Building Muscle With Just A Barbell | Is It Possible?

Written by Jack Boardman

Building Muscle

Looking to make gains but limited to just a barbell? The lack of equipment and gym surroundings might lead you to believe that you can’t get a proper session. You’d be wrong – a barbell workout could be everything you need for an all-over body training session.


Whether you’re a beginner or more advanced at lifting, or if you consider yourself a bodybuilder or just generally into the gym, a barbell may seem a very specified piece of kit with limits when it comes to a touch of ingenuity or diversity in your training.


Among the most common uses for a barbell is the bench press, with many people simply using it to build their chest, and presuming the only muscles worked are the pecs. However, this basic movement and popular staple in many gym rat’s training regimen, works several more muscles than just the chest. Sure, it is popular for chest building for a reason – and should be your number one go to exercise after press-ups for shredded pecs, but many people aren’t aware they’re also working your deltoids, triceps brachii when pushing, biceps brachii when lowering, latissimus dorsi and quadriceps.


This line of thinking will open up your weekly workout plan in ways you perhaps hadn’t considered before. How? Well, now you know that bench pressing not only builds your pecs, you could incorporate chest day into other muscles you want to develop. For example, throw in a tricep exercise or two after working your chest.


Further to this, you could explore muscle-fatiguing exercises. This is best utilised when used at the end of a session. Using the example of the bench press again, this would mean loading a high percentage of your one rep max onto the barbell and pressing three-five sets of three-to-five reps. You should do this strength and muscle-building work at the start of a session when your muscles are best rested. The idea with muscle fatiguing is to lift a higher number of reps of a more moderate weight.

barbell snatch

In the context of a barbell-only workout, pick a muscle you’d like to develop and place it at the beginning of your session – and then also end on this workout with three-four sets of eight-15 reps depending on your ability to recover and experience as a weightlifter.


If you are looking to build mass muscle, a barbell could be everything you need. It is true that dumbbells are best for symmetry, balance and isolated muscle building that allows a more natural movement – particularly for your arms. However, when it comes to muscle building, ingenuity isn’t key. Instead, compound lifts and basic movements are best, allowing you to increase the amount of weight you lift over time.

Try These Barbell Exercises:

Standing upward row

Shoulder press

Shoulder shrug

Bench press

Close grip press

Bicep curl




With the above list you can effectively exercise every major muscle group, but when it comes to planning, consider which movements will channel which muscles. For example, shoulder shrugs and standing upward rows will be highly effective when you do higher reps at the end of a session that begins with shoulder pressing, so as to build your shoulders and the top of your back.


Any press will mean building your triceps, so consider making a close grip press your session-ending high-rep workout.


Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

Faye Reid

Faye Reid

Writer and expert

Faye Reid has a Bachelor of Science in Sport and Exercise Physiology and a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology and Sports Nutrition. Faye has worked with numerous high-profile organisations, such as Men's Health, Sky Sports, Huddersfield Giants, Warrington Wolves, British Dressage and GB Rowing, providing her expert sports science support. Find out more about Faye's experience here: She puts her passion into practice as goal attack for her netball team, and in competitive event riding.

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