I was like a kid at Christmas when the UPS guy dropped off my two newest gym toys: the elitefts™ Swiss press bar and the safety squat bar. Unfortunately, these bars arrived toward the end of my final training phase for the Arnold, so I have yet to use them. However, I’ve already mapped out my next training block and will be incorporating these bad boys.

While I don't have any issues with the conjugate method, I personally don’t use it for my training, so adding these bars into heavy rotation isn’t in my plan. At times, there is some influence in my programming from the conjugate method, but anyone who follows my training will see that I love the basic barbell movements. Those are staples in my training. To me, the barbell is king. I plan to program these bars in without rotating bars or removing the main barbell lifts.

Why these bars?

In strongman, almost all our pressing is overhead with a barbell, log, axle, keg, or circus dumbbell. Very rarely but on occasion, you’ll see an incline log press for reps. However, I’ve yet to see the flat barbell bench press in a competition. It just isn't part of strongman. At the same time, I do believe the bench press has some serious merit for strongman. Luckily, I have pretty healthy shoulders, but over the years, I’ve learned that too much volume on the bench press changes this.

One of my goals this year is to bring up my bench press (personal goal) and overhead press (personal and competition goal). I like to alternate the incline bench and flat bench as supplemental movements to my overhead. I’ll typically program one for a while and really exhaust it over time. Then I'll switch to the other and push it for a long time. In this phase, I’m back to the flat barbell bench press.

The neutral grip on the Swiss press bar is a lot easier on the shoulders than the traditional straight barbell. There is also less lat involvement, which to me means more for the shoulders, triceps, and pecs. The shoulders/triceps are what really appeal to me because stronger shoulders/triceps mean more carryover to the overhead press, which is king in strongman. I also love the four different handle variations and plan to incorporate all of them. You can never get too strong from too many angles.

To me, the front squat is king for strongman. It has great carryover to all overhead presses that involve the legs in strongman (which is all presses because you can always use your legs). Almost all carries (except the yoke walk) are done in front of the body. I’ve spent many years building my front squat but haven’t put as much focus on my back squat in the past few years, mainly because I'm working around an injury.

As we all know, the back squat is king when we're talking about building size and strength, so my goal is to keep the barbell back squat as my main squat movement. But again, like a lot of volume with barbell bench presses, a lot of volume for me with a barbell on my back eventually causes my shoulders to dislike me a bit. Enter the safety squat bar. It’s much friendlier on the shoulders, and the weight distribution is a bit different than a barbell due to the camber of the barbell. The weight is actually farther forward (more similar to that of a front squat), but it’s still a little different. Again, like I said about the Swiss press bar, you can’t get too strong from too many different angles.

Another plus about the safety squat bar is that typically with higher rep front squat work, I fatigue in other areas (e.g. upper back) instead of the lower body and my technique starts to suffer, especially with multiple high rep sets. The safety squat bar allows me to hit more volume while loading the quads (which is more similar to a front squat). As Jim Wendler has said, the safety squat bar is really a “dumb” assistance exercise, which means that there is less technique than with your traditional barbell back squat or front squat. You literally put the bar on your shoulders, squat down, stand up, and then do it over and over. Obviously, there are some technical things to be aware of (i.e. knees out), but it takes less thought and is more about just moving the damn weight.

How am I adding them in?

I'm working on a few goals in my next training block. Because I’m coming off serious contest preparation and a serious diet/calorie deficit, my goals are twofold. I’ll gradually be increasing my calories coming off this diet and I'll be going into a surplus over the next few weeks. I’ll also be increasing my volume across the board and moving into a hypertrophy phase. I'll be competing in May to qualify again for Nationals this year, but I plan to treat it like more of a training day. I won't be training for this contest as specifically as I would for a bigger contest like Worlds or Nationals. I like to get qualified as far out from Nationals as I can so that I can plan out my programming for the long term. I’m also planning to utilize the increased muscle mass to help push up my squat, deadlift, and overhead press in the upcoming months as Nationals gets closer.

So in this phase, I’m looking to add some muscle, especially with the volume for my squat and press. From an event standpoint, my main focus is on increasing foot speed, so most of my moving event work will be submaximal. I won't be increasing the weight until I’ve hit set time goals for a set distance. This won’t be as taxing as heavy moving event work.

I plan to hit my 14-day rotating split. In week A, I'll emphasize the overhead press on Monday and the deadlift on Wednesday. In the following week, week B, I’ll emphasize the bench on Monday and the squat on Wednesday. This is where my specialty bars will come into play.

Week B—Monday

Flat barbell bench press: I’ll be working up and chasing rep PRs in the 5- to 10-rep range.

Flat Swiss bar bench press: I’ll be dropping back down to the 60–75 percent range for my volume work. I'll gradually ramp this up over the weeks, but it will be somewhere around 3–5 sets of 5–12 reps. I’ll also be taking advantage of the varying grip widths. The plan is to rotate them in each set. I’ll be chasing rep PRs on these sets after the first few weeks, so I’ll be keeping detailed notes in my journal of the weights/reps and grip used.

Week B—Wednesday

Barbell back squat: I’ll be working up and chasing rep PRs in the 5- to 10-rep range.

Safety squat bar squat: I’ll be dropping back down to the 60–75 percent range for my volume work. Again, I'll gradually ramp this up over the weeks, but it will be somewhere around 3–5 sets of 5–12 reps. As with the Swiss bar bench press, I’ll be chasing rep PRs on these sets after the first few weeks. I’ll also incorporate some paused squats in with these back-off sets after the first few weeks. I don’t think a raw squatter can be too strong in the bottom, and I find these to carry over to a lot of strongman events (e.g. stones, picks, car deadlifts).

What else will I be doing with them?

While I have a ton of ideas for how I plan to use these bars over the next year, I'll be incorporating a few in my next training block.

Using the Swiss press bar, I plan on doing high rep hammer curls. I don’t do a ton of direct bicep work and the work I do is higher volume to help with tendon and elbow health. There is some nice hypertrophy benefit to high rep curls. The elbows and biceps tendons take a beating in strongman. Light, high rep curls help keep me pain free. This will be a nice added variation.

I'll be doing light to moderate good mornings with the safety squat bar. Light to moderate barbell good mornings have helped me build my deadlift and have helped a lot with my strongman events. However, any time the barbell is behind the neck with sufficient volume, I’ve noticed that my elbows and shoulders start nagging me a bit. This will allow me to hit a lot of volume without being externally rotated and stressing the shoulders/elbows. It will also displace the weight slightly different than the barbell does.

You can never be too strong from too many angles, especially for strongman.

While some people may think that a specialty bar is just a specialty bar, I think it's worth taking the time to decide which specialty bars are right for you by analyzing your training, strengths, weaknesses, and goals. While all you need to get strong is a straight bar and weight, there is an advantage to these specialty bars. Besides, who doesn’t like new gym toys and some variation in their training?

So there you have it—the whys and hows of adding specialty bars to my programming. Be sure to follow my training log to watch my progress, see how things go during these upcoming training blocks, and see if things work out as planned or if any modifications or changes need to be made. I love all aspects of programming. While working hard is always key, working hard with smart programming reigns supreme.