The Forgotten Art of Barbell Juggling

There are big strength, speed, explosiveness, and coordination components to practicing this old-time strongman movement.

Of all the forgotten lifts I’ve covered, this activity is perhaps the oddest of the bunch and one you see even less often than the others – and for good reason. You probably haven’t heard of barbell juggling because almost no one does it. Even among old-time strongman it was something only performed by a few.

Barbell juggling does not actually involve juggling multiple barbells at one time, but like kettlebell juggling involves the throwing, catching, spinning, and lifting of a single barbell in novel ways. It is not a single exercise, but a grouping of different techniques, some of which are explained below.

“As with anything else, start light and build up slowly. Just the bar alone is all you need to begin.”

Note: Barbell juggling certainly builds strength, but it is only recommended for those looking to perform as strongmen. It’s flashy and looks cool, but if you’re just looking for the benefits of strength training, then normal exercises will do.

In addition to strength there are big speed, explosiveness, and coordination components to practicing this art. One of the best barbell jugglers alive today is Andrew Durniat. In this video from one of his strongman performances, you can see a few moves in action.

Barbell Juggling Technique

Here’s a list of moves that are all part of barbell juggling, along with tips on how to perform them and train for them.

Switch Hands Snatch – Do a one-hand snatch with the barbell, but as it is exploding upward switch hands and complete the snatch with the barbell overhead in the other hand.

Overhead Hand to Hand – From a locked-out position with the barbell overhead in one hand, toss it into a locked-out overhead position in the other hand. The hard part is catching the barbell directly in the middle in order to be able to control it, especially once some weight is added. This was a favorite of Arthur Saxon who would routinely do this with barbells weighing 200 to 300 pounds.

Zercher Catch and Throw – Start with the barbell in the Zercher position (the crook of your elbows) and explosively throw it upward into the overhead position, catching with one or both hands. You can also do it the other way around – let go of it from overhead and catch it in the Zercher position. Warning: this last one can be painful.

Strongman Dan Cenidoza demonstrating various barbell juggling techniques.

Zercher Spin – Same as the above, except you start in the Zercher, throw the bar overhead, spin 180 degrees, and then catch it back in the Zercher position.

Behind the Back – From an overhead position, drop the barbell and catch it behind you in your hands, with your arms hanging by your sides near your butt. Take extra caution that you don’t drop the barbell or hit your spine or any other part of you. Perhaps the barbell can even be thrown explosively from here.

Vertical Lift – Stand the barbell up vertically, with the end of the barbell in your palm. It goes without saying that you need a lot of overhead clearance for this one. Keeping it balanced, go ahead and press, push press, or jerk the weight overhead, maintaining the balance throughout.

Neck Spin – The barbell can be spun around your neck. Start on the back, as in a back squat, move through the front squat position, and then to your back again. The difficulty is in keeping the center of the mass centered around you.

Around the Body Spin – It can also be spun around the body. See the video, as this one is hard to describe in words.

Overhead Spin – From an overhead position with both hands on the bar as close to each other as possible, spin the barbell.

If you work with all of the above, I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with a number of new moves on your own. In barbell juggling you get extra points for creativity.

The Practice of Strength

If you do choose to pursue this activity, let me provide you with a few starting tips:

  • As with anything else, start light and build up slowly. Just the bar alone is all you need to begin.
  • Speaking of bars, it is recommended you use a two-inch thick bar or larger, without knurling. For some of the moves a normal bar will cause more pain and damage. (Did I mention this isn’t for everyone?)
  • Treat this as a practice – not as a workout. You don’t want to be fatigued when you are trying out complicated and potentially dangerous moves.

That all being said, if you do try barbell juggling and you gain some decent skills, be sure to post a video and share it with us!

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