The Barbell — The Only Gym Equipment You'll Ever Need

In and out of the gym in less time than it takes to watch the news with results to boot – how’s that for motivation? Surprisingly, less is more for weight loss, if you get the formula of sets, repetitions, rest periods and exercises down pat. Once this happens, you can ignite your body’s metabolism for hours after your session, according to personal trainer Jonathan Wong, our Ask The Fitness Coach columnist ( These three exercises are the building blocks of any serious strength athlete’s workout regime.

They’re so effective at building strength and scorching fat simply because they work the greatest number of muscles in the body, says Wong. A University of Wisconsin study supports this: When men performed a full-body workout involving three exercises that recruited large muscle groups, they burned a greater amount of calories and increased their metabolism for up to 39 hours afterwards.

What’s more, fat-burning hormones (such as testosterone and growth hormones) that are released during workouts of such intensity block the muscle-eroding effect of the stress hormone, cortisol. Follow this plan for the ideal fat-burning and muscle-building gym session. Stop flubbing around with pointless exercises. To shed kilos in a hurry, grab a barbell and get heaving.

Keep your reps hovering around the 8 to 12 range, according to research from the International Journal of Sports Medicine and the
Journal of Applied Physiology
, as that’s the best range for stimulating an increase in fat-burning hormones and building muscle mass. “Follow a 2-seconds up, 4-seconds down lifting tempo,” advises Wong, as 70 seconds is the optimum amount of time to keep your muscles under tension for the best fat-burning effect. The catch: You have to use a weight that sufficiently challenges you. Experiment until you struggle to get your last rep up after 8 to 12 reps, he says. That’s the right weight for you.

Fortunately, you don’t have to put in too much work to incite a fat-burning response. Ball State University researchers in the US found that just 1 set of an exercise stimulated hormone levels and Greek scientists discovered that 4 sets was the “cut-off” point: There was no difference when study participants performed 6 sets. Still, alter your efforts to suit your fitness level. If this is the first
time you’re entering the weights room, a full-on squatting session will have you heaving your guts out in no time.

Exercise by the clock: Keep your rest periods between 45 and 75 seconds, depending on your fitness level, says Wong. “Rest periods are the secret to burning fat,” he says. When you execute an exercise at the recommended rep range and tempo, lactate (a waste product from muscle exertion) is produced.

When lactate levels are high, fatburning hormones such as growth hormones and catecholamines are released, says a study in the journal Obesity Reviews. By keeping your recovery times short, you’ll keep your fat-torching furnace going strong. With a 4-set, 12-rep workout, you’ll find that you only need about 20 minutes to finish your workout. Sweet.



Muscles worked: Primarily a quadricep and hamstring exercise, the squat taxes the most muscles in your body, thanks to the stabilising effort your torso and other muscles need to put in.

1 Use the power rack for this exercise. Adjust the safety bars to waist height.

2 Make sure the bar rests just under your trapezius and across your rear deltoids. It should be a comfortable position; if not, jiggle it around until you find your sweet spot.

3 Grip the barbell at a comfortable width, tighten your body and lift it off the rack. Take 2 to 3 steps backwards.

4 Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart and point your toes forward. When you begin to lower, bend your hips first before you bend your knees – this keeps you from rounding your back. Keep your torso tense throughout.

5 Lower yourself in a controlled fashion until your knees are fully bent, says Wong. “A full squat is actually gentler on your knees and
gives your muscles more time under tension.”

6 Never bounce at the bottom bit of the squat and don’t let your knees move out or inwards.



Muscles worked: Deadlifts work nearly the same muscles as the squat, but emphasis is shifted to your upper body, lower back and
grip strength.

1 The bar should rest at your mid-shin level – a bar loaded with two 20kg plates is optimal. If you don’t have the strength yet, place
the safety bars of the power rack at the right position.

2 The bar should begin from a position nearly touching your shins. Keep your hips down and get a firm, shoulder-width grip. Use an alternate grip (knuckles facing forward for one hand and thumb facing out for the other), if you can’t get a firm hold.

3 Lift the weight with straight arms, keeping the barbell as close to your body as possible (from the shins to your thighs and hips). Don’t round your back, and keep your head in a neutral position with your eyes focused at a spot on the ground 3m in front of you,
says Wong.

4 Drive the weight up with a combination of leg, hip and back strength.

5 Lower the weight in a controlled manner the same way you do the squat – bend your hips, then your knees.

6 If you can’t get the form right, have someone hold a stick vertically so that it touches your head and tailbone, suggests Wong. The stick should remain in contact with both areas during the entire movement.



Muscles worked: Your chest, shoulders and triceps are taxed to the greatest degree, while the stabiliser muscles in your upper torso (such as the latissimus dorsi) are also used.

1 Always get a spotter if you’re pressing a weight you’re unfamiliar with.

2 Lie down with the bar at eye level and make sure that your index finger is in line with your shoulder joint when you grip it, says Wong.

3 Puff out your chest and lift off the weight, bringing it just above your nipples or upper abdominal region. Lower until the bar touches your body and press it back up.

4 Use dumbbells if you don’t have a spotter.

5 A form tip: Attach a piece of rope to a 1.25kg plate, place the rope under your bum and let the plate dangle off the bench before you execute the exercise. The plate should not drop when you execute the bench press. A common mistake is lifting your bum off the bench, says Wong.



Mix things up. You don’t have to do these three exercises every workout. Include other compound movements such as pull-ups or bent-over rows into your routine. “Supersets involve doing two exercises back-to-back with little or no rest,” says personal trainer Jonathan Wong. “This keeps your heart rate and lactate levels much higher than if you take a break.” Combine exercises that work different parts of your body (you’ll kill yourself by combining a squat with a leg press) for maximum benefit. For starters, rest for 2 minutes before starting on your next three-exercise set.

1 Bench Press >> Bent-over Row >> Military Press
2 Deadlift >> Bench Press >> Pull-up
3 Squat >> Pull-up >> Military Press


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