Thick Bar Training | A Simple Trick To Build Upper Body Strength
Your bench press has plateaued and you’re not feeling stronger in push movements. What can you do to break the plateau and increase the power of your upper body?
Start using a fat bar!
Also known as thick bar training, increase the thickness of the barbells or dumbbells to help improve stability and overall strength in athletes that struggle producing power with a standard bar thickness.
Although you might often see us using thick bars for pressing, there are also a ton of pulling movements that can be done with a thicker grip. In recent years, you might have seen the rise in popularity of grip strength training by using fat grip attachments on dumbbells. The premise is the same to encourage certain adaptations for stability and power.
What all do we need to understand about thick bar training? In this guide, we will cover different types of bar thicknesses, benefits of using a fat bar, and the best exercises for thick bar training.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Different Types of Fat Bars
- Benefits of Thick Bar Training
- Best Fat Bar Exercises
- Should You Train With a Fat Bar?
- Training Summary
Different Types of Fat Bars
Barbells are like athletes. They come in all different kinds of shapes and sizes. There are long bars, short bars, women’s bars, thick bars, and crazy barbells we probably don’t even know about.
What we are going to focus on is the diameter, or thickness of the barbell.
Standard Bar Thickness
There are a number of “standard” bar thicknesses depending on the gym you go to or the equipment you’re familiar with.
The ones you are most likely familiar with are women’s weightlifting bars, men’s weightlifting bars, and powerlifting bars. A women’s weightlifting bar clocks in with a diameter of 25mm. A men’s weightlifting bar jumps up to a thickness of 28mm. And your standard powerlifting bar will be slightly thicker than the men’s weightlifting bar at 29mm.
But let’s take it to the next level, away from the normal.
Straight Fat Bars
Simply put, thick bars can be anything thicker than a standard powerlifting bar. The barbells that we use here at Garage Strength, include a 1.75 inch diameter bar, 2 inch diameter bar, and our hoss of a 2.5 inch diameter bar.
Some we’ve created ourselves and others we have acquired from other gyms. You may have difficulty coming across a gym with thick bars, just because they are often found in sports performance gyms or catered toward strongman training.
Strongmen also use different variations of thick bars like axel bars and custom-made equipment for their unique events.
Fat Grips for Dumbbells
Probably the most common and easily accessible version of a fat bar that you’ll come across is a fat grip adapter. The fat fat grip is an attachable, rubber holding point that goes around the standard diameter of a dumbbell.
Adding a removable fat grip to your barbell or dumbbell is a great way to turn any bar into a fat bar. We will go more in-depth on the benefits of thick bar training soon, but attachments are the go-to gym accessory for improving your grip strength at any gym.
Now that we’re headed that way, let’s talk about the benefits of thick bar training.
Benefits of Thick Bar Training
A lot of the reasons that we use fat grips, or thick bar training, is actually rooted in science. What science? The inspiration comes from Charles Poliquin and his training with Adam Nelson that was based around using fat grip for improving performance.
Not only did Poliquin work with athletes for performance, but also with bodybuilders to target more activation from muscles. An example being doing bicep curls with dumbbells that had fatter grips.
Fat bar training leads to far better neural activation and recruitment in the prime movers. But what exactly does all this mean? Well let’s take a look at some specific examples.
Pressing With a Fat Bar
If you are going to press with a thick bar instead of a traditional barbell, you will get more muscle activation in the pectorals and shoulders. By using our 2.5 inch bar, we are able to improve our grip strength along with muscular stability.
Going back to the research with Poliquin, improvements in grip strength correlate to increased muscle mass along with greater global muscular activation. This just means that these individuals are going to have better overall coordination over their body.
These improvements in global muscular activation carry over to elite athletes across all sports.
An example we can use is of olympian and professional discus thrower, Sam Mattis. At Garage Strength, he’s been able to fat bar press 500 lbs. Then when he transitions to a regular bar, he’s able to bench press 525 lbs for a double.
This carry-over in strength can be observed with pulling movements as a well.
Pulling With a Fat Bar
As mentioned earlier, the research from Poliquin shows the use of using thicker barbells as a means of improving the overall gains for bodybuilders.
From the research, we can see that similar levels of adaptations can be achieved through pulling exercises as well. By using different forms of fat grip training, you are able to build strength and muscle in the systems you are training.
An example we can use is that of someone with weak lats. If you have weak lats, there are a variety of exercises that you can do via a thicker grip to improve the strength in grip, build muscle in your lats, and gain endurance in your biceps.
An exercise you can use is climbing a rope that is 2 inches in diameter for 4-6 sets. You can also perform rows with a thick bar or with fat grip dumbbells to achieve the goals above.
Now that you understand why you should incorporate thick bar training can aid with your gym goals, it’s time to take a deep dive into the best exercises to use fat bars for.
Best Fat Bar Exercises
Flat and Incline Bench Press
Pressing is something that we’ve covered extensively in this guide. This exercise is a no-brainer to make the list.
Using a fat bar on flat or incline bench press is going to help with the co-contraction of the surrounding muscles that are the primary movers of the exercise. When we think of “primary movers”, we think of the pecs, triceps, and shoulders.
When doing any kind of laying bench, there is going to be increased instability as you go up in weight. This is where the fat bar comes into play. By using a thicker bar for 6-8 weeks, you are going to get more activation in supplemental muscles that help stabilize the movement. Therefore strengthening your overall lifts and improving the performance of your upper body.
Similar to flat and incline bench press, the shoulder press is going to be another exercise where fat grips will be able to improve the co-contraction of the target muscle groups.
These can be done through military presses or adding some attachable grips to dumbells and performing variations like the Arnold press, Z Press, or unilateral overhead presses. Using fat grips with shoulder press is going to help in strengthening your triceps and shoulder while encouraging the adaptation of upper back stability.
Bent Over Rows
We covered this example when we talked about the benefits of pulling with fat bars. It’s good just to touch base again because it’s not just a movement to target the lats or gain a swole back.
Using a fat bar for bent over rows is going to really blow up those forearms and biceps and send your grip strength through the roof. And if you haven’t heard it enough already, more grip strength means more global muscular activation which will make you stay stronger for longer.
Deadlifts are another great movement to use fat bars for. Although cleans didn’t make the cut, unless you’re a competitive strongman, deadlifts are going to be the most action you see off the ground with a fat bar.
Training with a thick bar during deadlifts is going to build that muscular endurance in the lower back, in the lats, and continue to work on that grip strength especially as you pack on the weight.
Bicep curls were one of the first examples we mentioned in this guide. If you’ve been around the gym long enough, you know that holding anything for an extended period of time is going to fire up and burn the biceps. Using fat grip dumbbells is only going to make it more challenging and focus on muscle activation from the forearm muscles.
Using fat grip dumbbells or even a thick preacher curl bar, is going to get more out of the bicep as you elongate and contract in a more open-palm position.
The last exercise on this list doesn’t even include a fat bar or grip attachments. A staple of any PE class is the rope climb. The rope climb might have been your first introduction ever to thicker grip training as it forces you to squeeze everything in your back and in your arms to pull yourself to the top of the rope and control your body on the way down.
The rope climb is a fun, but grueling exercise to attack the lats, biceps, and core to stay stable on a dangling rope as you accelerate through the entire range of motion.
So Should YOU Do Fat Bar Training?
The simple answer: yes. Training with a fat bar can help with numerous adaptations to make you stronger, improve hypertrophy, and build that global muscular activation.
Especially if you’re an athlete, thick bar training has many sport-specific benefits. One example would be for swimmers. Swimmers are constantly pulling with an open palm and need that muscular endurance in the lats and back for a race.
Another example would be football players or wrestlers. Where a lot of their movements will involve pulling or pushing with an open palm, so there will be a need for maximum power production for each sport. So how can you incorporate thick bar training into your program?
You can check out our list of programs like the bench plateau program or our program for building insane grip strength. Another way to get fat bar training incorporated into your programming is by signing up for the Peak Strength app which will cater specific fat bar movements to your goals.
Let us know what you think about fat bar training and how it’s helped improve your performance and stability.
Yo, It's Dane
Welcome to the Garage Strength Blog, where it is my goal to provide you with the experience and knowledge I've gained in the strength and conditioning world over many years of learning from both successes and failures. I train elite-level athletes in a multitude of sports from the high school to professional levels, already producing 5 Olympics and 30+ National Champions. If you want to be the next champion I train, check out my strength programs below!
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