Use barbells to work your entire body.
A barbell is a long metal bar; on the ends, you add weight plates to make it heavier and harder to lift. Traditional Olympic barbells weigh 45 pounds and the weight plates you can add range from two-and-a-half pounds to 45 pounds. Despite being more associated with strength training and building huge muscles, working out with barbells can also help women build lean muscle mass, increase fitness and lose body fat. While women should generally train in exactly the same manner as men, there are a few subtle differences you can do with your barbell exercise selection.
Start with just an empty barbell for every exercise to get your form perfect, then add weight gradually as you get more comfortable with each exercise. Perform two to three barbell-based full-body sessions each week and try to add five pounds to each exercise or perform a few extra reps every workout.
Squats and deadlifts are the two staple barbell exercises for working your legs. Back squats work your quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes and core, making them the ideal lower-body move. Some women have trouble with back squats though, claims strength coach Nia Shanks. If this is the case, consider switching to front squats, with the bar resting across your collar bone and front shoulders rather than across your upper-back. If you struggle with barbell deadlifts, try rack pulls, with the barbell in a raised position, or even single-legged deadlifts, advises Shanks. Lunges are another staple barbell leg exercise, but women should step backwards, not forwards when lunging, according to personal trainer John Romaniello of Roman Fitness Systems. This places more emphasis on your hamstrings and glutes than on your quads.
Upper-Body Pushing Moves
Break away from your usual chest routine of machine presses and pushups and start using barbells instead. Bench pressing builds your chest and triceps and is a multi-joint compound move, so it works many different muscle fibers. Perform bench presses on a flat, incline or decline bench. For your shoulders, barbell overhead presses are perfect. Stand up to do them or sit on a bench set at 90 degrees.
Upper-Body Pulling Moves
Many women overlook their back muscles as they're not one of the "mirror muscles," claims New York-based trainer Joe Dowdell. Make barbell rows a foundation of your routine. Use a shoulder-width overhand grip and bend forward at your waist, then row the barbell to your upper abdomen. Keep your back flat and avoid rounding over. Inverted rows are a good choice too. Place a barbell across the pins in a power rack set at chest-height, lie underneath it so the bar is by your chest, grab the bar and pull yourself up like you're doing a pullup until your chest is a few inches from the bar. Pause briefly then lower yourself back down slowly.
If you've never trained with barbells before, be sure to learn the correct techniques. And even if you have dabbled with barbell training, it's worth getting someone to check your form like a qualified trainer.