Are you stuck without a squat rack and bench? This 4-day upper/lower split will show you exactly how to get strong, and add muscle with only a barbell at your disposal.
Workout Summary

Workout Description

Barbell-only training can even be a welcome interlude for lifters who are accustomed to having a bar on their back every week. It is a great opportunity to iron out some imbalances and spark new growth in any lagging areas.

If you’re stuck without a gym full of equipment, then this is a great program for you to follow. You can make some serious muscle and strength progress with the simplest of equipment.

  1. A barbell and plates
  2. A couple of bands
  3. A pull-up bar

This 4-day training program is designed for those looking to add strength and size at home, or with limited equipment.

Here's an example of how to execute this training routine:

  • Monday - Upper Body A
  • Tuesday - Lower Body A
  • Wednesday - Off
  • Thursday - Upper Body B
  • Friday - Lower Body B
  • Saturday - Off
  • Sunday - Off

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Day 1: Upper Body A

Exercise Sets Reps
Overhead Press 3-4 4-6
Bent Over Row 3-4 4-6
Paused Weighted Push-Up 3-4 4-10
Pull-up 3-4 4-10
Landmine Lateral Raise 2-3 6-10 per side
Skullcrusher 2-3 6-12

Day 2: Lower Body A

Exercise Sets Reps
Sumo Deadlift 3-4 4-6
Bulgarian Split Squat 3-4 6-8 per side
Barbell Glute Bridge 3-5 8-10
Banded Single Leg Good Morning 2-3 8-12 per side
Side Plank with Hip Dip 2-3 8-12 per side
Barbell Calf Raise 3-4 8-12

Day 4: Upper Body B

Exercise Sets Reps
Band Pull-Aparts * 40-60 Total
Floor Press 3-4 8-12
Meadows Row 3-4 8-12 per side
Single-Arm Landmine Press 3-4 8-12
Inverted Row 3-4 8-12
Landmine Concentration Curl 2-3 8-15 per side
Banded Tricep Extension 2-3 20-40
* As few sets as possible

Day 5: Lower Body B

Exercise Sets Reps
Banded Hamstring Curl * 20-40 Total
1 ½ Landmine Squat 3-4 8-12
Barbell Reverse Lunge 3-4 8-12 per side
Stiff Leg Deadlift 3-4 8-12
Standing Banded Hip Abduction 2-3 12-20
Pallof Press 2 8-12 per side
Single Leg Calf Raise 3 AMRAP per side
* As few sets as possible
AMRAP: As many reps as possible

Related: The 5 Basic Supplement Staples

Program Additions

This 4-day upper/lower workout has a good amount of glute work included. If you want more, you can add a band above the knee for landmine squats and glute bridges.

If you have something you’d like to work on that isn’t fully addressed in the template, such as extra ab work, more pec emphasis, trap work, or more direct bicep training, there are plenty of barbell-only workouts you can add it in.

Plate pullovers, plate pinch presses and barbell curls are all nice choices that you can do without extra equipment.

Likewise, if you would like to omit the lateral raises or direct bicep work in the template (particularly if you are using Zercher holds on your lower body lifts), you may do so.

Technique Notes and Substitutions

All Landmine Lifts - Place a towel under one end of the bar and wedge it into a corner.

Pull-Up - If you do not have a pull-up bar but can find a sturdy branch or bar outside someplace, it is fine to do them as a separate mini-session. If you can get more than 10 (with excellent technique), add weight.

Landmine Lateral Raise - These are hard. You can scale down the difficulty by grasping toward the middle of the bar. If it just isn’t happening, you can opt for higher repetition (12-20) lateral raises using weight plates or bands.

Paused Weighted Push-Up - Be sure that your push-up technique is stellar before adding weight. Balance a plate on your back. If you are using multiple plates, you can stuff them into a backpack. Take a 1-5-count pause at the bottom. 

Bulgarian Split Squat - You can use a low or high landmine hold, a front-rack position (clean the weight), or a back-racked position - provided that you can press the weight overhead and lower to your back. If you are new to these, start light with moderate reps until you get your balance.

If you are very strong at these, a Zercher hold has potential for heavy loading. Sleeves or Fat Gripz can help with the forearm stress. To get the bar in position, you will sumo-deadlift it, then squat down while resting the bar on your thighs. Hook your arms under the bar while keeping your elbows inside your knees. Clasp your hands together, keep your back straight, and stand up.

Barbell Glute Bridge - Allow a 1-second pause at the top.

Banded Single-Leg Good Morning - Loop a band over your shoulders and under one foot. Standing on one leg with the knee slightly bent, hinge at the hip. You may lightly hold on to something for balance. Be sure that your hips stay relatively level.

Landmine Calf Raises - Stand with toes elevated on a plate.

Band Pull-Aparts - Vary your grip by holding the band with palms facing up or down.

Floor Press - Choose a standard grip or a close grip. Hip thrust the bar into place, starting the lift from the bottom position. The moderate rep range will limit the amount of weight you have to handle for this. You can choose to keep your hips elevated in a bridge position (like a decline press) or have your hips resting on the floor. Pause briefly with triceps touching the floor between each rep. If you can’t get these to work for you, try a single-arm landmine floor press.

Meadows Row - A strap or a Versa Grip can help to hold the bar.  Alternatively, you can perform single-arm landmine rows.

Single Arm Landmine Press - Chose a single arm press to target the shoulder, or a two-handed press while squeezing the bar to target the chest (similar to an incline press).

Inverted Row - If you don’t have a place to do these, you can use the edge of a sturdy table, or lay a dowel over the backs of two level (and sturdy) chairs. To progress these, add an isometric hold at the top or elevate the feet.

Skullcrusher - If the bar bothers your elbows, use a plate. Alternatives include plate overhead tricep extensions, JM presses, and landmine tricep extensions. If you have cranky elbows, go for higher reps (12-15) and rotate tricep choices often.

Man and woman performing overhead plate tricep extensions

Banded Hamstring Curl -  The goal is not to annihilate, but to stay a few reps shy of failure and get a nice buzz in your hamstrings before squatting. If you’d like to substitute a Nordic curl, do around ½ of the prescribed reps.

Barbell Reverse Lunge - Use a front-racked hold, a Zercher hold, a low or high landmine hold, or a back-racked position (provided that you can press the weight overhead and lower to your back). Change the emphasis by elevating the front foot, or crossing your leg behind you as you step back. If you have enough room to move around, you can substitute walking lunges.

1 ½ Landmine Squat -  Squat down, but only come halfway up. Then go back down again and come all the way up. That counts as one repetition. This squat variation puts more stress on the VMO than traditional squats. If you need even more quad emphasis, elevate your heels on plates (long-legged people might prefer this option).

Barbell Only Progression

If you are well-stocked on plates, you may progress as you wish.

If you are working with minimal equipment, you may want to choose a system that allows you to progress on repetitions before adding weight. This will let you work with what you have for a little longer before needing to purchase more plates.

Example: 3 x 8-10

  • Week 1 – 200 lbs x 8, 8, 8
  • Week 2 – 200 lbs x 10, 9, 8
  • Week 3 – 200 lbs x 10, 10, 10
  • Week 4 – 210 lbs X 8, 8, 8

You should feel as though you could have completed 1-2 more reps on each set. No need to go to failure. Technique is the most important thing here.

When you have a longer rep range (like 8-15, 8-20, or 12-20) or an isolation exercise, focus on quality muscular contractions (squeeze the targeted muscle) and just progress whenever you can.

Start on the lower end with volume and adjust to your individual needs.

A Few Tips on Barbell Only Training

Without a rack, it can be difficult to find squat and horizontal press variations that will allow you to work in the lower rep ranges. This is just something that you have to accept and work around.

Even so, this 4-day barbell only workout is full of exercises that can be done from home.

The exercise selection here was constrained to movements that most people would find doable. Other rack-free squat alternatives like barbell Hack squats, the Jefferson Deadlift, and Zercher squats might be a bit presumptuous to prescribe in a general template. Which is why they were left out. If you enjoy these lifts, feel free to cycle them in to your barbell routine once you are ready to switch up some exercises.

Deadlift variations like behind-the-back deadlifts, deficit deadlifts, and snatch-grip deadlifts are great leg exercises that can be done at home. Cleaning to a front squat might work well for some. Others might find that it becomes a cardio session without really working out their legs.

Girl & Guy performing barbell front squats in gym

If you are looking for a heavy squat option, Zercher squats have a great amount of potential for loading your legs. On the flip side, if used long-term to replace barbell back squats they can wear out the arms when you start to progress in weight. If you want to use this lift but find that it gets the better of you, it might be a good idea to just cycle it in for 4-6 weeks at a time.

If you are running out of weights, you can train your weaker stances or grips, try staggered stances, add a thigh band, or add bands to the bar.

Pauses can make you feel more stable in a lift as well as help to iron out technique issues.

Tempo training can increase the difficulty of lifts and limit the number of repetitions that you are able to perform. It might be a good idea to keep tempo work within a reasonable range as exaggeratedly long tempos can cause enough muscle soreness to interfere with subsequent workouts.

In the absence of machines and a rack, you might find that you are holding onto a bar more often than you would be otherwise. Extra items such as lifting straps, Versa Grips, a double D row handle, and Fat Gripz can help you out there.

Posted on: Tue, 04/23/2024 - 09:09

I’m finishing an 8 week strength program for beginners (though I’m probably an intermediate). I may give this one a try next. Love that it’s written by a woman but not advertised as “for women”! I appreciate all the details you’ve provided!!

Ryan Terry
Posted on: Thu, 07/01/2021 - 12:44

I do see the modification tips you've left, though we still aren't able to do them as our tables and chairs are much too low to actually perform the movement! Will work out a replacement. Thanks for the all around great program!

Ryan Terry
Posted on: Thu, 07/01/2021 - 12:22

Hey there! My wife and I just started this workout and so far it's been great! Though on the second upper body workout you have inverted row, and that requires a rack to perform. So it doesn't fit into the no rack required program/

Posted on: Wed, 02/10/2021 - 04:02

I tried this workout for 3 months... And wowww, I gained quality amount of muscles. Going to start it again.

Ann McCrillis
Posted on: Fri, 08/21/2020 - 16:04

This article is great! I am so out of shape, but I think after reading this I can get back in shape. Thank you.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 09/04/2020 - 09:18

Thanks for writing in, Ann! Let us know how you like this program.