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The Influence of Bar Diameter on Neuromuscular Strength and Activation: Inferences from an Isometric Unilateral Bench Press

Fioranelli, Douglas; Lee, C Matthew

Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: May 2008 - Volume 22 - Issue 3 - pp 661-666
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31816a44e3
Original Research

The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of two different bar diameters on neuromuscular activation and strength. The bar diameters used reflected a standard Olympic bar (28 mm (1.1 inch); THIN) and a larger fat bar (51 mm [2 inch]; THICK). Eighteen healthy men (age 25.0 ± 1 years) were assessed for their maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) during a unilateral isometric bench press exercise with the 2 bar types at 2 different joint angles (angle 1 and angle 2; elbow joint at ∼45 and 90°, respectively). Additionally, on a separate day, subjects performed three 10-second isometric repetitions at an intensity of 80% MVC using the 2 different bars at angle 1 and angle 2. Electromyographic recordings were collected in the pectoralis major and the muscles of the forearm flexor region at a sampling rate of 1000 Hz during the second day of testing. Analysis of variance was used to examine differences in MVC between bars and also examine between bar differences in electromyographic activity for each muscle group at each joint angle. A significance level of 0.05 was used for all tests. MVC was not different between bar types, although there was a main effect of joint angle on MVC such that it was greater at angle 2. There was a main effect of bar at both angles for the forearm muscles and at angle 1 for the pectoralis such that electromyographic activity was greater with THIN. Our data do not support the hypothesis that bar diameter influences performance during an isometric bench press exercise. However, higher electromyographic activity with THIN suggests greater neuromuscular activation with a standard Olympic bar as opposed to a larger diameter “fat” bar. Although our data do not support the use of a fat bar for increasing neuromuscular activation, these findings should be confirmed in other resistance training exercises.

Exercise Physiology Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, California

Address correspondence to C. Matthew Lee,

© 2008 National Strength and Conditioning Association