It’s good news that you’re weightlifting — and that goes double if your routine includes a barbell. “The barbell is one of the best pieces of equipment that will make you work the hardest and get you stronger,” says Mathew Forzaglia, a certified personal trainer at the Fhitting Room in New York City. Because it’s so versatile (probably even more so than you think), you can adapt many of your favorite dumbbell moves to use the barbell for a full-body workout.
If you’re not sure how heavy to go, stick to lifting just the bar. Even without adding weight (the bar alone comes in 35 or 45 pounds), you can really challenge your muscles, Forzaglia adds. And if you’re new to weightlifting, mastering technique and form on the barbell is key before you start packing on plates.
Too often, Forzaglia sees men and women make common mistakes — like using the wrong grip or not engaging your core. This can lessen the effectiveness of the exercise as well as impair your safety. That’s why we’re shining a light on the right form for six popular moves. Get ready to lift!
Barbell Breakdown: 6 Common Weightlifting Mistakes
1. Front Squat
Form break: Dipping forward as you squat
If you’re holding the barbell in front of your chest, poor form may compromise the strength needed to keep your chest up as you squat down, which pulls your body forward, says Forzaglia.
How to fix it: Keep your feet a little further than hip-distance apart to stabilize you. Then, focus on keeping your elbows up to also keep your body in an upright position with your chest up.
2. Bench Press
Form break: Using the wrong grip
Using a wide grip taxes chest muscles. For newer lifters with a weaker upper body, this could lead to a shoulder injury.
How to fix it: The better way to grip the bar is to keep your hands shoulder-width apart. “Now you’ll be much stronger. You can increase the weight you’re lifting while putting less strain on your shoulders,” says Forzaglia.
3. Overhead Press
Form break: Letting hips go loose
“The overhead press is one of the hardest weightlifting moves,” says Forzaglia. He likens it to lifting the world over your head. If your hips are loose, your butt will push out, and you’ll arch your back.
How to fix it: Stand in a natural stance (feet under your hips) with your core tight and hips engaged, holding a barbell on your shoulders. When your hips and core are tight, push the barbell straight up.
Form break: The bar is too far away from your legs
Standing too far away from the barbell can pull you forward, which can hurt your lower back. “The closer you keep the weight to your body, the easier it will be to lift up,” says Forzaglia.
How to fix it: Keep your feet under your hips (unless you’re six feet or taller, then widen your stance). The barbell should be resting on the floor in front of you. Push your butt back and down as you hinge forward toward the bar. Hands should grip the barbell just outside knees. If you look down, your shoulders should be directly over toes. Pull the bar up with a neutral spine. As you stand up, the bar should go up your legs like a track (almost touching your legs). When you get to your knees, drive your hips forward to stand.
5. Front Rack Position for Squat or Overhead Press
Form break: Using full-grip right away
This one majorly burns your forearm and wrists, especially for newbies, says Forzaglia. You may give up on the move before you even start it.
How to fix it: Keeping your hands just outside of shoulder-width distance is often more comfortable. A full-grip is having four fingers underneath the bar, but that’s really difficult at first. Modify it by placing two fingers underneath, and adding one finger as your wrists start to feel more mobile. If you’re doing a squat, remember “elbows up,” especially as you’re standing up out of the squat.
6. Bent-Over Row
Form break: Jerking the bar to your body
When pulling the bar up, many people will jerk the barbell toward their body, riding on their momentum to lift the weight. On the way down, a weight that’s too heavy will cause your shoulders to round forward.
How to fix it: If you find you’re jerking by rep five of a 10-rep set, the weight is too heavy. Take off 10 pounds to be safe. You can always add back on five pounds, if that turns out to be too light. You have the right weight if the last couple reps feel difficult, but you’re not struggling to make it through the entire set.