The barbell is probably the most fundamental piece of weight training equipment that exists in the fitness industry. Try lifting weights without one and you'll soon discover how limited your workout will be. Yet so many people overlook the importance of having the right type of barbell for their workout. A barbell is more than just a long metal bar you stack with weights, there are many types and things to consider when choosing the right barbell for you.
A lot of people don't realise that the word barbell refers to the entire object, that consists of the bar and the weights at each end. Barbells may also require collars to hold the weights in place. Let's have a quick look at the main types of barbell, they can be broken down into two main categories:
Fixed Weight Barbells
As the name suggests, this type of barbell has a set weight, that can't really be adjusted (without some unwarranted modification!). They almost always utilise a 1 inch (25 mm) diameter bar and rarely exceed 50 KG in total weight. There are two main advantages to fixed weight barbells. First is simplicity, there are no moving parts, no chance of adding the wrong weights or having things slip off or move.
This lends itself to the second main advantage: durability. As there are no moving parts and less components, fixed barbells tend to me more durable and will take more abuse. This makes them ideal for fitness studios where they will be used by lots of people quite often. They're also good for classes where you need to quickly grab a certain weight and don't have time to set-up an adjustable barbell. Finally many strongmen like to use fixed barbells of ridiculous sizes, often with an oversized diameter bar so they can rest assured that the barbell will stand up to the abuse they put it through.
Adjustable barbells are probably the most familiar type of barbell, they consist of a bar, which can be either a negligible weight, or it can form a fair proportion of the overall mass, and weight plates that are added to the bar to increase the overall weight. The greatest advantage of adjustable barbells, is that with just a few weight plates and one bar, you can achieve a large number of overall weight configurations. This gives you fantastic versatility for your workouts, often meaning you only need one bar. Another advantage is that you can collect weight plates over time, spreading the cost of your barbell set-up.
Adjustable Barbell Bar Types
Within the adjustable barbell category there are a wide range of bar types you can choose. They fall into two main categories: 1 inch and 2 inch. This refers to the diameter of the bar sleeve at the end where the weight plates can be placed.
Within both of these categories, aside from the standard straight bar, there are several types of bar shape and various lengths. Here are the three most common speciality bar types and what they are designed for:
You've probably seen these zig-zag shaped bars in your local gym and maybe wondered exactly what they're there for. EZ bars were designed by Lewis G. Dymeck for improving the bicep curl exercise by improving the angle of your wrists reducing the stress on them and allowing more focus on the biceps. The main drawback is that you can't get as wide a range of contraction compared to a straight bar. You can get EZ bars in both 1 inch and 2 inch sizes.
These bars have been developed to re-orientate your grip to more of a hammer grip. This places more emphasis on the triceps when performing exercises such as the tricep press, they also put more emphasis on the forearms (particularly the brachioradialis) when performing curls. The bar pictured is our 1 inch version, but again they are also available in 2 inch diameter.
Deadlift/Shrug Bars (AKA Hex Bar)
These large bars are specially designed for performing anatomically efficient dead-lifts and shrugs. The octagonal shape allows the user to stand inside the frame and lift the bar with their arms by their side. This is a more natural position to lift upwards, as the weight is more in line with your centre of gravity, as opposed to a straight barbell where it is mainly in front of you.
There are several other speciality bars in various shapes and sizes, many of these are variants of the above three bars. The king of all bars of course is the Olympic bar so let's have a look at the various things to consider when looking at Olympic bars.
The term Olympic bar has now become quite a generic term for any 2 inch straight bar. However this can be deceiving, because there is such a wide variation in quality, size and weight of 'Olympic' bars. Technically an Olympic bar should be a weightlifting bar that conforms to Olympic standards. According to the international weightlifting federation Olympic bars must conform to the following standards:
"The men’s bar weighs 20 kg and the women’s bar weighs 15 kg and must meet special specifications. Markings on the bars:
Weightlifting bars must have coloured identification markings to facilitate their recognition. The men’s bar must have blue markings and the women’s bar yellow markings. These colours correspond to those of the 20 kg and 15 kg discs."
Men's bars are 7 foot long, with 2 inch sleeves, weighing 20 Kilos. Whilst Women's are 6.5 foot long, again with 2 inch sleeves, weighing 15 Kilos.
So called 'Olympic' bars break down into three main categories:
Weight Lifting Bars
These are the purist's agreed Olympic bars. They are designed for the two weightlifting events (Clean & Jerk and the Snatch), these bars are built to an extremely high standard. The bars tend to have some "whip" in them, so they are more elastic than other bars, allowing athletes to generate more dynamic power in their lifts. This means they won't distort permanently when heavy loads are lifted with them. The sleeves on Olympic weightlifting bars will also have high quality needle bearings to allowing for rolling and assisting with plate stability in lifts. These bars are designed to be dropped onto a suitable surface. Finally the knurling (diamond-shaped cuts made in the metal bar) are softer in true Olympic bars to reduce abrasion on the chest of athletes.
These bars are designed for the heavier power-lifting events (Squat, Dead-lift & Bench-press), so they are heat-treated differently to weight-lifting bars, making them stiffer and non-flexing. They tend to have bushings rather than needle bearings or may even have fixed sleeves that don't rotate. The knurling on power-lifting bars is often deeper to provide more grip. Also the knurling marks are closer on power-lifting bars to mark the narrower hand position of the power lifts.
Weight Training Bars
This is a class of 'Olympic' bars that have come about as a result of consumer's desire for cheaper products. They offer a fantastic alternative to very expensive weight-lifting or power-lifting bars, for people who want to practice these lifts with less weight and still have the feel of an Olympic bar. They are still available as 20 KG, 7 foot bars for men and 15 KG, 6.5 foot bars for women as well as several alternatives. They are a lot less expensive, but are not designed for dropping large weights. They are the perfect bar for people looking for a heavy-duty 2 inch bar to use with Olympic weight-plates, but aren't competing in either power-lifting or weight-lifting.
What's The Best Barbell for Me?
Like with any choice of equipment, this depends on your actual needs, but here's a quick summary to help you choose the right type of barbell for you:
If you're new to weight training; or maybe incorporate weight training into your fitness routine as just a small part of your overall routine; or if you want weights that work for juniors or seniors then we would recommend standard 1 inch bars and weight plates. You can still choose from a variety of bar shapes and sizes as well as choosing between cast iron or filled-vinyl weight plates, but these bars and plates will be a lot more economical.
Serious About Weight Training
If you're serious about body-building or weight-training is a serious part of your overall fitness routine. Then we would recommend exploring the 2 inch weight-training barbells and weight-plate options. Within this category there are cast iron plates for those on a budget, or if you are strength training and want to fit a lot of plates on the bar. There are also rubber bumper plates, if you're practising Olympic lifting and want to drop the barbell.
Trouble Walking Through Doors/Thor
If you're a strongman, power-lifter or have superhuman strength then you'll probably want to invest in a high quality power-lifting bar and a serious set of high quality 2 inch cast iron plates. This will allow you to continue your mind-blowing workouts with the toughest equipment available.
Regular Olympic Lifter
If you are Olympic lifting on a regular basis, or maybe you want to bring your Crossfit training home. Then you'll probably want to invest in a Olympic standard bar and a set of rubber bumper plates. Remember you need suitable flooring onto which you can drop the barbell. We normally recommend a lifting platform, alternatively a flat concrete floor with high-impact matting is a suitable alternative.
If you want to grab a bargain on barbells and barbell accessories then check out our barbell sale that's now on: