The axle bar, also known as the fat bar, is unusual in terms of diameter but you can still use it in a variety of typical weight lifting exercises.
Something you do want to keep in mind with the exercises below is that your grip muscle strength and endurance often become the limiting factor and the main focus of the movement.
This makes it so the weight you put on your axle bars likely has to be a lot lower. Especially with some of the more technically challenging exercises, you likely want to start with low weights and build up from there.
Additionally, you still want to implement the more regular variations of many of these exercises to have a good workout plan that grows and strengthens a variety of muscles.
For the first exercise, you simply need an axle bar and enough weight plates, preferably bumper plates. Once you have these, to do an axle bar deadlift take the following steps:
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width in front of a weighted axle bar.
- Slightly fold your legs at the knees and tilt your upper body forward to grab the axle bar on the ground.
- Tilt back your upper body and stretch your legs in one continuous motion until your upper body and legs are stretched in one straight line. When doing a deadlift it is very important to keep your back in a straight line during the exercise.
- Slowly move back into the position of step 2 by first tilting your upper body forward (with a straight back) and then folding your knees.
Regular barbell deadlifts are typically done with a lot of weight and focus on your glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and quadriceps.
Axle bar deadlifts do still work these muscles but without straps/grips/hooks the exercise mainly works your grip strength and endurance. In turn, you want to use less weight.
You could also use straps, grips, and grip hooks. This would be to make the exercise more challenging on your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back because the thicker bar diameter puts the weight farther away from you and the lack of bending in the bar.
2. Bench presses
For axle bar bench presses you preferably have a rack that can hold this type of specialty barbell on top of the regular lifting gear. Once you have these, to do an axle bar bench press take the following steps:
- Load the axle bar in the rack with the desired weight.
- Lie down with your back on the weight bench and place your hands with an overhanded grip on the axle bar at about shoulder width.
- Unrack the axle bar and keep your arms slightly less than stretched and pointing up.
- Slowly lower the axle bar to your chest. Your upper arms should be at an angle of about 45 degrees or less to your sides.
- Push the axle bar back up in the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
The main reason people do axle bar bench presses is that they prefer the feeling on their wrists. You will work your grip muscles just a bit more too but not to the same extent as many other exercises.
That means this exercise will still mainly work your chest, tricep, and shoulder muscles.
3. Bicep curls
This next exercise does not require any special gear and not that many weight plates. Take the following steps to do an axle bar bicep curl:
- Stand up straight with your feet at about shoulder width. Hold a loaded axle bar in the lowest position possible while still standing upright.
- Slowly fold your arms at the elbows as far as you comfortably can. Keep your upper arms in the same position throughout the exercise.
- Lower the axle bar back into starting position in a controlled motion.
By using an axle bar, the standard bicep curl focuses a nice amount more on your forearm grip muscles.
The main focus will still be the biceps brachii and biceps brachialis (upper arm muscles) but this extra challenge dimension can be a nice addition.
Similar to bench presses, you need some extra gear for axle bar squats, more specifically a squat rack that can hold the thicker diameter. Once you have that, take the following steps to do an axle bar squat:
- Find a squat rack and place the axle bar at about chest height. Add the desired number of weight plates. If there are any safety bars adjust them to the right height.
- Stand under the axle bar, push your shoulders up so that the axle bar rests on your upper back, and hold it there with your hands.
- Unrack the axle bar and take a few steps back so that you have room to squat. Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
- Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height. You will likely have to bend forward for balance but keep your back in a straight line throughout the movement.
- Push yourself up again into starting position by stretching your legs.
- Rerack the axle bar after your desired number of repetitions.
The thicker diameter of the axle bar can feel more comfortable on your spine and back due to the pressure distribution.
Two downsides you do need to keep in mind are that there are fewer queues to make sure you are standing in the middle of the bar and the lack of rotation sleeves on most axle bars.
You can definitely squat with an axle bar but you want to weigh these pros and cons to decide whether this variation is the right choice for you.
5. Clean and presses
Due to how technically challenging clean and presses are you want to make sure you don’t load the axle bar with too much weight. With that in mind, take the following steps to do an axle bar clean and press:
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width in front of a weighted axle bar.
- Slightly fold your legs at the knees and tilt your upper body forward to grab the axle bar on the ground with your hand palms facing backward.
- Tilt back your upper body and stretch your legs in one continuous motion in an explosive way so you can raise the axle bar enough for the following steps. It is very important to keep your back in a straight line during this step.
- Most of the upward force of the axle bar will come from your legs but you can pull it upward slightly higher.
- Move under the axle bar in a position where you can do the next step. You will have to change the angle of your wrists in relation to the axle bar.
- Catch the axle bar on the front part of your shoulders with your hands still holding the axle bar to control it. Your hand palms will point upward and your legs should be slightly bent.
- Lower your hips a small amount after a few seconds of rest.
- Push your hips up explosively and press the axle bar up in one continuous movement. Make sure your upper arms point enough to the center to avoid shoulder injuries.
Some people use an elevated surface like jerk blocks for axle bar clean and presses because the bar does not bend as much as regular barbells. That being said, this is not a requirement.
Additionally, it is common to clean the axle bar with a mixed grip (one hand palm point forward, the other one backward) and then switch to a regular grip to do the press part.
Axle bar clean and presses definitely focus a lot more on your grip muscles than the regular version. Your shoulder and tricep muscles likely still have a hard time too.
Keep in mind that axle bars typically don’t have rotating weight sleeves. This changes the feel compared to a regular barbell clean and press.
6. Reverse curls
Reverse curls are similar to regular bicep curls but you hold the axle bar with a pronated grip (hand palms point down/backward) instead of a supinated grip (upward/forward).
This exercise is for individuals who want a steel grip. By changing the position of your hands, this movement becomes a lot more challenging for your forearm muscles.
7. Bent-over rows
Take the following steps to do a bent-over axle bar row:
- Load the desired number of weight plates on the axle bar and stand in front of it.
- Put your feet at about shoulder width, grab the axle bar with an overhanded grip, and lift up the axle bar with your legs until you stand up straight. Keep your spine straight throughout the exercise.
- Slightly fold your knees and tilt your upper body forward until it is at about a 45-degree angle to the ground. Let your arms hang down to the ground for now but hold the axle bar tightly.
- Bend your elbows and move your shoulder blades back until your hands reach your body. The goal is to mainly make your back muscles support this movement. Keep your arms close to your body, your spine in a straight line, and your feet in the same position during the movement.
- Lower your hands again to the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
Barbell bent-over rows are mainly an exercise to work your upper back and bicep muscles. By using an axle bar instead, there is a lot more focus on your forearm muscles.
Whether this exercise is still mainly an upper back exercise or not depends on your relative strength between these muscles.
8. Clean and jerks
Axle bar clean and jerks are somewhat similar to clean and presses but there are a few key differences.
The first one is that you catch the axle bar on your shoulders in a deeper squat position, with your hips lower.
Secondly, instead of just a small amount of help from your legs, the jerk involves “jumping” under the bar and finishing with straight arms before standing up.
Using an axle bar again makes the exercise focus a lot on your grip muscles. Compared to clean and presses you will work your leg muscles more and shoulder and tricep muscles less.
9. Axle bar hold
The next axle bar exercise simply involves holding a loaded bar while standing up for an extended period of time. To get the bar to the right height you can make use of a rack or the first part of the deadlift motion.
This may not sound and is not the most exciting movement on the list but it can be a great way to give your forearm muscles a hard time.
10. Shoulder presses
Barbell shoulder presses are typically done with a rack. Depending on what equipment you have available you can also use an axle bar rack or clean it off the ground to shoulder height.
Take the following steps to do an axle bar shoulder press with a rack:
- Find an axle bar rack and place the axle bar at about chest height. Add the desired number of weight plates.
- Grab the axle bar with your hands at about shoulder width with your hand palms facing forward.
- Unrack the axle bar and take a few steps back so that you have room to do the exercise. Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width. Hold the axle bar at about shoulder height. Your elbows can point slightly more forward than just a horizontal line with your shoulders.
- Slowly move the axle bar up until your arms are slightly less than stretched.
- Lower the axle bar back into the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.
Similar to bench presses, using an axle bar for shoulder presses does not change that much. You will definitely work your grip muscles a bit more but the focus is still on your deltoids and tricep muscles.
The axle bar shoulder press may also feel a bit unusual compared to the barbell version due to the lack of rotating sleeves.