Barbell Physical Therapy: Three Reasons a Barbell Is the Single Most Important Piece of Equipment in Any Physical Therapy Clinic

When Clinical Management of the Fitness Athlete burst onto the physical therapy continuing education scene nearly ten years ago, very few clinics seemed to have barbells and rigs.  Fortunately, we have seen clinics slowly begin to change and adapt to include barbell physical therapy into their regimens, but certainly not fast enough for our liking.

Why such strong feelings around barbell physical therapy exercises? Because there is no single piece of equipment as affordable and versatile to deliver physical therapy version 2.0.  Here are a few reasons why every clinic with additional budget for equipment updates should consider purchasing a rig, barbell, and bumper plates:

  1. You can properly load EVERYONE with barbells. Got a high level athlete doing rehab with your physical therapy team?  No matter the capacity you are trying to build, they won’t likely hit the ceiling of load the barbell has to offer.  What is less appreciated is how barbell exercises can be modified to meet individuals on the other side of the spectrum who require lower loads.  A simple landmine attachment on your rig can turn any variation of squat, deadlift, or shoulder press into as gentle a movement as you could imagine.  Not familiar with landmine exercises? Here are some great examples from ICE faculty Dr. Zach Long.
  2. You can mimic REAL LIFE through these exercises.  Everyday life requires the movement of mass in free space.  This is where the world of expensive Cybex or Smith Press Machines can really fail your clients.  Predetermined guided motions simply aren’t what we’re up against when we’re working around the house or performing manual labor jobs.  Loading up the barbell for carries, deadlifts, overhead presses, lunges, step ups and the like create real world simulation and preparation in a way machines couldn’t possibly.
  3. Excellence looks different.  Having a room full of machines reminiscent of Planet Fitness circa 2004 just doesn’t fire up the inspiration engines.  When patients walk in and see legit strength and conditioning equipment it shifts their expectation about where this is all going, namely towards a target that blows their baseline out of the water.  Treat people like athletes and they behave like athletes.  Physical therapists love saying “all of my patients are athletes,” if we believe that our clinics ought to start looking the part.
  4. Because WE need to use the equipment! Consider #4 here an important bonus point showcasing the importance of barbell physical therapy…  ICE Physio has championed #LeadingFromTheFront for many years, but it’s more than something we say it’s something the evidence supports.  Check out this IG post where we explain how beliefs about our own backs affect what we prescribe our patients.  First, we must move heavy things fearlessly and reap all the benefits, then we can get our patients doing the same!

It is our hope that understanding the benefits of incorporating barbells into your physical therapy practice helps guide you towards your next equipment purchase. A third NuStep can wait, it’s time to get serious about how we outfit our physical therapy clinics so that we can build resilience in every patient we treat.

If you have any reservations about developing rehab programs that span the entire skill and readiness spectrum, jump into our Clinical Management of the Fitness Athlete coursework.  We’ve got two 8 week courses that will help you better treat a wide range of patients!