Dumbbells and kettlebells are great strength-training tools, but when it comes to significantly upping the resistance in your workouts to build strength, barbells reign supreme. That’s because they’re the easiest free weights to add a lot of weight to—the bar itself never gets bulkier or harder to grip, even when you’re lifting hundreds of pounds. If you’re looking to challenge your lower body and lift heavier over time, the lower-body barbell workout below is a great one to try.
“Working the lower body is incredibly important,” says workout creator Morit Summers, certified personal trainer and owner of Form Fitness Brooklyn. This barbell workout uses all of the muscles in your lower body, including your glutes, hamstrings, and quads. Strength in all of these areas will help you do everyday activities better, and keep your body strong and stable to handle anything life throws its way. This workout is also great for your core—you’ll have to keep your midsection engaged throughout to maintain stability and do these exercises with proper form.
One quick safety note: You should feel comfortable doing these movements with lighter dumbbells or kettlebells before trying them with barbells. “Safety comes first,” says Summers.
Speaking of which, Summers adds that it’s best to start lighter than you think you need and slowly increase the weight from there. Try starting with just the bar and seeing how that feels for a few reps. If it’s too easy, add some weight. (A standard barbell weighs 45 pounds, so it may be plenty challenging for you without adding any plates.) Keep doing this until you hit a weight that feels challenging, but that you can do 8 to 12 reps with and still maintain proper form.
As you do these exercises, focus on good posture, and think about maintaining tension in your core muscles.
- Barbell Back Squat
- Barbell Reverse Lunge
- Barbell Dead Lift
- Barbell Hip Thrust
- Do 8 to 12 reps of each exercise. Your rest time is the time it takes to transition to the next exercise.
- Rest one or two minutes between sets.
- Do three or four sets.
Here’s how to do each move
1. Barbell Back Squat
- Grab a barbell inside a squat rack with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart. Duck underneath the bar and push your upper back against the bar so that the bar is resting on the very top of your upper back. Stand up and walk yourself backward a few steps away from the squat rack. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes turned out just an inch or two.
- Push your hips back and bend your knees to lower into a squat, pushing your knees slightly out to the sides. Squat until your quads are parallel to the ground, or shallower if that is all your mobility allows.
- Push through both heels to stand back up. That’s one rep.
- Do 8 to 12 reps.
2. Barbell Reverse Lunge
- Grab a barbell inside a squat rack with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart. Duck underneath the bar and push your upper back against the bar so that the bar is resting on the very top of your upper back. Stand up and walk yourself backward a few steps away from the squat rack. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Lift your left foot and step back about two feet, landing on the ball of your foot and keeping your heel off the floor. Bend both knees until your right quad and left shin are approximately parallel to the floor. Your torso should lean slightly forward so your back is flat and not arched or rounded. Your right knee should be above your right foot, and your butt and core should be engaged.
- Push through the heel of your right foot to return to standing. That’s one rep.
- Do 8 to 12 reps on each leg.
3. Barbell Dead Lift
- Stand behind a barbell with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Sit your hips back, bend your knees slightly, and press them out to the sides (so that they don’t cave in), and lean your torso forward, maintaining a tight core and flat back. Grab the bar, placing your hands shoulder-width apart, palms facing in toward your body.
- Push your feet into the floor and stand up tall, pulling the weight with you and keeping your arms straight. Bring your hips forward and squeeze your abs and glutes at the top.
- Slowly reverse the movement, bending your knees and pushing your butt back to lower the weight back to the floor. Keep the bar close to your body the entire time and maintain a flat back. This is one rep.
- Do 8 to 12 reps.
4. Barbell Hip Thrust
- Sit on the floor with your back to a bench. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the ground, hip-distance apart. Rest your upper back on the edge of the bench, and slowly lift or slide the bar over you legs and rest it in the crease of your hips. The plates (if you are using them) should be resting on the floor.
- Drive through your heels to lift your hips up toward the ceiling, keeping your upper back in place on the bench.
- Pause and squeeze your glutes at the top.
- In a slow and controlled motion, lower your butt back toward the ground. This is one rep.
- Do 8 to 12 reps.