Want better hand and forearm development? Train with thick handled barbells or dumbbells, or often referred to as Fat Bars. The thicker the bar, the less leverage the hands and fingers have while holding it. Training with thick bar equipment stresses out the hands and forearms big time!
This book excerpt below explains the theory behind thick bar training. Read the article and at the bottom of the page I'll explain how to make a homemade thick bar barbell and dumbbell handles.
Dinosaur Training by Brooks Kubik
Lost Secrets of Strength & Development
CHAPTER TWELVE: THICK BARS
Advanced dinosaurs train with thick handled barbells and dumbbells. A regular barbell or dumbbell is 1" or 1 1/16" in diameter. Dinosaurs use barbells and dumbbells that are 2", 2 ½" or even 3" in diameter. Why? Because using a thick handled bar is one of the very best things you can do to develop maximum muscular size and strength. The turn of the century strongmen-many of whom were enormously stronger than the vast majority of our modern "champions"-were well acquainted with the incredible effect of thick bar work. They thrived on it. The thick bar work allowed them to develop levels of upper body power virtually incomprehensible to those who train only with regular bars.
Thick bars develop levels of muscular size and strength that cannot be duplicated with any other equipment. Thick bars are very difficult to control. Compared to an Olympic barbell, a bar with a 2" or 3" diameter seems like a log. Can you imagine bench pressing, pressing or curling a telephone pole? That's what it feels like when you use a thick handled barbell. You cannot rely on style, form, timing or technique to complete a lift. You have to do it with sheer strength. To paraphrase Dr. Ken Leistner, "all you can do is lie back and push" when you bench with a thick handled bar. That's one reason why thick bar work is so effective. It imposes a tremendous burden on the muscles, tendons and ligaments-a far, far greater burden than a regular bar imposes.
A second reason why thick bar work is so beneficial is that the bar forces you to involve your forearms, hands, wrists and fingers to a far greater degree than does a conventional bar. This in turn causes a stronger mind-muscle link, which inevitably leads to greater gains in muscular size and strength. Have I lost you? Stay with me, I will explain everything.
What do I mean when I talk about a "mind-muscle link"? I mean the connection between your brain and your nervous system. Whenever you lift a weight, the lift begins with the brain consciously directing the muscles to push or pull in a particular direction. The message from the brain is carried to the muscles via the nervous system. When the muscles receive the message, they respond by pushing or pulling in the manner directed by the brain. That's the mind-muscle link: the connection between the brain, the nervous system and the muscles.
Messages from the brain to the muscles are transmitted by nerve impulses. The strength of each individual nerve impulse, the total number of nerve impulses, and the frequency with which nerve impulses are transmitted from brain to muscle is one of the most crucial factors in the amount of force you can exert in any given lift. I have no research studies to cite and no way to prove that my opinion is correct, but I firmly believe that using thick bars in your training causes an increase in the strength of individual nerve impulses, the total number of nerve impulses and the frequency of transmission of nerve impulses.
As I noted above, thick bars are terribly awkward and extremely difficult to handle. You have to adjust the bar's path constantly as you lift it or else you will get hopelessly out of the groove almost immediately. There has to be constant feedback between the brain and the muscles. I believe that the necessity of constant feedback causes a stronger mind-muscle link and I believe that this is one very important reason why thick bar work is so incredibly productive.
Thick bars are terrific for strengthening the forearms, wrists, thumbs and fingers. Any exercise you do with a thick bar automatically becomes a test of hand and finger strength. Pulling movements are almost impossible with a thick bar, curling movements are incredibly rugged and even pressing exercises are downright nasty when you do them with a thick bar. As a dinosaur, you will be doing plenty of specialized grip work, but be aware that you will work your grip savagely by simply using a thick bar instead of a regular bar for your upper body movements.
There is yet another important thing about thick bars. Wimps, yups and wannabe's won't go near them. Muscle pumpers and drug babies wouldn't touch a thick bar on a bet. The chrome and fern crowd would rather give up their Evian water and celery sticks than try to lift a thick handled bar. You may think I'm kidding but I'm deadly serious about this. Before I started training in the sanity of my basement gym, I took my 3" bar to the gym where I trained and I was always amused by the reaction.
Some guys literally ran away whenever they saw the thing. They were very obviously intimidated by the large, thick mass of iron. They always went over and found solace in the chrome plated dumbbells the gym owner had purchased from a women's spa that went out of business. The only guys who ever wanted to use the thing were Ted Solinger and Bruce Bullock, who later became my training partners in my home gym. In other words, the thick handled bar was a great way to tell who was serious about training and who was content to "sculpt" and "shape" and do meaningless movements with chrome-plated baby weights.
If I ever open a gym I will stock it with thick handled barbells and dumbbells. Doing so would be a great way to discourage the wimps and yups and talkers from joining the gym. One look at the thick handled bars and the twinkie crowd would run for cover. So would the muscle pumpers-they would immediately realize that lifting a bar like that required STRENGTH and pumpers as a group are about as strong as undernourished kittens. The only guys who would go to a gym that featured lots and lots of thick bars would be the kind of guys who were interested in strength, power and physical challenges. Come to think of it, the gym would cater to dinosaurs and nobody else. Not a bad idea!
Use thick bars for all of your upper body exercises. Always use a power rack for thick bar bench presses and set the bottom pins to catch the weight in case the bar slips. NEVER do thick bar benches outside the power rack!
Use your head when you begin to incorporate thick bar work. Drop the poundage at first. You will NOT be able to handle your regular poundage when you first begin thick bar movements. The first time I tried thick bar benches, all I could handle was 365 pounds-and it almost killed me. With a regular bar I was handling 405-410 at the time.
A three-inch bar is too thick for some lifters to curl. If the bar is too thick for you, your elbows will let you know! Be alert to this and do not hesitate to drop from a 3" to a 2" bar if your elbows protest.
Check out the new Powerblock XXXL Heavy Weight 175 lb set. The info is under Products - Home Use - on the Powerblock site. Click Here.
Ironmind sells a beautiful 2" bar sized for Olympic plates. It is called Apollon's Axle, after the great oldtime strongman, Apollon, who regularly lifted a 2" railroad axle as part of his strength show.
You can also make your own thick bar. Let's assume you have an old 7' Olympic bar. Simply wrap heavy tape around the inside of the bar, then slide a 5' length of heavy steel pipe over the bar, leaving room for the plates on each rotating sleeve. Of course, once you convert the bar you won't be able to change it back.
Another option is to buy several sizes of steel pipe and hire a welder to weld them together for you.
This all may sound like lots of work and unnecessary expense, but it's not. Buying or making a thick bar-or several of them-is one of the very best investments you can make. Thick bars are one of the KEYS to strength and power. Buy or make one, use it and learn for yourself one of the true secrets of strength and power.
Article by Brooks Kubik
1" pipe foam OD is 1 5/8"
1-1/2" PVC OD is 2" ID is 1-1/2"
Two Olympic dumbbell handles
Tennis racket grip tape, or hockey stick tape
Cut the PVC 4-3/4" long. Measure the distance between the rotating ends of your Olympic dumbbell handles and cut the PVC 1/8" less than the measurement. This will allow the ends to rotate after you install the thick handle.
Cut the pipe foam to size and remove the protective covering for the adhesive and stick the foam around the handle.
Wrap the PVC with the tennis racket grip tape and secure each end with electrical tape. Squeeze the PVC over the foam. Replace the rotating sleeve.
1-1/2" x 6' galvanized pipe
Existing collars from a dumbbell handle and olympic bar
Hockey stick tape
1-1/2" galvanized pipe OD is 1 7/8"; your typical olympic weight center hole is 1-15/16". This leaves a clearance of about 5/16", which is OK because it allows the olympic weight to spin (don't tighten the collars right up against the plate) when you are doing a curling movement, just like a rotating end of a standard Olympic bar. What I don't show in the photo is the hockey stick tape. Adding the tape will increase the thickness of the pipe to about 2", and help me grip it as well.
I only bought a six foot length of galvanized pipe because I might use the pipe to sleeve an old seven foot olympic bar if I can find a cheap, good used one on craigslist. Then, all I have to do is cut my six foot pipe down to fit between the rotating ends of the used olympic bar. One inch pipe foam will keep the galvanized pipe from moving around on the olympic bar.
If you do sleeve an olympic bar, you'll get the added benefit of rotating ends, which puts much less pressure on the wrists when doing Power cleans etc.
Thick Handles for the Powertec Workbench Leverage Gym
1" pipe foam OD is 1-5/8"
1-1/2" PVC OD is 2" ID is 1-1/2"
Hockey stick tape
Cut the PVC 5" long. Cut the pipe foam to size and do not remove the protective covering for the adhesive (this will allow for removal) and place the foam around the handle. Wrap the PVC with the hockey stick tape. Squeeze the PVC over the foam. This will be a snug fit!
Get ready to build strong hands and forearms! Also, as the article stated above "You will NOT be able to handle your regular poundage when you first begin thick bar movements." Train regularly with a thick bar and you'll be way ahead of the lifters who don't.
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