Weight Over Bar Guide: How-To, Benefits, and Programming Tips

Don't have the proper implements? No problem, we have you covered.

Weight over bar is a classic strongman event.

This event is contested in a couple different ways in strongman and Highland Games competitions. In the weight over bar event, athletes will throw an object such as a keg, sandbag, kettlebell, or medicine ball over a set height.  

The first variation for weight over bar is throwing a weight for max height, and this variation is regularly used in the Highland Games and it occasionally makes an appearance in traditional strongman competitions. For this variation, each athlete is given an opportunity to clear the bar.

Once everyone has taken their attempts the bar will be raised to a new height and the athletes that cleared the previous height will go once again until only a single athlete remains. Currently the world record is held by Hafthor Bjornsson at 20’ 2” with 56 lbs, which was set at the 2019 Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio.

The second weight over bar variation that you’ll typically see is a weight over bar medley. This event can vary from competition to competition, but it typically uses ascending weights ranging from 3-8 objects.

On the referee’s order, the athletes will toss the weights/implements over the bar as fast as possible. If a weight is missed, then the athlete must redo that weight. This is scored by speed, the quickest run being the first.

Benefits of Weight Over Bar Training

Training weight over bar for height can have a plethora of benefits for not only strongman and Highland Games competitors, but also any athlete or individual looking to develop full body explosive power. Triple extension — extension at the ankle, knee, and hip — is a foundational movement pattern for most athletic movements and is something coaches strive to develop within their athletes. 

Triple Extension can be trained in many different ways in athletics. Most coaches will address triple extension training with the use of the olympic lifts, accommodating resistance, plyometrics, and resisted jumps.

These are great ways to train triple extension, however, one of the more underutilized tools is with weighted throws. Weighted throws allow the body to deload (relatively) from being loaded with heavier weights through the usage of the Olympic lifts and barbell movements that use accommodating resistance. By using weighted throws you are decreasing a specific training stress (intensity) which can help prevent overtraining, yet still develop power and excite the nervous system. 

Triple Extension

Training throws also help athletes develop timing and coordination. This translation between timing and coordination happens because athletes need to release at the proper time or the height will be altered because of the arc of travel. The coordination and control that is required forces the athlete to have patience and not rush the process.

This is important for all athletes, as being strong and powerful is awesome, but at the end of the day it’s not incredibly useful if it’s not controlled and directed. Often times, athletes just go through the motions and don’t really focus on the why of what they are doing and they lack intent in their training. With weight over bar training, if you lack intent, then the weight will not make it to its intended goal.

Weight Over Bar Techniques

Highland Game Single Arm Throw for Height

Technique Provider: Dan McKim-4x Highland Games World Champion

  1. Place weight out around arm’s length in and grab the handle in whatever grip is comfortable (Hook or Open).
  2. Put your other hand on your hip to create balance and a solid/stable brace to pull from.
  3. Now to do the swing/wind up. Keep this low and controlled as large and wild swings required energy to change the direction of the implement. 
  4. Let the arm relax and make it as long as possible.
  5. Number of lead swings is up to the athlete but keep it the same every time. I suggest one lead swing but try to not go too excessive on this.
  6. On your final swing between your legs, get a long reach back deep behind you. From there, pull! Extend your hips out in front of you, as the hips extend, pull with your lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and everything you’ve got. 
  7. As you finish the pull think that you are violently extending back! 

Strongman Weight Over Bar (Both Arms)

Technique Provider: Bryan Benzel, Professional Strongman (WSM Competitor 2016,17,18)

Benzol states, “The typical cue, or description of a throw for height is that it is a hip hinge with a long reach back before the final pull and throw. I don’t 100% disagree with that, but don’t think it’s ideal, especially for any of the implements thrown for Strongman. I have found for myself that getting as much leg drive, as well as hip hinge, is best.

Another thing I see is people using an excessive amount of swings. I think one full swing before the throw is sufficient. Learning the timing and feel of the implement is key, so you aren’t fighting the swing of it on the pull and throw.

I like to start with the implement between my legs, slightly behind my feet, so that the first thing you do is get an initial swing, then one more swing to get more momentum and the timing down. On the second swing, don’t only hinge and push your butt back to get a lot of hip drive and pop, but bend down as well so that you can get a lot of leg drive into the throw. Think of keeping your upper body a little more upright and not super bent over, basically, hinge, but avoid looking like what happens in traditional hip hinge.

Once you’ve done that, it’s a big pull while keeping your arms as long as possible, then use a hard release once you’re almost straight up to get as much height as possible.

As with anything, you need to practice throws as much as possible to be good at them. Video everything you do so you can see the difference in good and bad throws. I’d also recommend having something you are throwing over to actually gauge your height. A really easy way to get more practice throwing is to buy a throw sandbag (Rogue or Cerberus make the only ones actually made for throwing as far as I know) and do 10-20 throws as a warm-up before a normal training day.”

How to Train Without the Proper Equipment

So now that we know why weight over bar training is great and understand a couple different techniques, it’s time to discuss another important topic. What if you don’t have the correct training tools? In reality, you can use almost anything to try to replicate the movement. If you train in a commercial gym, then a great way to train it is to utilize soft medicine balls (the ones designed for throwing and slamming).

On top of throwing medicine balls, you can use kettlebells. If your facility allows it, you can go outside and  toss kettlebells for height or distance in the grass (however, kettlebells can get damaged in doing so). If going outside with kettlebells isn’t possible, then find a space inside the facility that you can do medicine ball throws. Before throwing, do some heavier kettlebell swings to get used to a heavier weight in your hands, then go throw the medicine ball for either height or distance. 

Weight Over Bar Programming

As Benzel mentioned, doing throws as a warm-up is a great method to start implementing weight over bar into your programming regimen. Personally, I will use throws as a warm-up for lower body workouts as well as the Olympic lift focused days. They serve as a primer for the nervous system without putting excessive load on the musculoskeletal system and can have great carry over to the subsequent lifts. 

If you are training for a competition with weight over bar as an event, then you will have to focus on it a bit more. As stated above, if you don’t have the proper implements, then you will have to adapt your training accordingly. Use whatever height you will have to clear as a training height and use whatever implements you can. Start with lighter weights and as the weeks progress towards your competition do heavier weights. I like to have athletes warm-up with a few throws at lighter weights, then move up in weight.

On the flip side, if you have the proper implements, then train with them exclusively. Good luck and happy training!

Feature image from ArnoldSportsFestival YouTube channel.