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Are Barbells Essential if You Want to Build Muscle in the Gym?

This might be the biggest fitness myth you still believe in.

Are barbells essential if you want to build muscle in the gym? Just because it is great to use barbells to improve your training, it does not mean that you have to use barbells to get stronger. At least, that is the opinion of Mike Israetel.

Mike Israetel has a PhD in Sport Physiology and is the co-founder of Renaissance Periodization, a YouTube channel focused on hypertrophy. He is well respected by the fitness industry and the bodybuilder community.

Israetel previously already talked about how the squat, the bench press and the deadlift are not necessarily essential for muscle growth.

Now he goes deeper and explains why barbells are not essential if you want to build muscle in the gym.

Source: Andrea Piaquadio on Pexels

Are Barbells Essential if You Want to Build Muscle in the Gym?

They are not. But that is not to say they aren’t helpful for you to achieve muscle growth. On the contrary, the barbell bench press is arguably the best exercise for chest development.

What is wrong is that many people would claim that you need to do barbell compound movements to gain the most muscle and if you aren’t doing them, you won’t get maximum gains. And the more the better, no? Not really.

Biceps Workout for Bigger ArmsSource: Tristan Le on Pexels

There isn’t a compelling argument for why barbells work better – direct evidence says that dumbbells and machines are comparable with barbells.

However, Israetel also says that if you avoid barbell compounds at all, you might be missing some of the best lifts for increasing your size (hypertrophy), such as deadlifts, squats and bench presses.

The bottom line is, if you get a high stimulus-to-fatigue ratio with barbell compounds, you should do them. If they do not give you the same pump or stimulus as before, change for dumbbells or use a machine.

See the video for all the information necessary from Mike Israetel himself.

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How Heavy Should You Lift When Training for Muscle Growth?

When training for muscle growth (hypertrophy), the weight you lift, often referred to as the training load or intensity, is an important factor to consider. Here are some guidelines to help determine how heavy you should lift:

Use a weight that challenges you: To promote muscle growth, it’s important to use a weight that challenges your muscles. This means selecting a weight that allows you to complete the desired number of repetitions within the hypertrophy rep range (generally 8 to 12 reps) with proper form, while also feeling challenging towards the end of each set.

Choose a weight that elicits fatigue: The weight you select should cause fatigue in the target muscles by the end of each set. You should feel a sense of muscular burn or fatigue during the final few reps, indicating that the weight is appropriately challenging.

Progressive overload: To continue building muscle, it’s crucial to gradually increase the demands on your muscles over time. This can be achieved through progressive overload, which involves gradually increasing the weight you lift as your muscles adapt and grow stronger. Aim to progressively increase the weight as you become more comfortable with a certain weight range to continue stimulating muscle growth.

Form and technique: While it’s important to challenge yourself with heavier weights, it’s equally important to prioritize proper form and technique. Lifting weights that are too heavy and compromise your form can increase the risk of injury and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise. Focus on maintaining good form throughout each repetition, even when using challenging weights.

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Individual capabilities: The appropriate weight will vary depending on your individual capabilities, strength level, and experience. What may be heavy for one person might be light for another. It’s important to listen to your body and select weights that are appropriate for your current fitness level.

Variation in training: Incorporating a variety of rep ranges and training modalities can be beneficial for overall muscle development. While the hypertrophy rep range (8-12 reps) is commonly associated with muscle growth, including both higher rep ranges (12-15+) and lower rep ranges (6-8) in your training can provide different stimuli and promote well-rounded muscle development.

Remember, finding the right weight is a process of trial and error. Start with a weight that challenges you within the recommended rep range, and adjust as needed based on your individual capabilities and progression. Consulting with a fitness professional or personal trainer can also provide guidance and help you determine the appropriate weight selection for your specific goals and needs.

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