Are you just starting out in your weightlifting journey? Or are you possibly thinking of moving the gym into your own garage or basement? Sometimes people ask, when setting up their first home gym, if they should get a bumper weight set verses a cast iron plate set. With Crossfit becoming, and currently is, a national and worldwide fitness magnet, it is only fair that one would want to at least consider a set of bumper plates for their gym. Cast iron weights are great and, I believe, even necessary for one’s gym, but are they enough?
Here is where you need to ask yourself, “Do I want to embark in any Crossfit type workouts?” “Do I see myself learning, or wanting to learn, any Olympic style lifting?” Perhaps you are only interested in becoming stronger in the big 3 powerlifts? Hopefully by the time you read this article you will have a better sense in whether you are in the market for bumper plates or not.
What Are Bumper Plates?
Bumper plates, in a nut shell are weight plates made from rubber, whether virgin or recycled, that have an insert in the middle of them, usually Stainless Steel, that allow you to place them on a weightlifting bar. Basically they are similar to a 45 lb cast iron plate in diameter but are made of rubber. Some do contain metal discs within the rubber, usually found on your Training and Competition style bumpers. Bumper plates are not to be confused with rubber coated plates, which are literal steel plates covered in a rubber coating. This rubber coating does deaden the noise a bit but does not allow for the same treatment of the weight that you can have with bumper plates. In an earlier article we went over some basic bumper weight sets, including the likes of Hi-Temp, Rogue, American Barbell, Vulcan and others.(insert link to other article here)
What Are Cast Iron Weights?
Exactly what the title says! They are weights usually comprised of cast iron. Sometimes cheaper ‘metal’ weights are sometimes a mix of metal and lead. They come in a couple different variants of style but the basic, more common style, are the round plates. Their weights vary greatly, from fractional plates as little as 1/4 of a lb and plates as large as 100 lbs.
Pro & Cons of Bumper & Steel Weights
Bumper plate pros include:
- They are an excellent, versatile weight that were mainly associated with Olympic lifting until Crossfit popularized them to the masses, to where they are in plenty of garages and gyms alike.
- These type of plates can be used not only on Olympic style lifts but on your basic strength lifts as well.
- They can be thrown, down and abused in a high volume area and still hold their form and integrity day in, day out
Bumper plate cons are:
- They are usually larger in width than your typical cast iron plate. As companies advance more in their manufacturing of these bumpers, we have to realize that rubber is not as dense as iron.
- They are not one piece. You have the rubber part and than you have the steel insert. Where there are two different substances coming together, you have a weak point (no matter how strong of a bond they have).
Cast Iron pros:
- Cast Iron plates are thinner and based on designs can be easier to pick up with one hand, than say your typical bumper. (I know some bumpers have lips that allow a similar grip, but usually these are more expensive bumpers and not your economy class type)
- Due to there narrowness in width you can add more weight to a weightlifting bar than you can with bumper plates. Allowing more load on the big compound lifts such as the squat, deadlift, bench.
- Also, cast iron plates can come in sizes much smaller than bumper plates. There are fractional cast iron plates that range from 1/4 lb to 2 lbs.
Cast Iron con’s:
- Face it. You can do a snatch with cast iron, but throwing the iron weights down will not be kosher. The clang of the plates makes my shoulders tense up already. With that said, let me say, that I love the sound of iron on iron. I love racking my bar on my rack and hearing that noise; however, I have also done hang cleans with metal (because I had no other option at the time) and it doesn’t sound pretty to drop iron plates, even from my knees.
- Olympic lifting is not done with metal for its reasons, one being that a failed rep can be thrown away from the body at a higher vertical, can be dropped behind the back, and any other way you can think of and the bar and weights will be fine.
What Would be Best for Both Types of Weights
Bumper Plates will be best suited for Olympic style lifting, Crossfit style workouts, outdoor setting workouts on concrete or asphalt and for any compound lift you’d like, although the amount of weight on your squat may be limited due to the size of the bumper plates themselves.
Cast iron weights are ‘best’ suited for indoor gyms, and for any lift besides your Olympic lifts.
Keep In Mind… Yours not Mine
This article was based on some generalizations. Yes cast iron can be lifted outside, but yes, they will rust a lot faster in the outdoor elements. Even bumper plates fade quicker outdoors than a controlled indoor environment, but they are better suited to be used and abused outdoors. In fact companies make types of bumper plates specifically for outdoors, such as Vulcan makes the Alpha bumper weight set and Hi-Temp is a very common bumper found outdoors. So just keep this in mind, there are no boxes that encompass weightlifting (unless you go to a Crossfit Box, but that’s not my intention here).
Also, keep in mind that there is no segregation with weights. Plenty of lifters out there have used cast iron fractional plates with their bumper plates. They allow minimal weight improvements and are much smaller in diameter that allow them to not touch any surface when on the bar with a bumper plate.
But now that you’re here, which type of weight set seems to make more sense and be a better fit for YOUR situation?