Forgotten Bodybuilding Exercises: Barbell Turns

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Popularised by turn of the century strongman Siegmund Klein, the ‘Barbell Turn’ is unlikely to be an exercise you see everyday on the gym floor. Difficult in the extreme, the exercise is an excellent finisher for chest and shoulder days as it hits the triceps, pectorals and deltoids all in one.

Additionally given the mechanics of the exercise, it is nigh on impossible to use heavy weights. This makes it a deceptively safe but nevertheless effective move. So how does one perform the exercise and why hasn’t it caught the public imagination?

The Barbell Turn

According to Klein’s 1940s training manual, Super Physique Body-Building Bar-Bell Course, the exercise is performed as follows

Hold light bar-bell at the chest as in Figure 1, with feet firmly planted on the floor. Push bell smartly forward and back to chest. Then turn bell to a slight angle as in Figure 2, and push forward smartly again bringing bell back to the chest. Each time the bell goes forward turn to a sharper angle until, in five movements, the bar is perpendicular as shown in Figure 3. Inhale when pushing forward, exhale returning to chest.

Simple instructions for a difficult exercise. A difficult exercise that Klein was admittedly quite fond of. Given that Klein was known for his inventive capacities, one must wonder then why the following exercise has been confined to the annals of lifting history.

The answer, somewhat banally, may lie in its failure to expand outwards from Klein’s New York based gymnasium. As detailed somewhat in our history of the front squat, many gyms in America during the 1940s and ’50s boasted their own unique exercises and techniques. That the Barbell Turn failed to move out of New York indicates perhaps that an element of luck was needed for exercises to really grasp the public imagination. Given that Klein was one of the biggest names in the industry at this time, this makes the Turn’s relative absence all that more confusing.

Sources

Siegmund Klein, Super Physique Body-Building Bar-Bell Course (c.1940), Exercise 12.

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