Specialty Barbells: How to Use Them -- and Why
Author: Aimee Heckel Published: 6/30/2022
In a world of straight barbells, these guys look different. Some are curvier or thicc. Some have handles or pads or all kinds of different grip angles that can look confusing to use – even if you’re not new to the gym.
But there are two things these specialty bars all have in common: 1. They all have metal, loadable sleeves you can stack weight plates onto; and 2. They’ll all help you get yoked as heck.
Here’s a closer look at seven popular specialty barbells: what they are, how to use them, and why you want to.
Safety Squat Bar
What it is: The Safety Squat Bar has cambered ends and handles that bring your hands in front of your body, rather than out to your sides like a straight barbell.
How to use it: Back squats are the most common use for a safety squat bar, but you can do a ton more: overhead presses, skull crushers, calf raises, you name it. Check out this article for more exercise ideas.
Why use it: Use it for a wide variety of exercises; a different challenge (it sits higher on your shoulders and the camber drops the weight below bar height); and comfort. It reduces stress on your elbows, shoulders, and wrists, making it great for people with limited shoulder mobility who find straight bar squatting uncomfortable. It helps squat form by improving your ability to remain upright, while also training your midline more. It can also help preserve your upper body strength on leg days.
Learn more about the Safety Squat Bar here.
Cambered Swiss Bar
What it is: The Swiss bar has a ladder-like design in the middle with angled rungs to create various grip options. REP’s Swiss bar also features a cambered design, and the outermost handle is set at a deficit.
How to use it: The Swiss bar is best known as a bench press accessory/alternative, but it can also be used for lat pull-downs, seal rows, ab rollouts, front squats, hammer curls, triceps extensions, and a ton more.
Why use it: It’s great for a wide variety of exercises and a greater range of motion due to the cambered design. Neutral-grip variations are gentler on the shoulders when benching. The arch also offsets the weight from your grip, creating a pendulum effect, so you must engage more muscles to stabilize the bar, creating a different stimulus than a traditional barbell.
Learn more about the Cambered Swiss Bar here.
What it is: A Curl Bar, also called an EZ bar, features a bent shaft, weighs less than a standard barbell (30lbs), and is shorter (4’6” long).
How to use it: The Curl Bar is (go figure) specifically designed for biceps curls (from preacher curls to reverse curls), although you can also use it for skull crushers, overhead triceps extensions, and more. You could also use it for close grip chest presses or upright rows, although many people prefer to use the Curl Bar for exercises that target smaller muscle groups, like arms.
Why use it: The bent shaft reduces joint strain. The bends allow for a semi-supinated grip, which limits the stress on wrists and elbows.
Learn more about the Curl Bar here.
Rackable Curl Bar
What it is: This is like the Curl Bar (EZ bar) with a bent shaft, except it weighs more (35lbs) and is longer (6’2”) -- long enough to rack in a standard-width power rack.
How to use it: Use the Rackable Curl Bar in all the same ways as the standard Curl Bar. The ability to rack it makes it easier to load the sleeves with plates and more comfortable to get into position for your lifts.
Why use it: The semi-supinated grip limits stress on wrists and elbows, reducing common injury risk.
Learn more about the Rackable Curl Bar here.
What it is: This hexagonal-shaped bar (also called a “hex bar”) allows for the equal distribution of weight around the body, instead of just in front like a regular deadlift. The bar features dual handles (standard and raised).
How to use it: It's typically used as a deadlift alternative. You can also use it for bent-over rows, frame carries, push-ups, Romanian deadlifts, and even kneeling shoulder presses, floor presses, and more.
Why use it: When used for trap bar deadlifts, the Trap Bar reduces stress and tension on the lumbar spine and can improve the efficiency and technique of deadlifts. It can also help people rehabbing from an injury or for lifters with a limited range of motion. The Trap Bar is more quad-dominant than conventional deadlifts, making it a great alternative for people who can’t do full-depth squats but still want a good quad workout from a compound movement.
Learn more about the Trap Bar here.
What it is: An Axle Bar is thicker, shorter (5’ or 7’ long), and lighter (17lbs or 22lbs) than a standard barbell. It has no knurling and the sleeves do not rotate.
How to use it: The Axle Bar is a Strongman and grip sport staple. Use this in all the ways you would use a regular barbell, but it’s especially great for pulls.
Why use it: Added challenge. The thick, 2” diameter is harder to hold and can strengthen your wrists and grip. Grip strength is related to stronger forearms and shoulder stability. This can translate into improved lifts on a standard barbell (because after pulling a fat bar, the regular barbell will feel like cake). The thicker bar also eliminates bar whip, so when doing heavier deadlifts, you feel all the weight right off the floor.
Learn more about the Axle Bar here.
Farmer’s Walk Handles
What it is: Two barbells with elevated handles. Farmer’s handles allow you to do weighted carries, which are essential to a functional fitness program.
How to use it: Load the sleeves with plates, grab the handles, and pick them up. Keep your hands by your sides, your shoulders engaged, and back straight. It’s common to then walk a set distance with the weight. Tip: Short, fast steps are most effective. You can also do suitcase carries. Farmer’s walks are commonly seen in Strongman.
Why use it: Farmer’s carries improve your grip, endurance, and overall strength. They work a ton of muscles all at once, like legs, glutes, lats, traps, abs, and upper back – and they especially challenge core stability.
Learn more about Farmer’s Walk Handles here.