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Build Whole-Body Strength With Nothing But A Barbell

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

A powerlifter performing a barbell only workout.

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This whole-body barbell only workout has been designed to build functional strength and lean muscle mass.

Organised into an exercise complex, this barbell only workout will also develop muscular endurance while getting your heart rate up.

All the exercises selected for this barbell workout are big compound movements. Thus, every major muscle group will be engaged as you progress through the complex.

In addition, the freeform structure of the workout enables you to modify it to suit your training and exercise preferences. For example, you could swop any one of the exercises without impacting the mechanics of the workout.

Related: Best Olympic Barbell >
The perfect Olympic barbell for this barbell only workout.

Benefits of this barbell only workout

As briefly outlined above, this barbell workout will promote functional strength gains. Because the compound exercises are organised into a complex, meaning you progress through them as you would a circuit, you can engage multiple muscle groups in quick succession.

While also building functional strength, this workout will enhance muscle endurance. By including a couple of rounds of the below barbell complex in your weekly routine, you’ll likely start to notice an increase in general physical performance.

Furthermore, if you decide to pit yourself against the AMRAP version of this workout (explained below), you’ll induce a cardio response. This will help burn fat and improve muscle definition. And to think, you can reap all these fitness benefits with just a barbell!

Related: check out the best Olympic barbells >

Barbell only workout method

You can attack this barbell workout in a number of different ways. First, if your objective is to focus more on strength development, you should aim for near-maximal lifts. After a good warm-up and a few light to moderate lifts, start packing on the poundage until you’re in the strength training zone.

If you plan to go heavy ensure to observe strict form, aim for between 3 to 6 quality reps, and take plenty of rest between sets. Also, if you plan to max out your final set, employ the support of a spotter.

But let’s say that your aim is not purely about building strength. Perhaps you want to work muscular endurance as well. Concluding a rigorous warm-up and one or two practice sets, select a moderate weight, somewhere around 60 to 70% of maximum effort.

In contrast to the strength training approach, aim for 10 good quality reps, for 5 to 8 sets. Keep the rest periods short and try, if you can, to complete one full complex before stopping.

Barbell AMRAP

The final method you could have a go at is to treat this barbell only workout as you would an AMRAP. Set yourself a countdown timer, of either 10, 20, or 30-minutes, and try to accumulate as many repetitions as possible.

Of course, if you plan to have a bash at an AMRAP, it’s advisable to select a weight that you can perform 10 reps on for all four exercises below. When AMRAPing you want to avoid having to change up and down the weights as this impedes efficiency.

For more on AMRAP training and workout ideas, see our comprehensive guide: AMRAP Training | Everything Your Need to Know.

Barbell only workout

Barbell only workout session plan.

Stiff leg deadlift

  1. Standing in an upright position, holding your barbell at your front, organise your position so that: your feet are shoulder-width apart, the barbell is resting against the upper quadriceps, your hands are on the outside of your shoulders and evenly spaced.

  2. Before executing the exercise ensure there is a slight bend at the knee.

  3. Keeping the legs stiff – but not locked out! – hinge forward at the hip until the bar is level with or just beneath your knee cap.

  4. Under control return to the erect position.

Related: try these 4 Deadlifting Variations >

Barbell row

  1. To get the bar into position perform a stiff leg deadlift ensuring to pause when the bar is level with your knees.

  2. In this position your back must remain perfectly straight (better still slightly concaved), eyes fixed on an indefinite point to your front, arms straight.

  3. Pulling smoothly and evenly with both arms draw the barbell up from the bottom position to your navel – the bar should make physical contact with your abdomen.

  4. Under control lower the bar back to the top of the knee.

Barbell shoulder press

  1. Position your feet shoulder-width apart and stand holding an Olympic barbell at shoulder height with an overhand grip.

  2. Before executing the exercise ensure that you adopt a solid stance: tighten the core, keep the knees slightly bent, and fix your eyes forwards.

  3. Take a shallow dip at the knee, fire through the quads to assist the initial phase of the press. Of course, if you wish you can maintain a strict press.

  4. As the bar passes in front of your face the shoulders should be doing all the work.

  5. At the topmost position there should be a slight kink at the elbows: DO NOT lock out the arms.

  6. To conclude the exercise, under control lower the barbell to the start position.

Back squat

  1. To get the barbell into position, perform either a clean, or break the movement in two by doing a deadlift followed by a hang clean.

  2. When the barbell is in the front rack position – situated under your chin – you can either go ahead and perform a front squat or power press the barbell above your head and lower it down onto your trapezius muscles.

  3. Before executing the squat ensure that the barbell is positioned evenly across your back and that your feet are spaced slightly over shoulder-width.

  4. Under control slowly execute a squat ensuring to bend at the knee.

  5. Once your knees are at 90° fire through the quads as you return to the start position.

Related: try these 4 Squat Variations >


Enjoyed this barbell-only workout?

Get your hands on over 80 more with the Hungry4Fitness Book of Circuits & Workouts Vol. 3 >

Barbell only workout concludes with the hungry4fitness book.


About Adam Priest –

A former Royal Marines Commando, Adam Priest is a content writer, college lecturer, and health and wellbeing practitioner. He is also a fitness author and contributor to other websites. Connect with Adam via LinkedIn or

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