31 Jan The 5 Best Barbell Exercises On The Planet

Why would I write an article that would seem to be such common sense?

I’ve learned that common sense is not always common practice.

The reason I’m writing this article is because I recently came across a similar article on this topic. Have to say, I was shocked at what I saw what was listed as the “best barbell” exercises.

It was one of the those articles that I was just shaking my head in disbelief thinking – “Really? Does the author seriously believe these are the best barbell exercises??”

It occurred to me that maybe there is a misunderstanding about what the most valuable barbell exercises are. That’s when I decided to write this.

Of course, it’s hard to say the “absolute” 5 best exercises for any individual because “it depends” on many things.

The best exercise is really the one that contributes the most to the primary goal.

If you’re an athlete – or coach working with athletes or clients – you must always able to answer this important question:

“How does doing ____ contribute to the primary goal?”

You have to be able to answer this, re-evaluate what you’re doing.

In an ideal situation, I can say with certainty that the 5 exercises listed here are the 5 most valuable barbell exercises and will address strength, power, movement, mobility, skill, peak performance, and yes even body composition.

If an individual can perform these 5 lifts, they have an amazing opportunity to become significantly better physically and mentally, over time.

We’re always looking for new ways to train and cool new exercises, but the truth is – and always has been – that getting the best out of our training comes from focusing on the fundamentals.

Results comes from sticking to the basics, not all the other “stuff.”

I know this is easier said than done for many people though.

So here’s my list of the 5 most valuable barbell exercises.

In truth, these are “lifts” not exercises, but I’ll refer to them as exercises in the article not to confuse matters. The point is that these things are the most valuable things we can do with a barbell – whether you consider them a lift or an exercise.


(*A lift is a contested movement – or something that people would compete in. An exercise is something that is done as a means to accomplish something else – such as a specific or secondary goal. Exercise examples are biceps curls, Romanian deadlifts, kettlebell swings, push ups – just to name a few).



The deadlift should be obvious to most. It’s such an essential exercise for total body strength development. It’s also an extremely accessible exercise for just about everyone. From the youth to the athlete to the aging lifter, the deadlift is a fundamental human movement and is important for total body strength, function and performance.

Picking up a loaded barbell with solid technique will provide long term health and performance benefits for all participants, not just athletes. I won’t spend further time to justify the importance of the deadlift, yet it blows my mind why so many recreational exercisers still don’t include this valuable movement in their regimen.

There’s a stigma to this lift for some people, but there’s no dispute that it offers major bang for the buck.

The deadlift is essential.



The back squat can be called the king of exercises. There are many squat variations and squat progressions, but the back squat allows you to load the bar for maximum strength development. It’s also exceptional for inducing total body muscle mass and increasing full body strength and athleticism.

Learning to squat is something that’s analyzed to the extreme, however, it is important that we learn how to squat properly and learn the essential principles of what constitutes a good squatting pattern.

I’m not going to get into those principles in this article, but there is no doubt that the barbell back squat is unequivocally one of the best and most valuable exercises for all humans (whether it’s the back squat or a squat variation).

***There may be exceptions or alternatives to the back squat based on individual variability and/or movement and mobility pattern limitations.


Now here’s where we could debate two different variations of pressing: the benchpress and the overhead press.

We could argue that either of these is extremely valuable and beneficial for an individual, but as with many exercises – it will depend.  The bench press is an exceptional upper body developer and is part of the contested powerlifts.

The challenge with the benchpress is at the vast majority of people simply do not know how to bench press correctly. I know this because I bench pressed poorly for many years and didn’t really understand how to bench press correctly using my entire body and maximizing the results and effectiveness of the benchpress exercise.

Personally, I love the standing overhead press.

The standing military press is an incredibly powerful and effective exercise for the entire body.

I think when most people think about the military press, the natural thought is that it’s just a shoulder exercise. However, it’s a full body exercise when this lift is done properly with full body tension. There really is almost nothing more satisfying than pressing a heavy weight overhead.

Barring any significant shoulder dysfunction, the overhead press or the bench press are both exceptional exercises. If I had to say though, the overhead press would be my preference.

To get the most complete book on barbell training technique, I recommend the book, Starting Strength.

I realize that the next 2 exercises get more technical.

But, it’s important to keep in mind the title of this article: The 5 best barbell exercises.

Gardelli Quote1


Olympic Weightlifting is reported to have started somewhere around the time of 1896 (or so I read). I think it’s safe to say it’s been around for over 100 years and it’s a proven and effective way to get strong, powerful, and extremely athletic.

Moving into Olympic Weightlifting, the barbell snatch is the ultimate display of movement, mobility, explosive strength, and athleticism. The snatch takes the barbell from the floor to an overhead position finishing in a rock bottom squat.

(***The Power Snatch variation means that you receive the bar in essentially a quarter squat position – as opposed to a full rock bottom squat).

This exercise demands a certain amount of mobility and stability, not to mention technical nuances to perform the lift.

As the sport of Olympic Weightlifting continues to grow, the snatch is becoming more recognized and understood – although there’s still a long. long way to go.

I’ve said many times now that if there was one thing that I wish I discovered earlier on in my training career, it would’ve been learning the Olympic lifts. But we can never look back, we can only move forward.

The snatch is an incredible exercise that I hope I can continue for as long as I can possibly snatch a barbell overhead. The list of benefits is quite extensive.

The limitation to the snatch?

If there’s a limitation, it’s learning how to snatch correctly (proper coaching is required) – and having the requisite baseline movement before learning this athletic lift.

The snatch is freaking amazing.


The 2nd of the contested Olympic lifts is the barbell clean and jerk.

It’s been noted that the clean and jerk requires the most energy expenditure of any exercise or lift performed. The clean and jerk is power, explosiveness, and athleticism.

The clean and jerk demonstrated 57.2 kJ (kilojoules) of energy expenditure, as compared the to the snatch (48.5 kJ) and back squat (46.0 kJ) in elite level lifters.

The clean and jerk involves taking the barbell from the floor to the shoulder position and then explosively “jerking” the barbell overhead to finish the lift (*this is completed in different finish position from the snatch).

The clean and jerk is a unique strength skill for the human body. It’s also another major lift with a long list of benefits.

You must keep in mind that we all should strive to continue to maintain, develop, or enhance our explosive power and strength for as long as possible.

Why, you ask?

Because we lose these qualities as we age and we need to fight to maintain them every day.

Yes, I realize that the Olympic lifts require great coaching and assessment to learn how to do them safely and effectively. However, these are clearly 2 of the most valuable barbell lifts we have – when we learn how to perform them.

Once again, I truly wish I had learned about the importance and benefits of the Olympic lifts much earlier, but that’s neither here nor there.

To get the most complete book on Olympic Weightlifting, I recommend the book, Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide.


This list represents the fundamentals. Full body, fundamental movements that improve strength, mobility, function, skill, and *explosiveness (*the Olympic lifts).

  • Deadlift
  • Squat
  • Press
  • Snatch
  • Clean and Jerk

There’s nothing fancy here folks, but these lifts are things that truly give our bodies virtually everything we need.

And everything we want.

These 5 lifts give our bodies everything we need and everything we want.Click To Tweet

I know people are always searching for the latest exercise or a new variety to make things fun and exciting.

But, do we really want results?  Are we really working to improve ourselves?

Or are we seeking to be entertained?

I hope it’s the former.

As I mentioned, there are variations of these 5 exercises that can make things somewhat “scalable” for individuals.

I’ll say it again.

These 5 lifts (or appropriate variations) can provide proven results for many people.

Our training secrets are buried in sticking to the fundamentals.

Spread the word! Please share this on Facebook, Twitter, or anywhere you’d like.

Scott Iardella, MPT, CSCS writes about strength training methods to optimize health and performance. If you enjoyed this, join a strong and growing community of passionate fitness enthusiasts and subscribe below to get a ton of cool, free stuff! Subscribe at RdellaTraining.com/join and get your FREE Report and Resource Guide.
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