The Basement Barbell Workout

by A Manly Guest Contributor on February 18, 2011 · 30 comments

in Blog

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Joe Hashey.

Being one of four boys my parents had to do something to get our energy out without destroying the house. Their solution: a 300 lb barbell set for the garage. My father picked it up at a garage sale and we all thought it was the coolest thing ever!

The weights were a dark black and had been spray painted over a few times to hide the rust spots. The bar was amazingly rust free and rock solid. (I actually still have that exact bar in my gym today 15+ years later.)

When we got it home, we broke out the hammer and saws to make a small “barbell clubhouse” in the back corner of a somewhat dark and dingy basement. When the dust settled we had our little corner of heaven, a 10 by 15 foot room with bare drywall and a concrete floor…it was PERFECT!

Since we only had a barbell – no bench, rack, dumbbells, shake weights (kidding), or other equipment – we had to get creative.

Unfortunately, at ages ranging 12 – 16 years old, we didn’t have ANY strength training knowledge. That certainly didn’t keep us from going in there and “messing around” with the weights and doing exercises that we saw on television.

Fast forward to the present time: I’m fortunate to own and run a fully equipped strength training facility and often find myself in discussions with people that “attempted” working out at home. They will say something like, “I only had a barbell set and bench at home, so I couldn’t really do anything.”

That couldn’t be further from the truth! I know many people out there are in the same boat; they have minimal equipment but still want to work out at home. For you, I am creating a 3 day a week general fitness template that requires only two things: a barbell set and your bodyweight.

The Basement Barbell Workout Program

Day 1 – Upper Body (a to b denotes a superset)

1. Weighted Push Ups (make sure the plates are loaded towards your upper back, not your butt). 2 x 15, 1 x max reps

2a. Barbell Rows 4 x 8

2b. Hindu Push Ups 4 x 12

3a. Plate Front Raise 3 x 12 (hold one weight plate with two hands and raise it in front of your face with your arms extended)

3b. Plate Side Raise 3 x 12 (hold two smaller plates, one in each hand, and perform side raises)

4. Plate Stackers (see video below):

Day 2 – Lower Body (a to b denotes a superset)

1. Dead Lifts 5 x 5

2. Straight Bar Lunges 4 x 8

3. Romanian Dead Lifts (moderate weight) 3 x 8

4a. Straight Bar Russian Twists 4 x 12 (see video below)

4b. Spread Eagle Sit Ups 4 x 12 (see video below):

Day 3 – Full Body and Conditioning

1. Straight Bar Military Press 5 x 3

2. Straight Bar Reverse Lunge 4 x 8

3. Serious Sixes OR Lunge Complex (see video below):

Even if you go to a gym, try out these workouts for a month! One thing I have noticed is that my clients always tend to add more weight on a barbell than they will hold with dumbbells. For example, during forward lunges, a client might pick up two 40 lb dumbbells (80 lbs total) while on straight bar they will add two 45’s on the bar (135 lbs total). Even though the area loaded is different, the mental edge of using a straight bar will be noticeable.

Enjoy your training!


Joe Hashey, CSCS is a personal trainer and owner of Synergy Athletics. Joe has been featured author in Men’s Fitness Magazine and is also the creator of the Bull Strength Training Method. Joe is giving away $446 in free ebooks at his site: FREE STRENGTH EBOOKS.

**This is a general fitness program and you should always consult a doctor before strenuous exercise.**

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Caleb February 18, 2011 at 1:22 pm

For an amateur lifting program, the absence of a squat deems this prescription disastrous. The squat is the most important lift in the world, and is the basic building block for ANY lifting program. Most of these lifts are novelty lifts that don’t provide a stable foundation of strength. & are exponentially better than these training ideas, but these are just starting points for the novice.

2 Allen February 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Any chance of getting a similar type of working using only dumbbells?

3 David February 18, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Any particular reason for no squats?

4 Ryan February 18, 2011 at 2:14 pm

You’re right on the money suggesting that you can do a lot of training with minimal equipment, especially once you start to study how to exercise your muscles. I was actually explaining this to my wife the other day. I had been thinking about getting a bench and some dumb bells. She cut me off. “We already have a gym membership. Leave the basement alone.” I suppose she’s right, and I do appreciate the options that I have at my gym: machines, free weights, pool, aerobic classes, spinning, elliptical trainers, etc. Still, sometimes I wake up in the morning and wish I could just go downstairs and do a routine.

5 David February 18, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Ignore my question, I missed that part about only requiring a barbell set.

6 Nathan February 18, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Great post…couple additions:

Floor Press

two more great exercises that came to mind.

7 Strong Man February 18, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Wonderful assertion–men should be physically stronger than their wives. To Ryan: Are you the man? Whose house is that anyway? Are you sure you’re making a decision because she’s right? Or do you have a legit need for a workout when your gym is not convenient?

You can do quite a bit without taking up space by just using dumbells that slide under a bed and out of the way. And you can do pushups, with your feet elevated, or pullups on a bar between a doorway.

They key is doing something to keep strong!

The men I know who are obviously physically very strong can also afford to be very gentle in their voice and carry themselves without any kind of threatening demeaner–they don’t have to show off or prove their manliness. It’s obvious.

8 Carter February 18, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Good suggestions. I think you always need to change what your doing after a few weeks or months of the same thing to avoid the physical and mental plateaus.

My favorite thing I have found so far is CrossFit. I have some info and their site here:

9 Darren February 18, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Any at-home workout, or any workout for that matter, that doesn’t recommend the squat is incredibly lacking.

10 Ksmo February 18, 2011 at 4:46 pm

I like the idea of adding some simple strength training, and am glad this is phrased as a “template” and not a firm program. A large portion of the male population would benefit from this program!
My 2 cents:
1. As Nathan mentioned above, I would add Cleans as long as the person could be shown the proper form.
2. Longer legged people may be winded too fast with lunges. Replacing some of the lunges with overhead squats or goblet squats would get them stronger faster.
3. Pull-ups can be done almost anywhere, and body-weight is usually more than enough to challenge us.
4. “Starting Strength” by Mark Rippetoe is excellent further reading!

11 Tom February 18, 2011 at 5:09 pm

@ Caleb – I agree, squats are the most important lift but if one doesn’t have a squat rack it is a tough lift to do safely. But the template includes deadlifts, which work the posterior chain, as well as lunges, which work the quads. If all you had was a barbell and weights, I think this template is a good one to use.

12 Bobby February 18, 2011 at 6:46 pm

How to Get Big:

1. Squat, Bench, Deadlift, Press, Clean
2. Eat
3. Sleep

Repeat the cycle

See ‘Starting Strength’ for more details

13 Joe Haqhey February 18, 2011 at 7:13 pm


Thanks to everyone for reading the article. The reason why dead lift is chosen over squat is because this is for the home gym people with only a barbell set. Lots of people just have a barbell and bench in their homes, so that is a major consideration.

I don’t think it would be safe to squat without a rack. A clean to front squat would have been nice for me to include, but that’s a more advanced movement that most people don’t have the proper training in….and again if this just a home barbell set I assume most people aren’t oly lifters.

Tom, thanks for pointing out the DL and the lunges, you read my mind with the posterior chain and squat!

I do appreciate all comments. If you browse around my youtube channel you will see plenty of squatting, but we didn’t always have access to a full gym – hence the “Basement and Barbell Workout.”

I hope that makes sense!



14 Thomas February 18, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Excellent article Joe, Synergy Athletics has always given out a TON of FREE information!
The best way to get cock strong is to keep it simple, and do compound movements.

15 Claude February 18, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Squats are generally a bad idea to do without a spotter and a rack. Im guessing that’s why they weren’t included.

I’ve made considerable gains over the years with a barbell/dumbell set and a home made bench. If you’re creative and change things up occasionally, you can keep shocking your muscles and make great gains.

16 David February 18, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Zercher squats are always a good replacement (would replace the RDL’s, as have already deadlifted) – I’ve never back squatted (I’m only 18 so haven’t been training for that long; I will at some point!) as I used to train at home. Simply deadlift the bar up, then squat down with it resting on your knees, then hook your arms under. Squats don’t seem to be essential, I’ve gotten good strength gains from deadlifts, cleans and lunges only recently.
What are your reasons for including side and front raises – would it not be better to do some sort of plate press? 1 arm db floorpresses are great to do at home, but barbell floor presses might be dangerous – I haven’t tested it, so I suppose the bar is high enough off the floor.
p.s. Herman Goerner never squatted, and I wouldn’t argue with his strength gains!

17 Jim February 18, 2011 at 11:35 pm

I must disagree with Caleb – leaving squats out of this program does not make it “disastrous” – that’s a bit strong, don’t you think?

Tom & Joe are right, it’s not safe to do squats without a squat rack. Hell, sometimes it can be dangerous when you DO have a squat rack..

Might I suggest, for those die-hard squat fans out there, the Barbell Hack Squat. This movement can be done safely (as safe as a deadlift, anyway) without a squat rack at home. It was one of my favorites when all I had was a barbell.

One final thought, for full disclosure: if I had to choose one, for the rest of my life, over the other, it would be deadlifts.

Cheers, and be safe.


18 bill February 19, 2011 at 7:13 am

Check out Ross Enamait, gentlemen. He has some quality stuff on

I have checked many workout plans, programs and people and his stuff just makes sense. I bet that almost any training program would show results with most people. What i like about him is his philosophy when it comes to working out and doing business

19 Alex February 19, 2011 at 11:33 am

These are an ok start, but I find that without variety I get bored. With some training and practice, you could start adding the Olympic lifts in, the snatch and the clean (with all their variations).

20 Mike February 19, 2011 at 1:39 pm

I agree that it is unsafe to do squats without a rack. On the subject though, I would add in air squats and for something a bit harder, air squats holding dumbbells.

When I don’t have many lifting tools, my go-to full body workout is:

Pull ups 5 reps x 4
Air Squats 25 reps x 4
Push ups 25 reps x 4
Crunches 5 reps x 5
(crunches are in 5 different positions: legs held toward the ceiling, at a 90 degree angle in the air, 90 degrees on the floor, flat on the floor, then obliques on each side)

It is a good, quick workout when you don’t have many options.

Typically I get my workouts from a CrossFit website: This requires more lifting knowledge and equipment though and I recommend you do it with someone who knows good lifting form. You can hurt yourself if you aren’t careful. (I injured my back doing kettle bell swings and it put me out for 2+ months)

21 Mike February 19, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Sorry,I made a typo in my above post, the crunches are supposed to be 25 reps x 5

22 Maru February 19, 2011 at 5:51 pm

This looks like a pretty solid workout, and I think I’ll try it or a variation on it at some point in the future, once I get my hands on a barbell set. I also have to applaud Mr. Hashey for setting his clients straight on the misconception that you need a fancy schmancy gym to get fit. Strictly speaking you don’t even need a barbell weight set. You can get in shape with nothing more than your body weight and a patch of empty ground (pushups, situps, and squats are your friends). I also applaud him for including the Hindu pushup in his regimen. My only question, echoing others, is why the Hindu squat (and indeed, the squat in general) is absent from this program, although I can think of one reason: for the novice, the weighted squat is probably one of the more dangerous lifts, and there are some genuine, if overblown, concerns about blowing out your knees doing squats that perhaps it was too much bother to include them. In any case, it would be a simple matter to add them in somewhere. Other exercises to consider would be the snatch, and the clean and jerk. Still, the program Mr. Hashey gives is a very good one, in that it gets the job done and is not overly complicated.

Also, on a more serious note, while you may or may not want to bother talking to your doctors before you take these things up, whatever you do remember to be careful and to listen to your body. Through a combination of overly vigorous exercise and I-know-not-what-exactly, I managed to injure the wrist tendons in my right hand. It crippled me for a long time, and even though it is mostly healed now, it still is not back to full health, and it still causes me small amounts of pain when I work out, leading to an unwillingness to work at full intensity. So please, fellow men: it is much better to avoid injuries in the first place, so if you feel the “wrong” kind of pain, then take an extra day or two off before your next work out, soak whatever hurts in hot water, and give it a massage. And if it still hurts after the next workout, for God’s sake, see a doctor about it, instead of waiting a month and a half to do something about it. And try if you can to avoid tendon injuries. They are the absolute worst to heal.

23 CrossFitMan February 19, 2011 at 6:05 pm

CrossFit is great for the modern day man. Straight to the point workouts. I hate lifting weights like a prisoner. But you add motion and activity to the workout, now thats making it fun again. I guess thats why I never understood guys who workout at gyms but hate playing sports. Check out this funny article on Crossfit:

24 Dennis Smith February 21, 2011 at 11:57 am

Back in the day, before squat racks, they used to load the bar, lift one side up so it was almost vertical, step under and lower the bar onto their shoulders and squat away. Limits the weight but just do more reps.

Get a copy of Dinosaur Training, Grey Hair/Black Iron or anything else from Dinosaur Training and you will have all the info you need (not affiliated in any way)

25 Preston Blain February 21, 2011 at 8:28 pm

It’s amazing how many exercises you can do with just a barbell. I have been going to the gym for a number of years now. I only use to use the barbell for bench and squats when I first started. Now I have added deadlift, straight bar military press, bent over rows and very recently the joy that is clean and jerk :-). I would love to add snatch to the ever growing list but currently my shoulder flexibility won’t allow it, though I am working on rectifying this matter.

26 Maru February 26, 2011 at 2:22 am

I don’t know if Mr. Hashey is still looking at this, but what exactly are “serious sixes”? I see you refer to them in your workout as an alternative to the lunge complex, but I can’t find as yet any description of what it consists of.

27 Joe Hashey March 2, 2011 at 12:43 pm


Serious Sixes is a term I wrote about in my conditioning manual. It refers to 6 exercises for 6 reps for 6 sets.

We commonly use: Hang clean x 6, military press x 6, bent over row x 6, RDL x 6, back squat x 6, good morning x 6 with low to moderate weight. Rest 2-3 minutes and repeat for 6 sets.

Sorry for the delay in response, I hope that helps!


28 Greg Harring March 7, 2011 at 6:24 am

Just what I needed to get started.

29 Dustin M. March 14, 2011 at 11:44 am


Good article. It was definitely a blast from the past reading that.

As for all those people who are whining saying it’s a waste of time IF there are no squats in the program—I got news for you. You do NOT need squats to make an effective strength building routine. Once again, Joe said there he only had the barbell, the plates, and the very ground he was standing on.

Lesson number 1) Since the beginning of and women has bent down to lift an object off the ground. Period. I defy you to tell me when was the LAST time you ever had a heavy object on your back/shoulders and you had to squat down for whatever reason? Hmm? Oh, in the gym? Sure! Anywhere else, no! If the weight is on your shoulders/back…most likely you are carrying the weight. Now that is a much more effective strength building exercise than squatting. Why? Because we do it on an everyday basis. Carrying and dragging weights, deadlifting weights are so much more realistic and practical than squatting. I am not ranting because I can’t squat…I do squat. But I am telling you, it’s not necessary. You want to squat, do bodyweight squats, zercher squats, or pick a weight light enough for you to muscle the weight onto your back and do high rep squats (that is unless you’re going to whine and say that high rep squats are pointless.) Let me say this–a REAL man…should be able to do both high rep squats or heavy n low squats if necessary, that is if you’re one of those obsessive squatters. Question..IF you say high rep squats are pointless and do nothing. Let’s say you squat 500, which is impressive. You certainly shouldn’t have any problem squattign 135 or 225 for 50-100 reps? Oh, you can’t? Hmm, embarrasing, Guess your endurance strength is crap. It’s good to know you can produce a 1 time max effort squat of 500, but unfortunately you’re not reliable. You gas out quickly. You’re like one of those ‘one-shot’ guns.

What Joe pointed out is enough for anybody to start off with. If you have no rack or bench set—then deadlifts, zercher squats, bodyweight squats, power cleans are more than enough. You add that with push-ups/floor presses…pull-ups/rows…curls/chin-ups…shrugs. Really, dudes. What more do you need? Oh the pretty fancy machines? Right….right…I forgot about that. Jeez.

Joe, you’re doing the right thing. Sometimes I realize it takes a man to ignore stupid comments. I should be doing that too. But I also realize if we just sit back and let them talk, they’re never going to learn. It’s a very conflicting situation, haha.

30 Hella December 15, 2012 at 5:17 am

thanks for this
I also train in the basement and got bored of my current routine
I’m starting with yours next week!

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