In the realm of strength training equipment the basic Olympic barbell stands out as possibly the most valuable of all. Whether you're focusing on powerlifting, weightlifting or CrossFit, at home or in a commercial gym, with just the right barbell, some weight plates and collars you can effectively train every major muscle group.
Barbells come in various types, catering to different goals and training styles. Owning one in your home or garage gym is absolutely essential, as is choosing the right selection of weight bars for your commercial training facility. Our aim for this barbell buying guide is to help you determine the best Olympic barbell for you or your gym based on your needs, what you must consider when purchasing a barbell and how to choose a bar based on the very material it is made from.
Key components of an Olympic Barbell:
Bar Shaft: The long, central part of the barbell, usually made of steel. It's the section you grip during exercises.
Sleeves: The ends of the barbell where weight plates slide on. Sleeves rotate to allow smoother movements during lifts.
Collars: These are at the end of the sleeves and secure the weight plates in place. They can be spring collars, clips or other locking mechanisms.
Knurling: The textured pattern on the bar shaft that provides grip. Knurling will vary in aggressiveness to affect how "sticky" the bar feels.
Centre Knurling: Some barbells also have knurling in the centre to provide extra grip - especially useful during squats.
Whip: The barbell's ability to bend slightly during lifts, affecting the feel and control. The higher its tensile strength, the greater the whip.
Bushings or Bearings: These allow the sleeves to rotate. Bearings offer a smoother spin and are often found in more expensive competition weightlifting style bars.
End Cap: A circular piece of plastic or metal found at the end of the sleeve.
Shoulder: Found at the end of the sleeve, this is the bit of steel that your discs rest against.
Types of Olympic Barbell:
With a variety of bar types and specifications available, it's essential to understand the differences between them. We'll briefly walk you through the various types of barbells to help you make an informed purchase.
For powerlifters honing the squat, bench press and deadlift, dedicated powerlifting barbells are essential. Most lifters use a generic Powerlifting bar which has a 29mm Shaft and centre knurling. The overall length of the bar is 2200mm. The extra steel on the bar is there to take the larger loads that Powerlifters can lift. A good tip here is to look for a bar that meets the IPF specification.
A squat bar typically has a 32mm diameter shaft and is 244cm long. The extra diameter is to cope with the extra length which has been designed to give lifters more of a curve when squatting. This extra length will, when timed right, give the lifter more bounce once they hit bottom and start to stand-up again. Its knurling is more aggressive, ensuring a secure grip on the back of your shoulders during squats.
A deadlift bar features a narrower 28mm shaft with aggressive knurling for a firm grip. It also has more flexibility, bending as the lifter pulls so that with the extra length (2300mm) weights come off the floor more gradually.
Olympic Weightlifting Barbells:
Olympic weightlifting bars feature bearings or bushings inside the sleeves for enhanced spin during lifts. The Clean & Jerk and Snatch both require an explosive lift off the floor which a spinning weight can assist with. Combined with the whip in the bar this is what experienced Weightlifters and CrossFit athletes can feel between a good and an excellent bar. While Olympic weightlifting bars may have less aggressive knurling than that of powerlifting bars, they still offer a secure grip for the lifter.
These barbells are not only useful for achieving a 1RM but also for accessory work to maximise potential in your primary lifts, such as front squats and standing overhead presses.
Dual purpose (cross-over) Bars:
Typically designed around a weightlifting bar these bars tend to have features from both Weightlifting and Powerlifting bars. This would include centre knurling and hand markings for both W/L and P/L grips. These bars are ideal for Commercial/ Home Gyms.
Technique Training Bars
Ideal for beginners or lifters trying to refine an aspect of their lift these lower weight bars (5, 7 or 10kg) will often have a thinner grip to allow younger people to get a better grip around these. Often these bars have a much lower maximum load which reflects the thinner bar and the material the bar is made from.
Specialist bars serve unique functions and are designed for highly specific needs. Examples include Trap bars, Tricep bars, Cambered bars, Safety Squat bars and the EZ curl bar. While a general purpose barbell is crucial for home or garage gyms, investing in a quality speciality bar can maximise your training potential if budget allows.
Critical factors to consider when choosing the best barbell for your needs:
Weightlifting bars for men: 28mm, for women: 25mm. Powerlifting standard: 29mm.
Cheaper bars often have a 30mm grip, indicating a lower quality steel has been used as it takes a better grade of steel and engineering to have thinner steel with the same strength. Training with the right diameter bar is essential if you intend to compete as all competitions or events will use this approved standard.
Length and Weight:
Standard length for men: 2200mm, weight: 20kg. Women: 2010mm, weight: 15kg.
Quality bars have well designed knurling for a secure grip without discomfort, cheaper bars have rough or sometimes sharp knurling that can cause pain during lifts.
Sleeves should rotate smoothly to reduce strain during lifts. Over the lifetime of a bar being used this rotation can become uneven and less smooth, the better quality of bearings used, the longer the sleeves will continue to smoothly rotate.
Quality bearings are crucial, especially for weightlifting bars which can be subjected to drops. Cheaper bars may develop uneven rotation or even break.
Quality bars have tight tolerances and engineered fits while cheaper weight bars may use bolts that can work loose when you least expect it.
PSI (pounds per square inch) indicates strength. Quality Bars such as those made by Eleiko or Ivanko use steel rated in excess of 200,000 PSI. The average Olympic bar is made and sold as "1,000 pound test" and usually runs about 130,000 to 150,000 PSI. Almost all of them are 130,000 PSI.
Of course a bar must be straight to begin with, but will it stay that way? Eleiko tests bars with a 1.5-tonne load, ensuring a return to within 0.5mm to pass.
Barbells come with various coatings to protect against corrosion and improve grip. Did you know that chrome plating on some bars can actually weaken the steel? Premium bars use coatings like black oxide or more expensive stainless steel which requires no coating.
Cheaper bars are suitable for light training, but serious lifters and commercial gyms benefit from investing in quality bars to avoid any accidents and enjoy a lifetime of lifting.
While a novice might see a barbell as just that, seasoned lifters understand these nuances. Tailoring your barbell choice to your strength sport is key; For Olympic weightlifting or powerlifting, a bar that suits the specific demands of that type of training is required, while other athletes might opt for a different bar to accommodate their varied training.
In conclusion, investing in the right barbell is crucial for a safe and effective lifting experience - especially for serious lifters and commercial training facilities.
Olympic Barbell Buying Guide: Q&A
What’s The Difference Between A Standard Weight Bar And An Olympic Weight Bar?
Standard weight bars have a 1” diameter sleeve, suitable for 1” weight plates, while Olympic weight bars have a 2” diameter, fitting 2” Olympic weight plates. Standard bars generally handle less weight and offer fewer training options, so consider your training type and strength level when deciding on the best barbell for you.
What Should I Look For When Buying an Olympic Bar?
When purchasing a barbell prioritise high tensile strength and a good warranty. Consider the bars finish, especially if you're likely to be training outdoors and the sleeve rotation which is crucial for training in Olympic lifting or CrossFit.
What Size Bar Should I Start With?
The standard Olympic barbell weighs 20kg (44lbs), beginners or those not lifting heavy may prefer a 15kg (33lbs) barbell, which is not only lighter but will also hold less weight than the 20kg version. The choice depends on your strength and how much weight you will likely put on it.
What’s The Best Weight Bar?
For a great, affordable home gym bar consider one of our 2XL range. Each will see you right through your training, a firm favourite with our customers and consistently our best-sellers for those starting out - they will last you years and years!
2XL Deadlift Bar: Made from high-quality steel with brass bearings, Black Oxide finish and 216,000 PSI tensile strength.
2XL Powerlifting Bar: Ideal for Squat, Bench, and Deadlift. High-quality steel with brass bearings, chrome finish, meets IPF bar diameter standards.
2XL Olympic Training Bar: Commercial-grade short straight training bar, perfect for curls or tight spaces, 10kg weight, meets IWF bar diameter standards.
2XL Weightlifting Training Bar: Versatile weightlifting bar, meets IWF bar diameter standards, comfortable deep knurling, dual hand markings.
2XL EZ Curl Bar: Chrome finish, excellent rotation, commercial-grade curl bar.
How Much Should A Good Bar Cost?
Quality correlates with price. A cheap bar is unlikely to last as long as a pricier one that you choose to invest in. Durable, high-quality barbells suitable for intense training can vary in price. Ensure your bar comes with a substantial warranty, rust protection and the capacity to support significant weight if you're serious about lifting.
How Do You Store Weight Bars At Home?
Store weightlifting bars horizontally on a rack or vertically in a barbell holder to prevent warping. Keep them in a dry, cool environment for longevity.
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