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Your 4-week barbell workout plan, whatever your level

One piece of equipment. 28 days. So many benefits.

At some point, you’ll max out on the weight you can add with dumbbells and kettlebells. Enter barbell training: one of the best (and most versatile) ways to build lean muscle and strength.

'Barbell exercises recruit multiple muscle groups and assist in even weight distribution so you can go heavier – and lifting progressively heavier means you get stronger and more muscular,' says Meg Takacs, a PT and CrossFit coach.

While dumbbells are great for targeting specific muscles (think: bicep curls), it’s easier to activate multiple muscles with barbell exercises because your grip and the bar path are stabilised and more distributed than they would be with dumbbells, Takacs adds.

While single-joint curls aren’t a bad thing, multi-joint exercises (where you tap two or more muscle groups at once) are a better strategy when it comes to maximising results, according to a study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine.

What's more, a bar (on its own, no weight plates) can also expose muscle imbalances in isolated movements, such as single-leg deadlifts and lunges. PT Shodan Rodney sums it up: 'Barbell training is part of the journey of getting fit and stronger.'

This 28-day plan requires just one barbell (no weight plates) and you're good to go. Read on to tap into the magic.

Most gyms have two barbell sizes: 20 kilograms (45 pounds) and 15 kg (37.5 lbs). The latter is thinner and shorter.

Download and keep our illustrated, mobile optimised plan for the next time you hit the gym DOWNLOAD PLAN

How to do the plan

Run through Takacs' seven-day plan four times. Screenshot or save this timetable to keep track of where you're at.

The plan involves three workout days, and four rest or active recovery days. Here's what to do on workout days:

  1. Warm-up with bodyweight versions of the exercises for each workout – do 30-seconds of each move.
  2. Complete three rounds of the prescribed exercises (some are with barbells, some body-weight), with 30-60 seconds of rest between rounds.
  3. When it comes to the barbell moves, adapt how many reps you do according to your goal. Want to build strength? Add weight plates to either end of your barbell (start with 2.5kg each end) and max out at five reps. Looking for more of a burn? Go lighter and max out at 10 to 15 reps.

    The lowdown

    • Rest means rest – take complete rest days as and when prescribed by Takacs if you're feeling totally whacked.
    • Active recovery can mean a 30-minute yoga session, a steady walk, or foam rolling or stretching. Do what makes you feel good.

      How to progress

      • Week 1: Focus on form. You can find technique tips on all of the following exercises in the Women's Health Collective exercise library.
      • Week 2: Reduce your rest time to 45 secs between each round (or 30 secs, if you did 45 secs in the first week of the plan).
      • Week 3: Either increase from 10 to 15 reps of each move, or increase the weight by adding 2.5kg plates at either end of your bar.
      • Week 4: If you've already increased the number of reps or weight you're lifting, aim to do 4 rounds of each workout.

        The kit

        • One barbell – 15kg or 20kg
        • One mat
        • One bench
        • Optional: Weight plates to add to your barbell

          The plan

          Day 1


          Do: 10 reps

          Deadlifts work the back side of the body and activate your ankle, knee and hip joints. Using a barbell, you’ll be able to perform a heavier deadlift than you’re accustomed to and, since you pick up the bar from the floor, you'll produce more power than you would with hand weights.

          Think of your butt moving back, not down, as you bend and lower the bar.

          A) Stand with the bar over the middle of your feet, shoulders squared over the bar, with your feet shoulder-width apart. With your weight in your heels and toes firmly on floor, hinge forward at the hips and bend your knees to grip the bar, hands wider than shoulders.

          B) Engaging your core and glutes, stand upright and lift the bar along the shins, keeping your back straight. Squeeze your glutes at top of the movement. Reverse to return to the start.


          Do: 30 seconds

          A) Get into plank position, with your hands under but slightly outside of your shoulders. Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor.

          B) As you lower yourself, tuck your elbows, pulling them close to your body so that your upper arms form a 45-degree angle when your torso is in the bottom position of the move. Pause, then push back to the starting position as quickly as possible. Keep your core braced the entire time.

          Hip thrusts

          Do: 10 reps

          Hip thrusts are a low-impact posterior chain movement that help you get used to hinging and extending at the hips, which is crucial for tougher moves like the back squat, says Takacs. The bar works better than dumbbells here because it ensures you are pushing up an evenly distributed load, she adds.

          Keep your neck and spine aligned throughout the movement.

          Tyler Joe

          A) Start with your back resting against a bench or box, with a foam pad on your lap if needed, and the bar in your hip crease.

          B) Heels and toes should be grounded and knees bent. Push through your feet to lift your hips until they’re parallel with the floor. Pause, then reverse the movement to return to the start. Keep your core engaged.


          Do: 30 seconds

          A) Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor and hands loosely placed behind your head.

          B) Bring your rib cage toward your pelvis, then return to the start position.

          Day 3

          Push presses

          Do: 10 reps

          Push presses develop core, back and shoulder strength and can help improve your posture.

          A) Stand holding the barbell racked at your collarbone, upper arms parallel with the floor, feet shoulder-width apart, legs straight.

          B) Initiate movement by bending your knees and sending your hips back, then powering through the hips to push the bar overhead. At the top of the press, make sure your head is between your arms so that the bar is directly over your hips and shoulders. Reverse the movement, lowering the bar with control back down to your collarbone.


          Do: 30 seconds

          A) Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor and hands loosely placed behind your head.

          B) Bring your rib cage toward your pelvis, then return to the start position.

          Bent-over rows

          Do: 10 reps

          Bent-over rows work the entire back while also engaging core, hamstring and glute strength to stabilise you in that hinge position, Takacs says.

          Tyler Joe

          A) Starting with your feet and hands wider than your shoulders, and heels and toes glued to the floor, send your hips back and grasp the bar on the floor.

          B) Squeeze your shoulder blades to row the bar to your chest, keeping the elbows in. Reverse the movement.

          Day 5

          Back squats

          Do: 10 reps

          This fundamental lift helps increase the strength of your posterior chain, joints and tendons, Takacs says.

          Heels lifting as you squat? Put plates under them for a greater range of motion.

          Tyler Joe

          A) Set up a squat rack with the bar at shoulder level or slightly below so that you can get under the bar to unrack it. Feet should be wider than shoulders, with the bar resting on your traps (the meaty part of your neck and shoulders).

          B) Grasp the bar with your hands just wider than your shoulders. Inhale and hold your breath as you squat until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Pause, engage your core and press evenly through your feet to stand.

          High knees

          Do: 30 secs

          A) Stand and lift your right leg, knee bent, and press up onto the ball of your left foot.

          B) Return to starting position and now lift your left leg, alternating legs and increasing speed as you go.


          Do: 30 secs

          A) Start on the floor on your hands and knees. Place your hands directly under your shoulders. Step your feet back, one at a time. For more stability, bring your feet wider than hip-distance apart, and bring them closer for more of a challenge. Maintain a straight line from heels through the top of your head, looking down at the floor, keeping your gaze slightly in front of your face. Now, tighten your abs, quads, glutes, and hold.

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