How a Barbell Landmine Can Make Your Workouts More Dynamic | GQ

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How a Barbell Landmine Can Make Your Workouts More Dynamic | GQ

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If you follow the evolution of strength training over the past half century. you’ll see a curve leading away from weights and then back to it. Barbell lifts—squats, deadlifts and the Olympic movements—used to be for gym-rats only. Before the 1960s, some football players trained with weights, but most teams avoided these exercises for more limber, “lengthening” workouts that wouldn’t slow athletes down. When college football programs began hiring strength coaches in the ‘60s, and used squats to bulk up their athletes, their performance immediately improved. Compound lifts took over that sport, and most others. Now, just about every high-level team, in every sport, has a strength coach, and just about every strength coach likes squats and power cleans. But throughout, the odd team has eschewed heavier weights, with even football players recently reportedly sticking to sub-max lifts to get strong. The idea is that these lifts can get be tougher to master than the sport they’re there to serve.

At the edge of this philosophy is a hybrid approach where the barbell itself is the point of the workout. It's used as a tool: a weighted rod through which to express power. When slipped into a “landmine” accessory, essentially a floor-mounted hinge, the bar has a new, faster way of moving. It's dynamic like a kettlebell swing and covers more horizontal space than a clean or a snatch. Landmine training forces folks into movements that sit somewhere between throwing a punch and sprinting. The movements are ways of expressing power that go toe to toe with old-school Olympic lifting, but which are easier to pick up and slot into a workout.

The best way to dig up info on landmine work is through Landmine University, an Instagram account that doubles as an exercise library and a certification program for personal trainers. Skimming the account reveals a big bearded guy who uses a barbell in unorthodox ways. He lifts it up from the ground and shotputs it through space; he elbows it across his core; he works it in with some kettlebells. The Landmine U angles resemble something more dynamic than what usually comes with a barbell—it’s about speed, coordination and power.

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Landmine work itself isn’t new. Single-end barbells have been around for decades—there’s a scene in 1977’s Pumping Iron where Arnold uses a barbell for a T-bar row to attack his back. As an explosive movement, though, it’s about two decades old. The work with the attachment developed thanks Bert Sorin, a gym equipment scion who was training discus ahead of the Sydney Olympics. Having been told about some obscure power-generating exercises other throwers were doing with barbells—one end held static in a shoe—he mucked around on the family equipment, attaching a universal joint to a squat rack for his. After creating the attachment, Sorin experimented with exercises and began selling the accessory to gyms.

Alex Kanellis, Landmine University’s founder, began training with the attachment while playing football in college. “We had them around,” he says, but the team “never really used them for anything explosive.” He got drawn to the movements a few years ago, “as an alternative to the Olympic lifts.” Those lifts—snatches and clean and jerks, where the lifter stays planted and throws a barbell over their head—build up explosiveness and power, but can be hard to learn, and require serious mobility. As a trainer, Kanellis began programming landmine exercises—some already out there, others he came up with personally—for his clients, who skew heavily towards combat athletes.

The advantage for fighters, Kanellis says, is the core work in the exercise. Because they perform a lot of “rotational movement”—turns to throw a punch, shielding themselves—the landmine work, which is all done on one side, helps them get twist and turn with more force. But there’s also a carryover for people who don’t spend any time in the octagon. Because “we don't move around with a rigid spine,” Kanellis says, the core control these exercises build can help us improve our posture and walk around better.

Outside of Kanellis’ work, though, landmine work’s not yet an entrenched part of gym culture, and exists mostly as rarefied supplemental lift. Michael Pelle, a 28-year-old construction manager in Brooklyn, supplements his own lifting program, which he began while training for high school football, with occasional landmine work. One exercise that he leans on is what he refers to as a “controlled shoulder press,”—a lift where he leans a bit forward, and the barbell is pressed out and up. The lift, Pelle says, is great for isolating the shoulder; he limits the movement to shoulder day.

By The Editors of GQ

Casey Johnston, who publishes the She’s a Beast newsletter about lifting and whose book, Liftoff: Couch to Barbell, ramps up to barbell work, incorporates landmine work occasionally as well. After seeing the exercises for the first time on Instagram, Johnston tried them out as an alternative to overhead press. Johnson, who lives in Los Angeles, had a landmine attachment at her home gym in Brooklyn, and appreciates the benefits of the exercise. “There’s a lot of stability work involved,” she says, in getting the bar overhead. But it’s not a main part of her training. Her own workouts go off a more barbell-focused program; landmine work, for her, is a “second-tier overhead accessory.”

Though Kanellis has completely switched out his clients' Olympic lifts for landmine exercises, he concedes that the work “isn’t a program made to build as much muscle as possible.” It’s more, he says, a “10 to 15 minute part of your overall weightlifting program,”—a set of exercises that will “make you a better athlete, and more explosive.” (I personally program landmine work twice a week in my own workouts, which otherwise focus on sprints, cables, and kettlebells.) 

The best way to get in those reps is to slot in a couple of the simpler exercises into your existing program—or to just try them out. Kanellis suggests two. The first is the split jerk, in which the bar sits on a shoulder, with that leg in front. The lifter, on the balls of their feet with what Kanellis calls “forward intent,” pushes it up with their core as they switch their feet. In the second exercise, the screwdriver, the lifter keeps the bar around their plexus and elongates one side of their spine while punching that elbow up, while switching their feet. Both exercises can be done with an empty bar to start, and can be cued up at first with the spinal elongation stretches Kanellis has his lifters perform to get used to the movement.

Kanellis recommends adding the split and the screwdriver once a week to folks on other programs. Johnston programs her landmine work at about the same frequency. Being comfortable with using the attachment, she says, is especially helpful on gym days where “the equipment is totally locked up; where three people are lined up to use the squat rack.” On those days, you have to program for yourself. Using an often-ignored piece of equipment and getting some power out of it can just about save a workout.

But it also feels like a matter of time before at least some people switch over to an all-landmine workout. And why not? The exercises are incredibly fun, have a lower barrier to entry than Olympic lifts, and complement both functional and traditional lifting programs. They’re lifts that are aimed at helping us stand and move better than they are at packing on muscle. But the power is real: It’s the barbell catching up to the way we move throughout the day.

Any basic 45 lb. barbell works well here—start with the bare bar while learning the motions. 

This stand-alone attachment works best for a home gym, and requires a couple of plates to stabilize it. (If you already have a squat rack, get the rack-mount variety.)

JFIT Olympic 2-inch cast iron grip plate

If you have a good home gym, you probably have some plates laying around. If you don’t, a couple of 10 pounders will be enough to start.

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How a Barbell Landmine Can Make Your Workouts More Dynamic | GQ

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