Powerlifting & Strongman

How To Use A Thick Grip Bar

Thick grip bars are all about maximising your workouts so you can get more out of your strength training.  

They come in all shapes and sizes and are fantastic for targeting weak links, so you can break the plateau and push up to the next level. 

However, they’re more challenging to use than traditional style barbells, so they’re rarely seen down at the gym. And because they’re less common, a lot of lifters end up missing out on all the benefits that come with training using a thick grip bar. 

Below, we go through what thick grip bars are, how you can use them and what sort of benefits you can get from using them.  

What is a thick grip bar? 

Thick grip bars are weight bars with a thicker than average centre or shaft. 

Most Olympic weight bars have a grip diameter of around 25-28mm. Thick grip bars are usually double that with around a 50mm grip diameter. 

This makes them much more difficult to hold which in turn, forces your muscles to work harder to hold onto the bar. 

The thicker bar also targets your wrists and forearms more, which can really help you progress your lifts. 

Thick grip bars don’t have spinning sleeves. This adds an extra challenge to your lifts as you need to work harder to control the weight load. 

They also have a pipe construction (unlike a solid barbell) which means they can take slightly less weight. However, a 7ft Thick Grip Olympic Bar can still hold 320kg, which, to lift with a 50mm diameter grip, is no mean feat. 

Types of thick grip bar 

fitness expert uses a thick grip axle ez curl bar for bicep curls

A thick grip bar isn’t just one type of bar. There are several different types and each type can help you work on specific areas: 

  • Thick grip barbells: thick grip barbells can be used for a range of exercises. There’s nothing stopping you from swapping out your traditional barbell and using a thick grip bar for your main lifts. However, using a thick grip bar to do squats and bench presses won’t allow you to fully benefit. Instead, you want to use it to perform lifts where your wrists are helping to control the weight – rather than just being locked into place. So, deadlifts are a great one to do with a thick grip bar, as well as bicep curls and bent over rows. 
  • Thick grip dumbbells: thick grip dumbbells are really versatile and will help you build strength in your wrists at a range of angles. As well as curls and presses, you can also use thick grip dumbbells to do walking lunges. Doing this will allow you to get some grip training in while you strengthen your lower body, so they’re great for efficiency too. 
  • Axle bars: axle bars are basically thick grip bars without any knurling on them. They are even harder to hold making them even more of a challenge to use. Use them like the thick grip bars, just remember you will probably need to drop your weight load. 
  • Axle style EZ curl bars: EZ curl bars are fantastic for precision training your biceps and triceps and can be used for a range of exercises. The Axle Style EZ Curl Bar is a really challenging bar to use. However, it’s one of the best bars for targeting weak links and helping you access and build strength in the areas you need. 

As well as thick grip bars, you can also train with thick grip cable attachments. Cable systems are ideal for thick grip training because they engage your wrists at a variety of angles so they’re going to give your wrists and forearms an intense workout while you train.  

Thick grip training benefits 

fitness expert uses a thick grip dumbbell to do bicep curls

Whether you choose an axle bar, thick grip bar or dumbbells, there are a huge amount of benefits to be had from this style of training. Especially if you’ve hit a plateau and want to keep on progressing. 

  • Muscle irradiation – when training day-in, day-out, it’s easy to forget about how much the quality of your exercises matters. Maintaining tension matters because that’s what is going to give your muscles the stimulus they need to adapt and grow. Thick grip bars are harder to use but that’s because they’re so much more demanding than traditional barbells. They require greater recruitment and tension to lift. But it’s this co-tension – from several muscles at the same time – that is really going to benefit you in the long run. 
  • Joint strength – thick grip bars aren’t about power and explosivity. They’re all about the detail. Breaking every movement down and involving so much more than if you were using a traditional barbell. You need to use your wrists and elbows more to lift the bar and in turn, your shoulders. These are all fundamental in lifting heavy so developing your joints is going to really benefit you as well as allow you to progress. 
  • Injury prevention – when training with a thick grip bar, there’s not much that gets left unnoticed or untouched. Everything is a lot more magnified, including any weak spots as well as joint instabilities. By discovering these areas and training them up, you’re going to be much better equipped to be able to deal with more weight and avoid injury when progressing your lifts. 

Best exercises using a thick grip bar 

Some of the best exercises you can do using thick grip bars (both barbells and dumbbells) include: 

  • Deadlifts 
  • Bicep curls 
  • Shrugs 
  • Bent over rows 
  • Reverse bicep curls 
  • Tricep extensions 
  • Dumbbell flyes 
  • Farmers walks 
  • Walking lunges 
  • Zottman curls (bicep curl up, reverse bicep curl down) 
  • Upward rows 
  • Front and lateral raises 
  • Upward bodyweight rows  

Tips for using a thick grip bar 

fitness expert uses a thick grip barbell to deadlift

When using a thick grip bar, there are a few things to remember: 

  • Introduce thick grips gradually – thick grips can take some getting used to. The best way to use them is to introduce them gradually as you build up strength. Add in one exercise with a thick grip bar to each upper body training session and build from there. 
  • Reduce your weight load – they're much more challenging to use than traditional bars so you may need to drop your weight load down and see where your limit is first. 
  • Don’t use thick grips for everything – thick grip training falls into the same category as accessory lifts. It’s there as a way to supplement your main lifts. 
  • Do single arm exercises – when using thick grip dumbbell bars, you might find that you need to train one arm at a time. This is because the bars are much longer than normal dumbbell bars. So, doing bicep curls with both arms at the same time can be tricky. 
  • Use them for warm up sets – a great way to use thick grip bars in your training is to use them for warm up sets. This is a good technique for more experienced lifters. Use them with a slightly lighter load as you build up to your rep-max (however many reps you’re currently training to) and then swap in your traditional bar for the heavier lifts. 

If you would like to know more about our speciality bars, head over to our Product Help Centre to learn about all the different types of weight bar

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