Fat Bar Training – weapon of choice for the strongman

by adam on August 2, 2011

One question I am often asked is “should I do grip training, and if yes what should I do?”

Concerning grip, the answer is always “yes”.

The follow on is “if you train with a fat bar you will probably not need much else, except of course for the motor miracle of pinch lifting.”

The fat bar, and why it’s awesome

Barbells are great. They allow you to lift a lot of weight in a huge variety of ways. They are common to find and easy to use, so if you know how to use one you can probably get a workout in at nearly any gym. One minor problem with a barbell is that it really doesn’t tax the hands that much, unless you use a ton of weight for a given movement.

Fat bars (also known as “Axle”) allow you to train the grip and wrist while doing your favorite motions. It’s getting two for one; you do your goal movements and you get more finger and thumb strength.

Shown for size comparison, a 3", 2.5", 2", and standard 1 & 1/8" diameter barbell

I own a few different sized bars, which allows me to test and find the best diameter for a given movement.

At base level you can use an axle for anything you would use a barbell for assuming you can hang on to it. Deadlifts and other pulls off the floor, rowing motions, pressing of all sorts, the only limit is your imagination.

In the beginning

Barbells and weights at the turn of the 20th century where not like the ones of today. Materials were not the same, manufacturing processes were not as advanced. Many of the barbells and dumbbells of the time had thicker handles because thin ones were not sturdy enough.

The second part of this was the “challenge weight” such as the famous Thomas Inch dumbbell. Many challenge bells and bars had extremely thick handles to prevent casual lifters from matching the owners feat.

One of the most famous fat bar lifts was the US Olympic lifting champion John Davis who clean and jerked an actual axle with a pair of wheels from a train which weighed 402 lbs (known as the Apollo’s wheels). The difficulty of this feat was compounded by the thickness of the axle (which I am not 100% certain of, but I have to imagine it was over 2.0″) and the solid nature of the bar. The wheels were rusted frozen to the bar so there was no rotation as the lift was performed. While many of the current WSM competitors could now match that feat, Davis was under 215 lbs at the time, making it a truly impressive display of both grip and total body power.

The sad decline….

As body building got more popular, a lot of gyms moved away from thick bars. Most people training for general fitness in the average gym do not think about hand strength, and certainly do not wonder why the bar is not harder to lift from where it already is. Fat bars declined nation wide, while wimpy hands increased by no less than 6,130%.

The upswing….

Strongman sport uses the Axle bar for clean and press, deadlifting, and other generally awesome activities. Other lifting federations such as the radically bad ass USAWA use fat bars in both 2″ and 3″ sizes for a variety of lifts. It looked like we were on the brink of destruction, and then it all got better….

The 500 lbs Sorinex Axle being taken for a ride by Jedd Johnson at the Mighty Mitts Competition held at the Arnold Classic.

The epic returned