Exercises You Should Be Doing: Barbell Shovel Hold

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Up here in New England we’re very familiar with shovels.

51302774 - snow removal. orange shovel in snow, ready for snow removal, outdoors.

Copyright: bubutu / 123RF Stock Photo

Particularly during our long, cold, New England winters.1

The shovel I’m referring to in today’s post, however, has nothing to do with that kind of shovel. Unlike traditional shoveling which sucks – and ranks somewhere between getting a colonoscopy and listening to Donald Trump speak as things I’m not rushing to do – the “shovel” variation I’m highlighting today is (hopefully) more palatable and something you’ll find use for in the weight-room.

HINT: you totally will.

Barbell Shovel Hold


Who Did I Steal It From: Kinda, sorta myself. I wrote about a similar exercise a few years ago – the shovel lift – but came across a quick write-up by Boston-based coach, Matthew Ibrahim, describing this variation…which I felt was brilliant.2

What Does It Do: First and foremost this is a great exercise to help train rotary stability. The asymmetrical – or offset – nature of this exercise makes it a perfect fit for those struggling with chronic back pain. One must “fight” to maintain a neutral and upright torso position. Not only will this target the more superficial or global musculature – glutes (you need to actively fire these bad boys), erectors, abdominals, traps, rhomboids, obliques – but also the deep, stabilizing musculature as well. Think: the “deeper” muscles like TvA, multifidi, etc.

Note: if you perform this exercise while simultaneously performing positional breathing (inhale with FULL exhale, dialing in on rib position) you’ll hammer those deep, stabilizing muscles).

Because the drill is performed in a more or less isometric fashion, it lends itself as a very user-friendly option that pretty much anyone can do.

As a corollary, even with quote-on-quote “healthy” individuals/athletes, it serves as a welcome way to train core stability and possibly as a way to increase full-body time under tension. To that end, it could serve as a nice way for some trainees to add muscle mass to their frame.

Can you dig it?


See what I did there?

Key Coaching Cues: I feel the thrilling (<— kidding) video above makes things self-explanatory. You load a barbell with anywhere from 10-45 lbs. (start conservative, it’s harder than it looks), un-rack, and hold.

Brace your abs, squeeze your glutes, flex your quads, and think about squeezing oranges in your armpits to add even more body tension. Hold for a 5-10s count, rack the barbell, rest for 5-10s, and repeat for a total of 3-5 “reps.” Then repeat the same process with the load on the other side.

Shoot for a total of 3-5 “rounds.”

I’ve been using this as a quick “finisher” with some of my clients/athletes and they love it.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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  1. Which are right around the corner. Nooooooooooo.

  2. And, again, made me want to slap myself in the forehead for not having the brain power to think of it myself.

Comments for This Entry

  • Kyle J

    This is an excellent exercise to add to the repertoire! Between this and the last article, my patients are going to hate me, haha. But seriously, this will be a great exercise to add to any program; be it physical therapy or my own training.

    August 24, 2016 at 6:45 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Glad you liked it Kyle. It's a game changer for sure. Offset loading in general is excellent for a lot of PT patients I find. They force people to use muscles they never knew they had.

      August 25, 2016 at 9:03 am | Reply to this comment

  • Roberto Vázquez

    Could you tell me how we should do this exercise if we have scoliosis? For example, in my case, I have left lumbar, rigth dorsal scoliosis. Should I load rigth side more than left so that I improve my left abs (even deepest)? Thanx

    August 24, 2016 at 7:16 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      I recently listened to a talk Mike Boyle gave and he noted how he feels EVERYONE has some degree of scoliosis. Not everyone is pathological, but it makes sense. I think what you suggested is fine.....maybe a few more sets (or time under tension) on the left side. However, both should still be trained. So long as nothing hurts day of or day after, you should be fine.

      August 25, 2016 at 9:04 am | Reply to this comment

  • Shane Mclean

    Where did that video come from 'Can you dig it?" Great exercise Tony. I imagine you can fool around with the grip going underhand and switch grip? Just a thought.

    August 28, 2016 at 2:41 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Andrea

    Hi Tony, I first saw this at Matthew's IG and I was wandering how is it different from something like suitcase carries? Other than the fact that I'm walking, couldn't I just pick up a 20kg kb and do the same? thanks!

    August 29, 2016 at 5:37 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      It's very, very close yet. But with the barbell, it just "feels" different. You have to use both hands to "balance" the barbell. In effect, you could absolutely perform suitcase carries (of which I am a HUGE fan of), but the shovel hold is a nice alternative.

      August 30, 2016 at 11:47 am | Reply to this comment

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