We know what it’s like to be the only woman in the weight room. You’re not alone.
In this guide you will learn about barbells, how to set up a squat rack and a bench press, the most important structures in the weight room that frequently don’t have instructions on them.
Training Barbells and Olympic Barbells
Barbells come in many sizes and weights, from as small as 4ft to as large as 8ft. Most gyms have a set of standard olympic weightlifting barbells. There are two types of weightlifting barbells: a men’s bar and a women’s bar.
Why do we have women’s and men’s bars? Why is it based on gender? It’s actually because of the sport of olympic weightlifting, where the athlete specializes in the barbell snatch and the clean and jerk.
In the sport of weightlifting, women’s bars are 15kgs, 6.6ft long, and with a 0.98in diameter. Men’s bars are 20kg, 7.2ft long, and with a 2in diameter. Both barbells are capable of holding the same amount of maximum weight. All women from novice to olympic world-record holders train and compete with the women’s bar. All men train and compete with the men’s bar.
This is because in weightlifting, the movement of the snatch and clean and jerk require the barbell to spin rapidly until it’s balanced overhead. In the snatch, you are holding the barbell with a wide grip, which puts a certain strain on your wrist. It’s important that the barbell spins well and that it fits in your hands or else it could fall out of your hands mid-movement, and this has happened to weightlifters before.
In contrast, the sport of powerlifting, where the athlete specializes in squatting, deadlifting, and bench pressing, all powerlifters compete with the 20kg/45lbs bar.
It doesn’t really matter which bar you train with for most lifts, as long as you know how much it weighs. But, if you are going to be snatching and clean and jerking, it does help to use the women’s bar because it was made to handle rapid movement overhead.
How to Set Up A Squat Rack
The essential parts of any squat rack include the safety pins (to catch the bar in the event that you fail your lift) and the hooks (where you need to place the barbell for your lift).
Where do you place the hooks? Generally, you want to align them with the bottom of your shoulder.
Test the height by placing your shoulders underneath and positioning yourself under the bar. You should be able to stand up and take a few steps back.
Now squat and make sure that the barbell is above the safety pins. The safety pins should be aligned with the crease in your hips when you are in the bottom position of the squat. You are now ready to load the barbell wth weight plates.
How to Fail A Squat Properly
Failing a heavy squat is normal. It means you are reaching your limits and trying to exceed them. You typically fail a squat by placing the barbell on the safety pins and exiting either behind or in front of it.
As shown in the photo, when you’re failing a squat, continue to squat below parallel until the barbell is resting on the pins. Notice, in the picture, that the barbell is resting on the pins. The lifter should let the bar roll behind her and exit by stepping forward.
Alternatively, you can also roll the bar forward and exit by taking a step back.
How to Set Up A Bench Press
You can easily set up a bench press by aligning a bench perpendicular to a squat rack. Adjust the hooks just high enough so that you can reach and un-rack the bar to the bench press starting position.
When you position yourself on the bench, your shoulders should be in front of the barbell pins. In this photo, notice how the lifter’s shoulders are in front of the barbell pins. You can extend your arms as shown to make sure your shoulders are properly aligned before starting.
Never place collars on the ends of your barbell when you’re bench pressing. This way, in the worst case scenario, you can tilt the barbell to one side and let the plates fall off and get unstuck from underneath. This is an important safety consideration.
We strongly recommend benching with a spotter. With these safety tips and best practices in hand, you are now ready to start bench pressing and express the primal urge to push heavy things!