A 15-Minute Barbell Workout for Beginners

Barbell deadlifts, bent-over rows and overhead presses are great exercises for those new to barbell work.
Image Credit: Ekaterina Demidova/Moment/GettyImages

If you're looking to bolster your fitness arsenal, there's no tool that's more powerful than the barbell.

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First of all, it's endlessly versatile. Chicago-based personal trainer Wesley Showalter, CSCS, founder of ShowDub Strength, refers to the barbell as the "Swiss Army knife" of gym equipment. You can use it for compound, multi-joint exercises, like squats and deadlifts, as well as single-joint exercises, like biceps curls and triceps extensions.

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"[The barbell] has a wide range of things you can do with it. And, on top of that, it's not a fixed load, meaning you can change the weights," he tells LIVESTRONG.com.

And if you want to get ‌really‌ heavy — maybe your primary goal is hypertrophy (aka muscle growth) or building maximal strength — there's no better option.

"You can generally produce more force. You can go heavier because it's one implement and two hands," Showalter says.

While you may be able to lift comparable loads with resistance training machines, like the leg press or Smith machine, a barbell workout offers the added benefit of developing stability and core strength.

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"Typically, the range of motion on machines is fixed," Showalter explains. "With a barbell, or any free weight, it's not a fixed range, which means your muscles are going to have to work in unison to stabilize [your body]," he says. For that reason, lifting with a barbell can help sharpen your proprioception, or body awareness. "The bar path isn't set, so you have to control and stabilize where it's going," Showalter adds.

However, because working with a barbell allows you to lift heavier loads while simultaneously demanding more stability, body awareness and coordination than other types of training, it's not ideal for someone just starting an exercise program.

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"You should have a decent fitness background before you do barbell stuff," Showalter says, noting that you can get strong and learn proper lifting form with equipment like kettlebells and dumbbells. "And there's usually a lot less of a learning curve," he says.

So, while the following workout is a solid starting point for someone new to the barbell, it's not appropriate for the fitness beginner just starting to work out regularly. Before giving this a go, make sure you have some resistance training experience and are familiar with basic movement patterns, like squatting, hinging and pressing overhead.

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How to Do This 15-Minute Beginner Barbell Workout

Programmed and demonstrated by Showalter, this workout requires a barbell and a squat rack. You can adjust the weight between sets, but because this workout is only 15 minutes, and adding and removing weight plates is time-consuming, you may want to pick one weight that works for all four lifts. You also have the option to use an unloaded barbell.

Do the exercises in order for the number of reps indicated for 15 minutes total, using your transition time to rest. Accumulate as many rounds and reps as possible, but prioritize proper form. Showalter describes the ideal pace as "quick but not in a hurry."

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The Workout

1. Barbell Split Squat

Reps 6
Region Lower Body
  1. Start with the barbell in a squat rack positioned slightly lower than shoulder height.
  2. Facing the barbell, step underneath it so your feet are directly under the bar. Your knees should be bent, and the barbell should rest on your upper back. With your palms facing down, grip the bar with hands a few inches outside your shoulders.
  3. Stand up to lift the bar out of the rack and take a step or two back away from the rack.
  4. With feet hip-width apart, take a large step back with your left foot. Keep your right foot flat, but allow the left heel to lift so you’re balancing on the ball of your left foot. This is the starting position.
  5. Keeping your back flat and chest lifted, bend both knees about 90 degrees so that your left knee just touches the floor. (You may want to place a cushion or mat under your knee for added comfort.) Make sure your right knee stays in line with your right toes.
  6. Push through the right foot and straighten your legs to return to the starting position.
  7. Repeat for a total of 6 reps, then switch legs.

2. Barbell Overhead Press

Reps 6
Region Upper Body
  1. Start with the barbell in a squat rack positioned slightly lower than shoulder height.
  2. With your palms facing away from you, grab the bar with hands about shoulder-width apart. Allow the bar to rest against your chest and the front of your shoulders. Your knees should be slightly bent.
  3. Stand up to lift the bar out of the rack and take a step or two back away from the rack. This is your starting position.
  4. Maintaining good posture — shoulders down and back, neck neutral, ribs stacked over pelvis, core engaged — lift the barbell directly overhead until your elbows are fully extended. Be careful not to arch your lower back.
  5. With control, lower the barbell back to your starting position.
  6. Repeat for a total of 6 reps.

3. Barbell Deadlift

Reps 6
Region Lower Body
  1. Start with the barbell on the floor. If you’re not using a loaded barbell, you may want to elevate the bar 8 to 10 inches using mats or boxes.
  2. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart and under or just in front of the barbell.
  3. Hinge at your hips, push your butt back, bend your knees slightly and grab the barbell with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your neck neutral (don’t look up or down) and back flat (don’t round your back or shoulders).
  4. Brace your core, push through your feet and drive your hips forward to come to a standing position. As you lift the barbell off the ground, keep the bar close to your shins.
  5. To lower the bar, hinge at your hips, push your butt back and bend your knees, keeping your back flat. Lightly tap the ground with the barbell and immediately perform the next rep.
  6. Repeat for a total of 6 reps.

4. Barbell Bent-Over Row

Reps 6
Region Upper Body
  1. Start with the barbell in a squat rack positioned about mid-quad height.
  2. With palms facing you, grab the barbell with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Lift the bar out of the rack and take a step or two back away from the rack.
  3. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Hinge at your hips, push your butt back, bend your knees slightly and lower the bar to just below your knees, maintaining a flat back and straight arms. This is your starting position.
  4. Keeping your core braced and your elbows close to your torso, draw the bar up toward your midsection. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the lift.
  5. Lower the bar to the starting position with control and immediately begin the next rep.
  6. Repeat for a total of 6 reps.

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