How to Choose the Right Weight Lifting Bar?

The aim of this Barbell Buying Guide is to help you choose the barbell that's best suited for you, and your needs.
Olympic lifting, powerlifting, Strongman, CrossFit or general gym use all-of these types of lifting require slightly different types of weight lifting bars. Let us put you on the right path so that you choose the right weight lifting bar for you!

What we'll cover in this Barbell Buying Guide:

The differences between men's, women's and youth bars.

The features to consider when buying a barbell.

The differences between bars for Olympic lifting, powerlifting and general use.

Some frequently asked questions to help you choose.

The Difference Between Men’s, Women’s and Youth Weight Lifting Bar’s

Girls, don’t be offended here - these are Olympic competition standards. The most common bar that you’ll see in gyms is a 20kg men’s bar. However, most manufacturers will also produce a women’s 15kg bar and some may produce a youth bar too.

The easiest way to normally distinguish between these is the lack of knurling in the centre of the female bar. The specs of each bar can be found below:

Men’s Weight Bar

Length: 2.2 metres (86.4 inches)
Diameter: 28mm (Olympic) or 29mm (Powerlifting)
Weight: 20kg / 44lbs.

Women's Weight Bar

Length: 2.01 metres (79.2 inches)
Diameter: 25mm
Weight: 15kg / 33lbs

Youth Weight Bar

Length: 1.7 meters (60-67 inches)
Diameter: 25mm
Weight: 10kg / 22lbs

Features to Consider When Buying a Barbell

Whip of the Weight Bar

The “whip” is the common term for the ends of the bar bouncing at the end of a repetition, or a phase of a lift. The lifter will be stationary, 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 in determining the amount of whip are the material from which the bar is made, and the diameter of the bar.

The thickness of the plates can also effect 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 to the way it will behave with calibrated weight plates, which take up less collar space.

Weight Bar Sleeves

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 weight bars will use bushings in the sleeves of the barbell. Bearings are usually found in high-end and more expensive Olympic weight lifting bars.

 Barbell Strength

Barbell strength can be determined using two measurements – the yield strength and the tensile strength.

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.

Load Capacity

Load is determined from the length of the sleeve (common for most IPF or IWF approved weight 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 Weight lifting bars require less load. 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.

Finish on the Weight Bar 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 help protect against rusting.

Bare steel bars offer a nice grip with a natural feel. However, bare steel is more likely to rust so will need more regular maintenance.

Black oxide bars offer more oxidation protection than bare steel and do not require as much maintenance as bare steel.

Zinc finish protects the weight bar 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 weight bars is the most expensive finish, but offers the best protection from rusting. 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 offers a similar, some say even better, feeling to the weight bar than bare steel. Oxidation protection is very similar to the chrome finish. Stainless steel is usually found on the most high-end weight lifting bars.

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