The Gopher Performance Axle Bar is like a regular barbell, but with one huge difference—at 2” dia, it’s almost twice as thick as a standard barbell. That difference dramatically changes how you grip the bar, making it significantly more difficult. So, if you are looking to add some grip-strength training into your workouts, the axle bar is an easy way to do that. While it is commonly used for strongman training, the general population will benefit from its use as well within their strength training workouts.
What is it for?
While you can use the Axle Bar as a replacement for any traditional barbell lift, it works better for some things than others. Below are my five best exercises to use when starting to train with the axle bar.
This is a great first lift to get acquainted with the Axle Bar. Since the wider bar doesn’t change the exercise much, this common movement is perfect for getting used to the feel of the bar and experiencing the thicker grip. When using the axle bar, perform this lift exactly as you normally would.
Overhead pressing is one of the most important movements in any strength training program. Make this classic exercise interesting again by using the axle bar for an added grip strength component. Axle bar shoulder presses can be performed seated or standing, but I much prefer standing, especially for athletes, because ground-based movements are more sport-specific. The thicker bar makes this lift a little tougher and forces the athlete to move the bar slightly forward.
The bent-over row is a great lift for the upper back that becomes much more difficult when performed with an axle bar because it depends on the athlete’s ability to grip and hold the bar. The increased difficulty will likely necessitate a reduced load to begin with compared to a regular barbell. Because of the lighter weight, I recommend using this version as an auxiliary or secondary lift. Train your back as you normally would with a heavier weight, then add in the Axle Bar bent-over row after that. And no matter which bar you use, remember to keep a slight bend in the knees, keep your back flat the entire time, and maintain that good bent-over body position.
This is another staple lift that is made drastically more difficult by the axle bar. While you won’t be able to lift nearly as much weight as you would with a standard barbell, the axle bar is great for recovery days and will add a ton of grip training to your workout. Perform the lift as you normally would.
If you want to take a bicep curl to the next level, adding the Axle Bar will certainly do that. Again, a slightly lighter than normal weight may be necessary, but the involvement of the forearms and the hands is tremendous while performing this movement. It’s my new favorite bicep exercise.
What isn’t it for?
The axle bar is constructed with one solid piece, so it does not have rotating sleeves that spin like a regular barbell. I found several coaches and trainers who use the bar for Olympic lifts, but I personally would not recommend that. Using a bar that spins easily is important when performing Olympic lifts. That being said, I was surprised at how well it does actually rotate in the center of weight plates.
The bigger issue is the thickness of the bar when doing cleans or snatches. Gripping the bar becomes a huge issue on initial pulls for both lifts. Receiving and catching the bar at the top of the lift is also altered because of the extra thickness.
So, while it is possible to do Olympic lifts with the Axle Bar, it drastically alters technique and will lead to developing bad habits and technique when going back to a regular barbell. Olympic lifts are the most technical lifts, and you don’t want to mess around changing or affecting technique. Stick to a regular barbell for your Olympic lifts.
The axle bar is a great option for any other lift. Pulls are going to incorporate more grip and hand strength demands compared to presses in general. You can also use it for squats, but it won’t really make much of a difference except for overhead squats. Zercher squats may be more comfortable for some people though. Overall, I really like the bar and we will be acquiring more so that it can be an option for my students and athletes at every rack. I highly recommend this bar!
Add Axle Bars to Your Weight Room
Scott Meier is currently in his 19 year at Farmington High School (MN) where he is the Strength & Conditioning Coach. He is also a Physical Education Teacher at FHS and teaches Sports Conditioning, Weight Training, and 9th grade Fitness For Life classes. He coached Farmington’s competitive weightlifting for 9 years, and in that time, the Tigers earned four state team titles, over 40 individual state champions, and multiple state record holders. Prior to that he was the head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Lakeville (MN) High School and worked as a personal trainer for 6 years. Scott is featured in the award-winning documentary “My Run” which tells the story of his 56-year-old client who ran 75 marathons in 75 days. He continues to compete in track & field at the masters level where he is a nationally ranked sprinter and holds several state age-group records. Scott is the current Minnesota state director of the National High School Strength Coaches Association.