If you are new to buying a barbell you can quickly find out that there is more to learn about them than you expected.
There can be strong lifters at the gym who just grab whatever bar is available at the time and eventually they notice one bar is their favourite. However, they may not quite sure of the technical differences and what it is about the bar that they like.
There is more to the design and construction of barbells than you might expect and it could even seem a little overwhelming. We aim to simplify it for you at the end. Sit back, grab a drink and you'll never look at a barbell in the same way again.How did buying a barbell get complicated?
Back in the day, bodybuilders and powerlifters were often the same people. “Get strong to get big” was the formula that stood for years. While it is still true, bodybuilding and powerlifting are separated, and we even have strongmen competitions. And of course, there is Olympic weightlifting as an independent sport.
Disciplines branched out, and so did the equipment. Specific needs of top-level athletes complicated even the most basic pieces like barbells. That is easy to understand, considering that barbells are still most widely used, especially in the powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting world.
Even the smallest variations in bar flexibility, knurling, or thickness make a world of difference. Different bars will allow you to lift more weight, hit muscles from new angles, or completely new muscle groups. With some, you will exercise with more comfort, with others you will do it safely. We will explain each type in depth, in the section below.
Common Barbell Types
Standard and Olympic Barbells
These two bar types also use different weights. You can’t use standard plates on an Olympic barbell, as they are thicker, two inches in diameter. But, if you get a special sleeve, you can put Olympic plates on a standard bar. It is worth noting that standard plates and bars are much cheaper than Olympic.
Also, Olympic barbells can hold more weight, some going up to 1500 lbs. Standard bars max at about 200 lbs.
Olympic barbells have rotating bearings/bushings and sleeves, which reduces the amount of torque, relieving the joints. These barbells also slightly flex when under heavy tension (they have“whip”). When you think about barbell clean, or other Olympic lifts, you see why that’s important. Standard barbells have no whip and no rotating parts.
The knurling is also different, at least in most cases. Most Olympic barbells have no knurling in the middle, to prevent neck and upper chest irritations when catching the bar. Standard barbells, on the other hand, have more knurling allowing maximum grip, which is very important on back squats and deadlifts. However, knurling, whip, and other fine details vary, depending on the purpose and the type of bar you get, which we will discuss later.