Unconventional Strength: Life Away From the Barbell

When I was in middle school my dad introduced me to one of my oldest friends, the barbell. My first workout? The bench press. If you’re shocked I remember that, don’t be, no one learns how to squat before they bench! LOL. Since then all of my days of high school football and college track and field lifting revolved around a barbell. Cleans, squats, bench, overhead press, deadlifts: these all became familiar terms to me. All of my accessory lifts were either dumbbells, core, or maybe some light bodyweight movements.

As I finished up my collegiate career, not by choice obviously, I was brought a new set of training circumstances. None. I had no obligation to lift anymore, no sport to commit to, no real reason to slap 445 lbs. on my back anymore.

During the early stages of COVID-19 and the closing of gyms, I had to get creative on how I wanted to train. Running was a pretty obvious one because you just need to, well, run. However, I did like the idea of circuit training so most of my efforts went towards that. I wanted to lift again, but with price gouging and lack of manufacturing, I was at a halt. Then, I saw that REP Fitness.com was selling sandbags. I’ve only used them once or twice but for me, that was enough to know it was something I could lift, it’s portable, and it’s the only thing in stock right now.

After the first workout, I was hooked. I loved the idea that the shifting of weight made more of a challenge. Even more, I love that I could take it anywhere! The bag is still a staple in most of my home workouts. If I could recommend something for those who wanted to do barbell movements but want a challenge in other movements, a sandbag is a good product.

Furthering my expansion towards unconventional workouts, I got my hands on a TRX and began to tinker around with calisthenics. Which I liked that the whole idea was to use your body in a variety of ways to strengthen yourself. The best part was that I really could do calisthenics anywhere. Even just knocking out some burpees before getting ready was something I enjoyed.

What I think is the best benefit of doing just body weighted movements is that it allows you to see where you fall short in terms of moving. If you can’t squat comfortably or with the correct form, having a bar on your back may not help. Even though I have only dabbled in calisthenics, I can for sure notice how the attention to detail on my form helped me when I started to reintroduce some barbell training.

The last implement I found useful, and personally what I think is the most underrated implement is the kettlebell. After hearing Joe Rogan’s podcast with Pavel Tsatsouline, which if you haven’t yet do it it’s a great listen, my perspective on the kettlebell changed tremendously. It’s a great piece for overall conditioning as well as strength. In my opinion, it’s the Swiss army knife of implements. You can do presses, swings, curls, snatches, and of course, swings. With my personal training clients I use a kettlebell goblet squat as my gate keeper for squating mechnics.

As I said earlier, if you can’t control your body, you should not be holding a bar. The kettlebell is a good “in-between” piece where I had clients do 10 repetitions of slow and controlled goblet squats with a kettlebell. If they can hold their posture and move correctly during those repetitions, then they earned the right to start squatting movements with a bar. It’s tedious I know, but if you can correct movement patterns early it will set you up for a higher rate of success later on.

What I am grateful about the whole process of COVID-19 is that it allowed to become more open to other methods of training. Using other tools that I would have not used it the gyms remained open. I strongly encourage you to think outside the box when it comes to training, because you’ll never know what will help you if you think everything’s going to harm you.

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