Why Unstable Barbell Workouts Rock

If you want to kick your fitness up a notch, you definitely need to try unstable barbell workouts. Not only will they help you to build serious muscle, but they’ll work your core and strengthen your entire upper body. What a way to go!

What is the Unstable Barbell Workout?

When you do the regular barbell workout, you’ve got a bar loaded with weight discs. This lends to stability and control, making for a more efficient, safer workout.

But with the unstable barbell workout, you load the barbell with kettlebells instead of weight discs. The kettlebells hang from ropes, meaning they are not controlled or stable–hence the name. You have to fight to keep the barbell steady with the shifting, swinging weight of the kettlebells.

Now why in the blue blazes would this workout be a good idea? After all, your goal is to have control and stability when bench pressing, right? So why eliminate those things? Simple: it works your core.

When you lift the barbell with the hanging kettlebells, the amount of weight you are lifting remains unchanged. You are still benching a lot of weight, and your chest and triceps muscles still get a good workout. But by taking away the stability, you force all of your secondary muscles to kick into action. They have to keep the barbell from wobbling and shifting around, which is pretty tough considering how the kettlebells are likely to swing. This engages more muscles than just the primary movers, giving you a better workout.

On top of it, your core has to engage to keep the barbell steady. As you near the end of your set, you’ll find that the kettlebells have begun to swing more and more. It takes more effort to keep your arms straight and the barbell steady, and your core kicks in to keep things moving properly. The chest-focused workout suddenly becomes an upper body movement that shreds your core at the same time.

And it’s not just bench presses you can do like this, but literally EVERY barbell exercise can be done in the same way. If you want to work your legs, hang kettlebells from the barbell and do squats or lunges. You’ll work your core very effectively at the same time as you shred your legs. If you want to focus on your shoulders, do military presses with the unstable barbell, and your back, shoulders, and abs will engage to keep things steady.

With every movement you do, your core has to stay tight in order to keep the barbell steady and balanced. It may feel easy at first, but it gets A LOT harder as you progress through your sets. By the time you reach the mid-point of your workout, you’ll feel the burn in your core. You can either return to traditional barbell training, or power through and shred your core muscles for your entire workout.

But the fact that the workout is harder means you need to take it a bit easier, at least at the beginning. Your core will be working hard, which means a lot of the energy is diverted from your primary muscles. Your body will burn through energy stores quickly!

Also, you won’t be able to safely handle as much weight as you do with traditional barbell workouts. Unstable barbell workouts take more strength just to control the bar, much less lift it. You should drop your weight by about 15 to 20 percent at first, and work your way back up until you’ve gotten control of the weight. It will help you avoid injuries!

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