The 5 Best Barbell Exercises to Build Muscle and Burn Fat

Melissa Tucker - PURICA Ambassador
Melissa Tucker
PURICA Ambassador

Melissa Tucker, a training coach and one of Canada’s foremost global fitness competitors, is a member of our team of PURICA Ambassadors committed to providing you with healthy eating and training tips. Here are Melissa’s thoughts on the efficiency of the barbell, which allows for strength training with just one piece of equipment.

When you’re traveling or have limited equipment to train with, it’s tempting to default to bodyweight exercies, cardio or to skip your workout all together!

That’s not the compromise you want to make if you want to truly reach your strength potential. To do so, you must use free weights.

To help you reach your personal goals, let me simplify strength training so that all you need is one simple piece of equipment: a barbell.

Doing these five compound movements with the barbell will functionally challenge your muscles, joints, and balance all at once. It will also burn more calories and get more work done in less time.

Start by using an empty bar to ensure you are comfortable with the range of motion of each exercise. Then load weight as needed to challenge your last 2-3 reps of each set. Target 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps.

1. Back Squat

Muscles worked: Quads, hamstrings, hips, glutes

How to: With your feet shoulder-width apart, rest the barbell on your traps and grasp the bar with both hands facing forward and the elbows pointing down. Your arms should form a “W” shape.

Keeping your spine straight and core braced, first push your hips back, then bend your knees. Pause when your butt is just below parallel with the floor, push through your heels, and rise to starting position.

2. Overhead Press

Muscles worked: Shoulders, triceps

How to: With your feet shoulder-width apart and the barbell in front of your body at your clavicle, grip it with your elbows pointed down and forearms perpendicular to the ground.

Taking care to pull your chin back a little (to avoid smacking it with the bar), drive the bar upward in a straight line, locking out the elbows. Once the bar clears your head, bring your chin back to its original position so the barbell is right above your head or even a little further backward. Reverse the movement. Be careful not to arch your lower back too much throughout the movement.

3. Bench Press

Muscles worked: Chest, triceps, shoulders

How to: Lie on the bench with the bar racked above your upper chest. Place your hands about shoulder-width apart. Keeping your wrists straight, shoulder blades contracted, engage your glutes, and drive your heels into the floor throughout the movement. Lift the bar and bring it down across your sternum so that your arms are at about a 45-degree angle from the chest, then exhale pressing the bar back up to starting position.

4. Barbell Row

Muscles worked: Back  

How to: Bend over until your torso is parallel with the floor. Grab the bar at shoulder width, with an overhand grip. Brace your core and pull your elbows toward the ceiling, bringing the bar to your lower chest. Squeeze the shoulder blades together to emphasize scapular strength. Return the bar to the floor between sets.

5. Deadlift

Muscles worked: Glutes, hips, hamstrings, lower back  

How to: Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Point your toes forward or slightly turned out. Bend your knees a little and your hips a lot as you grasp the bar just outside of your legs. Brace your core and lift the bar by squeezing your glutes, thrusting your hips forward, and pulling your torso back and up. Be sure not to bend your knees or drop your hips too much. It’s not a squat, it’s a hinge movement, so the hips should be above the knees and the torso should be at about a 45-degree angle to the ground.

For more information, check out or email PURICA Ambassador Melissa Tucker at  And for regular healthy eating and training tips, follow us on Twitter at and like us on Facebook at *A note on vegan and vegetarian options: At PURICA, we’re committed to empowering you with the best in whole foods, supplements and positive lifestyle solutions. We support all athletes and active living people whatever your dietary preferences, although we will always do our part to raise awareness about the benefits of vegetarian or vegan options.

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