Addressing Barbell Bias

Addressing Barbell Bias

Training is not immune to bias.  In fact, the positive results of training can perpetuate it.  Its human nature.  When something makes a favorable change in body composition or performance most folks do more of it.

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However, by simply adding more, without providing contrast, getting too much of a good thing can lead to harmful training biases.  

Take for instance the barbell and CrossFit’s focus on its utilization.  Strength trainings most versatile piece of equipment and a training platform built on variance can lead to harmful training biases that have the potential to halt your progress.

Seven, (potentially eight if you consider the squat the back squat) of CrossFit’s nine Fundamental Movements, utilize the barbell: Squat, Press, Deadlift, Front Squat, Push Press, Sumo Deadlift High-Pull, Overhead Squat, Push Jerk, and Med-Ball Clean (we still don’t get this one?).  Yes, there is a nice mix of squats, presses, and ground based work.  However, each of these movements, including the non-barbell efforts, are symmetrical and work in the sagittal plane.    

Without attention to detail, the balanced loading and patterns of these movements will enable structural and musculature imbalances to develop, hide and be exacerbated.  These imbalances show up in movement as seemingly harmless shifts, pauses, wiggles and represent strong points in the kinetic chain compensating for weaker points.   If unaddressed, training biases and their associates deficiencies will lead to a loss in performance, overuse injuries, or worse, lateral deficiencies that could result in serious acute injuries.

Simple adjustments can be made in any barbell heavy program to account for the above biases to provide contrast and limit the potential for injury without busting your training time budget.  

The layering of asymmetrical carries into your current program is one adjustment we highly recommend.  These carries challenge the frontal plane, are not complicated, strengthen and promote trunk awareness, and build skills that are transferable to all movements.   

Your spine is a conductor of power, not a generator.  Practicing asymmetrical carries requires the musculature of the trunk to stabilize which will allow that conductor to supply your outer extremities with more power and fluidity to perform.

The work of PhD Stuart McGill supports this thought.  His work highlights the occurrence of trunk, hip, and lower extremity muscular activation when stabilizing during non barbell strength movements.   

“The asymmetric kettlebell carry uniquely challenges the lateral musculature in a way never possible with a squat. Yet this creates necessary ability for any person who runs and cuts, carries a load, and so on.”  

McGill adds in a related article:

The carrying events (in strongman style movements) challenged different abilities than the lifting events, suggesting that loaded carrying would enhance traditional lifting-based strength programs.”

When practicing any asymmetrical carry, focus on control.  We like the term hold water.  Think of your hips as a 5 gallon bucket filled to brim with water, maybe tequila or unicorn tears if that creates more urgency.  While working for distance attempt to keep your bucket from spilling by maintaining hip neutrality.  

Anterior tilting will result in spillage toward the front, posterior tilting will results in spillage toward the back, and lateral tilting will result in spillage to the side.  Each of these tilts will in some way result in a power dump, movement inefficiency, and worse, if left unchecked, could result in an injury.       


Like McGill suggests, the goals of this practice are developing and stabilizing functional hip and spine positioning that could potentially improve more traditional barbell movements and athleticism.

It is our recommendation to utilize these carrys post training in buyout style scenarios.  Our experiences have shown that when carrys are prescribed during warm ups athletes sandbag their effort.  Also, practice in competitive or conditioning settings leads to poor control.     

The buyout setting seems to be the sweet spot where load can be pushed without interfering with the work of the day.  The deconditioned state and non competitive environment also allow for movement quality to take precedence without load and effort effecting the next training session.    

Start with a moderate to heavy single arm suitcase style carry.

Simply walk at a controlled pace for a manageable distance.

Other variations, like those below can be practiced as comfort, control, and strength are developed. Sport specificity can also play a role in your carry selection.      

Front rack

A go to set up we utilize is to perform as many rounds as possible of any asymmetrical carry (as heavy as form and function allow) for 20 meters paired with any swing variation, bodyweight movement or isolation exercise.

Carries and and a nice pump are like cowbells, who couldn’t use more!?!      

Regarding time and/or sets anything is better than nothing.  Instead of laying on a foam roller, grab a bell and take a walk.  Rather than boast about your sessions score, take a walk.  Get over, or utilize your WOD drunkenness by, yup, taking a very useful walk.  Facts are if you really want to find 5-10 minutes to take a walk with a kettlebell you will – and you do.    

Proactively addressing barbell biases is not a difficult process.  Without doing so your gains will eventually lead to pains. At Doc and Jock we have seen it, discussed it and experienced it in our own training, coaching, and practionering time and time again.

Don’t get us wrong, we love the barbell and think CrossFit, when programmed smartly, is great.  Blending horizontal and vertical movements, switching up intensities, developing sound barbell skills under a watchful eye, being competitive, and utilizing smart progressions that move from simple to complex will all produce results.     

Barbells are also everywhere, the coaching of their use is widespread and improving everyday, and competition among equipment suppliers is upping their quality while making them affordable and functional options for all garage athletes.

We at Doc and Jock use and prescribe barbell movements in just about every training session.  We simply believe that allocating a portion of your training time toward asymmetrical carries will be beneficial and comes at a low cost.  

For a tested and proven training supplement that provides a full slate exercises and progressions to combat barbell bias check out our Everyday is Back Day Training Guide.  Our Nine week guide builds trunk awareness, incorporates frontal and transverse plane progressions, teaches barbell awareness, and all of the workouts are time efficient and meant to be layered into your current program.  

Let’s shift barbell bias.   

You can start today by utilizing the actionable steps provided in this piece in your next training session.  

Below we have also provided a some nice resources if you want to explore this topic and obtain little more guidance.     


back-pain-barbellTo learn more about our complete trunk training guide, Everyday is Back Day, click here ->

Also, check out our webpage to listen to two short podcasts to help combat training bais and learn about the importance of incorporating multiple planes of motion into your training

Doc and Jock

Lastly, to digest the full McGill articles quoted above check out these references.   

McGill SM. Core Training:  Evidence translating to better performance and injury prevention. Strength and Conditioning Journal 32(3): 33-47, 2010

McGill SM. Comparison of different strong man events: trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine motion, load, and stiffness. Strength and Conditioning Journal 23(4): 1148-61