Why Powerlifters Should Be Accessory Lifting With A Swiss Bar

The unusual, grill-like bar that every powerlifter should know about.

Maybe you’ve seen the bulky, kind of odd-looking bar in your gym, or maybe you’re contemplating buying yourself a new toy for your garage gym. Or maybe you’ve just finished a meet or hit a lifting plateau, and you’re looking for ways to spice up your accessory lift life.

If you want to get gains by simply changing a piece of equipment you’re using for your accessory lifts, look no further than a Swiss bar. Also known as a football bar or multi-grip bar, these bars come in various styles and weights, but they all have one thing in common: the bar has multiple neutral grip options, like a thin, rectangular barbecue grill.

You can adjust your hands to take a wide grip, medium-grip, or close grip. And all of these options are neutral, with your palms facing each other instead of the standard pronated or hook grips that regular barbells call for. This grip neutrality will do wonders for your shoulders, which is great because we know powerlifters always have something wrong with our shoulders. Your elbows, too, will thank you. And when your joints are healthier, your lift numbers will skyrocket. 

[Related: A squat world record holder’s 5 favorite accessory lifts for powerlifting]

Not Just Physically Healthier: Add Some Joy Into Your Accessory Work

The other thing about the Swiss bar? It’s weird. It’s weirdly shaped, and that’ll help your stabilizer muscles. (Hooray for the reduced leaked energy during your lifts that stronger stabilizers will give you.) But the other thing that the Swiss bar’s weirdness will do for you?

It’ll inject that extra bit of fun into your accessory work, because let’s be real: sometimes, your plateau isn’t for lack of effort. Sometimes, plateaus are mental, because the grind gets painful on your brain, as well. Shaking it up with some familiar movements, accomplished in new, weird, and weirdly-fun ways, can definitely go a long way to putting more joy into your accessory lifts. And joy can boost your numbers like almost nothing else.

So you wanna start bringing the Swiss bar into your accessory lifts? Awesome, you should. Here’s why, and here’s how.

Ben Pollack's Shoulder Workout for Bigger Delts

Injury Friendly for Healthier Shoulders 

Rehabbing an injury or easing back into lifting after surgery is painful. Sure, your muscles hurt, but oftentimes, your heart hurts even more. Because being able to grind as hard as you want one day, and not being able to do jack the next, can be absolute agony. Enter the Swiss bar.

Amidst the prevalence of shoulder injuries and impingements in powerlifting communities, we know we need to take extra good care of our shoulders. Lifting with the Swiss bar — whether your shoulder is just “acting up” again or whether you’re coming back from a shoulder surgery — will avoid putting your shoulders at risk.

Using the Swiss bar can get you into position for an excellent neutral grip shoulder press. Select the grip option that places your hands just outside your shoulders. With a barbell, you judge this by assessing where your thumbs fall in relation to your delts. With a Swiss bar, you judge the proper width of the grip by lining up your second knuckles (where your fingers bend) with the outside of your delts.

Pressing up with this neutral grip will avoid putting vertical pressure on the parts of your shoulder that are most vulnerable to strain. But don’t feel the need to slide plate after plate onto the bar: a little weight will go a long way here, and trust me, you’ll feel how much stronger it’s making you. But what you won’t feel? The pain.

Because even if you’re not recovering from an injury or from surgery, Swiss bar shoulder presses will keep your shoulders exactly as healthy as they need to be to support super powerful powerlifting.

[Related: 6 weird (but effective) barbells you’ve never heard of before]

More Direct Tricep Development Than Most Barbell Presses

Unless we’re talking about a close grip bench press with a barbell, there aren’t many ways to load up your triceps quite as beautifully as a Swiss bar allows you to. Why? Because again — just like we saw with the shoulder press — the neutral grip that the Swiss bar offers will reduce strain not only on your shoulders, but on your elbows, too.

Selecting narrow, close grips and banging out some neutral grip, close grip bench presses will load up your triceps with a solid amount of weight while taking pressure off your shoulders, just like it does with neutral grip shoulder presses. But even cooler? 

You can do some extra badass skull crushers with a Swiss bar that you probably just can’t get done with a barbell or even an EZ-bar. Why? Again, that neutral grip. Keeping your palms facing each other while slowly lowering a heavily loaded bar toward your face (who said powerlifters don’t like a little risk?) will enable you to toss a lot more weight on the bar with none of the added strain on your elbows. 

And let’s be real: when was the last time you trained your triceps without feeling like the moment you loaded up a significant amount of weight, your elbows started freaking out? The Swiss bar takes out unhealthy tension and rotation from the movement, saving your elbow joint from bearing the brunt of the muscular stress from the lift. And when the elbow’s not in pain like that, you can load up as much as you want, and use accessory Swiss bar lifts to give yourself better triceps than you’ve ever had. 

As a powerlifter, you definitely want powerful triceps: that’s where you get (or lose!) your lockout in heavy bench presses. And if you’re doing your overhead presses like you should be, your lockout there will thank you for strong triceps, too.

Best Chest Exercises
Ajan Alen/Shutterstock

Work Your Stabilizers Harder

No matter what you’re doing with the Swiss bar — any of the presses above, or skull crushers, or neutral grip back rows or heavily-loaded hammer curls — you will need to keep your body extra tight to complete the lift with good form.

Why? Because, as I said, the Swiss bar is an extremely weird little creature. The imbalance of its shape, and its sheer bulkiness, will make it both awkward to unrack (you’ve been warned) and harder to keep steady during your lifts. But this is actually a great thing: the more unsteady the implement, the stronger your grip and your stabilizer muscles generally have to be. Like when you’re using a kettlebell, your body will have to recruit more muscle fibers than usual to compensate for the instability of the shape of the bar.

[Related: 5 ways kettlebell training improves barbell training]

Recruiting more stabilizers means making stronger muscles that you forgot you even had. As powerlifters, we live in our main lifts: shaking that up, literally, with unsteady but solid accessory Swiss Bar lifts will ensure that our stabilizers, too, become rock solid. And this will go especially make your deadlift that much stronger: the tighter you keep your body with your accessory lifts — for example, with neutral grip back rows — the better you’ll be able to brace as hard as you need to set some awesome PRs on the platform.

More Functional Training

Let’s be real: bench pressing can be great for our ego, but terrible for our shoulders and also just… terrible at life. Because unless you’re planning to lay under a car and hold the damn thing up for an oil change, it’s not the most functional lift out there. But the Swiss bar makes everything, even benching, a lot more functional.

The pronated grip that barbells tend to call for is where we often feel at home, but that’s because we love our sport: that’s not necessarily because our bodies find it the most natural thing to do. The grip neutrality that the Swiss bar provides offers powerlifters a much stronger (pun intended) relationship with the kind of functional training that Strongman training, for example, can offer. 

And functional training will — this seems to be a theme here — keep you injury-free longer. It’ll take solid care of your body, make you a better overall athlete, and keep you in peak powerlifting condition for as long as you can be. Which should be a goal for all of us.

Round Up: Some Accessory Work With A Swiss Bar

So you’re sold on why you should integrate Swiss bar training into your powerlifting accessory work. Cool! Here’s how you do it.

Of course, sync this into whatever works best for your program right now. All of this will depend on your split, your training days per week, how many weeks out you are from competition, etc. But to start, here are some options:

Neutral Grip Shoulder Press

5 sets of 10, 8, 6, 5, 3, 2. Don’t be tempted to go nearly as heavy as you would with a barbell, you won’t need to. But you do want to be getting up there in numbers (hence the descending rep scheme), because as a powerlifter, it’s likely that you’re not overhead pressing as often or as heavy as you should. This can help.

[Related: How to increase your bench without benching]


Neutral Grip Bench Press

4 sets of 10-12 reps. Practice unracking the darn thing before you load it up with weight; the Swiss bar is a strange creature to unrack. But once you do, try to let the rectangle-shaped weirdo come down to the center of your rib cage. Keep your core tight and your feet planted, just like you would with a regular press. Find a spot on the ceiling to focus your eyes, and keep putting the bar back there with each rep. 

Neutral Grip Skullcrushers

4 sets of 15 reps, 12 reps, 8 reps, 5 reps. You’re going up in reps here to start, and working your way back down to moderately heavy weight. You’re doing this because it’s an excellent way to overload your triceps without straining your elbow, but you don’t want to get completely to failure: this is a potentially clunky movement with a potentially clunky piece of equipment, so scale the weight up slowly and complete each rep with slow deliberation and intention (as you always should).

Neutral Grip Back Rows

4 sets of 8-10 reps. The real kick here is the negative: make sure you’re hinging at the hips and keeping a neutral back, and really squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of each lift. And then come down nice and slowly. It’ll make your 8-10 reps feel much heavier, and it’ll rock out the same stabilizer muscles that you want to be nice and strong for all your lifts, but especially for your deadlifts. Take your time, because you want that extra time under tension, and with these neutral grip pretties, you can rest assured that your joints won’t hate you for it.

Hammer Curls

4 sets of 6-8 reps. Lower than a typical scheme for hammer curls, sure, but here’s why: if you’re bracing properly (squeeze your glutes, your quads, and your core all at once to make sure your back isn’t “helping” by kipping up at the start of the curl), the Swiss bar will really allow you to load up for hammer curls in a way your body shape might not allow you to do with dumbbells. Take advantage of the ability to really load up your biceps. Your grip strength will thank you, and so will your big three.

Get Out There With Your New Best Friend

So next time you need to get some accessory work done, grab a Swiss bar and go to town. You’ll have fun knowing that you’re doing something unusual that your body isn’t used to, and you’ll have fun knowing that your muscles will get stronger but your joints won’t get weaker. 

You can rehab that injury you’ve been meaning to take it easy on for a while now, and you can make your life a whole lot easier by lifting safer instead of using accessory work to just add more accidental strain on your body. The Swiss bar will get you all the benefits at none of the painful cost: and that’s when you know you’ve got a really solid accessory program.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured image via @alexstrambanu on Instagram.