Specialty bars: The Swiss Bar
For happy shoulders and stronger triceps
After my recent article on the safety squat bar (see suggestions below) it was apparent that only few were aware of its merits. This was as I suspected, so I hope that by now more of you have started to take this valuable tool up in your gym repertoire. Since there are a few more specialty bars lying around in dusty corners of many gyms, I figured I'd write something on all of them. So, here we go: the next chapter in my barbell crusade. While last specialty bar article focused on a lower body tool, today I will discuss one for the upper body: the swiss barbell.
"Training with this bar therefore works very well to specifically strengthen the triceps."
What’s different about this barbell is quite obvious: it’s got multiple parallel or angled grips at different positions. What these altered grip positions do, is that they rotate the position of the wrist, which automatically forces the elbows much closer to the body when pressing (or rowing). And it's this elbows-closer-to-the-body position where the swiss barbell works its magic.
Training effect wise, pressing with this barbell is a little less chest dependent than pressing with a regular barbell, while requiring much more work to be done by the arms. Much similar to doing regular bench pressing with a narrow grip. Training with the swiss bar therefore works very well to specifically strengthen the triceps in function of pressing (think: for those who tend to struggle with the top portion of their bench press).
Besides the benefit of added triceps training, the tucked elbow position also has an injury preventive effect. When pressing with a regular barbell, the arms are internally rotated and the elbows tend to drift out towards the ears as fatigue sets in. What this means is that the movement takes place at the end range of the shoulder joint, relying on passive tissues (the joint) for stabilization, instead of on active tissues (the muscles).
"Most rehabilitating shoulders will tolerate pressing with a swiss bar much better than regular bar pressing."
This is a position in which a couple of soft tissues in the shoulder (like the bursae or supraspinatus tendon) are impinged between bones, which over time can lead to damage to said soft tissues. Any press with the elbows close to the body (shoulders in external rotation) therefore helps keep ‘space’ in the shoulder, which is much friendlier on the joint. Because of this, I have found that most rehabilitating shoulders will tolerate pressing with a swiss bar weeks, and sometimes even months, before a regular barbell becomes a pain free option again.
When injury or weak arms are not an issue, I will still use the swiss bar as an occasional substitute for straight barbells - just for the sake of variety. I do however think that its added value is biggest for those with weak triceps. When I work with trainees who are in this category, I love to get creative and do all kinds of pressing variations with it that increase its triceps straining properties even more: like pressing off pins, while lying on the floor, or with added bands and chains.
On a closing note, I have to say that I personally never use the outer handles. A wider grip will once again move shoulder back into end range, which kind of negates its benefits over a regular barbell. Just make sure that when you give this a bar a go, expect to struggle with stability a bit, and know that weights will always be lower than while using with a regular barbell.