Barbells were designed to make lifting weights easy. Almost every exercise done with them is with a balanced grip and two hands. But if we take a different approach, the length of the barbell can be used to add even more challenge to our bodies.
The shouldering a barbell exercises covered in a previous article is one example of this. The shovel lift is another favorite of mine.
A Whole-Body Exercise
When you utilize the leverage of a seven-foot barbell against you, a small weight becomes a big challenge. The shovel lift is a great exercise for building tremendous core and shoulder strength. In fact, the whole body is put to use.
“Because of the leverage disadvantage, you want to be sure your body is capable of handling the weight and won’t be pulled out of place.”
The idea for this lift comes from people who became strong, such as gravediggers, from using the shovel over and over again. While it is called a shovel lift, unless you want to do manual labor, we’re going to use a barbell to mimic the motion. Grab the barbell with one hand in the center and the other at the end of the handle.
The starting position.
The first time you try this, I recommend you do it with an empty barbell. Once you have a feel for the movement, then go ahead and load the bar with weight on only one side. Note: it is essential that you have good collars when doing this exercise.
How to Use This Lift
The shovel lift is not just one exercise, but more of a category of how you use the barbell. There is opportunity for several different specific exercises. Here are several things you can do with this lift.
- Pick up the shovel just slightly. This is almost like a lop-sided deadlift. It is great for handling bigger weights that force your body to work overtime to stabilize everything.
- From this slightly lifted position you can thrust the barbell forward. This extends the leverage and adds extra challenge to the arms and shoulders, which then must be rooted down to a stronger base. It sounds easy, but it is deceptively tough.
- Once standing tall with the barbell, twist to one side. You can rotate both directions and go pretty far. As with everything else make sure you start slowly. Don’t generate more momentum than you can stop as the barbell could pull you out of place. This challenges the torso, especially the obliques.
- Raise the barbell vertically. Act as if you were throwing a pile of dirt over your shoulder. Of course, it goes without saying that you need adequate overhead clearance to do this. Once again, the arms and shoulders get used a lot more here. With this one especially, you’ll be working with a lighter weight than the rest.
- Use your imagination and do various combinations of the above. Try maneuvering the shovel in many different ways and be sure to work both sides equally.
Make sure you have adequate overhead clearance.
Make the Most of It
You’ll likely find one side is much stronger, the side that you would normally use if you were to shovel anything in real life. That means, of course, you should really work on training the other side.
“The first time you try this, I recommend you do it with an empty barbell. Once you have a feel for the movement, then go ahead and load the bar with weight on only one side.”
You can also alter your hand position for slightly better or worse leverage. For an added grip challenge, use a thick-handled barbell or the various options that allow you to turn a regular barbell into a thick bar, like Fat Gripz.
This exercise can be done with a light weight for many reps or with a very heavy weight. Build up in working with heavy weights slowly. Because of the leverage disadvantage, you want to be sure your body is capable of handling the weight and will not be pulled out of place.
My personal favorite use for the shovel lift is as a finisher after a workout. Load up a bar to a working weight, whether light or heavy, and just go at it as best as you can for five to ten minutes.
Give it a shot (or a shovel!) and let me know how it goes in the comments below.
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