Every day except Thursday at our gym, you have a barbell in your hands. Whether it is 15lbs, 15kg, or 20kg, you are using one of the most common pieces of equipment found in gyms around the world. Despite this, most people don’t understand that there are different types of straight barbells (there are tons of different curved and cambered bars, but we won’t cover that today) and how each one should function and be used! Let’s become a group of people that are well versed in barbell speak and talk about why knowing the difference in quality and use matters!
When talking about barbells, there are a few things that we should understand about each piece that makes one up. Every straight barbell starts out as just a steel bar, this bar is just under 7 feet long for a 20kg bar and 6.5 feet long for a 15kg bar. The reason there are two different bars is gonna come down two standardized international competition standers held by the IWF (International Weightlifting Federation). The 20kg and 15kg bars can take similar stress levels, just the 15kg is narrower because it is used for the women’s side of competition and women on average have smaller hands, making it hard to have a hookgrip on the larger bar (the difference in thickness is 28mm and 25mm respectively).
To allow you to hold the bar, knurling (the tough grippy part) is diamond pressed into the bar to give you the friction needed to lift any weight you want without it slipping out of your hand! On top of these different bars are rated with a measurement called whip. This is the measure of how much a bar bends when a given weight it put on the bar (different applications of barbells actually require totally different amounts of whip so that a lift can be performed more effectively or safely!)
On the ends of the bar, we have the area that holds the weight when we lift called the sleeve. When a bar is assembled, these are actually put on like a sleeve over the ends of the smooth ends of the bar, giving them their name! Sleeves are also made of steel but receive a zinc coating to help protect the bar from all of the contact with sliding metal it will have to deal with over its’ life!
Now, if you’ve don’t a press, clean, jerk, or snatch, you’ve seen the weights on those sleeves rotate! But why? Well when we move a weight, our hands are pretty stuck to the bar thanks to the knurling. As we move a barbell with our arms in any of these motions, rotational force is applied to the barbell. If the plates don’t spin, that equal and opposite force thing Newton talked about bites us in the butt. Well, actually it bites us in the wrists and elbows as those are the weak points in the chain that have to compensate! In order for injuries in those areas to be reduced, manufacturers install brushings or bearings!
Since a bar is smooth where the sleeves are put on, a brushing tends to be the spinning machine of choice for most barbell manufacturers as it only requires oil to keep a barbell spinning. That is what all of our barbells have! Just a smooth piece of bronze that rotates around the bar on a thin layer of oil! Since commercial barbells are dropped, banged up, and have chalk on them nearly every day, a low maintenance brushing barbell is the safest bet to use when outfitting a gym.
Now if you are an olympic weightlifting gym and have athletes preparing for the big stage, a bearing barbell is the way to go! A bearing is basically a small inclosed wheel that has small metal balls that allow the outside of the wheel to rotate around the inside part of the wheel. This design has lower friction than a brushing and allows a sleeve to spin faster and for a longer amount of time, making a lift like the snatch (where speed is paramount), easier! The downside to these is that if you drop these barbells too much, the bearing can warp relatively easily and you’ll have to replace the bearings or the entire barbell if damaged!
The Different Type of Barbells!
Standard Barbells- These are barbells that you find in weight rooms in most globo-gyms. They spin very little, if at all, and are primarily intended for weight rooms where athletes don’t move large amounts of weight or perform movements that require a more sophisticated barbell. They are all usually 20kg and have. a dull knurling compared to the other barbells on this list.
Powerlifting Barbells (non-deadlift)- These tend to be closely related to standard barbells but they use a more aggressive knurling, have a little more whip (a standard barbell tends to bow at 315lbs, these tend to bend at 275lbs. These bars also have a high quality brushing that allows for a little spin to accommodate safe lifts in the bench press and shoulder press.
Texas Deadlift Bars (and Elephant Bars)- Deadlifts bars are highly specialized compared to the rest of the bars found on this list. They are designed for one thing and one thing only, setting world record deadlifts. These bars have brushings, but their main advantage is that they have huge amounts of whip. Even with just 45lbs on each side of the bar, these longer bars will bend to your knees before the weight comes off of the ground! This shortens the range of motion, and allows for higher numbers to be hit. This added length also adds to the weight making these bars weigh anywhere from 65-85lbs!
Olympic Lifting Barbells- These barbells have a good amount of whip (these bars start to bend at around 225-175) but no where near as much as a deadlift bar. This whip is necessary for athletes when they perform the jerk. As you descend in the “dip” portion or the jerk, the bar actually will bow downward. As the bar tries to bend the weight back, the weight will accelerate upwards! If the athlete times this just right, they can use that momentum from the weight snapping back to lift even more weight than they would with a standard or XF barbell. Also, since these barsbells are designed for Snatches and Clean & Jerks, these bars use bearings to allow for higher spinning of the sleeves! These bars also have VERY aggressive knurling so an athlete’s hookgrip doesn’t release mid-lift.
XF/Ohio/Bella Bars- Barbells designed for CrossFit can’t actually be called CrossFit bars because of how tightly CrossFit regulates the use to their name. Meaning that coded names like XF have to be used to give the designation to these barbells. They all come in 20kg or 15kg sizes and are hybrid between the powerlifting bar and olympic lifting bar. They spin somewhere in the middle of a powerlifting bar and olympic bar so that you don’t get thrown off by a barbell that spins too much in the back squat and are safe to perform snatches and clean & jerks. The knurling usually falls somewhere in the middle as well while having a whip that falls closer to the olympic lifting barbell’s specifications!
Training Bars- These are our 15lbs barbells and they are actually a lightened and shortened version of a 28mm thickness barbell. These barbells are not rated to lift as much weight as they have to use less high strength steel to make these barbells lighter, meaning that they can only handle about 45lbs total before they begin to warp out of shape.
Barbells will always play an important role in the gym world and understanding what makes a good barbell can really make a difference over time in your training. It’s why you see more experienced athletes give the barbell they are choosing a good little spin on the sleeve before decided that’s the barbell they want! They understand that more spin = better lifts! You’ll also see power lifters feel the knurling on a barbell and tend to pick the oldest barbell they can find so that the knurling is closer to what they are used to.
Now that you know this, you can search Rogue Fitness’ website with ease to find the perfect personal barbell for your home gym or to be a little extra in the gym so you can always have “your barbell.” Until you get that far into the cult (most people never do, I only have one because my wife is awesome and knew exactly how to propose to me), your class barbells are fantastic and are some of the best bars for what we do.
So, give your barbell a spin and walk around like a boss knowing that you totally understand the piece of steel you use every day to get fit and stay healthy for the rest of your life!
If you really wanna get involved with barbells, our next weightlifting camp starts on March 28th! It’ll be Tuesday’s and Thursday’s at 5pm for 4 weeks! We will talk about that more tomorrow with the March announcements! Packages will start at $85 so get excited as this was our most popular camp last year and we can’t weight (get it?) to see all the PRs we’ll hit as the Vegvisir Barbell Club remerges to get ready for Summer! (If you have any questions now, go ahead and shoot us an email back with what’s on your mind or ask your coach when you see them in class!)