Thick bar training has become popular, due in part to the resurgence of many past training methods in the fitness world.
While the focus on basic compound and free weight exercises has merit, functional training threatens your safety. It emphasizes specific coordination and balance, skills that do not transfer, over developing general muscle size and strength.
Enough experts have promoted it though that many trainees just accept its importance. Trainees have less exposure to logic that may show otherwise.
Some claim that thick bar training improves your lifts in the long run. Instead, thick bar training reduces the strength of the prime movers, the big muscles that drive a movement, and risks your safety. Smaller stabilizer muscles that hold positions, such as your gripping muscles, exist only to support them.
Old-school strongman training includes some impressive and fun feats. Those with these skills may display great physiques and exhibit exciting displays of strength, but they still could have achieved this through safer means.
Emphasizing stabilizers through thick bar training makes little sense for these reasons.
In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.
– Galileo Galilei
- Overall results suffer.
Many argue that thick bar training increases neural drive. The mere act of holding something thick and awkward engages your forearms, hands, fingers, and thumbs more so to allow better overall performance. This is a questionable assumption.
Try this experiment. Perform the barbell bench press with a couple towels wrapped tightly around the bar. You may guess that a pushing exercise would feel unaffected by using a thick bar.
You will learn otherwise and get far fewer reps than expected. This applies especially to a pulling exercise as the weaker grip will limit you further. Even as you get used to thick bar training you will always perform poorly compared with a smaller diameter bar.
Make a fist as tightly as possible. Notice that many muscles contract throughout your body. The action of squeezing itself matters most though.
Creating tightness comes from effort, and a thick bar can actually limit it. If anything, it stretches out the gripping muscles too greatly to create as much tension.
With a thick bar, the grip either reduces the performance on the exercise or even worse it acts as the limiting factor. Instead of your chest, triceps, and shoulders getting worked hard, your grip prevents the greatest tension in these muscles on the bench press. For the row, many muscles get understimulated if you lose your grip too soon.
Thick bars then fail us both in activating the prime movers fully and in allowing tightness throughout the body for better performance.
- Stabilizers should develop naturally.
Improving grip strength should come about naturally. Heavier pulling should work well enough to address the gripping muscles.
These muscles exist merely to support the large ones. Their strength tends to mirror the development of the big muscles.
Like any stabilizer, the gripping muscles have many attachment sites, good leverage, and a small capacity for growth. They are designed to hold positions and not for movement.
- Specific work, if necessary, should focus on the grip only.
Perhaps some athletes may benefit from specific grip work. Training hard on a pull and working them during a sport probably develops the grip enough. Those that complain about a weak grip often just need chalk.
If you really need grip training, it makes sense to train this function alone, such as through holding heavy weights. Why allow a small set of muscles to limit the largest and most powerful muscles in your body? This harms any good and heavy exercise.
Some will appeal to moderation. Why not use both regular bar training and thick bar training? You should avoid thick bars because they fail to achieve any goal better than the regular tools yet add redundancy.
- It may harm the joints.
Some trainees tout how great thick bar lifting feels on their joints. Others report that thick bar lifting hurts their wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Without much support either way it seems premature to count this as an advantage.
- It risks your safety.
Without a firm grip, the bar could fall out of your hands. On the bench press, the barbell could crush you. On a row, the dumbbell could fall, with the sudden loss of the load to match the tension causing an injury.
- It requires greater concentration.
This disadvantage often gets listed as an advantage. Good exercises should feel simple, not complex. The difficulty to control a weight limits strength due to the lack of stability and overemphasis on skills.
Avoid Thick Bar Training
The muscles in the forearms and hands evolved to grip objects, yet many ignore this fact.
Some denounce the harm that isolation does for joints throughout the body yet ignore that these sort of movements damage the wrists and hands. Any sort of curl, pinch lift, or other exercise with movement at the wrist can harm you because it places immense shearing forces upon it.
Many have no access to thick bars. As such, devices like Fat Gripz that wrap around a bar have flourished. These are cheap, versatile, and simple. Unfortunately, these traits have no relevance to good or bad training.
Content that addresses thick bar training often provides an affiliate link for this product. The site owners get a commission if a user buys them through their site. This alone does not discount them but at least should make you suspicious of the bold claims that are made.
Just like Olympic lifting, thick bar training works better than nothing but jeopardizes your safety and results. Safer and more effective ways to train exist. Why take an unnecessary risk?
The standard 1 inch barbell and dumbbell diameters work well for all exercises. Too small will affect you as well. You need something large enough to squeeze.
Thick bar training gives us an example of yet another concept promoted as a secret that will unlock great gains. It provides no special benefits and reduces your overall performance, so avoid it.