A normal barbell is a great and versatile tool that allows you to do almost every exercise you can imagine. There are some specialty bars that can make certain exercises even better though. Which ones can make your gym better?
The EZ curl bar and the Trap bar are the two best specialty bars. Those two are relatively cheap, versatile and have benefits for almost everyone. A Swiss bar is useful but also quite expensive. Most other specialty bars are very specialized and only useful for a single exercise.
Why do you need those? What is their specific use? And why is it better to stay away from certain bars? Keep reading to find out.
What makes specialty bars special?
Everyone knows what an Olympic barbell looks like. It’s a straight piece of steel with weight plates on both ends. There are ‘official’ Olympic barbells that are certified to be used in certain competitions. These are high quality, strong, built with very small tolerances but also expensive.
Then there are the bars that look the same but are not certified. Most of these are more than fine to be used in a commercial or home gym. Functionally they are the same as a real Olympic bar and are often called the same. They have the same look and dimensions as the official bars but might not be as strong or have slightly wider tolerances.
Then there are bars that actually look different. They have a different shape. Most of them are never used in any official competitions but are just for training purposes. Where a normal barbell can be used for a very wide range of exercises, the specialty bars are used to train specific movement.
Why use a specialty bar if a normal barbell works? There are two main reasons to choose a specialty bar over a normal bar for certain exercises;
- Better/different muscle engagement.
- Lower injury risk
Differently shaped bars can force you to use your muscles slightly differently. This gives you a new training impulse which results in new muscle and/or strength gains. This can then help you become stronger on the ‘normal’ lift, or create more muscle mass, depending on what your goals are.
A differently shaped bar usually allows you to take a different grip on the bar and therefore holding your arms and body in a different position which is potentially safer. The distribution of the weight can also be a bit different which puts less stress on more vulnerable parts of the body. All that together can make it safer to use.
Those are the two biggest reasons for using a specialty bar. Of course there are also drawbacks to specialty bars, especially in a home gym;
- They take up space
- They cost money
In a commercial gym those downsides still exist but they might be used more often to make them worth it. In a home gym that is a bit different. So let’s see which specialty bars exist and if they’re worth having in your home gym.
Types of Specialty bars
Which specialty bars are common, what is their purpose and are they worth having in your home gym? Let’s take a look.
EZ Curl bar
The EZ Curl bar is the most commonly seen and used specialty bar in a commercial gym. This is no surprise given the popularity of training biceps. As the name suggests, this bar is most often used to do bicep curls. The bar is bent in certain places giving you an angle instead of a straight bar to grip onto.
This puts less stress on your wrists throughout the range of motion of a curl. Sometimes if you press/curl a lot, you can get painful wrists or even forearms. An EZ curl bar can prevent/alleviate some of those problems.
The different hand position also makes you engage your biceps in a slightly different way. Many people feel a better mind muscle connection when using an EZ curl bar versus a straight bar. The different grips mean you can target your biceps in slightly different ways, promoting extra growth.
Besides training your biceps, an EZ bar is also great for training your triceps with overhead extensions, skull crushers and more. That makes the EZ curl bar one of the best and most versatile specialty bars.
EZ bar for home gym?
Are EZ curl bars worth it for a home gym? Yes, they are. They aren’t too expensive and pretty small so the two biggest drawbacks are minimized. It’s versatile as well so it’s not like you’re only getting it for a single exercise.
The advantages are pretty great. Who doesn’t like to have bigger arms?
Recommended EZ Curl Bar
Titan Fitness always makes very good equipment for your money. This EZ curl bar is no exception.
This bar is cheap and does exactly what you need it to do. It’s rated up to 200 lbs. of load while weighing 14 lbs. The sleeves are 2″ so all your normal weight plates will fit.
The trap bar is a less seen specialty but has a small share of hardcore believers. This bar allows you to stand where a straight bar would be during a deadlift. There are two prongs that go in front and behind your legs. There are handles that allow you to use a neutral hand position. This puts your upper body in a slightly more upright position during a deadlift. A more upright position puts less stress on your lower back, reducing the risk of injury.
A trap bar can also be used for farmers’ walks and shrugs. All in all, the trap bar is a great bar for providing a safer deadlift alternative, but it’s also a great tool for further developing your upper back.
Trap bar for home gym?
Should you get a trap bar for your home gym? Maybe… A decent one isn’t too expensive. You can get a good one for under $100. They are a bit big compared to an EZ bar but still not too big to be in the way all the time, although they’re a bit more difficult to store on the wall than a straight bar.
The trap bar is versatile enough to recommend for most people. It’s safer to do deadlifts with this type of bar and there are also quite a few other uses for this bar that can benefit many people. Farmers walks and shrugs for example are two exercises that can make you look a lot thicker and bigger, which is what most people are training for in the first place.
Of course you can make your own decision but after the EZ bar, the trap bar is the best specialty bar to get.
Recommended Trap Bar
Here is a very affordable trap or hex bar made by CAP. It can handle up to 500 lbs.
If you don’t like black it’s even available in a variety of other cool colors.
The axle bar is very similar to a normal Olympic barbell except for one difference. It’s much thicker. Usually 2” and up with 2.25 and 2.5” being quite common. On an axle bar the sleeves don’t spin although some variations of this bar do have spinning sleeves. The diameter of the sleeves is usually 2” just like an Olympic bar. That means that your normal weight plates will still fit on this barbell.
The benefit of a fat bar is the extra stress on your forearms. Grip strength is actually a big part of how much weight you can lift. If you can’t hold the bar in your hands, there is no way the weight is moving. A fat bar makes your hands and forearms work much harder. So if you train with this type of bar for a while and you go back to a normal thickness bar after a while, your grip strength on the normal bar will have improved relative to your overall strength.
Axle bar for a home gym?
Is it worth it to have a fat bar in your home gym? For the vast majority of people, no. They aren’t cheap, take up quite a bit of space and the usability is limited. Sure there are some people who really want/have to improve their grip strength.
There are other good ways to do that without spending a lot of extra money. Farmers walks, hanging from a bar, just holding onto a bar for as long as possible, etc. are all ways to improve your grip strength.
If you want the benefits of having to hold on to a thicker bar, there are small plastic/rubber sleeves you can put over the shaft of a normal bar increasing the thickness. These are much cheaper than buying a whole bar and just as effective.
The only exception is if you are training to compete in a certain sport of competition that exactly translates to a thick barbell like certain strongman events.
This one goes by quite a few different names but most people will be familiar with this bar. It has several different grips that are perpendicular (or at another angle) to the normal straight bar. This keeps your hands in a neutral positions which puts less stress on your wrists, shoulders and elbows. That means fewer injuries and for some people a better mind muscle connections. Those two things result in better muscle and strength gains.
It can be used for a wide variety of lifts. Almost all exercises you can do with a normal barbell can be done with this Swiss bar except that you have a bit less range of motion on some lifts.
Swiss bar for home gym?
The drawback is that this type of bar is usually pretty expensive. So while it’s very versatile and can help you get some extra gains out of your workouts, it’s not for everyone. For those on a low budget, your money is likely better spent somewhere else.
The price is the only reason I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. If the couple of hundred dollars for a good one isn’t a problem, go for it. If it is a lot of money for you, you can get a lot of the same benefits by using a pair of dumbbells.
Recommended Swiss Bar
This Valor Swiss bar is well built with many different grip options. The 2″ sleeves spin and can handle plenty of weight. If you’ve got 1″ plates, it’s possible to remove the sleeve so they fit as well.
The cambered bar looks like a straight bar that’s been loaded too heavily and bent. That is exactly what it is except the sleeves which are still straight. That allows you to use the bar without the weight plates sliding off. But what is the benefit of the bent shaft?
It takes a bit of pressure off your shoulders, and wrists and it changes your center of gravity a little bit, making a back squat feel more like a front squat. This is a bit better for the lower back as well. So the main benefits of the cambered bar are to put less stress on certain vulnerable parts of the body. That is absolutely a good thing, but is it worth it for a home gym?
Cambered bar for a home gym?
I wouldn’t recommend running out to get a cambered bar for your home gym. It’s only really useful for back squat. While the back squat is a very important exercise, I feel that if you’re going to get a specialized bar for squatting, you’ll be better of getting a safety squat bar.
Safety squat bar
Where are the other bars are pretty straightforward, the safety squat bar looks like some kind of machine from the middle ages that ‘compels’ people to talk. But actually it’s a more developed version of the cambered bar, that’s even more focused towards squats. While squats are by no means a pleasant exercise, a safety squat bar actually makes things safer.
It’s much safer for your arms and shoulders by putting the hand grips further forward. A straight bar can put quite a lot of stress on the joints of your arms because they’re so far backwards. Having the hand grips further forward and in a neutral position you don’t have to put your shoulders into external rotation and your elbows and wrists are in a much better position as well. If you’ve got pain in your upper extremities when squatting with a straight bar, a safety bar is well worth trying.
Another difference is the movement. The bar sits a bit higher on your shoulders because of the padding but the camber at the end of the bar makes the weight sit a bit lower. This forces your upper body a bit more forward making this quite tough on your upper back.
Safety squat bar for home gym?
For most people this type of bar is too specialized. It’s really only used for back squats. There are no real other uses for this bar. It becomes useful if you’re really specializing in back squats and training heavy, often. Otherwise you can work around the drawbacks of the normal squat by doing variations. It’s also quite a big piece of equipment that takes up quite a bit of space and it’s not cheap.
I’m not saying there are no uses for the safety squat bar. There are some awesome benefits. I AM saying that it’s not worth it for most people since they won’t use it enough for the benefits to be worth the drawbacks.
If you do a lot of heavy squats, the benefits might start to overshadow the drawbacks. Also read this article on the exact differences in muscle activation.
Again a very specialized bar. This one doesn’t even pretend to be practical. This bar allows you to overhead press with a neutral grip. This is better for wrists, elbows and shoulders for many people. But that functionality is being diminished by the shroud around the bar that makes it look like a log.
Strongman log for home gym?
Unless you’re training for a strongman event, no. A Swiss bar does the same thing without the shroud while providing more grip options. That makes the Swiss bar a much better option for the vast majority of gym-goers.
Cambered Bench press bar
This bar is almost the same as the cambered bar listed above with a small difference. The cambered bench press bar is straight where you put your hands. That means the cambered part curves around your body. Where the bar would touch your chest with a normal bar, a cambered bar gives you a bit of extra room. The extra room can be used to give extra range of motion. Because the bar has to go further down to touch your chest, your arms have to go further down as well.
A longer range of motion means you train your muscles more with a single rep. It also targets parts of the range of motion that are usually not trained as much so you have a chance to become stronger overall.
Cambered bench press for home gym?
Like with the safety squat bar and the strongman log, this is a very specialized bar. If you’re really training for a super heavy bench press and you want every little benefit you can get, sure, go for it. For people that are just training for general strength and fitness, I wouldn’t say it’s worth it.
It’s a tool for people that are at a pretty high level to get that extra bit of results out of their training. For most people a normal bar will be more than enough for a long time. The extra range of motion can also be trained by using dumbbells since they can go down further than a bar. For most people that’s a cheaper and better solution than buying a separate bar.
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