4-Step Plan to a Full-Body Barbell Workout | Master the Move

Tony Bonvechio
by Tony Bonvechio
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4-Step Plan to a Full-Body Barbell Workout | Master the Move

Most people start exercising to feel better, look better and be healthier. All of these goals can be accomplished without ever touching a barbell. However, in the gym world, knowing how to handle that long bar adds dimension to your workouts, in terms of gaining strength, losing fat and building muscle.

Before you grab a barbell and slap on a couple 45-pound plates, master these four basic exercises with dumbbells.


The squat is the epitome of all lower body exercises. Revered by strength seekers, high-level athletes and average fitness folks alike for its leg-shaping and booty-building abilities, squats hit every muscle in your lower half while building mobility and coordination. While the barbell back squat has the most strength- and muscle-building potential, it’s usually not a good fit for beginners. Instead, try the dumbbell goblet squat first.

The move: Stand with your feet wider than hip width and toes pointing slightly out. Hold the weight under your chin in front of your chest, then squat straight down.

The goblet squat teaches pristine squat technique. Plus, it shifts emphasis to your core muscles, which protects your lower back and lets you focus on leg strength.

Progress to the Barbell Back Squat when you can squat …

Men: 100 pounds for 5 reps
Women: 60 pounds for 5 reps


The bench press dominates every gym every day, but most lifters aren’t ready to bench press as quickly as they think. Rather than lounging on a bench flopping around under a loaded bar, most people would be better served learning to do pushups with perfect technique. They’ll build their chest and triceps muscles, plus proper pushup form promotes healthy shoulders. That’s a win-win.

The move: Start with plank, then do plank with a single-leg lift. Next try hands elevated, before building to the eccentric pushup dropping slowly to the ground, finally try band-assisted pushups — all of these moves are meant to help learn proper alignment before moving onto pushups and ultimately the bench press.

Progress to the Barbell Bench Press when you can do …

Men: 10 pushups with perfect technique
Women: 5 pushups with perfect technique


The deadlift rivals the squat for the greatest bang-for-your-buck exercise of all time. And what’s more relevant to everyday life than picking up something heavy off the ground? Learn to do that properly and you’ve set yourself up for a lifetime of healthy living.

The kettlebell sumo deadlift requires less flexibility than the barbell deadlift and naturally uses less weight than its barbell counterpart, making it the perfect choice for new exercisers. Though  a kettlebell works best because of its ergonomic handle, a dumbbell stood on its end works fine, too.

The move: With legs in a wide stance and the kettlebell between your feet, squat down, keeping your shoulders back, come to standing with glutes tight. Repeat.

Progress to the Barbell Deadlift when you can do …

Men: 135 pounds for 5 reps
Women: 95 pounds for 5 reps


The upper back is the unsung hero of a strong and sculpted physique. A distant cousin to the pullup, the inverted row challenges all the muscles of your upper back without the potential strain on your neck or lower back that comes with the barbell bent-over row. And while they’re both excellent exercise choices for strength and muscle, the inverted row is the preferred choice for beginners because all it requires is your own bodyweight, and you don’t have to pick the weight up off the floor.

What’s more, the inverted row challenges core strength and posture by forcing you to maintain a straight line from head to toe.

The move: Set up a bar at hip height, then move under the bar, face up, and pull your chest to the barbell, as if you’re in a reverse pushup, maintaining a straight line from head to toe.

Progress to the Barbell Bent-Over Row when you can do …

Men: 10 reps with your body parallel to the ground
Women: 10 reps with your body at a 45 degree angle to the ground

About the Author

Tony Bonvechio
Tony Bonvechio

Tony Bonvechio (@bonvecstrength) is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA, and a personal trainer in Providence, RI. A former college baseball player turned powerlifter, he earned his Master’s degree in Exercise Science from Adelphi University. You can read more from Tony at bonvecstrength.com.


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