Long gone are the days of just going to the store buying a weightlifting bar and a set of 300 lb cast iron plates, going home and having yourself the same gym all your buddies had. Not anymore and not without the fitness industry’s advancement that has been made in the past 15 or so years, at least commercially to the masses. Now we have many companies competing to sell us their products, their weights, and their different types of barbells, telling us, whether truthfully or not, why theirs is the best or better. Nowadays we the consumer of the rubber and iron have to be educated in the products we believe we need to step our game up.
In being educated, we need to know what the product is, what its unique specifications are, and which product is going to best fit our needs and goals. Let us take a look at the different types of weightlifting bars, and some examples of each and the different specifications of each that are out there.
Olympic Weightlifting Bar
A 7 ft Olympic weightlifting bar is not just like every other weightlifting bar you see out there. So what makes an Olympic weightlifting bar, Olympic? The standard Olympic weightlifting bar has the following characteristics (as stated by the IWF):
- 2″ or 50mm diameter outer ends (the loadable area of the Olympic weights a.k.a the ‘sleeve’)
- 7.2 ft or 2.2m in length
- Weights 20kg or 44 lbs
- Grip section of 28mm or 1.1in in diameter
- Grip section of 4.3 ft or 1.31 m
Now these are the exact measurements and specs needed to compete in the Olympics, but are we looking to do that? If you are great! But I am not and the purpose of this article is not based on those parameters. With that said, is every bar we see on the market, labeled Olympic Weightlifting Bar, a true, to the millimeter, to the ounce, sized bar? No, BUT, bars labeled Olympic bars are close enough for their intended purposes.
Another thing that makes an Olympic bar is its markings on the grip section of the bar. According to the IWF there should be 2 grip sections spaced 42 cm apart with a non-knurled 0.5 cm strip, 19.5 cm from the inner sleeve. This is slightly different from the powerlifting bar that we will mention in the next section.
A very important construction specification of an Olympic weightlifting bar is the rotation ability of the sleeves of the bar. Olympic bars are considered bearing bars, as little, multi shaped balls that fit between the bar and the sleeve or, between the outer and the inner sleeves reducing the amount of friction allowing for much more, and much smoother rotation of the sleeves during lifts. There are a few types of bearing bars including needle bearing, ball bearing and thrust bearing.
Generally speaking, the more bearings you have the better spin you will have. Ball bearing are the less expensive bearing, but perform just fine, especially for most ‘non-professional’ lifters. Needle bearing are self-explanatory, they are bearings in the shape of a needle verses a ball. They usually have a bushing within the same sleeve, giving exceptional smoothness of spin and making them more expensive.
Olympic bars bend but don’t break. They tend to have a bit more give than the upcoming Powerbar we are going to talk about. This is a good feature when you think of the purpose of these bars is to throw hundreds of pounds over your head, its good to have some give.
So what makes a powerlifting bar different from an Olympic weightlifting bar? Let’s start with some basic specifications of a power bar below:
- Length is typically 84″
- Weight is 20kg or 45 lb. This is a pretty universal weight for any bar whether an Olympic bar or a powerlifting bar.
- Diameter is slightly larger at 28.5 MM
- Capacity can be around 1500 lb
As you can tell from above, the powerlifting bar is a longer and thicker bar than its Olympic cousin. The power bar is also more rigid than the Olympic bar which also allows it to have a high weight capacity of and around 1500 lb.
The powerlifting bars also have different markings on the grip section of the bar. On the power bar the markings are 32″ apart, where they are 36″ on the Olympic weightlifting bar. The knurling on a power bar is also different. There is a center knurling on power bars where its Olympic counterpart, usually does not.
Powerlifting bars are used more for the power lifts (squats, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press), therefore these bars do not demand that the sleeves to spin at will like they do on Olympic bars. Because this specification is not demanded, powerlifting bar sleeves are typically constructed with bushings rather than bearings. This in turn allows the MSRP on powerlifting bars to cheaper, sometimes much cheaper than Olympic bars.
Specialty Weightlifting Bars
To go along with Olympic weightlifting bars and powerlifting bars are an array of different types of barbells, specialty type weightlifting bars. They each have a designed purpose/function and can be a great asset to anyone’s gym and training regiment. Some of these bars include:
Multi grip – Diversify
Trap bar – More than just traps
Safety squat bar – For us older folk, but not really
Chambered bar – The oddball squat bar
Curl bar – For those cannon balls just below those boulders
These specialty bars and more will be covered in greater detail in an upcoming article.
Your Home Gym Needs a Bar – But Which One?
There are many types of barbells, but there are two main different types of barbells found in every gym, every garage. Olympic weightlifting barbells and powerlifting barbells, and which one is it you want? Are you wanting more Olympic style workouts or are you more of a Westside type lifter looking to max on the big compound lifts? Or better yet are you looking to do both and want something like a hybrid between both?!? Figure out want you want to do and go that route, there is a bar for that. Want to do both and have both an Olympic bar and a powerlifting bar? Great! Just have a nice pocket book and make it rain and watch them gains!
Let us know what you think about your preferences on bars below. Do you prefer one over the other, one brand verses the next? Let us know what you would like the next article to cover!