Like all of you, I’m constantly searching for ways to add variety to my workouts.
Don’t get me wrong – the standard Olympic barbell is a tried and true staple that delivers results.
But performing the same old bench presses, squats, and deadlifts with a straight bar day after day can eventually grow repetitive and limit your progress.
That’s where specialty barbells come into play. These are barbells engineered for specific exercises or muscle groups.
I’ll provide details on the benefits of each bar along with top recommendations based on my own experience and reviews from fellow lifters.
Let’s dive in!
RELATED – Best Barbells For Your Home Gym
Table Of Contents
- 1 What Exactly Are Specialty Barbells?
- 2 What Are The Best Specialty Barbells?
- 3 What Are the Benefits of Using Specialty Barbells for Strength Training Compared to Machines?
- 4 Conclusion
What Exactly Are Specialty Barbells?
Before jumping into the specific specialty bar recommendations, let’s make sure we’re all clear on what exactly specialty barbells are.
As the name implies, these specialized barbells are uniquely designed for particular exercises or training goals.
While a standard straight Olympic bar works well for major compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, presses, and rows, specialty bars allow you to better isolate certain muscles, lift with improved form, and introduce productive variety into your programming.
Here are some of the key benefits specialty barbells can offer compared to just using a basic Olympic barbell:
- Target specific muscle groups – The shape and specialized grip placements of specialty bars let you directly work certain muscles. For example, a multi-grip bar makes it easier to completely hammer your triceps or hit different areas of the chest.
- Unlock new exercises – The different grip angles and bar shapes open up exercise options that go beyond what you can do with a generic barbell. Specialty bars expand your exercise library.
- Prevent/work around injuries – Some specialty bars reduce strain on the shoulders, wrists, and elbows by allowing a more natural range of motion compared to a straight barbell. This makes them useful for both injury prevention and working around existing injuries.
- Progressively overload with heavier weights – The specialized design of bars like the safety squat bar gives you the ability to safely lift heavier weights and overload the muscles.
Now that we’re clear on what these bars are designed for, let’s get into the cream of the crop picks for must-have specialty bars to upgrade your home gym.
I selected these based on my own extensive personal experience training with specialty bars as well as community reviews from fellow lifters.
What Are The Best Specialty Barbells?
The top specialty bars are among the most versatile, effective, and popular options on the market today.
This section will cover the ones I recommend as they’re a great value overall.
I don’t like equipment that only has one use. The more variations I can use, the better.
Let’s go over them now!
Trap Bar/Hex Bar
The trap bar, also commonly known as a hex bar, is a six-sided specialty barbell that allows you to perform deadlifts and shrugs in a neutral grip position comparable to holding dumbbells.
Here are some of the major benefits of owning a trap bar:
- A neutral position is more comfortable – Unlike a pronated grip on a straight bar, this grip position is a more natural wrist position for many lifters.
- Keeps load close to the center of gravity – This reduces lower back strain compared to a straight bar deadlift where the weight drifts out in front of you.
- Prevents grip limitations – The handles prevent the bar from rolling in your hands, allowing you to lift more weight without grip fatigue kicking in.
- Enables additional exercises – The trap bar is fantastic for shrugs, lunges, farmer’s walks, and improving squat technique when used with blocks.
- Open design (best pick) – Look for a trap bar with an open design to provide loading flexibility compared to a traditional hex trap bar.
Safety Squat Bar
The safety squat bar is arguably one of the most essential specialty barbells you can own.
The unique cambered shape allows you to squat with improved form while reducing strain on your shoulders.
Here are the key benefits that make the safety squat bar a game changer:
- Cambered design positions weight in line with your center of gravity – This allows you to squat deeper with a more upright torso compared to a straight bar which forces you forward.
- Front hand placement minimizes shoulder and elbow strain – Holding the bar in front of your body is much more comfortable than having the bar perched high on the traps with a straight bar back squat.
- Built-in rear pads ensure the bar sits securely on your back – The rear pads allow you to push hard on squats without worrying about the bar slipping or losing balance.
- Makes heavy front squats more manageable – The front rack position is more secure given the bar shape and pad support compared to an Olympic bar.
The safety squat bar completely transforms back and front squat performance. You’ll be able to use heavier weights pain-free while hitting depth consistently.
It’s also fantastic for lunges, split squats, good mornings, and other lower body movements.
A multi-grip bar, also known as a football or Swiss bar, allows you to perform pressing and pulling movements with a neutral or angled grip.
Here are some of the ways a multi-grip bar can be incorporated:
- Use different variations – With multiple handle positions, you can train different parts of your musculature more effectively.
- Alleviate shoulder discomfort – A neutral grip position is much more shoulder-friendly which helps those with shoulder injuries train around pain.
- Train triceps through greater range of motion – Adjust the grip width and angle for triceps extensions and close grip presses.
- Build back strength – Use a neutral grip for bent over rows to train more lats and get a greater effective range as well.
In summary, a multi-grip bar brings welcome versatility to pressing and pulling movements.
The cambered bar is another specialty barbell that’s incredibly versatile and useful.
It’s widely regarded as an effective tool for increasing bench press strength due to the stabilization it requires.
There are also different types of cambered bars, such as a cambered squat bar, and basic cambered multi-grip bars like the Rep Fitness option I recommended.
Here are the key features and benefits of the cambered bar:
- Gently arched shape allows greater range of motion – The camber enables you to lower the bar deeper on bench presses and overload the pecs through an extended range.
- Minimizes shoulder strain – The arched shape keeps the shoulders packed under the bar in a stable position rather than compromised at the bottom of a bench press.
- Let’s you power through sticking points – The camber lets you blast through plateaus when benching by increasing bar speed out of the bottom.
- Can be used for squats, good mornings, presses, and more – Versatile for upper and lower body movements beyond presses.
- Typically weighs 85+ lbs – The heavy weight forces your muscles to work harder stabilizing the bar on all movements.
The cambered bar has proven to be a significant enhancement for bench pressing.
It offers improved shoulder comfort and has been shown to boost chest strength when used for flat benching.
Now let’s talk about a unique specialty bar that will challenge your grip strength – the fat bar.
As the name implies, fat bars have a thicker diameter, usually around 2″, compared to a standard 28-29mm Olympic bar.
Here are some reasons to include a fat bar in your home gym collection:
- Develops crushing grip strength – The thicker bar requires strong fingers, hands, and forearms to hold onto. Your grip strength will rapidly improve because of this.
- Enhances muscle activation – Stabilizing the larger diameter challenges supporting muscles to a greater extent.
- Provides a “new” training stimulus – Training with a fat bar provides a different stimulus compared to a regular diameter barbell.
- Increases bar rigidity for heavier lifts – The thicker bar has less whip, allowing you to safely manage heavier loads.
- Improves lifting technique – Gripping the fat bar trains you to keep the bar closer to your body for better lifting technique.
The fat bar is highly useful for forging beastly grip power and granite forearms.
EZ Curl Bar
Transitioning to isolation training, an EZ curl bar is a specialty bar tailored specifically for maximizing bicep development.
The angled grips enable you to curl from different hand positions to fully train the biceps through their complete functional range of motion.
Here are some of the benefits of the EZ curl bar:
- Hit biceps from multiple angles – Adjust grip width and orientation to expose bicep weaknesses.
- Reduce wrist strain – The bent angles are more wrist-friendly than curling with a straight bar.
- Use for exercises beyond curls – An EZ curl bar can also be used for skull crushers, wrist curls, and various presses in addition to curls.
Overall, an EZ curl bar is invaluable for bringing up lagging biceps and taking your arm training to the next level. It’s probably my most-used specialty bar other than a trap bar.
The Buffalo Bar is a specialty squat bar with an arched design that reduces shoulder strain compared to back squatting with a straight barbell.
Here are some key benefits of the Buffalo Bar:
- Alleviates shoulder discomfort when squatting – The cambered shape rests more comfortably on the back than a straight bar.
- Creates a safer bar position for the low bar squat – Keeps the bar locked in place on the rear delts for heavy low bar squatting.
- Enables hitting depth more comfortably – For many, the Buffalo bar allows squatting deeper with better form and less strain.
- Usable for bench press, rows, curls and more – While best for squats, the Buffalo bar has application for many other lifts.
The log bar is a thick specialty barbell designed to mimic the strongman event of lifting and pressing a heavy log.
Owning a log bar is fantastic for developing total body power and strength.
Benefits of including a log bar in your training:
- Overloads upper body pressing strength – The thick grip requires tremendous shoulder and tricep strength to press overhead.
- Builds core stability – To press without falling backward, the log challenges your core to brace and stabilize.
- Enhances grip and upper back strength – Supporting the heavy implement engages the hands, forearms, and upper back maximally.
- Allows performing strongman events – You can practice log press, log clean & press, Zercher carries, and more.
- Carries over to deadlift and squat – The total body tension required translates to gains on other heavy lifts.
What Are the Benefits of Using Specialty Barbells for Strength Training Compared to Machines?
When it comes to strength training, barbells vs machines for strength, specialty barbells offer unique advantages. Barbells engage stabilizer muscles, enhance muscle balance, and allow for greater range of motion. In comparison, machines often restrict movement patterns and skip stabilizer muscles. Barbells also provide more options for exercise variations, targeting specific muscle groups with adjustable weights. Overall, incorporating specialty barbells in strength training can lead to better overall strength gains and functional performance.
I hope this detailed guide provides motivation to upgrade your training with specialty barbells!
No matter your goals – whether it’s muscle building, maximal strength, injury prevention, or strongman training – there are specialty bars that can take you to the next level.
Let me know if you have any favorite specialty bars I should try out. I’m always eager to test drive new equipment and experience the unique benefits different bars have to offer.
Variety is truly the spice of life when it comes to building strength and sculpting an impressive physique!
Until next time,