Why We Use Fat Bars – Garage Strength

Why We Use Fat Bars


Your bench hasn’t budged in months! Every time you sit down on the bench, you wonder how it will feel to have that 200+lbs just compressing your lungs as you continue to fail with a weight that a Garage Strength 7th grader smashes. It’s a tough life, it’s complicated, but seriously...how the hell can you break that plateau? Why do those lunatics use fat bars when they train? The answer is relatively simple, find out today and get yourself some schooling.


Motor Units and Fat Bars

Motor units are made up of motor neurons and skeletal muscle fibers. This is a simple concept that can be understood in relation to muscular contraction and moving weights. Muscle groupings that contain more motor units are thus able to exhibit higher degrees of force and can control the power output more precisely.


The goal for most strength coaches should be based around motor unit recruitment and imprinting those motor units over long periods of time using appropriate mechanical loading. As athletes work through strength training over long periods of time, they are able to demonstrate greater motor unit recruitment and greater muscular coordination throughout their training periods. 

High threshold motor units are found predominantly within major muscle groups that are able to exhibit large amounts of force. 



The fat bar can be used for a variety of exercises, but let’s use it mainly for pressing in regard to this example. The athlete sets up on the bench, their open palm attempts to control the load on the bar, the body recognizes the difficulty it takes to stabilize a load in such a manner and immediately begins to recruit more motor units from the prime mover of the bench press. In this case, those prime movers would be the pectorals and triceps.

Many athletes with poor responding pecs or weak triceps will find that their plateau gets CONQUERED after 4-6 weeks using a fat bar simply because of the greater recruitment from the prime movers. This is the first KEY behind using a fat bar for pressing.



Often times, athletes in power sports struggle with elbow tendinopathy. This is likely due to a large amount of their upper bodywork being done via pressing. Pressing enhances sports performance in football, wrestling, throwing, even swimming to a point. However, with ill regard to periodization or simple planning, the athlete can become subject to a large amount of elbow stress.


A very quick way to alleviate this pain is through grip work. By improving the strength of the forearms and biceps, the elbow stress can disappear rapidly. Another fast way to improve grip strength is by pressing with a fat bar. Because the palm is open, grip work becomes very important to stabilize the entire movement pattern behind the press. If our athletes are pressing with a 2” to 2.5” bar, they MUST stabilize the lift with their grip work first, then the scaps and lats engage tremendously to provide the foundation behind the lift and then the prime movers recruit the HTMU’s to execute the lift accordingly. This gripping work will help shot putters with elbow pain and it will DRAMATICALLY help the grip strength of a wrestler who will be grabbing an opponent’s arm that is similar in size to their fat bar!


Sport Specific Power Output

What a sweet buzzword. Sport-specific power output. What the hell does that even mean? Let’s break it down. Power output specific to a sport. For example, a wrestler must put out a significant amount of power while under incredible physical fatigue from very deep ranges of motion. That power output can be sport-specific if a wrestler is put through a grueling endurance session and then required to demonstrate proper power output.


What does this have to do with fat bars? Think about a shot putter releasing a shot. Their palm is open while they exhibit power into the implement. This is the same position their hand will be in when they are benching on a fat bar! Now, let’s move to a wrestler using a fat bar for bent-over rows. This position is almost identical to the grip they will need when working toward wrist control or if they have taken a shot and they are grabbing a leg.

Finally, let’s dive into football. Think about a running back holding a football or a lineman posting up on a defensive tackle with an open palm. These are all examples of sport-specific power output related back to working with a fat bar. By using the fat bar, we can simulate the same power output needed during a competitive situation!

The Quick Fix

Use a fat bar 75% of the time when pressing and 65% of the time when pulling. This usage will dramatically improve your brute strength and alleviate any elbow issues caused by excessive pressing. Over a long period of time, all the possible plateaus will be conquered and the thickness of your forearms will be the envy of all other grapplers and athletes in your local gym!

Dane Miller

Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of elite athletes building comprehensive programs for strength and sports performance. Several times a year he leads a seminar for coaches, trainers, and athletes.


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