they lift the bar,” Gally says. This will help protect your back — and ensure you’re using proper form to see some lean, mean muscle gains.
How to: Bend your knees, brace your core and pick up the bar, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width distance apart (a). Place the bar on the meaty, fleshy portion of your upper back, just below your neck. Elbows should be directly underneath the bar (b). Initiating the movement with your glutes, sit down and back, keeping knees over toes (c). Return to starting position, keeping the weight in your heels as you drive back up.
2. Upright Row
How to: Stand with arms straight, holding the bar in front of your thighs. Hands should grip the bar slightly wider than hip-distance apart (a). Keeping the bar close to your body, wrists straight, lift the bar up, elbows coming out to the side (b). Pause when the bar is chest-height and elbows are just below shoulder-height (c). Lower the bar back down, keeping it as close to the body as possible.
How to: Stand with arms straight, holding the bar a few inches away from your thighs. Hands should grip the bar slightly wider than hip-distance apart (a). Keeping chest lifted, back straight, chin in and abs braced, hinge at your hips. Initiating the movement from your glutes, slide the bar down your thighs, keeping the bar very close to the body (b). Stop just at the top of the knee line, going no lower than the middle of the kneecap (c). Return to starting position.
4. Static Lunge
How to: Bend your knees, brace your core and pick up the bar, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width distance apart (a). Place the bar on the meaty, fleshy portion of your upper back, just below your neck (b). Hands should be just outside of shoulders, elbows directly below the bar (c). With a long stride, step back with your right leg, planting the ball of the foot on the ground, heel lifted. Left knee should remain softly bent (d). Drop your right knee towards the floor (but not touching it), until your left thigh comes parallel to the floor (e). Return to standing.
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5. Rotator Press
How to: Start in set position, then transition to a split stance by stepping your left leg back slightly. Feet should be hip-distance apart, back heel lifted towards the ceiling, weight evenly distributed in both feet (a). Hold one weight plate in each hand, plates facing one another, elbows bent to a 90-degree angle (b). Keeping arms bent, spread elbows out to shoulder height (c). Keeping elbows bent, rotate weight plates up, so that the underside of your arm faces forward (d). Straighten arms, pressing plates straight up and over your head (e). Reverse the v
Your BodyPump Playlist
Now that you’ve mastered the moves, get ready to hit the gym with this awesome BodyPump-approved playlist.
This story was originally published June 2015. Updated December 2016.