Master Your Movement and Body Mechanics with The Double Barbell Protocol
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
Mastering your body mechanics and overall movement is vital not only for athletic performance and physique development but also for health and quality of life. With that said I like to employ a number of unique exercise protocols that teach and reinforce proper mechanics. These include the use of eccentric isometric protocols, eyes closed variations, bottoms up variations, hanging band technique, offset training, unstable training, rapid eccentric isometrics, perturbation training, reactive neuromuscular training and more.
One method that I’ve also used quite a bit over the years to help ingrain optimal body mechanics and form into the CNS of my athletes and clients is the double barbell protocol. Just as the name implies this method involves the use of two barbells at once to perform a variety of movements.
In fact most basic movement patterns and variations can be performed with this method including the squat, deadlift, row, chest press, overhead press, lunges, hip hinge, pullover, jumps, loaded carries and more. The double barbell protocol is particularly effective for teaching motor control, kinesthetic awareness, and overall body positioning. That’s because even the slightest deviation in form, faulty postural alignment, excessive momentum, erroneous shift in center of mass, or lack of joint stability will cause the bars to either tilt from front to back or rotate from side to side. In other words they provide immediate feedback regarding form and body positioning.
In addition, the forearms and grip get absolutely pummeled from the double barbell protocol as you’ll be forced to squeeze the daylights out of the bars to ensure they remain stable. However, this grip activation not only enhances forearms, hand, and grip strength, it also helps stabilize, centrate, and pack the shoulder joint to a greater degree as there is a direct relationship between grip activation and shoulder stability. And lets face it, anytime the shoulders are positioned properly, this not only improves upper body mechanics, it also enhances postural alignment thereby impacting nearly all movement patterns including leg exercises.
While many if not all of these movements can be performed in a single arm/single barbell fashion (which targets the core and anti-rotation muscles to a greater degree), when it comes to improving motor control and body mechanics nothing beats working with two highly volatile and independently loaded objects at once. It’s one thing to stabilize a single unstable load as all of the neural drive can be channeled to that one side. In, fact with enough practice many lifters can learn to stabilize the single barbell suitcase or javelin exercise with aberrant form. However when it comes to dialing in two barbells simultaneously while performing clean and crisp movement patterns, nothing but perfect mechanics and precise execution will suffice as there’s no way to cheat your way through this method. With that said here are a few of my favorite double barbell exercise variations.
Double Barbell Suitcase Bent Over Row
The double barbell bent over row is one of my favorite horizontal pulling exercises as the intensity of stimulation to the entire upper back and lats is exceptionally high. The double barbell row also teaches the lifter quite a bit about their rowing mechanics as even the slightest bit of over-rowing at the top position (allowing the tricep to move significantly past the plane of the torso) or over-stretching in the bottom position (allowing the shoulders to round) will cause the shoulders to destabilize and move out of optimal alignment thereby causing the barbells to tilt.
To keep the bars completely parallel to the floor as well as parallel to each other throughout the set, the lifter will be required to maintain optimal spinal alignment and shoulder positioning throughout by performing rowing motions that involve smooth 90 degree joint angles. And yes the forearms and grip get absolutely pummeled not to mention the biceps, rear delts, glutes, and hamstrings.
If you really want to increase the intensity of this movement and master full body motor control, try performing this double barbell row in a single leg RDL position. Besides annihilating the entire posterior chain, this represents the epitome of mastering your body mechanics and horizontal pulling technique as there is literally no room for error. And yes if you over-row at the top, over-stretch at the bottom, abandon optimal hip hinge mechanics, or simply lose your form for even a split second you’ll create double instability resulting in loss of balance. Simply put you’ll not only destabilize your body but you’ll also destabilize the bars.
Learn to lock your body and the barbells into position throughout the duration of the set and I can just about guarantee you’ll notice improved muscle function throughout your entire body on every movement pattern. On a side note you’ll notice I’m using two 5-pound plates on each end of the barbell rather than 10 pound plates. The reason for this is that the back foot/leg will run into the plates unless you’re using smaller weights.
Double Barbell Suitcase Deadlift Squat
If you’re looking for an advanced variation that enhances both squat and deadlift form while also crushing both the lower and upper body equally, look no further than the double barbell suitcase deadlift squat performed in an eccentric isometric fashion as demonstrated by my awesome client Ben Lai. The movement pattern is actually identical to a trap bar however it requires infinitely greater levels of motor control, stability, and precise execution.
If you lean forward excessively or allow your bodyweight and knees to shift forward the bars will begin to tilt forward. Similarly if you’re shoulders begin to round the bars will also tilt forward. In contrast if you have a tendency to hyperextend your low back and lumbar spine or tilt your head up excessively the bars will tilt back. It also helps promote optimal range of motion as going significantly beyond 90 degrees will place the body into a biomechanically unsound position which will show up by various deviations to the barbells. Simply put this double barbell deadlift provides immediate feedback about form and body mechanics, helping to clean up both squat and deadlift form. As an added bonus it's one of the best forearm and grip exercises there is.
These can also be performed in a dead-stop fashion as shown here by my awesome client Elizabeth Yates with 65 pounds in each arm.
Single Leg Double Barbell Squat
The single leg squat or single leg skater squat is a fantastic exercise for unilaterally targeting each side of the lower body as well as for enhancing athletic performance and muscle function. Unfortunately most individuals use excessive momentum and create very little motor control when performing these. To really reap the benefits of the single leg squat you’ll need to clean up your mechanics and dial in your form by learning to control the movement and avoid collapsing at the bottom. In other words you’ll need to learn how to nail that 90-degree position (yes 90 degrees is roughly is above parallel). One of the most effective variations I’ve found for improving single leg squat mechanics and strength is the double barbell method as demonstrated by one of my NFL quarterbacks Taylor Heinicke.
Besides crushing the quads, glutes, and hamstrings and simultaneously working on foot and ankle stability, you’ll also get the added benefit of working your grip and forearms. The load may not be heavy but even if you’re simply using two empty barbells, in order to keep them stable and parallel to the floor you’ll be required to grip the barbells with near maximal intensity throughout the duration of the set which can last well over a minute. Just be prepared for a nice full-body burn.
Double Barbell Overhead Carry/Waiter Walk
The Javelin press is one of my all-time favorite overhead pressing exercises. The benefits it has on vertical pressing mechanics, shoulder health, upper body stability, posture, and overall motor control is tough to match. In addition, you’ll build some freaky levels of upper body strength and musculature in the deltoids as you learn to master this very intense exercise. If you really want to test your overhead efficiency and increase the functional strength and hypertrophy stimulus of the exercise, try performing an overhead loaded carry (i.e. waiter walk) with the double barbell protocol as demonstrated by my awesome client Leslie Petch.
Besides blasting all three heads of the deltoids and pulverizing the upper back and traps, your core and spinal stabilizers will also get a nice run for their money. In fact, the level of full body tension, intramuscular tightness, and overall structural rigidity you’ll need to produce in order to maintain control of the two highly volatile barbells is unprecedented. Just be prepared to focus your mind like a ninja as these are equally brutal both mentally and physically.
Kneeling Double Barbell Javelin Press
The kneeling double barbell javelin press is another brutally effective way to clean up your overhead pressing technique.
The combination of learning to stabilize two highly volatile barbells in an overhead press while also holding a rigid kneeling position is sure to build functional pressing power and rock solid vertical pressing mechanics.
Double Barbell Chest Press
If I had to make a list of all the form mistakes I frequently notice on chest pressing exercises it would probably be a bit too lengthy for this article. However a few of the most common problems on horizontal presses include lack of elbow tuck, lack of shoulder depression and retraction, overcrowding the shoulder joint in the stretched position, excessive range of motion in the bottom position, over-protraction in the top position, lack of motor control particularly in the eccentric phase, and lack of full body tightness throughout the lift. Fortunately the double barbell chest press is a remedy that literally helps address each of these issues.
Here’s one of my NFL athletes Jarius Wynn demonstrating the incline variation of the double barbell chest press. Besides crushing the upper chest, shoulders, and triceps, this variation will provide an immediate fix for cleaning up horizontal pressing form and mechanics as even the slightest deviation in form will cause the volatile barbells to shift, tilt, or rotate in an almost uncontrollable fashion. Once you learn to master this movement, be prepared for a nice boost in strength when returning to traditional barbell and dumbbell presses as you’ll most likely have gained a substantial increase in functional strength and size not to mention improved neuromuscular efficiency during horizontal pressing movements.
Double Barbell Chest Fly
Chest flyes are a great way to isolate the entire musculature of the pectorals and build significant hypertrophy throughout the chest. Unfortunately this movement is just as butchered as the traditional bench press making these an effective way to ruin your joints and body mechanics. In fact, if you’re performing chest flyes the way you see 99% of lifters on the internet doing them then the movement is setting you up for injury, ruining your shoulder stability, degrading your postural alignment, destroying shoulder mobility, and actually doing very little to stimulate size and strength gains in the chest. Fortunately the double barbell chest fly helps remedy all of these aforementioned issues. Here’s why.
The key on chest flyes is to maintain nearly the same shoulder, scapula, and postural positioning that you would hold during a neutral grip dumbbell press, proper pushup, or proper bench press. In addition you’ll be keeping the elbows pointed straight ahead (rather than out or back) and not using excessive range of motion. Focus on keeping the shoulders and scapula depressed, and retracted throughout while allowing them to medially rotate towards the spine the deeper you go into your position. Terminate the end range of motion when you feel the shoulders and traps begin to elevate and the elbows have to start pulling back towards your neck.
And yes that means the optimal range of motion on a fly will be slightly more abbreviated and compact than what most coaches, trainers, and lifters would suggest but this represents the optimal way to perform them not only for joint health and muscle function but for maximizing the hypertrophy stimulus. In fact one element that contributes to faulty chest fly mechanics is having the mindset of achieving as large of a stretching sensation as possible at the bottom of the movement. This is one of the most counterproductive cues as you’re essentially stretching the tendon insertion point of the pectorals rather than the actual belly of the muscle. Such a maneuver can create extreme soreness in the joints and surrounding connective tissue.
Contrary to popular belief this excessive stretch has little if any hypertrophy stimulating benefits as the muscles relax and go limp in order to allow this large amount of slack to occur. In contrast, the natural or moderately stretched position represents a lengthened yet tight and highly activated position. If you’re looking to tear a pec or ruin your joints then go for excessive stretch on flyes. If size and strength are more your thing then perform them with a natural range of motion, using the technique described in the prior paragraphs.
Fortunately the double barbell method helps reinforce these previously mentioned optimal chest fly mechanics. That’s because the instability and volatility of the barbells forces the lifter to assume these smooth and strict mechanics without collapsing. Using excessive range of motion or performing these with faulty shoulder mechanics literally causes the barbells to shift, tilt, and twist. Learn to control the barbells during your chest flyes and I can just about guarantee your form will automatically self-correct.
Lastly if you’re looking to further maximize body mechanics try using the hollow body leg raise position as it helps keep the core engaged. As long as the core stays activated throughout the set, the chance of losing spinal rigidity is markedly reduced. When the spine remains stable and properly aligned this directly impacts movement mechanics particularly in the shoulder joint as it becomes nearly impossible to collapse due to proper positioning of the scapula.
Double Barbell Lunge and Split Squat
If you’re looking for an exercise variation to clean up your lunge and split squat mechanics, look no further than the double barbell suitcase lunge as demonstrated by Leslie. Besides requiring a high level of full body strength and motor control, the instability created from the isolateral or double barbell loading protocol produces stricter than normal lunge mechanics and forces the lifter to use more precise technique.
Focus on keeping ample hip hinge mechanics throughout by keeping the hips back while maintaining a slight yet natural forward lean. This represents optimal lunge mechanics not only for this variation but for all lunge variations as this takes the stress off the knees and low back and places the tension throughout the various muscles of the lower body including the posterior chain. Trying to stay too upright is the single worst mistake lifters make during lunges as it represents dysfunctional movement mechanics and flawed recruitment patterns. Fortunately this variation punishes the lifter when using these aberrant mechanics as it becomes almost impossible to lock the movement and volatile barbells in until you create a natural hip hinge with a neutral spinal alignment.
Double Barbell Pullover
The double barbell pullover is an incredibly difficult pullover variation that’s excellent for improving pullover mechanics, shoulder stability, and motor control on overhead movements. Whether you choose to perform the single or double arm version, this exercise annihilates the lats, core, triceps, grip, chest, and shoulder stabilizers.
It also reinforces the idea of not collapsing or losing tightness throughout the body. They key is to keep the shoulders properly packed and centrated as the arms move into the overhead position as anything but will cause the lifter to lose control over the barbells and place undue stress on the glenohumeral joint.
Double Barbell Farmers Walk
The double barbell farmers walk has multiple benefits. Because most gyms don’t have trap bars available or dumbbells that go past 100lbs, farmers walk exercises can be difficult to progress with enough intensity. With this in mind if you’re looking to truly overload your traps with unlimited potential for ever-increasing loads, the barbell farmers walk is fantastic exercise.
Besides allowing the lifter to use an inordinate amount of weight, the unstable variation forces the individual to balance and control the highly volatile the load by recruiting their shoulder stabilizers, upper back, and trapezius muscles to a greater extent. It also forces the lifter to brace the core and stabilize the spine more so than most traditional farmers walk variations. As an added bonus these will create enormous levels of grip and forearm strength that are sure to transfer to many other movements, upper body skills, and athletic activities.
You can also perform these in a single arm suitcase fashion which further emphasizes the core, particularly muscles that are responsible for rotary stability, anti-lateral flexion, anti-rotation, and overall spinal rigidity. In terms of execution, simply load up two barbells equally with a total load greater than your bodyweight, grip your hands in the center of the barbells, pick them up and walk 30-60 yards in very deliberate and controlled fashion.
Double Barbell Hinge
If you’re looking for a way to clean up your hip hinge mechanics and master your RDL, try performing double barbell RDL’s. These can be performed either single or double leg.
I suggest mastering the double leg version first before moving to the unilateral version as these are incredibly challenging. As a nice bonus the single leg version is one of the most effective foot and ankle exercises you’ll ever perform.
Double Barbell Jump Squat
If you want to both assess and correct your jumping and landing mechanics, try performing squat jumps with the double barbell protocol. Besides acting as an intense loading squat jump and improving vertical jump performance and power output there are several unique benefits to this specific exercise.
First the double suitcase barbell protocol is very difficult to stabilize and control. Any deviation in posture, shoulder stability, or body mechanics will result in the barbells moving in an uncontrollable fashion. This teaches the lifter to maintain a tight core, rigid spine, and strict jumping mechanics.
In addition this is one of the most effective jumping variations I've ever used to expose and improve symmetrical jumping mechanics. Because most athletes tends to favor one leg and push off more with one side of their body this can produce injury and loss of power output. With this specific loaded jump any asymmetries become immediately apparent as the bars begin to tilt to one side and twist uncontrollably.
Finally, this double barbell squat jump is incredible for teaching proper landing mechanics as the unstable yet heavy loads forces the lifter to brace their core, hands, and shoulder stabilizers upon impact. As a result this produces concurrent activation potentiation and ultimately greater neutral drive to the working extremities thereby teaching the lifter how to properly absorb force and stick the landing rather than hitting the ground like a wet noodle.
To learn more about programming double barbell exercises and other unique movements into your routine check out my Complete Templates.