A GUIDE TO SPECIALITY BARBELLS

June 08, 2022 9 min read

A GUIDE TO SPECIALITY BARBELLS

When searching for barbells online you’ve probably noticed that there are a huge array available.  From a standard Olympic barbell in a range of finishes to many different kinds of speciality barbells,  it can sometimes be a little overwhelming to choose a bar that best fits your needs. 

The vast majority of you probably already own or make use of a standard power bar.  These are gym staples used to bench press, squat and deadlift.  Essentially, it’s a 7ft universal barbell that varies in both cost and quality. 

However, if you’re searching for a barbell that gives more versatility than that of an Olympic barbell with a specific niche, then you’ll want to consider a speciality barbell.

WHAT IS A SPECIALITY BARBELL?

A speciality barbell is a bar that could be more beneficial when compared to a straight bar.  For example, you may find you suffer from shoulder problems during bench pressing.  By switching from a regular barbell to a multi angled grip bar, you could continue benching whilst also minimising stress to the shoulders. 

The above is just one example of a speciality bar.  Continue reading, to find out more about the different kinds of bars available, their uses and benefits.

WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON SPECIALITY BARBELLS?

As we mentioned above, there are a huge number of different gym barbells available, all from different manufacturers and suppliers and all of which offer different benefits to the user.  Too many to list here!  However, the most commonly utilised speciality bars include the following:

  • Cambered barbell, sometimes referred to as a cambered squat bar
  • Trap bar or hex deadlift bar
  • Safety squat bar
  • Football bar / Swiss bar, also referred to as a multi grip bar
  • EZ curl bar

Below, we’ll go into detail on each of these bars covering what they do, how to use them and why you may want to consider investing in one!

CAMBERED BAR

What is a Cambered Bar?

cambered squat bar

A Cambered bar is specifically for squatting and so called because of the camber in the shape of the bar.  It’s ideal for those who want to squat but suffer from upper body issues or shoulder mobility problems. 

However, it’s much harder to squat with this bar when compared to a regular Olympic barbell.  This is because the plates on the bar sit much lower down.  When squatting, this results in a ‘swing’ which can (and usually does) throw you off balance.  This does mean it’s great for improving core strength but it is generally recommended for more advanced lifters and definitely not a beginner to squatting. 

What are the benefits of using a cambered bar?

  • Continued use can improve your overall squat technique. As mentioned above, the bar is designed to throw you off balance.  When this happens, it’s natural to straighten up your back so by default you are squatting correctly whilst minimising any chance of rounding your lower back which could result in injury. 
  • You will be using your stabilisation muscles resulting in an improvement to the strength of your core and back muscles.
  • It’s a great bar to use if you want to deload. Continued, heavy lifting can result in overtraining so by using a cambered bar when deloading, you’ll automatically be squatting with a smaller amount of weight making it ideal to use.  You’ll likely be squatting less due to increase in stability when lifting. 
  • It’s an ideal bar to squat with if you have any shoulder problems. To reduce any shoulder stress, when squatting simply grip the bar from the vertical posts. 

How to use a cambered squat bar

  1. Set the bar up in either a power rack or monolift, ensure it sits at the same height where you would place a standard barbell. It’s worth noting that before purchasing a cambered bar check with the seller that the bar will fit as sizes can vary quite a bit.
  2. Grab the bar from either the top or the sides (grabbing from the sides is better if you have shoulder issues) and unrack.
  3. Squat down in exactly the same way as you would with a regular barbell. You’ll notice the instability on the descent that will likely result in you slowing down as you squat.   The swinging of the bar should result in you maintaining form as you will automatically keep your core engaged and back straight. 
  4. Power up in the same way as you would with a regular barbell squat but be sure to get a feel for the movement before going too quick so you can maintain the correct form.

Conclusion

The cambered bar is great for intermediate to advanced lifters who want to step up there game.  That being said it can be a good bar for beginners who want to perfect their squat form but be sure to have spotter on hand and go light to start with to get a feel for the movement. 

Before buying one, check all the dimensions and the lengths, bar diameter and even the angle of the camber, as these can all differ and you want to be sure you’re getting what you need.

HEX TRAP BAR

What is a hex trap bar?

A hex trap bar is specifically used for deadlifts and gets its name from its unique shape.  It’s a hexagonal shaped bar that you can stand in the centre of with collars at either end for your weight plates. hex trap bar

Even though its primary design is for deadlifting, it’s fairly versatile and can be used for exercises such as overhead pressing and even farmers walk.

What are the benefits of using a hex trap bar?

  • When compared to deadlifting with a regular barbell, the hex bar can be a much safer alternative. This is because the weight load remains in line with your axis of rotation, making it easier to remain neutral throughout the movement.
  • It’s easier on your shoulders. Not something you’d immediately think of but when you deadlift with an Olympic bar your hands are positioned pronated and supinated.  With a hex bar, your hands will be positioned perpendicular to your body, meaning you limit the stress on your shoulders.  Not only that, you’ll reduce the chances of a torn bicep significantly!
  • You should be able to lift more weight. This is because the weight plates are positioned either side of you as opposed to just in front.  Lifting more weight will of course lead to greater strength and muscle gains. 
  • As we stated above, the hex bar is also very versatile and need not be used for just deadlifts. Lunges, shrugs, squats can all be accomplished with this bar making it a worthwhile investment. 

How to use a hex trap bar

The hex bar is a great bar for beginners to deadlifting and very easy to use.

  1. With the bar on the ground, load up with the desired amount of weight.
  2. Position yourself in the centre of the bar, bend down to grab the handles making sure to keep your chest and head up at all times.
  3. Slowly lift the weight off the ground, driving your heels into the floor, until you lock out at the hips. Be sure not to bring your biceps / forearms into the movement, you’re using your arms as a leverage only.  This becomes even more important the heavier you go.
  4. Once you’ve locked out, slowly return the bar back to the ground, again keeping your head and chest up with back straight at all times. It’s important not to round your back during deadlifting as this could result in injury. 

SAFETY SQUAT BAR

What is a safety squat bar?

safety squat bar

This bar has the same sort of appearance as the cambered squat bar in so far as the plates are slightly below where they would sit on a regular barbell.  The main difference is that the safety squat bar has handles that are positioned just in front of your shoulders.  So when you squat you’ll get that same instability as you would with the cambered bar.  However, the weight on an SSB would be pushing you forward as opposed to swinging. 

Because the safety squat bar is manufactured with upholstery pads, it’s generally seen as a much more comfortable bar to use when compared to the cambered bar.  This make it a better option for beginners.

What are the benefits of using a safety squat bar?

  • As with the cambered bar, the safety squat bar is great for helping to improve squat form as it encourages the lifter to engage their core and maintain a straight back throughout the movement. Improving squat form this way can offer great carry over to squatting with a regular barbell.
  • Due to increased activation of the core and back muscles when squatting, this can mean an overall strength increase to those areas. Having a strong core is very important for many lifestyle activities and can also help to alleviate back pain.
  • If you have limited shoulder mobility, the safety squat bar could be a great alternative. The hand placement on this bar limits any rotational forces to the shoulders thereby reducing stress and removing any potential for injury. 
  • The safety squat bar is a versatile barbell and can be used for a number of exercises besides squatting. These could include movements such as good mornings and walking lunges. 

How to use a safety squat bar

  1. Position your safety squat bar in your power rack or monolift. As with the cambered barbell, check the dimensions of the SSB before you look to purchase to make sure it’s going to fit. 
  2. Load up the bar with the desired amount of weight. If you’re new to this bar, or indeed to squatting, be sure to go light. This bar is designed to keep you off balance forcing you to adopt the correct squatting position so having a fairly decent form before you try this bar would be better.
  3. Position yourself under the bar, grip the handles and unrack.
  4. Squat down as you would with a regular barbell squat. You’ll feel the weight trying to essentially push you forwards.  This will force you to maintain an upright position throughout the movement.  This is great as you’ll avoid any rounding of the back and reduce the chance of injury.
  5. Once you’ve reached the bottom of you squat, power back up again keeping chest and head up with your back straight.

FOOTBALL BAR / SWISS BAR / MULTI GRIP BAR

What is a Swiss bar or Football bar?

football bar and swiss bar

A Swiss bar and football bar are very similar with the only real difference being that the multi grips on a football bar are angled when compared to the straight grips on the Swiss bar.  Both bars are designed for pressing movements with the football bar keeping more stress away from the shoulders. 

What are the benefits of using a Swiss bar or football bar?

  • When using a Swiss bar, your hands will be positioned with a neutral grip. Because of this you’ll be limiting much of the stress from your shoulders when bench pressing making it an ideal rehab bar or if you suffer from shoulder problems.
  • Multi grip barbells are very versatile. Aside from pressing movements, you can use them for movements such as skull crushers, hammer curls, bench over row making them a very worthwhile investment. 
  • As well as limiting stress from the shoulders, it also keeps it to a minimum on your wrists. So if you find bench pressing with a straight barbell hard going on your wrists, consider swapping it out for a multi grip bar.
  • Most of the weight is placed on the triceps with a multi grip barbell making them great to target this muscle.

How to use a multi grip bar

  1. Set your bar up in your bench and load up with the desired amount of plates. Consider that you probably won’t be able to press as much when compared to a straight bar.  This is because most of the stress is placed on the triceps which is a small muscle. 
  2. Lie down on the bench and position yourself underneath the bar.
  3. Grip the bar at your chosen position and unrack.
  4. Slowly lower the bar to your chest, making sure to keep your elbows tucked in. This keeps the tension on your triceps for better activation. 
  5. Once you’ve reached your chest (don’t allow the weight to rest on your chest), power back up. Repeat as required before re-racking.  If you’re going heavy it’s always useful to have a spotter on hand.

EZ CURL BAR

ez curl bar

This speciality bar is designed for working the biceps and triceps.  It has an unusual design featuring multiple angles for different grip options.

We wrote a specific article about this barbell which you can read here.

SUMMARY

Whilst the above list doesn’t cover all speciality bars, it does mention the most popular of them. 

Each bar generally offers a specific niche allowing the user to target and work on certain muscle groups with many of these bars being very versatile.   In a lot of cases, they are used by those who want to continue training but have suffered injuries making them great rehab bars.

Before investing in any speciality barbells also make sure to double check sizes, space between grips, what they are rated too etc. to be sure that the bar best suits your needs.


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