Thick vs Thin Bar Debate Explained

Sure you have probably read about thick bars, maybe even used a few of them, but have you ever questioned the benefits?  Thanks to a reader’s inquiry, this question reminded me of a study I read a long time ago!

I’ll give a spoiler alert though due to the long post.  Thick vs thin isn’t just best for mustaches, but it is effective for training as well. 

Ever wonder why Zorro wore a mask?  Not to hide his identity, for shame of that caterpillar on his lip…

Reader Question: (In reference to a study he read that said pulling exercises provided the benefit) – While the study was performed on an isometric one-arm bench press, and while the author seemed to indicate that only pulling exercise might have benefit from thick bar usage, I am of the mind that research (regardless of the study design, measuring techniques used, or exercises selected) will never be able to tell the full tale with something like thick bars.

In fact while the attention often gets placed on how thick bars make pulling movements more challenging, I also have heard many swear by thick bars as a secret weapon for improving pressing and taking some stress off of the shoulders. Furthermore, I have always seen excellent carryover to regular bar movements after stints using thick bars (whether for pushing or pulling movements).


Do you think that this is indeed one area where practical experience, results under the bar, and even a potential “placebo” effect is actually far more important that what any amount of research can tell us?

Formal or not, old-time strength athletes were often “relegated” to using thick diameter implements based upon using whatever they could find. While a lot of factors are likely responsible for their super strength, I would have to think that thick grip work (or what would have been perceived as normal by them) for any and every exercise imaginable was a major “secret” to their success.  – Tony G.


 I know I usually put excerpts of questions up there, but I’m proud of the reader intelligence that has been growing at Synergy!  A quick shout out to you guys!  Well research and throughout question Tony.

I read similar research in a NSCA Sports and Nutrition Journal about a year ago and I agree with the thick bar is “better” (activates more muscles) for pulling, but here’s the catch…

The thick bar DOES do what you suggested for the wrists and shoulder while pressing. The research stated that the thick bar will put the wrist more “in line” when pressing, recruits more forearm muscles, and can be very beneficial.
I think this calls my my super Microsoft Paint Skills!!!!


Notice how the thick bar sits more aligned with the wrist?  Nailed it with my stick figure forearms and hands!!!  Haha, maybe not, but hopefully you can see my point. 

The thick bar’s alignment when pressing will provide a slight advantage (the force will be applied to the center of the bar, as opposed to slightly in front).

However I get their point with the research. The thick bar will train the forearms and grip much more when pulling, which will stimulate more muscle growth.

So in summary, thick bars do have advantages when pressing (wrist to bar alignment) HOWEVER, they do build more muscle when pulling. Check out how it opens up the hand in the video below.

Homemade Thick Bar Video

Oh, and people working out best have a strong hand / thumb when pressing with a thick bar because its a different animal.  Start light to make sure you don’t dump it forwards (and no suicide grips!!!) 

As with any strength training instrument – use it as a weapon in the arsenal, and don’t become dependant on ONE thing alone.

I do have a homemade three inch thick bar explained on the Homemade Strength DVD.


Now that’s a thick ‘stache!

I will also see if I can come up with a QUICK homemade axle bar solution for you in the upcoming weeks!  Of course you may disagree with my mustache opinions, but a lot of people have benefited from going thick when it comes to lifting!

- Joe Hashey, CSCS -

PS.  If you liked this post and this site, please pass it along to your friends in strength (posting the link on facebook, email, etc)!!! I am always impressed by the Synergy readers, thank you!

Double PS.  Sorry to you Magnum PI fans, but Tom Selleck’s mustache came in a close second. 


Synergy Facebook Comments


  • Josh Hewett

    Reply Reply November 4, 2009

    Damn Joe… didn’t know you were an artist AND a coach! (o:
    But seriously, that’s a great explanation of how force is transferred more directly through the forearm (rather than off-centered) with pressing thick bars; another advantage in addition to grip work. Thanks… I might just borrow your artwork!

    • Ha, thanks Josh. Sadly, it took me about half an hour to make that simple diagram! Im glad you found it useful.


  • Joe Hallman

    Reply Reply November 4, 2009

    Coach: This is coach Hallman from C.B South football we have spoken a few times and I purchased the Bull Strength manual from you for my team,well we have moved and I can not find that manual anyway and I was not smart enough to save it on the computer after I had it downloaded it.Is there anyway I can get another copy from you?? Thank you for your time and your great website.

    Best regards,
    Joe Hallman
    C.B South Football Coach

    • Not a problem Joe – I just shot you an email about it.

      I’m glad to see you are getting the boys right into the weight room in the offseason! Keep me posted on your progress with the Bull Strength Method!


  • Jay Ashman

    Reply Reply November 5, 2009

    I need to start working more thick bar work into my arsenal… great post to remind me to do that.

  • Scott Markowitz

    Reply Reply November 8, 2009

    I love using a thickbar for all my pressing. I have a wrist injury (scaphoid-capitate fusion after tearing the ligaments) which has reduced the ROM in my left wrist to about 30%. This makes pressing with a straight bar pretty painful, since it pushes my wrist to its limit. Thick bars let me keep my wrist straighter, so I can *almost* press like I used to.

    • Scott, thanks for the comment. That probably explains it better than my paint drawing above!


  • Tyler E.

    Reply Reply July 9, 2013

    Joe – another great explanation and the art work is steller!

    An added benefit I’ve found with the thick bar – actually Fat Gripz – is found in bicep/tricep isolation work(either DB or BB). Of course I guess these movement could fall under the push/pull benefits you discussed earlier.

    After a few training sessions incorporating isolation work with a straight bar, my wrists & medial elbow would start complaining and I’d have to switch to a different exercise(s).

    Not so with the Fat Gripz – completely took any wrist/elbow pain away. So while I incorporate Fat Gripz with my compound pressing/pulling movements and agree about the benefits; try them (or any thick bar) for your isolation exercises as well. You will definitely see and feel the difference.

  • Daniel

    Reply Reply July 10, 2013

    That’s what she said Joe! J/K

    Thanks for your wisdom and art work.

  • Russell

    Reply Reply November 16, 2013

    Last year I couldn’t go to the gym for a numerous reasons, and decided to take a break from powerlifting. I made a home gym using thick pipe for barbells found an old bench in the rubbish and used 20Lt water carries for weight. I tied them with rope to the bar and just did basic compound movements. I found together griping a fat bar and holding on tight to keep the thing stable made me a lot stronger. My hands actually grew!

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