Currently we reside in a 6000sq ft training paradise. We have 40 yards of indoor turf (the real deal, not the glorified snooker table felt I see in most set ups) and all the toys you could wish for from the likes of Watson, Rogue, A Unit, Conecpt 2 and Airdyne.

However, things weren’t always this way. Rewind to 2007 and I was training clients out of a small martial arts studio (Thanks to one of my first coaches and future client UFC veteran Ian ‘The Machine’ Freeman) as well as on a local running track using homemade sleds, farmers walks, sand bags and kegs (Damn straight I was influenced by Brooks Kubik’s Dinosaur Training, which is still one of my all time favourite books on strength training).

Even when I finally realised my dream of a warehouse facility it was less than half the size of present premises and I was doubly broke. Thus when I opened the doors in January 2009 I only offered the essentials. This consisted of power racks, speciality barbells, some dumbbells (It took me almost 6 months to afford a full set)  and kettlebells, 45 Raise and a Glute Ham Raise. In fact such was my austerity I could only afford 12 gym mats to protect the floor. Thus 80% of the facility was unmated.Yet I got the job done.

Many times we are visited by individuals wanting to set up their own ‘Spartan’ and right from the start they want 10,000sq ft filled with everything we have and more. My advice is always the same – start small, buy only what you truly need and can afford. Work your ass off to deliver effective programmes on the basics of equipment. Invest and grow over time. Some listen, some don’t. Some are still in business, some aren’t.

Despite my sob story above I actually believe I started with too much equipment, not too little. If I had my time again I would focus heavily upon what would most likely have Mark Rippetoe and Jim Wendler’s approval – barbell lifts. They provide the biggest return on investment and all clients irrespective of goal/ability will benefit from learning their use.

Below are some of my favourite ways to use barbells with my clients.

1. Front Squat – I personally prefer these to back squats due to the demands placed upon an individuals quads, core and upper back musculature. The bar position requires a more upright vertical torso than back squats, giving a quad dominant movement which promotes greater mobility in the ankle, knee and hips. Increased core stability is required as standard along with upper back recruitment in order to maintain optimal position throughout the movement.

2. Buffalo Bar Bench Press – The cornerstone of international chest day, the bench press is a great exercise to develop strength and mass in the chest, shoulders and triceps. Whilst a straight barbell is the standard here, I personally get a lot out of using a slightly cambered bar such as the Ironmind Buffalo Bar or Duffalo Bar from Chris Duffin. I find the thicker barbell far more comfortable on the hands and wrists. The slight camber also leads to a greater range of motion which can be useful in developing low end strength. I initially assumed that the extra stretch from the greater range of motion would pose an injury risk, yet I have had zero issues over the last 8 years either with myself or clients. On the contrary we have found these to be our preferred bar.

3. Trap Deadlift / Loaded Carry

Unless my client is a competitive powerlifter, where conventional deadlifting is a prerequisite, I actually prefer using Trap Bars in their programming, especially with athletes. The neutral hand grip and central positioning of the load facilitates a more optimal starting position.

Whilst my preference, that does not mean we exclude conventional deadlift from my programmes. In fact due to the quad dominated nature of the trap bar lift, I recommend you ensure you emphasise the posterior chain during accessory lifts, such as RDL’s, 45 Raise, GHR and Swings.

I also value the versatility of the trap bar. I use it for many pressing and rowing variations too. However, I find it invaluable to develop loaded carry ability. Loaded carries are a staple in my programming with all populations such is their value which includes:


* They demand a strong core brace, which ensures the spine remains neutral by protecting against both shear and compressive forces. This is supported by Stuart Mcgill and colleagues’ recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

* Enhanced proprioception as the individual must move with the load whilst maintaining the above core brace.

* Mentally challenging. In my experience along with heavy prowler work, loaded carries easily identify those with strength in the most important yet often overlooked muscle in the body – the mind.

* Encourage increased muscle growth due to extended muscular tension. A sustained high level of force output from all musculature is required to complete any appropriately weighted loaded carry. In particular the upper back, forearms and knee musculature benefit from this prolonged stimulus.

* Provide a unique conditioning effect, especially when different carries are combined e.g. Overhead walks into farmer’s walk.

All the above benefits from a single exercise alone. Talk about training efficiency! In terms of simple impact, Dan John rates loaded carries as the number one ‘game changer’ for athletes. I couldn’t agree more and they will work just as well for the non-athlete too.

The farmer’s walk is particularly useful at developing Vastus Medialis (VM) strength. Many individuals display insufficient VM development and strength levels. A stronger VM will help prevent many common knee injuries such as ACL tears.

4. Overhead Barbell Walk

A regularly utilized tool in renowned champion weightlifter Vasily Alexeyev’s routine, the overhead carry is tremendous at developing the shoulders, serratus and the oblique’s. I have also experienced great success with these whilst rehabbing shoulder injuries.

This can be made more challenging for the advanced individual by incorporating bands or chains to overload the core musculature and increase the need for balance. Caution must be taken with these additions. Along with the greater stabilization requirement and training effect comes an increased risk of injury.

5. Axle Zercher Squat

This provides a tremendous stimulus for the entire core musculature whilst stressing the upper back and arms to a high degree. I also find it a smarter choice for individuals who can’t get overhead safely due to flexibility or injury issues.

If possible use a thick barbell (2”+) over a standard Olympic barbell. There will always be an element of pain holding the bar in the elbow joint between the bicep and forearm, but this is far less severe with a thicker bar, which helps distribute the weight more evenly than a thin bar.


When performing the above lifts I prefer my clients master their use without the aid of a lifting belt. This is to ensure their core is strengthened whilst we teach them how to brace effectively and not lose position under load. When belts are incorporated I prefer to reserve their use for lifts greater than 80% of 1RM. Even then, the belts must be used correctly.

For great information on The Best Lifting Belts check out this article from BarBend.comhttps://barbend.com/best-lifting-belts/.

To learn how to master the barbell lifts, join us at Spartan for our hugely popular Spartan Barbell Club courses.

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