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Olympic Bar Buying Guide

Posted by Cam Makarchuk on 2017-04-03

Why does one weight lifting bar cost $150 and another that looks exactly the same but costs $600-1000?

There are actually a lot of differences and aspects to keep in mind when you're buying a weight lifting bar.

Before you just go for the cheapest bar, take a look at the buying guide below to ensure you're getting the right bar for what you want to use it for.

Type of Bar

Powerlifting bars typically have a more aggressive knurling to assist with grip. The markings for the grip are a bit wider than the markings on Olympic weightlifting bars. Generally, powerlifting bars are also stiffer than Olympic bars, though there are some specialized deadlifting bars that have more bend and are longer. This is because the more the bar bends, the more the end plates are left on the ground.

Olympic bars have less aggressive knurling. They provide enough grip, but not enough to tear your hands in the transition of movements. These bars are known for having more whip or bend (see below for details). Olympic bars also have collars that spin. As the bar is moving up through the lift, the spin goes with the momentum of the weight to assist the lifter.

Hybrid bars attempt to take the best of each type of bar. They often have two set-up markings to line up with Olympic lifting and powerlifting standards. They might have some whip and some spin depending on the bar. These bars are useful for gyms that do both types of lifting in one training session or anyone needing to be economical.


Bar Strength

Test Ratings First of all, let me explain that there is no such thing as a 400 pound test, 800 pound test, 1,000 pound test, etc. This is all a fantasy created in an attempt to satisfy buyers of limited knowledge to pacify them.  You'd be better off believing in the tooth fairy or Santa Claus than believing in a 1,000 pound test anything.

The only 2 things that count when you try to compare one bar against the other is the tensile strength and the yield strength.  Unfortunately, this is not something that can be seen so you have to rely on the integrity of the supplier for that number.  You can, however, send the bar to a metallurgy lab to test it but they usually have to destroy the bar to give the analysis.

Yield Strength Yield strength gets at the amount of weight that can be put on a bar for it to bend and then not bend back to being straight. In general, we want bars to have some bend to them. As mentioned above, greater bend in a deadlift leads to the end plates staying on the floor for longer time. But we do not want that bend to remain.

Yield strength deals with the amount of weight it would take to permanently bend the bar. This test is considered a static test, as more and more weight is simply added to the ends. But when lifting weights, you also apply dynamic force (different force at different parts of the movement), so a different test might be more useful.

Tensile Strength Tensile strength is tested dynamically. It is rated in pounds per square inch (PSI), which is the amount of weight needed to pull the bar apart. High-end Olympic bars by Eleiko or Ivanko use steel rated at over 200,000 PSI. Anything over 180,000 will fit most everyone.

Knurling

Barbell Knurling

One thing seldom talked about by weightlifters and weight trainers is the knurling on the bar. This happens despite the fact that we all come into contact with it every time we lay hands on the barbell. In truth, every athlete has his or her own preferences for knurling and every manufacturer has a different type of knurling (many have more than one type).

Olympic Bars generally have a finer gauge in their knurling. The men's bar will also have knurling in the middle of the bar. This was used for one-handed lifts decades ago, but remains since lifters like to have a bit more gripping surface when doing squats. The women's bar has no center knurling at all. The men's bar is also usually a bit duller in the center because lifters do not want to tear their necks when turning the bar at the top of the clean. (If women want to squat they can use a men's bar over sweats. The knurling won't bother them and the men's bar is stronger for squats anyway.)

Powerlifting Bars generally have a more aggressive knurling to accommodate the needs of deadlifters pulling on much heavier weights. Knurling is not as important with the squat or bench press since the lifter is between the bar and the floor and the need for a solid grip is less. Power bars also have slightly more knurled distance. This will accommodate smaller lifters while it will not affect larger ones since the bar is not racked on the throat.


Finishes: Chrome, Black Oxidized, Stainless

Bare steel bars have no finish on them and are prone to rusting, but have a nice grip. They need a good deal of maintenance. Zinc finishes provide more protection and comes in black or bright finishes.

Chrome provides the most protection and is usually the most expensive. It comes in satin or polished options. Chrome can also feel a bit more slippery depending on the finish, but the top of the line bars often have a chrome finish and still have great grip.


Sleeves 

Bushings vs. Bearings vs. Needle Bearings

Inside the sleeve of the bar are the mechanics that determine how much spin the bar will have. Bushings are solid materials that have low friction (brass is commonly used). Bearings are small balls or needles within a sleeve that roll. Bearings generally allow for faster spin, but they are often more expensive.

If you are in the market for an Olympic weightlifting bar, spin will be one of the most important factors. If you can’t test the bars in person, there are many online videos showing the different spins of barbells.

Hex Bolt vs End Cap

When you look at the each end of the barbell there will either be a hex bolt or an end cap holding the sleeve in place.

Bars with hex bolts will typically be less expensive, but you may get some movement in the sleeve over time. This is easily fixed if you simply take the hex bolt out, apply some Loctite glue and put the bolt back in. That should be enough to hold the sleeve in place over time.

Alternately, bars with an end camp holding the sleeve in place shouldn't have as much, if any, movement in the sleeve. Bars with end caps are typically slightly more expensive, but not always.

Whip

The whip of the bar is the bounce that occurs as the lifter stops moving and the momentum of the bar continues. Whip is useful in the transition between a clean and a jerk. An experienced lifter bounces the bar off the chest and uses the momentum of the bend coming upward to help propel the bar into the jerk position.

Whip is difficult to measure quantitatively. It depends on the diameter of the barbell (skinnier bars have more whip) and the type of steel. You might have to rely on reviews or online videos for subjective measures of whip.

Size of Bar

The diameter and length of barbells are different and are often denoted by men’s and women’s size.

 

 

LENGTH DIAMETER WEIGHT

 MENS

220 cm/86.6 in

28-29 mm 20 kg/44 lb

WOMENS

201 cm/79.1 in

25 mm 15 kg/33 lb

YOUTH

varies

25 mm 10 kg/22 lb

 

EXAMPLES OF BARS

:: Olympic 7 foot Bearing Barbell 20kg - 1500 lb Weight Capacity - $299

:: Olympic 7 foot Women's 15 kg Bar - $254

:: Olympic 7 foot Barbell - 500 lb Weight Capacity - $109

:: Olympic 7 foot Durable Crossfit Barbell 20 kg - $459

:: Olympic 7 foot Durable Crossfit Barbell Women's 15 kg - $379

 

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