Tag Archives: deadlift

Article Request Series: What’s With All the Different Bars at Blacksmith Fitness?

We have a ton of different bars at Blacksmith Fitness: we have 5 different types of straight bars and 7 different specialty bars (and counting) and each one of them has a specific purpose! Because of how many questions we get about the different bars, I wanted to put together this article for you to show you how to integrate them into your training. Whether your goals are to build insane levels of strength and muscularity, work around an injury or immobility, or build explosive power or improve your sport, below is a detailed description of each bar and what they do

Straight Bars:

I’ve put together a little video that gives quick overview of the different straight bars, and you can check it out here https://youtu.be/f3BfTdp66TQ  and read on for more detailed descriptions

Texas Power Bar:

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We have three of these, and they’re our best all around training bars. They’re 28.5mm meaning mid-thickness and have a good compromise between whip for the deadlift and explosive movements, and stiffness for the bench press and squat. They have moderate to aggressive knurling and grip is almost never an issue. These bars are rated well over 1500lbs, and we challenge you to load enough weight on them to do them any harm.

Rogue Ohio Deadlift Bar:

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The deadlift bar vs. a standard length power bar (pictured above)

The deadlift bar is longer and thinner to allow for more bend in the bar before the plates break the floor, this allows the lifter to get a slightly higher hip position and generate more tension through the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back before the bar breaks the ground. This is the standard competition style bar for pretty much every other powerlifting federation except the IPF. Pictured below is the deadlift bar at 635lbs, you can see how much the bar flexes under moderate to heavy loads

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Rogue Ohio Power Bar:

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This is an IPF approved competition power bar. This is the stiffest bar we have, it’s also the thickest standard bar we have at 29mm, making it the best and most stable bench and squat bar in the gym. If you’re squatting anything above the mid 400’s you’ll notice how much less this bar flexes in the reversal portion of the lift, allowing you to track perfectly according to your technique, instead of the bar flex pulling you out of your path. With max attempts, or even heavy triples, the margin for error between an easy lift and one that staples you can be millimetres, so this extra stiffness really comes in handy. Pictured below is the bar loaded with 570lbs displaying very little noticeable flex. Since we now have squatters who have hit 685 and are approaching 700 (raw) we’ll soon be adding an even stiffer 65lb squat bar into the mix570-squat-opb

Texas Crosstraining Bar 25mm

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If you have small hands (coughcoachmegancough) then this is the bar you’ve been waiting for. This bar is 6ft making it sway less from side to side for smaller lifters, and has a significantly thinner shaft that will allow even the smallest hands to get full finger wrap and grip. The bar has a little more flex at lower weight for smaller lifters to learn how to use bar flex to load the hips and start more explosively.

Rogue Olympic Bar:

This is a 28mm 20kg men’s olympic bar. The main difference between this bar is the different markings (slightly wider for IWF standards) and the fact that it has bearings instead of bushings in the sleeves. The bearings allow the bar to rotate faster without causing any rotation or shift in the plates that would alter the bar path on explosive movements like cleans and snatches. It also serves as a great all purpose training bar and is our second stiffest squat bar

Specialty Bars

Ok here’s where things really get fun, these are the bars you may not have seen before, they’re made for one or two specific things, but they do them better than any other bar out there. They allow lifters to key in on weaknesses and work around injuries that would normally significantly hamper or stop them from training completely. Here they are in no particular order.

Buffalo and Duffalo Bar:

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Believe it or not, this bar is supposed to bent (buffalo bar, not duffalo pictured)

These bars are mainly meant as squat bars, but also serve as a way to work bottom end bench press strength if you’re weak off the chest by allowing a slightly increased range of motion; however, you’d better have healthy shoulders and ensure you still feel the chest doing the work. The main reason these bars are bent is to allow a slightly lower hand position in the squat, reducing the elevation of the humerus in the shoulder joint, keeping it away from some of the more sensitive tissues in the top and back of the shoulder joint. The advantage of these bars vs some of our other shoulder friendly squat bars is that the load point isn’t changed that much from a regular straight bar, so the transfer is pretty high. When I tested my one rep maxes in November I had a small tear in one of the rotator cuff muscles in the right shoulder and hadn’t squatted with a straight bar in over 3 months, the highest I went in training was 525 for 3 sets of 2 with the buffalo bar, which was good for a 570lb squat on test day with the straight bar. The Duffalo bar, which is on it’s way as we speak, has a multi-radius bend that angles the wrists slightly better for benching, and is flatter across the back, feeling a little more like straight bar on the back.

Safety Squat Bar aka The Yoke Bar

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Performing some Hatfield overload squats with a pause with the SSB

 

The safety squat bar is the most shoulder friendly option we have in the gym. It allows a totally neutral shoulder position or even a hands free position once there are plates loaded on the bar. Because the hands are elevated in front of the body or not anchored at all in free squat variations, the role of the lats in keeping the torso stiff and upright is greatly reduced. If you’re one of those squatters that falls forward in the hole, and your chest has sunken (i.e. you can’t see the logo on your chest very well anymore) or you tend to get compressed when you unrack a heavy squat, this bar is for you. It forces you to work the vertically running thoracic extenders harder than almost any other bar, and the load position makes it a really nice blend between the upright torso of a front squat but still keeping a little more load on the posterior core and chain. Another excellent use for this bar is getting those with AC joint pain to do any type of squat by turning the bar around and loading it like a front squat. This takes the arm pads and displaces the pressure across the traps instead of the collar bone, reducing pain, as well as allowing a more neutral grip putting less total pressure on the joint. Below Aaron (aka “Socks”) is pictured using the safety squat bar in this manner

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There are so many other cool uses for this bar, but the last one I’ll touch on is using them for dead squats to develop the deadlift. You do this by loading up the bar on the safety pins with your hips around the same height you’d start start your deadlift, and then squatting the weight straight up using your deadlift pattern. This is great for adding some extra volume to the deadlifting muscles in their specific muscle action without taxing the central nervous system as hard as putting the a bar in the hands. With stronger lifters or heavily stressed athletes this can be the difference between getting a productive session in or driving a nail into their recovery

The Cambered Spider Bar

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This 80lb beast is always trying to pin you to the floor! Say you fall forward in the squat, but it’s not because your chest is falling, it happens when you come out of the hole, and your hips shoot up while your shoulders go nowhere. There are many reasons this can happen beyond the scope of this article, but the cambered bar fixes all of them. It’s an awesome bar to work the hamstrings and glutes with exercises like the good morning (shown above). As opposed to a straight bar that just wants to push you down, the weight is on a hinge off the shoulder that wants to drift forward, increasing the action of both the hamstrings and the glutes in their hip extension role (think hip thrusting). Use the forward handles if you want to decrease the role of the lats and focus more on the lower and upper spinal erectors, or use the side handles to keep the back tight like you would in a regular squat, allowing you to handle more load with the hips. Like all of our other specialty squat bars, this allows for several shoulder, elbow, and wrist friendly positions

Swiss Bar Aka Neutral Press Bar 

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Aaron aka “Shorts” has had multiple shoulder dislocations but still gets his pressing in with the swiss bar

This is one of the most versatile bars we have in the gym. It centres the shoulder in a more neutral position than a straight bar, it works the shoulders harder than a straight bar and is great for anyone with a weak midpoint in their bench press that isn’t related to a technique error, it’s wicked for hammer curls, working the hard-to-train long head of the triceps, allows people with posterior shoulder pain to overhead press, and I could keep on listing. Long story short, if you have a limitation in the shoulder wrist or elbow that is keeping you from pressing with a straight bar, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to find a grip on the swiss bar that works for you. It also works great for rows, allowing you to bring the shoulder blades together and squeeze the mid back harder than you could with a straight bar. The neutral position with arms tucked more closely replicates the pressing pattern that most athletes will use in a standing position, especially if they have to deal with contact from other opponents. This bar allowed me to still get some pressing in with a torn rotator cuff and reduce the amount that I lost on my bench press to only 30lbs over 12 weeks, where had I had to stop pressing completely I most likely would have lost 40-60lbs more

The Trap Bars aka Hex Bars

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Luke Allard Deadlifting 460lbs with the wider trap bar (80lb bar)

You’ve probably seen these before, so instead of telling you what to do with them, I’ll tell you why we have two different ones. The first trap bar, pictured above, has wider handles, working the traps and the upper back harder than the narrower version. It also has a built in deadlift jack for loading and unloading plates, and is long enough to fit inside a rack, meaning you can throw on some straps and do some serious overload work with it if need be. Combined with the extra long loading sleeves and our interlocking plates, you’ll give up before it will, guaranteed! The other cool thing you can do with this bar is perform a partial or full range overhead press where the bar travels perfectly overhead, vs a straight bar that you have to move the head out of the way, placing more stress on the front of the shoulder capsule. We also have a more standard length trap bar pictured below

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Camille rocking some farmer’s walks with the standard length trap bar

This trap bar is better for smaller people, Camille is approx 5’2″ and the wider handles put her in a snatch grip position, severely limiting the amount of weight she could lift or carry, but the smaller trap bar isn’t just for smaller people. The straight down arm position is better for trap bar jumps, and allows most people to carry more weight on loaded carries, overloading the hips, feet, knees, and ankles more effectively than they could on the longer bar.

So that outlines our current assortment of specialty bars at Blacksmith Fitness, but we’re always looking to solve problems and make our assortment even more effective. Hopefully now you can see that if you’re using the same generic straight bar for everything, you’re missing out on some serious strength, speed, power, and growth, and most importantly the ability to stay healthy while training. At Blacksmith we’re all about the important details and providing the most effective training and equipment available. In the coming weeks I’ll be doing some more articles on the other types of specialty equipment we have in the gym, but for now it’s onto the next requested article!

The Best and Worst Shoes for Lifting

What gym shoes should I get? I get this question quite often, probably due to the fact that there’s a pile of shoes beside my computer in the gym, but it’s a question that I wish the people wearing their brand new Nike runners would ask more often.

For you busy folk, here’s the best and worst footwear to wear in the gym, if you’re interested in more details, read on afterwards

  • Olympic Lifts and Variations: Olympic lifting shoes, no surprise here look at the 2016 Olympic games, I didn’t see many running shoes…I’m not even going to address this later as most of you doing the Oly lifts already know this
  • Narrow to Mid Stance Squatters: Olympic lifting shoes, a small percentage may do better with flatter shoes if they have the requisite mobility, and athletes may want to consider barefoot
  • Wide stance squatters: Chuck Taylors or wrestling shoes, look for the flattest sole and the least cushioning
  • Bench Press: If you use a high arch and tuck the feet behind you, but your federation requires you to have flat feet, use olympic shoes (you can get up to 2″ heels for the IPF). If you bench flat footed use Chuck Taylor’s or another flat soled shoe
  • Deadlift: barefoot, deadlift slippers or Chuck Taylor/equivalent
  • General training shoe: barefoot/rubberized socks, New Balance Minimus, Chuck Taylor/equivalent
  • Worst Footwear to wear for lifting: Running shoes (worst), most cross trainers (almost as bad)

So looking at this list you’d think you’d see a lot of people in bare feet, Chuck Taylors, Olympic lifting shoes, and minimalist shoes at the gym, and guess what? If you go to a serious powerlifting gym or athletic training facility, it’s exactly what you’ll see, but head to your average public gym and what do you see speckled all across the gym floor? Runners with massive heel cushioning (the worst is nike shox, thank god those have almost gone extinct).

We all know the newest Nikes make the best Instagram photos, but after that their benefits abruptly stop. On the soles of your feet are some of the most important pressure sensors (proprioceptors) in your body, they communicate to the spine and brain where your centre of mass is in relation to your the centreline of your body, they are responsible for reflexively firing the appropriate muscles to keep you from face planting in epic fashion while you stand and wait for the guy to finish curling in the squat rack. Those proprioceptors also allow you to intentionally change the focus of an exercise to accentuate the contraction of a certain chain of muscles just by placing the weight in different areas of the foot, for instance, want some more glute on the squat? Get your weight on your heels. Want more quadricep activation? Put some pressure on the ball of your foot. Want more lateral stability and to control the knees from caving in? Grind your feet into the floor so there’s some pressure on the outside of the foot. Each one of these actions signals to the body that you may fall towards the direction of the weight shift, so reflexively it will fire the muscles that will push you back towards centreline. If you buy something with even small amounts of cushioning, you reduces the strength of these reflexes resulting in reduced muscle activity, poor balance and delayed muscle firing, less total weight lifted, and you may complete that faceplate (probably not, but THAT would make a great instagram post).

So you’re all grown up now, you’re serious about training now and are ready for some serious footwear upgrading, so what should you get? I’m going to break down shoes by their usage and give you a little better idea of which ones you should consider

Squatting

If you use a narrower to mid stance more quad dominant squatting style, an olympic lifting shoe can help put even more pressure on the ball of the foot allowing for more quad activation. The raised heel acts as artificial ankle range, allowing the knee to travel further past the toes and the increased joint angle at the knee again allows for more quad activation. These can be especially useful for taller lifters who must stay more upright to avoid falling forward. Heel heights range from 0.5 inches (something like the Adidas powerlift trainer or some Rogue Do-wins) to the standard 0.75 inches (the most popular being the Adidas Adipower and the Nike Romaleos) to some models going as high as 2inches, although these are much rarer and harder to find. Choose your heel height by finding the lowest heel that allows you to hit full depth without any serious movement compensations. Long term this will allow you to get the benefits of using a raised heel while still getting significant contribution from the glutes and other important squatting muscles that can add to you total poundage lifted. m21865-web2

the Adidas Adipower, my personal favourite squatting and olympic lifting shoe

while there are a plethora of options for olympic lifting shoes, you’re looking for some main things when buying a pair:

  1. Hard heel material – avoid rubber or any type of foam, no matter how hard it may feel to your hands, it will compress under high loads
  2. Metatarsal strap – lock the foot in, may control some pronation or deformation of the foot under load
  3. Correct heel height for your squatting style

when in doubt, choose from the two most popular shoes out there, they’re popular for a reason: if you have a narrower foot, buy the Adidas Adipower, if you have a wider foot, buy the Nike Romaleos.

If you use a wider stance, use a flatter shoe to allow more glute and hip activation with slightly less contribution from the quads; the less cushioning the better. The all time classic is the original Chuck Taylor; I don’t have any concrete data in front of me, but I’m willing to bet that more world record squats have been set in this shoe than any other shoe on the market. Sadly, the new Chuck Taylors have more cushioning and sadly are not as good as the predecessor for our intended purposes. Some other options include:

  • Rubberized socks such as those by pedestal footwear (may not be legal for competition in your federation, worth checking into)
  • Chuck Taylor knockoffs with removable insoles, and take the insoles out

Chuck Taylor knock offs may be the best option as they allow you to upshot 793e94ef9246237623ad3d23fa492230_original.png

The Pedestal Footwear rubberized socks (thanks to Tony Gentilcore for letting me know these exist)

Lastly if you’re an athlete no matter what stance you use, you may want to consider minimalist options or barefoot. Minimalist shoes or barefoot squatting will require you to make small corrections in foot posture to maintain balance and apply power, much as you need to do while jumping, running, or cutting on a field or court.

Bench Press

Anything that allows you to grip the floor with a solid connection is good to go. Some lifters who lift in the IPF or other federations that require a totally flat foot may want to consider olympic lifting shoes if they bench with a large arch, this will allow you to tuck your feet further underneath you while keeping the feet flat on the floor, many female benchers with great spinal mobility will bench like this with great success. I’ll repeat this for the last time, but again, we’re looking for as little cushioning and the best connection to the ground.

Deadlift

You’re looking for the lowest profile hardest soled shoe you can find, if you deadlift conventional you want as close to barefoot as you possibly can, reducing the total range of motion of the lift. For competition you can get deadlift slippers, which are really glorified socks but fit the legal requirements as footwear for most powerlifting federations. If you deadlift hybrid or sumo style, you still want to be as close and connected to the ground as possible, but you also want something the you can push out against to allow for better glute and hip activation, again something like the original Chuck Taylor that allows you to sit inside the sole works best. If you don’t have competitive plans, or just want to do a majority of your training barefoot, this is also a great option

Best General Training Shoes:

If you don’t have competitive goals and just want a good all around shoe to lift in, Chuck Taylors, the aforementioned rubberized socks, or the New Balance Minimus MX20 are your best options. Although the original Chuck Taylor is tough to beat, people with wider feet may find them uncomfortable for longer periods of time or downright unbearable, this person may benefit from the wider toe box of the New Balance, or could go with something like the Pedestal 2.0 sock (I’ve yet to hear of anyone who’s had fit issues with these). I spend my entire days in the gym, and when I’m just training other people, but need to be ready to demonstrate an exercise at a moment’s notice, I’m in my MX20s all day.

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The timeless classic, the original Chuck Taylors

For what it’s worth, I personally use the Adidas Adipower for squatting, Chuck Taylors for benching and deadlifting, and either barefoot/socks or the Vibram Five Fingers for kettlebell work, and whatever I’m wearing for general training and accessory/machine work. Hope you enjoyed reading this article and feel free to shoot me any questions you may have