The Barbell Challenge

Do you want to be challenged? The Olympic barbell is a piece of equipment that you use often in the gym but more than likely in a conventional manner! Do you want to eliminate boredom from it? Try this challenge!

Not only the biggest or strongest will prevail on this challenge … but also the most balanced athlete, and perhaps even do better.

You will need good relative strength and great aerobic capacity.


The Barbell Challenge!

The Barbell Challenge is four barbells lifts based on a percentage of your body weight, each lift for 3 repetitions and as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes.

  1. Deadlift (100%)
  2. Bench press (65%)
  3. Back squat (80%)
  4. Military press (50%)

I developed this because I was looking for a challenge:

  • to evaluate work capacity
  • that assesses how efficient you are relative to your weight
  • that is easily modulable

At first, I wanted to develop an assessment challenge for our SOF (special operation forces) applicants. These people need good strength and great aerobic work capacity at the same time. Because the max strength is not as important as their aerobic capacity, I wasn’t looking for a super heavy challenge. On the other hand, I wanted to find a way that their strength will help them during the challenge. Basic exercise selection was preferred so that technique would not become an obstacle.

I normally use this challenge in their first phase preparation (GPP) to assess weaknesses. I started with these percentages, and gradually crank them as mentioned above depending on their scores.

Once you have done 3 reps on every 4 lifts, you have completed a round. Here are the goals:

  • 10 rounds = Minimum goal
  • 15 rounds = Great condition
  • 20+ rounds = Excellent condition

When you can achieve 20 rounds and more, you can add 5% on each lift for your next training instead of just trying to compress more rounds into the time frame.

The percentages were mainly tested with males candidates. Most females had a hard time with the upper body percentages, especially with the military press. A female version will follow eventually.

Movement standards

Conventional style.
Lock your knees and fully extend your hips on top.
You can’t drop the bar.

Bench press
Make contact with your chest on every repetition.
Fully lock your elbows on top.
No bouncing on chest permitted.

You’ll be required to squat deep. I mean that your hip crest will need to be lower than the top of your knees when we look sideways.
Lock your knees and fully extend your hips on top.

Military press
No momentum is allowed with the legs. ONLY strict pressing.
Lock your elbows on top and bring barbell overhead on each repetition.
You’ll need to bring back the bar touching the upper chest/shoulder on each repetition.
The bar must be in a rack. If on the ground, it will need to be cleaned first and it will add more difficulty to the training.

Two ways to improve

There are two factors to improve your score on this challenge.

Factor 1 – Increase you relative strength
Relative strength can be increased by using 2 different strategies. You can also apply both strategies at the same time.

1. Increase your max strength
Being able to have a higher max on each lift will help you with the sub-max load because it’s based on your body weight and not on your actuals maxes.
If you look at the following example, you will understand how having a greater max strength will help you in this challenge.

Body weight: 200 lbs
Current max on squat (1MR): 225 lbs
% used in the training, 80% of body weight: 160 lbs (71,1% of current max)

New max on squat (1MR): 250 lbs
160 lbs = 64% of the new max

Therefore, increasing your maximal strength will help you because the load will induce less fatigue. The load will be at a lower percentage according to your max. 3 reps at 64% will be easier than 3 reps at 71,1%. This is true only if you maintain your body weight even if you increase your maxes. If you gain weight at the same time, the load on the bar will also increase and it will reduce the advantage of being stronger.

2. Decrease your body weight
Without a doubt, because all loads are based on your body weight, lowering your body fat (improving your body composition) and decreasing your total body weight will help you. This is true only if you maintain your strength even if you decrease your body weight. If you lose strength at the same time, the load on the bar will remain at a higher percentage of your maxes and it will reduce the advantage of being smaller/leaner.
Here explained in the above example:

Current body weight: 200 lbs
Max on squat (1MR): 225 lbs
% used in the training, 80% of body weight: 160 lbs (71,1% of max)

New body weight: 190 lbs
New % used in the training, 80% of body weight: 152 lbs (67.5% of my max)

Factor 2 – Increase your conditioning
Being able to improve your cardiovascular fitness will give you the capacity to express your strength for a longer period of time and you will be more efficient with the sub-max load.

Here are 2 simple suggestions on how to improve your conditioning.
2x [7x (30’’ all-out effort: 30’’ recovery); 5’ break] for aerobic power.
15-25’ of continuous effort at a moderate pace for aerobic work capacity.

To summarize, this challenge is four barbells lifts that assess your relative strength and your aerobic capacity in 20 minutes. Keep it simple and prepare your bars, because you are now … Challenged!

Post your result bellow or on Facebook.

Jean-Robert Rioux

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