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They'll never take us alive
Matt Foreman  |  General Training  |  November 30 2011

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They'll never take us alive, Matt Foreman,
Does anybody here ever feel like they suffer from paranoia? I guess before you all start answering yes or no, let’s get an actual definition of what paranoia is. Paranoid thinking is when a person is heavily influenced by the fear that there is some kind of threat against them, and this fear can become so intense that the person becomes delusional. Basically, being paranoid means that you think everybody (or everything) is out to get you. You walk around freaked out because you think people are trying to hurt you in some way, even if they haven’t done anything or even met you. 
    
Got it? Okay, now…do any of you ever feel paranoid? The reason I’m asking you about this is because sometimes I think I might have a mild case of paranoia. No, I’m not talking about screaming and pooping in my trousers when random people look at me on the street because I think they might be plotting to shoot my cats. I’m talking about weightlifting and strength training. In recent years, I’ve felt a slight buildup of paranoia about the strength world.  This isn’t a general, irrational fear either. This one is very focused and specific.
    
Let me get to the point. Over the last ten years or so, it seems like the world of strength training has been drifting away from barbell-centered lifting. There has been such a rapid growth in the last decade of training methods that are designed to build strength and athleticism without using a barbell. What am I talking about? Things I’ve seen like battle ropes, TRX suspension training, exercise bands, stability balls, medicine balls, kettlebells, sand bags, that type of stuff. These things have been growing enormously popular in recent years. Sometimes it seems like they’re all I hear about anymore when I read strength training stuff.   
    
I’m getting a little freaked out because I worry that we’re eventually going to live in a country where the barbell gets thrown in the outhouse and everybody thinks you can get strong by using things that are made of plastic or rubber. 
    
Now, here’s an important point to mention. I personally think that there is solid benefit and value to every type of equipment I just listed. Kettlebells, exercise bands, stability balls, and all these other systems have some outstanding positives. They’re fun, you get some strength benefits, and they can add a little variety to your training program. However, I’ve always classified these things as assistance or supplemental exercise. That means that they get used at the end of a workout, after the athlete has worked hard on barbell movements like cleans, snatches, squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and so forth. The barbell is supposed to be the foundation of the training program; it should be emphasized above all other components in the workout. The reason for this is that I believe there is absolutely no better way to develop strength than by using barbell movements. A workout where the athlete performs snatches, back squats, RDLs, military presses, and then moves on to do some core work with medicine balls, rotator cuff exercises with exercise bands, or some other movement-centered work with another piece of equipment…that sounds excellent.
    
I know that we’ll always have people in the strength world who want to invent the next big thing. There’s a lot of money to be made if you build some new thingamajig and convince a lot of people that it’ll make you look like the guys on the Bowflex commercials. I also know that some people don’t need to pound out squats and pulls to accomplish their athletic goals. Got it. But I worry that the progressive pussification of America that we’ve been watching during our lifetimes is eventually going to trickle into strength training, and those of us who are old-school weightlifting types will be dismissed and ignored. We’ll lose jobs and clients because we believe in doing squats and barbell lifts, and the people we’re trying to coach start to look somewhere else because they think our methods are outdated.   
    
I hope I’m totally wrong about this. I actually hope I just have a mild case of paranoia, and the barbell is still safe and sound as the lord of strength development. Please feel free to let me know if that's the case. But if my fears are justified, and the ShakeWeight people are waging war against our squat racks, then let’s make sure we fight to the last breath. Keep the bar in your life and circulate as much propaganda as you can to convince the uneducated masses that the ThighMaster won’t make your legs awesome. No retreat, no surrender. 
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Matt Foreman is the football and track & field coach at Mountain View High School in Phoenix, AZ. A competitive weightliter for twenty years, Foreman is a four-time National Championship bronze medalist, two-time American Open silver medalist, three-time American Open bronze medalist, two-time National Collegiate Champion, 2004 US Olympic Trials competitor, 2000 World University Championship Team USA competitor, and Arizona and Washington state record-holder. He was also First Team All-Region high school football player, lettered in high school wrestling and track, a high school national powerlifting champion, and a Scottish Highland Games competitor. Foreman has coached multiple regional, state, and national champions in track & field, powerlifting, and weightlifting, and was an assistant coach on 5A Arizona state runner-up football and track teams.
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Weightlifting Programming: A Winning Coach's Guide
Weightlifting Programming: A Winning Coach's Guide
Bones of Iron: Collected Articles on the Life of the Strength Athlete
Bones of Iron: Collected Articles on the Life of the Strength Athlete
The Coach's Strength Training Playbook
The Coach's Strength Training Playbook
Cooking for Health & Performance Volume 1 [E-Book]
Cooking for Health & Performance Volume 1 [E-Book]

9 Comments
Adam S 1 | 2011-11-30
I don't think barbells will ever die, they're will always be the market of meatheads trying to compete to see who has the bigger junk, they'll never die. So, yes Mr. Foreman, I think your being paranoid about the complete annihilation of barbells. What I can say and share with you is that, as a general strength trainee, I've actually stopped using barbells in my training. The sole reason for this is that I work in the film industry and have literally no time to go to the gym. I've been making do with a single dumbbell, rings, and a pull-up bar at home, working out when I get home at 2am or before I go to work at 5am. I've been doing this for the last 2 films I've worked on in the last 6 months. A couple of weeks ago, we were filming in a high school and their weight room was open. We had a 30 minute break and I saw that they had barbells and a squat rack. I jumped at the chance to use it to test and gauge how much strength I must have lost!!! (I use exclamations because I was actually really excited, it was like seeing a long lost friend, even though you know your relationship has changed and will never be the same, you're still just excited at the sight of seeing them) I was in jeans that were already slightly torn from when I tried to air squat, so I didn't want to risk bursting my pants again at work. Instead I decided to do some hang power clean and jerks. Here's where the big shock to me came...I didn't lose any strength, the bar felt HEAVY, but I actually had a 5lbs PR in the jerk, putting up 245lbs. What stuck out the most to me though wasn't the PR, it was the sight of my hands. After 6 months free of barbells, my calluses were finally normal looking and I didn't need to do the daily shaving down I used to do. I didn't even replace my ped egg after I lost my old one. What I noticed was that my hands were swollen and gruff. It then made me reflect on how when I used to train, besides my hands always being in need of repair, I had a bunch of barbell kisses on my collars and marks on my traps from squatting...and the ladies didn't find this very attractive. Call me crazy, but I think this is actually a worry in the continued use of barbells (at least for young dudes, the female issue of thinking that it will make them bigger has been beaten to death and I am no authority to talk about it because I am not a trainer who encounters this issue daily). In the end it's all really about vanity for those not competing in strength sports. If I am able to maintain a decent level of strength and don't have to deal with the unflattering scrapes and bruises that are inevitable with a barbell, why use it? Just my two cents. For the record, I still love barbells and would use them if I still had the time. I'm also a huge Oly lifting fan and have been following CA for the last 3 years. Just thought I would offer my p
Stephen 2 | 2011-12-01
I think you answered your own question with "I think they might be plotting to shoot my cats" Hahaha I'm sorry I know you're not meant to laugh at the mentally ill but this article should come with a health warning because it's piss your pants funny. The Barbell and Olympic lifts are the staple where I live, Everything else is classed as a suppliment exercise except obviously the press up and pull up which we teach and learn are just as important. Chill out Mr Foreman Barbells arn't going anywhere unfortunately neither are the douchebags who claim to build 6 pack abs in a month or pack on on 30lb of muscle in 6 weeks.
John 3 | 2011-12-01
I actually think you're kind of right. I think there has definitely been a shift away from barbell work as people have started to confuse "fitness" and "strength." On one level, this is just semantics, but I'm going to try to make my case anyway. Strength lends itself toward the development of "fitness" or GPP to a certain degree, but the pursuit of "fitness" doesn't necessarily lend itself to the development of "strength" very much. Most people who come into the gym don't have any experience with the bar, and they're intimidated by it. These other tools (TRX, etc) are being used because you can use them with someone to basically develop "fitness" but they don't require a great deal of strength. That's also why you can use them at the end of a hard workout, as you mentioned. I think I had a point when I started this comment, but I lost track of what it was. I guess at the end of the day bar work is a skill, but it's essentially a required skill if you want to develop real strength. For someone who wants to develop "fitness" (which is most of customers in the industry) bar work isn't really necessary, but makes the attainment of fitness easier (in my opinion). I think CrossFit is making bar work more popular, but not teaching the skill sufficiently. I think there are going to be fewer and fewer bars in big-box, corporate gyms in the future. And there are probably going to be 2 types of "boutique" gyms - those with bars and those without (including yoga, pilates, any cardio circuit, whatever...).
Alan 4 | 2011-12-01
I enjoyed the blog post, as I do with all of Matt's posts. I found it particularly amusing (ironic) when I saw the web ad for TRX in the sidebar next to the article!
lionel 5 | 2011-12-02
love the olympic lifts...love heavy kbells (for me) more! You don't have to move around the frontal plane of the bar all the time.....plus unilateral movement and the ability to balance strength imbalances between left and right sides... Use a TRX as a supplement or an easy day or metcon day...but agreed....either the Bar or heavy kbells should be a staple...
Brian 6 | 2011-12-05
Totally agree with everything except the Kettlebell being tossed in next to TRX and stability balls, etc. This seems like the one thing that isn't quite the same as the others you list especially given what the Russians have done with it over time to build some very strong individuals.
buretto 7 | 2011-12-11
You're right to be paranoid about your cats. I'm out to get the world rid of those useless things, but I couldn't make it through a week without barbells. There is, in general, a lack of understanding for the need of both weightlifting and strength training in the general population and I have seen many potentially good gyms (especially CF) get watered down by trying to sell sexy met-cons every day rather than actually put the effort into explaining what the benefits of barbell work are. That's why strong (and by strong I mean able to move barbells) athletes from other backgrounds come in and dominate CF instead of the other way around.
Shawn 8 | 2011-12-12
As a person who has only been strength training for 1.5 years, and as someone who had tried, and promptly quit, numerous trendy workouts, i can say the barbells and "old fashioned" training is safe and sound. The reason was in your explanation, it is the core of building strength, nothing has, nor will (at least of the things we know about) take its place. Why? because it WORKS, end of story, trends will come and go, but the barbell is not trendy, it just is what it is, you said it, the best way to build strength!!! Those trends are good for one thing though, getting people interested in strength training, CrossFit is a good example of that, i got into Olympic lifting via CrossFit, it was a great intro into getting stronger, it showed me how to have fun with it! Now i have fun getting stronger, with a barbell ;)
TA Barnhart 9 | 2014-07-11
i never would have done barbells if i hadn't started CrossFit. i love lifting. slowly, my technique is improving, my weights are increasing, and i feel like a real lifter. (i'm 57 & have now been lifting 2-1/2 yrs.) i'm fortunate to be at a box where lifting is done right (i know it is because i read your magazine & watch your videos). i know a lot of CF boxes don't get it right, but the whole QC issue within CF is a major problem that we'll have to address at some point as a community. in the meantime, i think you can count on many CFers to keep the love for "real" lifting. gimmicks don't work in CF; it call comes down to effort, commitment, and good technique. lifting is an integral part of that, when done right. even for me, doing CF Endurance: the lifting in that program has made me a better runner & a stronger athlete. i love lifting, and i know my others in CF share that love.
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