Complete Barbell Buying Guide
How to Choose the Right Weightlifing Bar?
It’s good news that you’re weightlifting – and the good news is even double if your routine includes a barbell. The barbell is one of the best pieces of equipment that will make you work the hardest and get you stronger. Because it’s so versatile (probably even more so than you think), you can adapt many of your favorite dumbbell moves while using the barbell for a full-body workout.
Barbell exercises provide an easy, cheap and effective way of targeting every major muscle groups in your body.
Unlike gym exercise for which you need special equipment for each exercise, you can perform most barbell exercises using a simple barbell, a set of weights and a workout bench. This also means that since barbell exercises take very little room to perform, they can be performed anywhere; be it at home, at the gym, wherever.
Additionally, barbell exercises are really good at developing stabilizer muscles. Since you are not stabilized in the same way that you would be if you were using special gym exercises. This feature is helpful in making sure that minor muscles are not left behind and are allowed to keep up with bigger ones.
In purchasing a barbell you have to consider the following:
- Bar type
- Bar use
- Bar weight: in pounds and kilograms
- Diameter: in inches and mm
- Bar coating
- Tensile Strength
- Knurling type and governing bodies
What are the Different Types of Barbells?
When looking to buy a barbell, you will need to consider the type of lifting and the exercises you will be doing to determine the type of barbell you will purchase.
The standard barbell is just basically a straight and, in most cases, steel pole, and if you have ever been to a commercial gym or a gym or at school, you have most definitely seen one.
They’re typically seven feet long, rigid, and 45 pounds or less. The smooth parts of the steel are interrupted by grooved or knurled sections, usually existing on both ends and in the center. The center grooves are where you place your hands for gripping, and the knurled sections on the outer parts are for the weights. There will be a small notch on both sides that stop the weights from sliding to the center.
Standard barbells are straight and have very little give, so they don’t bend unless they are extremely weighted down. While they aren’t built for any particular use, they can be used for a range of workouts, including bench press, squat, deadlift, and overhead press. The standard bar is used by weightlifters of varying skill levels, but as you get stronger and dive into different workouts, you might need a more specialized bar.
Olympic weightlifting barbells are designed for the two main Olympic lifts -the snatch, and clean & jerk
Olympic bars are usually smaller in diameter, but only by 1mm. However, this makes a difference to your grip strength.
The knurling on Olympic weightlifting bars is not as aggressive as other weightlifting bars. It must have enough to provide a good grip, but be passive enough to not rips your hands apart when the bar spins in your hand during the catch phases of the lifts.
Knurling is marked out for the snatch lift and is further apart than a power bar which is marked out for the bench press.
Olympic bars are special kind of bars that, although they look similar to the standard bar, they have some slight variations. Their design is intended to support the weightlifting demands of Olympic athletes while enhancing performance and reducing the risk of injury.
Olympic bars are designed to have a greater whip or bounce, which usually involves the use of a special kind of steel.
Olympic bars also require collars that spin. The spin on the bar deadens the rotational force of the barbell during the pull and catch phases of an Olympic lift (during snatch and clean) or the dip and drive (jerk or push press) reducing the impact on your wrists and shoulders.
Additionally, the ends of the Olympic barbells are much thicker than standard barbells so you have to use specific weights.
The Hex Bar (or Trap bar) is an interesting barbell variation that is most commonly used in the gym for deadlifting as an alternative to the traditional straight bar deadlift. Many people prefer the trap bar deadlift because of the load being placed in line with the user rather than off center as it puts less stress on the lumbar curve especially at the start of the movement. This makes it a common choice for users with back issues. Hex bars are normally 6ft or 7ft long and weigh around 25kg and 30kg respectively.
The trap bar, unlike the previous two, is a four-sided barbell that is shaped like a trapezoid. When you use it, you`re standing inside of it and lifting with your arms at your sides. Exercises that require a trap barbell are typically more leg driven. With the trap barbell, your hands are kept in a more neutral position, and it tends to be easier to grip. Your center of gravity shifts when you use a trap bar, but in a way that makes lifting less stressful on your joints. Given its shape, the bar isn't very versatile
What is a Safety Squat Bar?
Safety squat bars are barbells that are made specifically for beginners or the casual lifter. The bar comes equipped with shoulder pads that are attached to the bar but rest on your shoulders to make lifting it more comfortable. Normally, you would grab onto the bar itself for stability, but with a safety bar, you grab onto two arms that extend outward from the piece of padding.
The safety bar is nicer on your shoulders, but it also changes the dynamic of your squats and may work different muscles more intensely. These are comfortable, beginner-friendly bars that you can get used to squatting with before you move on to a bare bar.
On the flip side, cambered bars are for more experienced lifters. They are also called arched bars because they`re awkwardly shaped. On standard bars, the bar is straight and the weights are shoulder level, but with a cambered bar, it's a different story. While the bar itself is still on your shoulders, it curves downward, and the weight is actually situated in line with your waist.
This unusual shape changes the mechanics of your squats and puts a greater load on your posterior chain. Additionally, the weights tend to swing, and this forces you to have a much tighter squat, which is why these bars are recommended for more experienced lifters.
EZ Curl Barbells (Easy Curl Bars)
The EZ curl bar is a barbell used specifically for arms training. They are lighter and smaller than most other bars, and they are called curl bars because they are used mostly for bicep curling. The bar looks like a wave with a knurled area in the center. Compared to straight bars, the curl bar is easier on the wrists.
The advantages of this type of bar is that it tends to be felt by users who experience discomfort in their wrists when using a straight bar for curls (the angle of the EZ Curl bar lets them grip the bar in a more natural position).
Powerlifting bars are very similar to Olympic bars in the light that they are straight with thick ends. However, they vary slightly because they are often used differently. While Olympic bars have a slight flex to them, powerlifting bars are built to be more rigid, and they are also built to be stronger because they need to hold a lot of weight. Good powerlifting bars are forged with a higher quality of steel, so they tend to last longer.
Other notable differences are the grip marks. Grip marks on Olympic barbells are, more or less, placeholders, but powerlifting bars are used for competitions, and the grips are often thinner so that competitors maintain legal hand positions.
Weightlifting barbells for powerlifting are designed for the following big three lifting exercises: Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift.
4 Benefits of Barbell Training
The barbell is the simplest looking piece of equipment in the gym, but it's one of the most complex when it comes to learning how to use it. The phrase “If it were easy, then everyone would do it” definitely applies to moving a bar, especially one loaded with weight, through space. Modern 45-pound barbells have been used for weightlifting since the early 1900s, but some fitness enthusiasts spend their lives without ever touching one. Or, alternatively, hopeful athletes attempt barbell training and injure themselves due to poor technique. Either way, the only downside to a barbell training is that most people don't know how to use them.
The barbell shines most bright when used for heavy weight training. Thus, it is the tool of choice for competitive powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters, and to an extent bodybuilders. There is no better tool for measuring the body’s ability to lift raw weight up and down than the barbell. The best barbell exercises are compound lifts such as back squats, front squats, overhead squats, Zercher squats, deadlifts, rack-pulls, stiff-leg deadlift, sumo-stance deadlifts, bent-over rows, bench presses, overhead presses, cleans, jerks, snatches, power cleans, push presses, and power snatches.
1. Barbells Save Time
When doing the “Big 4” barbell exercises (squat, bench press, overhead press, and deadlift), you use multiple muscle groups at once. For example, the deadlift uses the back, quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, shoulder and arm muscles in order for you to lift the bar off of the ground. Instead of using machines to target each of these muscles, you can work your entire body with just one move.
2. Barbells Improve Athletic Performance
When a beginning trainee uses a barbell for the first time, the body’s response is mainly mental. Learning how to move a barbell teaches our mind how to use all of our muscles together to move an object efficiently. This is because the human body functions as a complete system and our nervous system control the muscles. Improving our neuromuscular connection is what’s initially responsible for any strength gains made in the gym, not getting bigger. In sports, the stronger athlete usually wins.
By getting stronger, athletes improve their ability to throw, kick, punch, swing, rotate their core, jump, and run faster. The “Big 4” barbell moves require balance and coordination, unlike machines, resulting in better performance during fitness competitions
3. Barbells are cheap
If you’re looking to set up a home gym, or you already have one without a barbell, adding a bar and some weights is cheaper than one of those do-it-all cable machines. An Olympic 45-pound barbell plus 135 pounds of weight costs anything from $100-$400 depending on the bar quality and type of weights that you buy. Ader and Solid Bar Fitness are high-quality brands, but a craigslist search, some of those at-home weight machines cost thousands of dollars and will improve muscular endurance and muscle size, but not necessarily overall strength.
Barbells are even cheaper than some at-home adjustable dumbbell sets, which can run you $300+ if you’re looking for weights that adjust past 20-30 pounds.
4. Barbells are Used for Cardio Too
Walk into your favorite pump, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), or strength training group fitness class and they’ll likely have a type of barbell that we call the cardio barbell. This super light bar weight that weighs about five pounds has a small diameter, is shorter than Olympic bars, and can be loaded with lightweight. In a group fitness setting, cardio bars are ideal for improving muscular endurance, meaning the ability to perform the same muscle action repeatedly. For example, instead of doing five sets of five reps of shoulder presses with a heavier barbell, you’ll probably do a total of 80 overhead presses in a 60-minute group fitness class with a light barbell.
How Heavy is a Barbell Without Weights?
Standard Barbell Weight
If you’ve ever performed a barbell exercise in a commercial gym, this is probably the bar you are accustomed to. Power bars are the most common type of barbell. They’re typically 7 feet long and fairly rigid, though they do bend a bit when heavily loaded. They vary greatly in quality as well as the amount of weight they are able to support.
Most power bars can handle anything from 600lbs with a standard bar to 1,200lbs with a competition bar.
This bar weight ranges from 12-45 pounds but some with thicker grips can be around 55pounds (505-20.5 kg).
Olympic Weightlifting Barbell Weight
There are special weightlifting bars designed for the sport of Olympic Weightlifting to enhance performance and reduce injuries. They look just like power bars but are designed with slight differences due to the dynamic nature of the sport.
This bar weighs something around 44 pounds (20 kg) for men's bars and 33 Pounds (15 kg) women's.
Trap/Hex Barbell Weight
A trap or ‘hex’ bar is aptly named due to the shape of the bar.
This bar is in the shape of a trapezoid or hexagon, which allows you to position yourself in the middle of the bar’s center of gravity for deadlift exercises.
This bar weighs 45 pounds in the most common ones. Some weigh up to 55 pounds
Safety Squat Barbell Weight
The safety squat bar is a specialty bar, which typically has ‘arms’ that come off the bar outside its neck and is covered with thick padding where the bar rests. This allows the bar to sit more comfortably on the neck and shoulders and also gives you bars to hold onto.
This bar weighs around 60-65 pounds (27.2 kg -29.45 kg.
Cambered Barbell Weight
An arched or ‘cambered’ bar is another option for training your squat that really challenges your posterior muscles, similar to the safety squat bar. The cambered bar also challenges your stability much more as the weights swing and force you to get much tighter while squatting.
This bar weighs around 45 -50 pounds (20.4 - 22.67 kg).
Swiss Bar Weight
The Swiss bar is used for traditional upper body exercises such as pressing, rowing, curling, or triceps extensions with a neutral grip. The neutral grip makes all these exercises a bit more shoulder friendly and great for anyone with shoulder issues or coming back from rehab.
The Swiss bar weighs around 35 pounds (15.85 kg).
Curl Bar (aka EZ-Bar) Barbell Weight
The curl bar is designed to allow you to do a more comfortable bicep curl by allowing you to pronate your wrists. They also work well with triceps extension exercises.
This bar weighs 15 pounds (6.8 kg).
Features to Consider When Buying a Barbell
Whip of the Barbell
The “whip” is the common term used to describe the ends of the bar bouncing at the end of a repetition, or a phase of a lift. The lifter will be stationer, but the ends of the bar will be moving.
Experienced lifters can use this during certain transitions in their lifts. For example, between the clean and jerk, they can bounce the bar off their chest and propel the bar up by using the momentum of the bend coming upward into the jerk position.
The main factors to consider when determining the amount of whip to buy are the material from which the bar is made, and the diameter of the bar.
The thickness of the plates can also affect the whip that the user can generate. For example, bumper plates, spreading the load on the collar of the bar, will make the bar behave in a completely different manner from the way it will behave with calibrated weight plates, which take up less collar space.
The sleeves make up the part of the barbell that will determine how much spin the bar will have. Spin will be permitted via the use of either bearings or bushings.
Bushings are placed between the shaft and the sleeve. They offer low friction and are most commonly made of brass to ensure longevity.
Bearings offer a faster, smoother and quieter spin. They are usually made from high-quality small needles or metal balls that roll within the sleeve.
Most powerlifting or general purpose bars will use a bushing in the sleeves of the barbells. Bearings are usually found in high-end and more expensive Olympic weightlifting bars.
Barbell strength can be determined using two measurements - the yield strength and the tensile strength.
The Yield strength is the amount of weight it takes to permanently bend and deform the bar. The yield strength is tested statically by simply adding weight to each end of the barbell.
As mentioned earlier, some whip (elastic deformation) may be desirable as this allows the weight plates to stay on the ground for a longer period of time during the lift.
Tensile Strength is the breaking point of the barbell. This is rated in pound per square inch (PSI).
Higher-end manufacturers tend to produce weightlifting bars with either a 190,000 or 215,000 PSI rating. 165,000 PSI is a good minimum to look out for when purchasing a new weightlifting barbell. Generally, anything over 180,000 PSI is a decent barbell.
Good specification to look out for in a bar’s material property and manufacturing quality. It might not show you how it feels to lift with but it can be used to infer the quality of its production.
Barbell Load Capacity
Load is determined from the length of the sleeve (common for most IPF or IWF approved bars) which can be longer on barbells manufactured for niche powerlifting federations.
The biggest determining factor on load capacity is the width of the plate. Competition powerlifting weight plates, for example, are extra thin when compared to cast iron gym plates or much smaller when compared to weightlifting bumper plates. This is due to the much greater loads handled in the powerlifting disciplines.
Olympic Weightlifting bars require fewer loads. This is because as the overall load potential is much less (sub 270 kg for Clean and Jerk) and the barbells must be wider and designed to absorb shock as the plates are dropped from overhead. These help to protect the barbell as well.
Different finishes and Coatings on the Barbell and Sleeves
The finish on a barbell serves a number of purposes. It adds to the “feel” of the bar in the hands, aid (or hinder) grip. And can also help protect against rust.
Bare steel bars offer a nice grip with a natural feel. However, bare steel is more likely to rust so it will need more regular maintenance. We’ve set up this guide to barbell maintenance to help you take care of your bars in the long term.
Black oxide bars offer more oxidation than bare steel and do not require as much maintenance as bare steel.
Zinc finish bars protects the barbell even more from rust than the steel and black oxide finish. However, they can quickly lose their sheen, so more regular maintenance is required to keep them looking their best.
Chrome finish bars are the most expensive finish but it offers the best protection from rust. Depending on the quality, chrome finish bars can feel slightly slippery compared to bare steel. However, the higher-end barbells tend to have excellent knurling to compensate for this.
Stainless steel bars offers a similar, some say even better, feeling to the barbell than bare steel. Oxidation protection is very similar to the chrome finish. Stainless steel is usually found on the most high-end weightlifting bars.
What is Knurling On An Olympic Bar and How It Improves Performance?
Knurling is made from two sets of diagonal grooves cut into the barbell, usually going in opposite directions. This forms tiny diamond shapes, which dig into the skin on your hands when you hold the bar and assists you with the grip.
The width and depth of these grooves will determine how “aggressive” the knurling is on the barbell.
More aggressive knurling is primarily to assist with heavy deadlifts, where grip failure is most likely.
The further in the knurling comes, the narrower you can effectively grip the bar. Weightlifting bars designed for powerlifting tend to have more knurling towards the center of the bar for the use of sumo lifters who grip inside of what would be a normal grip for a conventional deadlift or clean.
A portion of knurling in the center of the bar (known as central knurling) helps with grip on your back during squats. Both IWF (International Weightlifting Federation) and IPF (International Powerlifting Federation) specify that a men’s barbell should have this.
Some specialized earlier, the knurling is less aggressive on men’s Olympic bars, as when they catch a clean they don’t want aggressive knurling at the neck, but it is still there to assist with squats.
A women’s weightlifting bar has no center knurling. If central knurling is required during squats then using a male bar is preferable. The wider bar will also make squatting more comfortable on the upper back.
What Type of Knurling Suits Which Lifter?
The type of knurling that suits each lifter comes down to preference. However, generally, a lifter with smaller hands, male or female, may favor more aggressive knurling as their grip is already at a disadvantage.
Weightlifters with larger hands may choose whichever feels most comfortable or offers the most grip support.
Different bars are suited for different tasks. Trying to find the bar that fits most of your needs is important.
Explained above are the few types of bars that are commonly used in the gyms and fitness exercises worldwide. But it is important to note that there are much more types of barbells and bars in the industry. Their type and form mostly depends on the requirement and how the bars are made.
For strength training, the barbell is the first line equipment that rules the big lifting exercises. With changes in design and variations in quality and weights, the simple barbell can be transformed into specialized equipment targeted for custom exercises.
The selection of the bar that you will utilize for your workout depends on your exercise needs and requirements. The training and fitness goals and objectives dictate your choice of the barbell being used.
All of these should be considered before you head out to get yourself a barbell.