Working with a barbell fast-tracks your strength and muscle-building goals. They’re versatile and allow you to load a ton of weight so you can train for maximum strength. But the thing about barbells is that they lock your hands — and therefore, your shoulders — into a very specific position and range of motion. If your shoulders need some relief, turn to the Swiss bar.
The Swiss bar, otherwise known as a multi-grip bar or a football bar, provides an array of neutral grip positions to choose from during pressing. It’s compatible with a power rack and squat rack, so you can use it for everything from bench presses to overhead presses.
Credit: America captain / Shutterstock
But this specialty barbell isn’t only good for bench pressing. Here, you’ll learn how to use the Swiss bar to train your entire body.
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Best Swiss Bar Exercises
Swiss Bar Bench Press
Swiss Bar Push-Up
Swiss Bar Overhead Press
Swiss Bar Bent-Over Row
Swiss Bar Seal Row
Swiss Bar Pullover
Swiss Bar Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Swiss Bar Ab Rollout
Swiss Bar Front Raise
Swiss Bar Skull Crusher
Swiss Bar Hammer Curl
The Swiss bar bench press is probably the most common lift you’ll see performed with this specialty bar. Since you’ll be using both hands on the same implement — just like with a barbell — the Swiss bar typically lets you load your bench press much heavier than you can with dumbbells.
You’ll reap the shoulder-saving benefits of performing dumbbell bench presses since the Swiss bar allows you to lift with a neutral grip. However, being able to slap on extra weight plates makes this move an excellent strength-builder, too.
Benefits of the Swiss Bar Bench Press
Lift comparatively heavier weights with the Swiss bar versus the dumbbell bench press for more strength-building stimulus.
You’ll use a neutral grip with a Swiss bar, giving you a shoulder-friendly bench press alternative.
Using a neutral grip generally means a closer grip, allowing you to get more mileage out of your triceps.
How to Do the Swiss Bar Bench Press
Set up for the Swiss bar bench press the same way you would with a barbell. Select a grip where your hands are roughly above your shoulders. Unrack the bar slowly and carefully, especially if you’re not used to its shape. Perform the bench press as normal.
The bench press isn’t the only way a Swiss bar can help develop your chest. Use a Swiss bar to give a unique stimulus to your push-up routine. This specialty barbell will involve even more wrist control and a deeper range of motion than your usual push-up.
Using a Swiss bar here is particularly helpful if your wrists don’t appreciate the position required by performing a traditional push-up on the floor. By grasping the handles, you’ll be gaining an extra boost to your grip strength, too.
Benefits of the Swiss Bar Push-Up
The Swiss bar push-up will level up your push-up training by increasing your range of motion, allowing your chest to work at a different angle.
By grasping onto the handles, you’ll be strengthening your grip and training your wrists to maintain a neutral position under load.
The neutral grip will have your palms facing each other, which can increase the involvement of your triceps in the movement.
How to Do the Swiss Bar Push-Up
Secure the Swiss bar in the corner between the feet of a power rack and its legs. If you want to train from a different angle, set up the J-hooks at whatever level you’d like and press the bar into the groove accordingly.
Once it feels secure, select the desired grip. Make sure both hands are positioned evenly. Perform your push-ups, keeping a straight line between your shoulders, hips, and feet.
The Swiss bar overhead press is one of the other best-known moves with this unique implement. The set-up and execution of this move are largely the same as that of the barbell overhead press.
When you do this move with a Swiss bar, however, you’ll be performing it with a neutral grip. Not only might this be easier on your shoulders, but it can also unlock new achievements in your overhead mobility.
Benefits of the Swiss Bar Overhead Press
Performing this classic overhead exercise with a Swiss bar will likely give your shoulders some relief from the fixed overhand grip of a barbell.
Using a Swiss bar to press overhead will help you load up very heavily — likely more than you can do with dumbbells or kettlebells.
By using a bar with a neutral grip, you’ll be exposing your body to new forms of overhead mobility, potentially improving your thoracic mobility while keeping your shoulders steady.
How to Do the Swiss Bar Overhead Press
Set up the overhead press as you normally would. Establish a grip on the Swiss bar with your hands just outside your shoulders. Brace your core. Unrack the bar and establish balance. Squeeze your glutes to prevent your lower back from unintentionally hyperextending. Press the bar up and back slightly after it clears your head. Lower with control. Repeat for reps.
The barbell bent-over row is a classic back-builder, and with good reason. You’ll be maintaining an isometric hip hinge while using your lats, traps, rhomboids, and posterior delts to pull the bar up toward your body.
When you perform Swiss bar bent-over rows, you’ll be — once again — able to use a neutral grip. This allows you to take the emphasis off any shoulder or elbow discomfort that may arise from a double-overhand grip on the barbell. Instead, you’ll just focus on the weight itself.
Benefits of the Swiss Bar Bent-Over Row
Because your hands will be in a neutral position, you might find yourself able to lift more weight than you can with a barbell.
By adjusting the width of your grip, you’ll be able to activate slightly different areas of your back.
The more weight you’re able to use, the better you’ll be able to increase strength to your forearms and back.
How to Do the Swiss Bar Bent-Over Row
Set up your bent-over row as usual. Hinge down to pick up the bar with a neutral grip at your desired width. Once you pick the bar up off the ground, adjust as needed to make sure its position will accommodate your stomach. Squeeze the bar to keep it in that position throughout your set.
Pull the bar up and back toward your stomach, maintaining a neutral spine and deep hip hinge. Slowly lower. Repeat for reps.
If you tend to cheat your way through rows by kipping the weights up with momentum, the seal row is your new best friend — or worst enemy. When you’re lying down on a weight bench, you’re not going to be able to use momentum.
Benefits of the Swiss Bar Seal Row
Seal rows don’t allow you to use momentum to assist with your lift. You’ll have to rely on sheer back strength.
Using a neutral grip during this row will help you make this movement very functional since a neutral grip is something you’ll generally use daily.
The Swiss bar seal row allows you to heft a great deal of weight for high reps, allowing for a great deal of back hypertrophy.
How to Do the Swiss Bar Seal Row
Place a Swiss bar underneath a flat weight bench toward the top. Prop up both feet of the bench securely on bumper plates. Ensure that there is no wobble on the weight bench. Lie face down on the bench and grasp the Swiss bar. Keeping your body flush against the bench, perform slow, controlled rows for reps.
Typically, you’ll perform a pullover with a dumbbell. If you’re looking for variety, you might toss a kettlebell or even a curl bar into the mix. But if you want to maximize the amount of weight you can use, try opting for a Swiss bar.
Using a Swiss bar with the pullover will also significantly reduce the risk that you’ll drop the weight onto yourself. That risk is very present with a dumbbell or kettlebell. With the peace of mind provided by a Swiss bar, you can focus only on your form and the weight.
Benefits of the Swiss Bar Pullover
Performing a pullover with a Swiss bar significantly reduces your risk of dropping the weight onto yourself.
Increasing your focus on your form — rather than the risk of dropping the weight — allows you to more comfortably expand your range of motion.
The Swiss bar allows you to perform the pullover with more weight and a large range of motion, increasing your muscle-building potential.
How to Do the Swiss Bar Pullover
Lie face up on a weight bench. You can place your whole body on the bench — as for a bench press — or you can lie perpendicular to it, with your knees bent and feet planted with your upper back secure on the bench. Press a Swiss bar above your chest with your grip at about shoulder-width.
Slightly bend your elbows and maintain this position throughout your set. With control, send your arms back above and behind your head. Squeeze your glutes to prevent your lower back from curling unnecessarily. Once you’ve reached your full range of motion, bring the weight back up above your chest. Your elbows should still have that same slight bend. Repeat for reps.
Typically, you’ll perform this move with dumbbells, but that limits the amount of weight you can use. By doing the single-leg RDL with a Swiss bar, you’ll be significantly increasing your weight capacity.
Benefits of the Swiss Bar Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Usually performed with dumbbells, the Swiss bar will allow you to lift much more heavily, increasing the load on your hamstrings.
If you struggle with balance, having both hands on the same implement might help make this balance-heavy move more accessible to you.
The single-leg RDL is a great glute and hamstring developer — by performing it with a Swiss bar, you’re allowing yourself to increase the intensity of this move.
How to Do the Swiss Bar Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Set up a loaded Swiss bar on the ground in front of you. Begin as you would for a deadlift, with the middle of the bar above your midfoot. Ground down into your right foot. Hinge down, letting your left foot drift up and back behind you. Grasp the bar with your desired grip width.
Hinge up to standing, letting your left toes gently touch back in standing position or letting your left foot hover slightly above the ground. Re-establish your balance. Drift your left leg back up and back as you hinge the bar down to shin level. Repeat for reps. Switch sides to keep it even.
You don’t need to have an ab wheel to perform solid ab rollouts. Many people opt to perform these with a barbell loaded with bumper plates. While that works for some, the overhand position required by the barbell isn’t necessarily very nice to athletes’ shoulders — especially when you’re rolling your hands up above your head and supporting your body weight.
Instead, try to do ab rollouts with a Swiss bar. With this implement, you’ll be able to keep your hands in a neutral position throughout the move. Just be sure to adjust the bar with the bottom half facing toward the ground so that your forearms have enough room as you get lower to the ground.
Benefits of the Swiss Bar Ab Rollout
The ab rollout is an excellent way to involve your entire body in a dynamic core stabilization movement.
By using a Swiss bar, you’ll be able to keep your hands in a more shoulder-friendly position than with a barbell.
Compared to a regular ab wheel, you’ll be able to keep your hands in a neutral position and a bit more spread out, which might feel better for your shoulders.
How to Do the Swiss Bar Ab Rollout
Load the Swiss Bar with a bumper plate on either side. Thinner plates will be more difficult to move and control. Kneel on a yoga mat or thicker pad to protect your knees. Grip the bar at the desired width.
Slowly lean forward, extending your arms out in front of you, holding your body weight steady with your core. Stop once you reach the fullest extension you’re able to maintain with your core strength. Roll back up to the starting position and repeat.
Often performed with dumbbells or a barbell, the front raise provides a little extra volume to your shoulder training. As all presses work your front delts, you generally want to use light weights for this move. You don’t need to accumulate much volume, either, as these parts of your shoulders are generally pretty well-taxed by presses.
However, if your front delts are lagging, you may want to give muscle growth an extra stimulus. This move — particularly with a Swiss bar — is also great for getting in shoulder work when you can’t safely lift overhead.
Benefits of the Swiss Bar Front Raise
If you’re recovering from surgery or injury and can’t perform overhead presses but you’re cleared to lift weights, the Swiss bar front raise can be a shoulder-friendly way to exercise your front delts.
By taking a neutral grip, you’ll be able to more comfortably control the weight.
This move can add volume to your shoulder workouts without overly stressing your joints.
How to Do the Swiss Bar Front Raise
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Grasp an unloaded or lightly loaded Swiss bar in front of your thighs. Squeeze your glutes and brace your core. With soft elbows but otherwise straight arms, slowly raise the bar up to chest level. Pause for a beat at the top, then slowly lower. Repeat for reps.
The skull crusher ideally doesn’t do what its name suggests. The goal is more about triceps development than giving yourself the ultimate headache — and the Swiss bar allows you to do just that.
By keeping a neutral grip, you’ll be able to confidently control the bar with much less risk of pesky elbow pain that can come with using a barbell or even a curl bar. Without less elbow pain, you might also be able to move a bit more weight than normal.
Benefits of the Swiss Bar Skull Crusher
Performing this move with a Swiss bar will help keep some pressure off your shoulders and elbows.
Using a neutral grip may help you lift more weight, more comfortably.
Taking a grip that feels more natural might help you feel safer and more confident with this lift, which is key to doing it with a full range of motion.
How to Do the Swiss Bar Skull Crusher
Settle a Swiss bar in your lap and take a firm grip at the desired width. Lie down on your back on a weight bench, swinging the bar up above your chest as you do so. Lock your upper arms into an upright position.
Without moving your upper arms, bend your elbows down toward your forehead or just above it. Pause when you’ve reached the full range of motion and push back up. Repeat for reps, keeping your upper arms still the whole time.
You’ll usually associate hammer curls with dumbbells. But in that case, you’re just not going to be able to load up as heavy as you will when you’ve got an implement like a Swiss bar.
The Swiss bar allows you to maintain a neutral — hammer — grip while loading up fairly heavily. Since both your arms will be using the same implement, you can get more mileage out of each rep here.
Benefits of the Swiss Bar Hammer Curl
Doing this classic biceps-builder with a Swiss bar allows you to lift more weight than the traditional dumbbell version.
Your biceps may not be used to such an intense load with an isolation exercise. This can greatly improve your strength and muscle-building potential.
Using a Swiss bar for your hammer curls gives you several options for grip width, which the bar will help you maintain throughout the range of motion.
How to Do the Swiss Bar Hammer Curl
Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Grasp the Swiss bar at the desired width. Keep your upper arms locked by your ribs while you contract your biceps fully. Squeeze your biceps at the top of the lift. Lower slowly to maximize the eccentric motion. Repeat for reps.
Benefits of Swiss Bar Exercises
Easier on Your Shoulders
The Swiss bar is designed for lifters who want or need to use a neutral grip. You might be looking to perform your moves with your palms facing each other to give yourself a new training stimulus. Or, you may be looking for some relief for your shoulder joints, which can be constrained by the overhand position you need with a barbell.
Either way, taking a neutral grip position is likely to help your shoulders maintain a healthy, natural position during your pushing and pulling exercises. Because of this, your shoulders may much prefer this specialty bar to traditional barbell work.
Even if you’re not specifically targeting your triceps with Swiss bar skull crushers, they’ll be getting plenty of action with any Swiss bar pushing move. Generally speaking, you’ll take a more narrow hand position when using a neutral grip than when using an overhand grip. Because of this, you’ll be increasing the emphasis on your triceps.
In that way, even when you’re not specifically working your triceps, the Swiss bar can help boost triceps growth significantly. This is especially useful if you’re trying to improve your bench press or overhead press lockout, both of which rely heavily on your triceps.
The Swiss bar will provide a much different training stimulus than your muscles are used to. That’s not just because of the neutral grip you’re sporting. It’s also because the Swiss bar is a strangely-shaped beast that’s likely to throw you a bit off balance.
That’s actually good news for your training because a certain amount of strategic instability can help your lifts get more stable. You’ll have to fire on all cylinders to really make sure the bar path stays true. This can help get you stronger and more precise at the same time.
How to Program Swiss Bar Exercises
Since you’re not going to see the Swiss bar in any of your local powerlifting or weightlifting competitions, it’s generally going to be considered an accessory exercise. Here’s how to program Swiss bar exercises into your regular routine.
Swiss Bar Exercise Selection
The Swiss bar’s appeal lies largely in the neutral positioning of its handles. This makes the Swiss bar a great option for adding high-quality — and heavy — training volume to various muscle groups without extra shoulder strain. So even if you need to train the bench press for competition, the Swiss bar can help you get extra chest volume without added joint pain.
This doesn’t mean you have to replace your barbell training altogether (though you might do so if you don’t need the barbell for any competitions). Consider swapping in the Swiss bar every other training day for each muscle group.
You might perform barbell bench presses during your first session of the week, and do Swiss bar bench presses for your second session. This will make a Swiss bar lift your biggest lift of the day. You can also schedule entire training blocks that use a Swiss bar instead of a barbell for applicable lifts.
Alternatively, you can consider Swiss bar training accessory work and always program it after your big barbell lift. Whatever the situation, select exercises to perform with the Swiss bar where you’re plateauing with barbells and dumbbells. For example, swap in Swiss bar skull crushers if your triceps growth is lagging, or break out the Swiss bar single-leg RDLs for stronger hammies.
Swiss Bar Sets and Reps
You can perform both compound and single-joint lifts with the Swiss bar, making its rep ranges highly variable. However, there are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind when figuring out how many sets and reps to perform with Swiss bar exercises.
For Strength: For compound Swiss bar exercises, try three to four sets of four to six reps. When you’re looking to get stronger with isolation exercises, opt for three to four sets of eight to 10 reps approaching failure.
For Muscle Mass: Try three to five sets of six to 12 reps. With compound exercises, you might want to err on the lower end of this rep range.
For Technique: When your primary goal is to focus on technique, opt for a higher rep range with lighter weight. Two to three sets of 12 to 15 reps should do the trick.
If you’re new to performing an exercise with a Swiss bar, you might want to opt for technique the first few sessions — even if your ultimate goal is strength or muscle mass. This way, you can lock in your form before loading it up.
Ditch Your Barbell
Don’t worry — Swiss bar training doesn’t mean you’re abandoning your beloved barbell forever. By going out on the town with a new training implement, you’ll actually be improving your likelihood of coming back to the barbell stronger, with better technique, and potentially healthier joints.
Featured Image: America captain / Shutterstock
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