Even if you’re no stranger to the weight room, can navigate the dumbbell rack with ease, and handle any attachment on the cable machine, you may be put off by the idea of loading weight plates onto a barbell. But it’s worth taking the time to learn how.

“Barbells are one of the most effective training tools on the gym floor,” says Diane Vives, M.S., C.S.C.S., a spokesperson for the National Strength Conditioning Association based in Austin, TX.

Most barbell movements engage a greater amount of muscle throughout the body in order to maintain balance and stability, which means you’ll burn more calories during your workout. Plus, most of the exercises mimic movement patterns we do elsewhere in life. And unlike the guys, women tend to be more attentive to their form and technique when lifting these weights, adds Vives.

“Since we don’t have as much lean muscle mass as men, we lift with more finesse.”

This total-body conditioning workout from Vives uses a variety of pushing and pulling movements that take your body through its full range of motion. Keep in mind that with any free weight, the movement is self-guided, so it’s important to get your technique down first before adding weight. And don’t push to the point of exhaustion.

“You should still feel like you could do two more reps at the end of each set with proper form. If your technique breaks down before then, stop and reduce the weight for your next set; and if you feel like you could have done several more at the end, increase your weight on your next set,” notes Vives.

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