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13 Things You Should Know Before You Pick Up A Barbell

Tips on how to safely lift to your ~swolest~ potential.

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While weightlifting is great for your overall health and fitness, using a barbell is no joke and it's important to know what you're doing before you pick one up for the first time.

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That's why BuzzFeed spoke with Albert Matheny, advisor for ProMix Nutrition and certified strength and conditioning expert at Soho Strength Lab, to figure out everything you need to know before trying barbell exercises.

And here you can find the instructions and visuals for three basic barbell exercises that will help you improve your overall strength and fitness.

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1. If you've never lifted a barbell before, make sure your body is ready for the weight.

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An empty barbell will weigh anything from 33 pounds (for a women's bar) to 45 pounds (for a men's bar), so Matheny says it's important to start out doing exercises that mimic the moves you'll be doing with a barbell, such as bodyweight squats, dumbbell goblet squats, push-ups, barbell press, etc., so that you can build up the flexibility, strength, and stability you'll need when trying the exercises with a barbell.

2. Always check that your weights are loaded evenly.

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Just make sure you're paying attention when you're putting on the plates. If you accidentally load different amounts of weight on either side of the barbell, the barbell could become wobbly or unstable and can lead to injury.

3. And always use a clip to secure weight plates onto the barbell.

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The last thing you want is for the weights to come sliding off when you’re getting your exercise on. Use a clip to keep the plates in place on each side of the bar so the weights are snug and don’t move.

4. Make sure you check out your surroundings, especially before you unrack your weights.

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It's important to always be aware of what's going on around you when you're dealing with a lot of weight. The last thing you want is to accidentally bump someone with a plate.

Be courteous in the gym and make sure you have enough room to lift.

5. Only lift with flat, stable footwear that doesn't have a ton of cushion.

Matheny recommends staying away from narrow shoes with worn-out soles and lots of foam or bounce because they won't give you the stability you need when balancing that heavy weight. He says it's safest to stick with wide, flat shoes or weightlifting shoes with a dense rubber sole.

A good ol' pair of Converse make a great cheaper option to the expensive weightlifting shoes that most athletic brands sell.

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6. Warm up with some empty barbell reps before getting into it.

Matheny says that no matter what exercise you’re about to do you should always warm up beforehand. Doing something like 10 bodyweight reps or some reps with an empty barbell should do the trick. Getting your body comfortable and prepared for the movement will help prevent you from getting injured.

7. After you've warmed up, start out by doing one set with the barbell at a lighter weight than you're planning to use during your workout.

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For example, if you're squatting: After you warm up with the barbell, start with a weight you can squat easily for 15 reps. Then increase the weight slightly (by around 10 percent) until you feel comfortable doing the weight you're going to be working with. Matheny says beginners need to take it slower when increasing their warm up weight, while experienced lifters may be able to increase their weight in larger increments.

8. Have someone spot you when you’re first learning and any time you’re trying to go up in weight.

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It may be inconvenient to lift with a buddy, but when you’re first learning, it’s safest to have someone with you until you have the correct form for the moves. And even when you do have your form down, it’s still safest to have a spotter, especially when things get heavy.

If you can’t go to the gym with a friend, you can always ask a trainer or someone around you that you trust to help out.

Read up on how to properly spot someone, here.

9. And you can also set up and use power racks when you're starting out.

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For heavy lifting, Matheny says you can set up the power racks (AKA safety bars or lower bars) — which will catch the weight — but make sure you set them up correctly at a height that you can get out from depending on what exercise you're doing.

10. If you're in the middle of the rep and you know it's too heavy for you to finish, find a safe way to dump the weight.

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Before you start your barbell exercises, it's always safest to map out a way to dump the weight in case it ends up being too much for you. You should never try to complete a rep if it's going to be too heavy for you to move with correct form.

For bench pressing, you should always have a spotter for a weight that's challenging. If you don't have a spotter and you find yourself unable to finish the rep, just re-rack the bar on the lowest/most accessible rung of the rack.

For deadlifts, Matheny says to just drop the bar in front of you, but be careful of your feet.

When it comes to squatting, learn to safely dump the bar.

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11. Inhale at the beginning of every movement and exhale towards the top of each movement.

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So, if you're doing squats, breathe in right before you squat down and exhale once you're back to standing. Matheny says controlling your breathing will help keep your core muscles engaged, which will protect your spine from strain.

12. Once you start lifting, make sure you can do at least 12 reps with perfect form before trying to go up in weight.

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Matheny recommends aiming to do 3 to 5 sets of 10 to 12 reps each time you do a barbell movement in a workout, when you're first starting out. Once you can do 12 reps for all your sets with perfect form, choose a heavier weight and work your way back up to 3 to 5 sets of 10 to 12 reps at the new weight. Since the new weight will be pretty challenging, try starting with, say, 3 to 5 or 5 to 7 reps (still doing 3 to 5 sets).

As said above, be careful when increasing your weight and make sure to have a spotter around just in case. As you progress you can try more advanced training programs that will be more specific to your level of experience.

13. Definitely don't do barbell exercises that require heavy lifting at the end of your workout.

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If you plan on incorporating barbell exercises into your workout, make sure to do them before you get tired. You need to have the energy to do the moves with proper form, especially when you're first starting out.

So if you plan on running and lifting for your workout, get your run in after you lift so you're not exhausted by the time you hit the weights.

If you're looking for a few exercises to get started with, here are three basic barbell moves that will really help you improve your overall strength and fitness.

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