The Swiss Bar: Beyond The Bench Press
The Swiss bar, also known as the football bar or multi-grip bar, is primarily known as a bench pressing tool. Originally invented to help ease the shoulder injuries of American football players, this neutral-grip variant of the barbell has recently grown in popularity.
With its unique, joint-friendly design, you can use it for various exercises that make the resistance curve more beneficial. You already know how to bench with it, so here are several ways to use a Swiss bar (like this one) that don't involve benching!
Here are a few details and tips for each exercise:
This exercise adds stability to the shoulder while boosting serratus work. The constant tension created by scraping the bar against the rack triggers growth with less stress on the shoulder.
The Swiss bar keeps the humerus in a more natural position. When you press up with a neutral grip, you avoid putting vertical pressure on the parts of your shoulder most vulnerable to strain.
Pressing is all about angles and vectors. Being able to press vertically and horizontally hits more muscle fibers and better centralizes the joint.
- Set the bar about chest height in the rack. Set up a foot away from the rack.
- Drive the weight into the rack to keep tension on it as the bar goes up.
- Go to full lockout.
- For hypertrophy, try a higher rep range, 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps for higher degrees of tension.
More info on the scrape the rack press.
This is similar to the inverted row and chest-supported dumbbell row, but it's arguably better than both for muscle activation. And your chances of screwing it up are low.
Make sure your arms are fully stretched at the bottom and your upper back is fully squeezed when you lift the weight up. Retract your shoulder blades, squeeze your glutes, and brace your abs.
Seal rows are more gentle on your lower back since there's support provided by the bench, which makes them a great option for deadlift days or workouts with higher degrees of spinal loading.
You get a greater range of motion than other rows, which increases the time under tension, so it's a great hypertrophy exercise. Try 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps.
- Lay flat on an elevated bench.
- Elevate the bar or grab one side at a time and pull the bar towards your body.
- Keep your feet straight and your torso neutral.
- Lower with control.
- For hypertrophy, stick to 8-15 reps as a solid assistance exercise.
In this case, you're not using the Swiss bar to hold your plates; you're using it to hold YOU.
Why hip thrust this way? One drawback of the standard version is the setup. Finding a comfortable bench that's the right height is frustrating. Luckily, the Swiss bar can make the setup more user-friendly and comfortable.
Set it up in the rack about two feet off the floor so you have a support for your back that'll rotate with your body as you raise and lower your hips. This also benefits those who use a bit of excessive lumbar extension. The bar flattens out on your back and moves with you through both phases of the lift.
The elevated rack row is a joint-friendly chin-up variation. Elevating your feet and using a neutral grip will help bias the lats. The degree of foot elevation and torso angle helps you direct that focus. It's very scalable.
For a neutral-grip pull-up, just place the Swiss bar over the top of a power rack and go! The benefit here is the ability to switch up your grip.
Athletes often do this exercise using a specific machine. Others try to mimic the movement with a landmine barbell setup, but a Swiss bar works amazingly well.
Focus on moving relatively heavy loads as fast as possible. You just need a set of straps or even a TRX over the rack and you're good to go!
Set the bar about chest height in the rack and focus on pressing with pure explosiveness and speed. This isn't meant to be slow and controlled. You want to fire up your motor recruitment and improve rate of force development.
Do this early in the workout when you're fresh and able to produce maximum power. Try 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps.
Push-ups should be part of your program, no matter your training age. Problem is, many never switch from the standard version. The Swiss bar makes the push-up more challenging. Add a vest or chains to make it even harder.
Another benefit? The Swiss bar gives your humerus a better mechanical advantage so you can grow your chest without the cost of a nagging shoulder injury.
When loaded properly, this can be a tough exercise. Depending on your ability, 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps will help you stay healthy with open-chain exercises.
Use the Swiss bar to build your arms. Just hammer curl with it. With the larger handles, you can get more forearm recruitment and use a neutral grip.
Need a good arm-day finisher? Get a huge pump by combining Swiss bar curls, skull crushers, and rows.
Do you choose a thumbless grip on skull crushers? A traditional thumb-wrapped grip on a straight bar requires full pronation of the forearm – the movement of rotating the palm down. Skull crushers are less tolerant of limited forearm pronation than pressing variations because we can't (or shouldn't) let the elbow drift outward during the exercise.
Sure, you can improve forearm pronation range of motion with stretches, soft tissue work, and self-mobilizations over time. But in the meantime, train skull crushers more safely and comfortably with a Swiss bar.
- Grab the handles that are approximately shoulder-width or slightly narrower.
- Lie back on the bench with your arms straight above your eye line.
- Keep your elbows pointed toward the sky as you lower the bar behind your head.
- Straighten your elbows to return to the start position.
To put some more meat on your triceps, aim for 3-5 moderate-to-high (10-20) rep sets with a weight that approaches failure but leaves 1-3 reps in reserve.
Pullovers are a great exercise to hammer the lats, pec major, serratus anterior, triceps brachii, teres major, rear delts, and midsection. When performed correctly, they require you to keep elbows pointed straight ahead at all times. This means that pullovers, like skull crushers, are extremely intolerant to limited forearm range of motion.
If you're working around stiff forearms or cranky elbows, a dumbbell pullover or, better yet, this Swiss bar pullover should be your go-to variation.
- Set up for a cross-bench pullover by placing the loaded bar close to the long dimension of a flat bench. Place your shoulder blades near the edge of the bench.
- Grasp the shoulder-width handles. Don't attempt to perform a true rep from the floor. Bring it overhead with a deep bend in your elbows.
- Now, start from the top position. Keep your elbows slightly bent and pointed straight ahead. With your hips bridged and your midsection braced, lower the bar overhead to a fully stretched position.
- Pull the bar back over your brow line and repeat.
For hypertrophy, do these near the end of the workout. Aim for 2-3 moderate-to-high (10-20) rep sets with a weight that approaches failure. Leave 1-3 reps in reserve.
- Start in a tall kneeling position and grasp the shoulder-width handles.
- Brace your midsection and squeeze your butt as you posteriorly tilt or tuck your pelvis.
- Keep your trunk and pelvis motionless throughout. Allow the bar to roll forward with control.
- Pull the bar back under your brow line and repeat.
Shoot for 2-4 controlled sets of 12-15 reps. If you're struggling to perform clean reps (no arching of the back or anterior tilt of the pelvis), limit the range of motion by not rolling out as far. To progress, do 1.5 reps. After rolling out, come back halfway, then return to the fully rolled-out position again before pulling the bar back to your brow line.
You can't beat the simplicity of this hamstring exercise.
- Load a few plates on your Swiss bar.
- Place your heels just inside hip-width, in contact with the far edge of the bar.
- While keeping your hips extended, dig your heels into the bar and bend your knees. This bridges your body from the floor. Continue to bridge until your shins are nearly vertical.
- Slowly straighten your knees but don't rest your butt on the floor. Roll right into the next rep.
For most, the Swiss bar hamstring curl is a lower intensity exercise. So program these later in your workout. Hit 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps.
The Swiss bar will challenge your grip differently during the suitcase carry. It'll target your external obliques while the loading creates a more difficult leverage point from your center of mass than a normal dumbbell would.
This carry can be utilized in a GPP or aerobic-base session or as a direct core exercise or finisher. Just mix up your loads and carry durations.
Zercher squats create upper-body tension and build traps, core strength, and massive arms. The Swiss bar allows you to take a little break from the forearm discomfort. It alleviates the common complaints about discomfort in the crook of your arm.
For most, Zerchers aren't a tool for hypertrophy but rather a solid assistance exercise or primer to teach proper squat mechanics and torso positioning. Try 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps using a controlled eccentric (negative).
- Start with the Swiss bar slightly pointed up towards your chest.
- Rest it in the crook of your elbows and begin descending while keeping your spine neutral and upright.
- Resist bending forward and turning it into a good morning.
- Control your breathing.
A plate works well for the overhead trap raise, but you can also use the Swiss bar without any weight to get a great finisher.
For the front raise, the Swiss bar allows your shoulders to stay in a safer position. If you can find one with slightly externally rotated handles, you can bias the traps better.
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