A Magnificent Grip on Pulldowns!
With over 40 years of interaction within the bodybuilding and exercise industry, I had for some time come to believe that there really wasn’t anything all that new and exciting in the realm of resistance strength training. Many gizmos, most of little use, had come and gone over the decades. The tried and true muscle building tools that emerged from the pioneering gyms of the 20th century slowly anchored themselves through time into the hearts of the hardcore lifters, especially with improvements via advanced engineering and expanding technologies. Rarely at this point after years of tuning this equipment do you encounter innovation of any real noteworthiness, let alone a revolutionary evolution in design. Rarely.
In early spring of 2014 I was sharing with former Natural Mr. USA, Josh Trentine, about these beautifully built neutral and angled grip full Olympic size barbells manufactured by Tim Fitzpatrick of TGrip Barbell (www.tgrip.com). I was also updating him on some new triceps and lat pulldown bars I had just purchased. Regarding my cable bars he simply emailed, “I hate to break the news but I have something that’s going to ruin all of your other lat bars forever. Enjoy while you can.” I more or less brushed off his statement as exaggeration, but Josh typically wasn’t prone to such assertions without just cause so he did pique my interest. Nonetheless, in the back of my mind I did believe I was going to experience just another pulldown bar that would be relegated to a growing collection which was slowly migrating into my fruit cellar.
Coincidently, during that exact time I had been conversing with a seasoned trainer, Leon Sohn out of St Louis, Missouri. We had been discussing each other’s equipment preferences extensively for hours. Out of appreciation, Leon generously purchased for me as a gift what he referred to as a “MAG” bar which again was yet another pull-down bar probably destined for my fruit cellar – or so I believed.
Surprisingly, the bar arrived rather quickly considering that it had to cross the Canadian border . The first thing that I noticed was that this so- called “MAG” bar did not resemble anything like I expected. The traditional lat pulldown bar has decades of visual recognition and most probably wouldn’t even know what the MAG bar was or what to do with it. Being blind coupled with the fact that there wasn’t a single piece of round bar to grip took me a moment to properly orientate the apparatus and figure out just what exactly I was holding on to.
What I did have in my possession was a Maximum Advantage Grip (MAG) pulldown bar manufactured by Tom Barton of Barton Innovations. The hand grips were definitely very unique. As mentioned, this MAG bar had no standard round bars to grasp and I was immediately enticed to go downstairs to the gym and see how it felt and how it performed in action. Leon had sent me one of seven bars with his choice being Tom’s medium width (22″), neutral grip (palms facing each other) bar.
The movement was amazing! The Maximum Advantage Grip was able to actually place more emphasis on the back muscularture by diminishing the use of the arms. The bodybuilders of old use to get close to this by wrapping their palms and thumbs up high on the standard round bar, but Tom had successfully nailed this down with his unique MAG bar grip. The best way to describe the handles would be a total palm oriented grip somewhat like pulling on the edges of two specially contoured 2” by 6″ pieces of lumber. I immediately moved the bar over to my cable row whereupon I received the same feel of a very strong grip again minimizing arm action, thus placing more on the targeted back muscles. I was very impressed to say t
he least. This bar was fantastic! It literally adds yet another dimension by becoming a union between body and machine as a very intuitive lady client of mine pointed out:
The bar simply felt good and was a natural extension of my body rather than a bar I was wrestling with. The bar assisted me in doing the movement and in achieving my weight/rep goal. I thought less about ‘form’ and was able to experience the feeling of success and motivation to do more.
I immediately emailed Leon thanking him for this awesome gift. I had no idea what the bar cost nor did I care. I took a chance the next day which was a Saturday to contact by phone Barton Innovations. I was surprised when Tom himself picked up and took the call on what I figured would be his day off. I wanted to tell him how enamored I was with his bar and that I wanted the remaining six bars regardless of cost. In my opinion, his products are very reasonably priced considering the technology, quality, and functionality compounded with his steadfast stance on personally manufacturing in the United States, which also appealed to me philosophically.
Tom Barton is a veteran in the Iron Game industry with a background in powerlifting going back to the 1970s. When I asked how he came up with the idea for his amazing grips he told me that way back he wondered why he could do more pull ups when jumping up and performing them off roof rafters than when grabbing a standard round bar. The concept and products began their physical evolution beginning in 1985 and he patented his intellectual property in 1996. His bars experienced some variations before he settled on the current models in 2009.
As mentioned, Leon had sent me the medium width, neutral grip MAG bar. I received two more bars from Tom Barton with the medium width (22” from middle finger to middle finger) one with a pronated (overhand) grip and the other with a supinated (underhanded)) grip. Both those grips were pronated and supinated 45 degrees off a straight bar. Tom also sent me three bars with the exact same grips but narrower having a width of 5″ between middle fingers. The seventh and final bar was a 38″ wide pronated grip.
All seven bars were bang on even the two I was skeptical about, both the wide and narrow pronated grips. I just wasn’t fully confident of those widths for that grip orientation. However, Tom obviously knew his business as both bars are amazing with the narrow version being probably the favorite for most who have tried them all at my facility thus far.
Unfortunately it has become very difficult to express true sincerity over the quality and functionality of an excellent product line in an industry long over-saturated with such extensive hyperbole. It seems as though anything new entering the game is now accompanied with marketing hype so over-the-top it can often surpass skepticism, leaving one nauseated. Nevertheless with that said, I am more than willing to stake whatever credibility I have by stating that Tom Barton’s MAG bars really are that good!
With his numerous years in the business, Leon Sohn had a similar disposition as myself:
I first saw the Mag bar on Dante Trudel’s popular Dog Crap website, Intensemuscle.com. I am very skeptical about claims and view most of what I read as just excessive ‘marketing.’ I honestly was not expecting it to be anything except a substitute once in a while for my conventional handles. When I received one of the bars and used it I was totally jazzed. I
t works so much better than a regular attachment. I was very happy that it exceeded my expectations…. by a lot!! Best cable attachments on the market in my opinion!
When I then asked Josh Trentine if he had heard of the MAG bars it was in fact these very bars he was referring to and he had planned to bring them from Ohio for me to experience. Again, he was emphatic in his own promotion by stating, “The bars are genius. Best bars I’ve ever used…Everything else ever is a waste next to those!” Josh is not only a champion bodybuilder, he is an equipment expert and manufacturer who also happens to be a physiotherapist. The ergonomics of the MAG bars inspired Josh to write an extensive article on exercise movement synergy and its relationship to these wonderful tools from Barton Innovations.
Tom Barton is well on his way in successfully accomplishing the formable task of usurping the long standard rowing and pulldown tools with his Maximum Advantage Grip bars. Everyone who tries his products will want them and it is simply a matter of time before his bars are pulling weight stacks in thousands of gyms worldwide. You might say that Tom is inevitably building a MAGnificent grip on the strength and muscle building industry. See his products at www.maxagrip.com.
Trainer and author of “Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors”