Let’s connect

Kinta Fitness

  /  Uncategorized   /  Which Barbell is the right one for my gym?
Which Barbell is the right one for my gym

Which Barbell is the right one for my gym?

So you are in the market to purchase a weightlifting barbell, whether it be for your own personal use in a home gym or a barbell for your commercial gym. We want to help you make an informed decision in selecting the right gym equipment for your needs.

In this blog, we will discuss what we believe at Kinta are the critical points to decide upon when purchasing a weightlifting barbell.

  • The different types of barbells
    • Olympic barbells
    • Standard barbells
    • Specialty barbells
  • Barbell shafts
    • Knurling
    • Coating
    • Grip markers
    • Tensile strength
    • Pound rating
  • Barbell sleeves
    • Internal components
  • Factors impacting the lifespan of a barbell
  • Overview and barbell selection
    • The right tool for the right job
      • Home gym multi-use barbell
      • Commercial gym Multi-use barbell
      • Olympic weightlifting barbell
      • Powerlifting barbell multi-use
      • Deadlift barbell
      • Squat barbell

A short history of Olympic barbells

The barbells we see and know today owe their heritage to the Berg Hantel company of Germany. In the early 1930’s Bob Hoffman, the founder of ‘York Barbell Company’

Acquired one of Berg Hantel Company’s barbells from a German strongman and weight lifter. With this, he copied and mass-produced the Olympic Barbell for the growing American health and fitness market of the early 20th Century. Although weightlifting had already been around for some time these newer more modern barbells incorporated adjustable weight plates and rotating sleeves.

Now in the 21st century, the barbell visually isn’t too dissimilar to the early 1900s, but the machining going into the bar brings about very unique properties that define each and every type. 

Different types of barbells

Even though there is now an unimaginable amount of selection of variety in barbells today, we will just touch on three, standard barbells, Olympic barbells and specialty barbells.

Standard barbells

The main characteristic of the standard barbell is that it is a single piece of steel 28mm in diameter from end to end.  A lip will be machined into the steel at either end to denote the sleeves from the shaft and hold the weight plates in place. 

Occasionally they may have a plastic coating over the shaft for comfort.

Due to the manufacturing methods of these barbells, the sleeves are fixed in place and do not allow the weight plates to rotate. A feature preferred by most weight lifters.

Olympic Barbells

The most common type of barbell in use today. Visually they can be defined by their larger 50mm rotating sleeves.

The Olympic barbell consists of a number of separate parts that have been put together to assemble this bar. 

Those parts are:

  • The Shaft 
    • The shaft is the main body of the barbell. 
    • It runs from end to end, from inside one barbell sleeve to the other
  • The Sleeves 
    • On either end of the shaft, they hold the weight plates.
  • Bushings
    • These are rings that slide over the top of the shaft and are housed within the sleeves.
    • Usually made of brass or bronze, they can be seen at the very end of the sleeve, where the shaft protrudes from.
    • Their job is to reduce friction between the barbell sleeves and the barbell shaft.
    • On most but not all barbells.
  • Bearings 
    • Again these are rings that slide over the shaft and are housed in the sleeves
    • They perform the same primary function as bushings
    • Bearings however reduce friction even further than bushings as they house either needles or ball rollers.
  • End Caps 
    • A small end cap to show the weight, features and brand of the barbell.

Aside from the extra parts to the Olympic barbell over the Standard barbell, there is also a lot more engineering and design that goes into them to build a superior final product. This is the main reason standard barbells are becoming less and less commonplace. 

We will cover this more later in the blog. 

www.kintafitness.com.au/olympic-barbells

Specialty barbells

Specialty barbells have characteristics that make them only suitable for specific types of movements. Essentially each individual type of specialty bar is purpose made to move more ergonomically with the body for specific movement patterns.

Examples of Specialty barbells include:

  • EZ Curl Bars
  • Designed for bicep curls
  • EZ curl bars have a curved shaft, almost like an S.
  • The curved nature of the bar allows the radius and ulna bones of the forearm to pronate inwards when holding the barbell. In doing so pressure on the elbow is relieved when lifting heavy weights, unlike a straight barbell bicep curl.
  • The curves of EZ curl bars are not consistent from brand to brand so find what best suits your needs. 
  • Can come in both Olympic (50mm) or Standard (28mm) size sleeves.
  • Hex Trap barbells
  • Designed for deadlifts
  • Hex Trap barbells come in a hexagon or box-shaped shaft which the weight lifter stands inside of
  • Attached to the shaft will be steel handles on the left and right to grip on and lift
  • These handles will run perpendicular to the sleeves meaning the hands will be neutral in positioning. Neither supinated nor pronated. For some lifters, myself included, this can relieve the shoulders of a lot of stress when performing deadlifts.
  • The main feature of the Hex trap barbell is that the weight when in the lifter’s hands is loaded inline and centre to the body. This is because the handgrips are parallel with the legs of the user, whereas in a traditional barbell deadlift when the force is applied, the load is in front of the legs and therefore not in the body’s natural centre of gravity.
  • Because the hex trap barbell allows the user to shift the load in a more natural movement pattern these barbells can be a great tool for novice weight lifters, the young or the elderly.
  • Tricep curl or hammer curl barbells
  • Designed for Tricep Extensions and bicep hammer curls.
  • Tricep or hammer curl barbells have a short oval-shaped shaft with two parallel grip bars attached within
  • The neutral grip again relieves stress on the shoulder and elbows. 
  • Unlike the EZ curl bar, the grip position of the hammer curl allows the brachioradialis muscle of the forearm to also be engaged extensively in the movement.
  • Training barbells or Technique barbells
  • Designed for novice weight lifters, kids/teens or the elderly
  • Training barbells or technique barbells are visually similar to an Olympic barbell
  • They are made from alloy steel which is far lighter than that steel
  • This reduction in weight allows someone learning to lift weights the ability to use barbells with similar characteristics in diameter, knurling, grip markers and use Olympic weight plates.
  • This can be massively beneficial in the developmental progression of weightlifters.

Olympic Barbells Components and Specifications

Below we will break down each component of a barbell and detail the variations you will see when selecting your next barbell.

Shaft

  • The barbell shaft is located between two sleeves on either end of the barbell
  • It is a single piece of steel on which the sleeves and internal components of the sleeves sit.
  • The makeup of the steel used for the shaft will determine the primary function of your barbell.
  • Key features to look out for will be:
    • Diameter
      • The diameter will vary depending on the gender the barbell is suited to and also the type of lifting that the barbell is suited to.
      • 25mm diameter weight lifting barbells are suited to women training Olympic weight lifting, this is due to the usually smaller hand size, but women can still achieve a hook grip around a 25mm diameter bar. These bars will traditionally weigh 15kg and be 201cm long or 6ft 7in.
      • 27mm barbells are used as deadlift specific barbells. The overall length will usually be 2.3m the shaft will also also be longer, this is to allow for the maximum bend in the bar.
      • 28mm diameter weight lifting barbells are suited to men training for Olympic weight lifting as on average they have a slightly larger hand and can hook grip this diameter.
    • Both the 25mm and 28mm diameter barbells are preferred for anyone training in Olympic weightlifting as they have a lot of whip in the shaft which can be very beneficial for dynamic movements.
      • 28.5mm diameter bars are a good in-between for an Olympic lifting barbell and a power barbell. Less whippy than the former but not as stiff as a dedicated power bar. Their diameter barbells are probably the most commonly featured barbells in commercial gyms and home gyms the world over. 
      • 29mm diameter barbells are dedicated as powerlifting bars, they are much stiffer than thinner bars but can also retain some whip for a lifter trying to get out of the bottom of a squat.
      • 32mm diameter barbells are traditionally used as squat barbells for very heavy squat loads, there will be no whip in the bar and they will usually be longer in overall length and weigh 25kg.
      • The barbells with the most whip will be smaller in diameter, and progressively have less whip as that increases. The tensile strength of a bar will also play into this which you will learn shortly.
  • Knurling
    • The knurling is what allows you a better grip on the bar
    • Knurling will usually be in one of three patterns   
  • Hill or non-aggressive, this allows some grip and will also be very forgiving on the palms of the hands if you frequently use a barbell
  • Volcano or medium, this will give you adequate grip for almost all weight lifting exercises. A lot of high repetition workouts can leave the palms of the hands quite calloused after sometime
  • Mountain or aggressive, this is primarily for heavy powerlifting for single rep sets. The aggressive knurl will rip into the palms of the hands very quickly which some people do not like.
  • Some barbells may or may not have a centre knurl. 
  • Contrary to popular belief the centre knurl is from a time long ago when men’s weight lifting events had single-arm barbell movements, therefore a centre knurl was required for grip. You will notice no female 15kg barbells have a centre knurling as women’s weightlifting did not come into being until after those single-arm events had been discontinued.
  • Today a centre knurl is only required on a dedicated 32mm squat barbell. On any other barbell, it is much of a muchness.
  • Grip markers
    • Olympic barbells will come with either single or dual grip markers
    • These are denoted by the small break in the knurling seen on the barbell
    • Olympic lifting markers are 19.5cm from the collars on either end of the barbell and are simply used as a guide for the weight lifter
    • Powerlifting markers are 24.5cm from the collars on either side of the barbell and 32inches apart. They are used as a reference for the legal width a powerlifter can spread their hands for a barbell bench press in competition.
    • Multi-purpose barbells will have 2 x markers on either end whilst a barbell made for a specific purpose will have a single grip marker on either end. 
  • XXXK PSI Tensile Strength
    • Each barbell you see will have a designated tensile strength in the form of ‘pounds of pressure per square inch’ it may look something like 195K PSI Tensile strength. Put simply this is the tensile and yield strength of the steel used in the shaft. 
    • If the tensile strength is too low the barbell will be prone to permanently bending, and if too high the steel will be too brittle and break. More in-depth reading can be found here at Rogue USA – Rogue F Standard
(image sourced from Rogue Fitness)
  • As a guide, a barbell with a tensile strength under 145K PSI may be prone to bending if you are intending to lift heavy weights or do very dynamic lifts. Barbells over 220K PSI tensile strength are likely to be too brittle and fracture after some time.
  • Most bars are exposed to around 145K PSI when dropped to the ground.
  • Therefore you want to look for a barbell that will perform to well above that, either at home or in a commercial gym. Most bars should have a tensile strength rating of 175K PSI on the cheaper end and up to 220K PSI depending on the barbell’s purpose. 
  • The tensile strength will also play a factor in the whip of the barbell and also longevity. The lower the rating the more bendy the barbell will be, whilst the opposite is true for barbells at 220K PSI, these barbells have little to no bend or whip. Again a lower rating will also mean a shorter life span and a higher tensile strength a longer life span. 
  • Barbell Coating 
    • Common barbell coatings include:
      • Bare steel
      • Black Oxide
      • Hard Chrome 
      • Zinc
      • Nickel
      • Cerakote 
      • Stainless steel

We will touch on just a few of these.

  • Bare steel
    • Does not have a protective layer so rust and corrosion are more likely to occur if left in a damp environment or near the ocean. 
    • As there is no coating over the knurling the grip is not impeded in any way 
    • This could be a good choice for powerlifters in search of a very grippy deadlift barbell and will take the time to clean their equipment to prevent rusting.
  • Hard Chrome has long been the gold standard for barbells, but recent research conducted by Rogue in the USA – Rogue F-scale overview – suggests that chrome can decrease the life of steel by as much as 50%
    • Chrome coated barbells still continue to be a great choice for home gyms or gyms with significantly fewer people dropping them to the ground each year. 
    • Chrome is a thin coating placed over the steel to protect it from rust and corrosion. It also does a great job of protecting the knurling from any chips. 
    • This coating would not be ideal for a functional fitness gym or CrossFit gym dropping the barbell in excess of 150,000 times per year. 
  • Cerakote coating
    • Only recently applied to barbells, Cerakote coatings have for some time been used in the firearms industry as a very thin protective layer between the rifle and the external elements
    • Given the fact that cerakote is so thin, it has very little effect on the grip associated with the barbell knurling
    • It provides excellent protection from rust and corrosion 
    • When steel is media blasted prior to the application of cerakote coating it has shown to provide a significant increase in durability.
    • Cerakote coated barbells are an excellent choice for any gym that expects a high turnover of use and wants to get the maximum longevity out of their investment.
  • Pound rating
    • The pound rating is the maximum weight the barbell can hold statically before it will deform. 
    • Most if not all moderately priced barbells can hold far more than anyone can lift so it can be a redundant figure to look at if you are purchasing a barbell above $150.00 AUD
    • This rating could be worthwhile taking note of if you are shopping for a barbell under $150.00.
  • Barbell Sleeves
    • On the exterior, the barbell sleeves just hold the weight plates but internally they also house bushings and or bearings between the shaft and the sleeves to reduce friction during barbell rotation.
  • Loadable Sleeve Length
    • This will vary depending on a few factors
    • 15kg Olympic lifting barbells have loadable sleeves of 13 inches or 33.02cm 
    • 20kg Olympic lifting barbells have loadable sleeves of 16.4 inches or 41.65cm
    • Powerlifting barbells will have varying lengths of loadable sleeves for varying reasons due to manufactures choice
    • Some dual purpose 20kg power bars will be as short as 16.25 inches or 41.25cm sleeves
    • Some squat specific barbells will likely have longer sleeves to add significantly heavier weights. Some up to 16.875 inches or 42.86cm 
    • Deadlift specific powerlifting barbells will have loadable sleeves around 39cm. This is to minimize the amount of space the sleeves take upon the shaft and allow the most possible bend so the weight lifter can take up the full load slowly before the weight leaves the ground.
  • Internal Components
    • Bushings and Bearings
  • Bushings
    • A bushing is a thin metal tube used to reduce friction between the rotating shaft and sleeves of a barbell to reduce wear over time and allow smooth movement
    • They will not have as much free spin as compared to a bearing
    • The best application of bearings is in power bars where the movements are more static and the weight lifter does not need a significant amount of quick rotation between the shaft and sleeves. 
  • Bearings
    • A bearing is a machine part that reduces friction between the shaft and the sleeve of the barbell and also promotes relative movement
    • A bearing can come in different forms, but the most common in barbells are needle bearings. These will allow for a far greater free spin between the sleeves and the shaft than that of a bushing
    • Due to the greater free spin bearings are much more preferred for dynamic weight lifting movements such as Olympic weight lifting.
    • Most multi-use barbells will have both bushings and bearings 
    • This is usually a good choice for most commercial gyms and home gyms if you anticipate the barbell being used for a variety of static and dynamic movements. 
  • Factors impacting the lifespan of a barbell 
    • The lifetime of a barbell will vary greatly depending on the following factors
  • Tensile strength 
    • The higher the tensile strength the likelihood of an extended life the bar will have
    • Contrary to that, steel above 220K PSI tensile strength as touched on previously can be brittle. This will cause microfractures in the steel and can easily break.
    • More can be read here on ductile and brittle steel Failure Modes: A Closer Look at Ductile and Brittle Overload Fractures
  • Shaft coating
    • Chrome or hard chrome has been shown to shorten the lifespan of steel by up to 50%
    • Cerakote, Zinc, and Nickel with media blasting applied prior to coating tend to extend the life of a barbell 3-fold
  • Diameter
    • 25mm and 28mm Olympic barbells due to the amount they are dropped from a height and the whip associated with a thinner barbell tend to have a shorter lifespan.
    • 27mm Deadlift Barbells will usually last quite a long time due to the fact that they won’t be treated to the same rigorous use as Crossfit barbells, That being said if they were used in the same manner as 27mm or 28mm barbells in a Crossfit gym they to would have only a few good years in them. 
    • 28.5mm multi-use barbells have a slightly increased life span if, they are of the same Tensile strength and shaft coating as a 28mm barbell. This is because the barbell whip is significantly less.
    • 29mm to 32mm barbells will almost always have the longest lifespan of all barbells for a number of factors. 
      • Tensile strength is usually higher than 200k – 220k PSI
      • Very little to no whip
      • Their use is more static than dynamic
      • Diameter
  • Type of daily use
    • Crossfit style gyms will drop barbells on average 100 – 150,000 times per year, thus significantly reducing the life of a barbell
    • Olympic lifting specific gyms will get a very long time of use out of a barbell, maybe 5-10 times that of a Crossfit gym
    • Powerlifting gyms will get more again, as you would expect thicker barbells and less dynamic movements
    • Home gyms or garage gyms will commonly get the longest  use of a barbell 
  • Weights that have been used with the barbell
    • Using lighter weights or thinner weight plates on a barbell coupled with dropping a barbell has shown to significantly reduce the life of a barbell
(image sourced from Rogue Fitness)

  • Due to the bar being dropped on such a small surface, the bend is significantly sharper putting massive stress on the steel. 
  • When more weight plates are loaded onto the barbell sleeves and the weight is dropped the bend attributed to the drop is far less aggressive and therefore less stress is placed on the shaft.
(image sourced from Rogue Fitness)
  • To research further on the expected life of a barbell Rogue has developed the F-standard. This is a standard they have given appropriately when testing under similar conditions to determine the durability of a barbell.
(image sourced from Rogue Fitness)

(image sourced from Rogue Fitness)
  • Barbell selection and Overview
    • The right tool for the right job
  • Home gym multi-use barbell
    • Any barbell that suits your personnel needs as a weight lifter. If you want to save money, any low-cost barbell should suit you just fine as long as you don’t exceed the maximum weight limit.
  • Commercial gym Multi-use barbell
    • Diameter: 28.5mm
    • Tensile Strength 190K PSI +
    • Coating: Cerakote, Hard Chrome
    • Both bushing and bearings
    • Hill knurling/volcano knurling
    • Centre knurling: optional, hill
    • Dual grip markers
  • Crossfit Gym
    • Diameter: 25mm / 28mm / 28.5mm
    • Tensile strength: 195K PSI +
    • Coating: cerakote / cerakote + mediablasting
    • Both bushings and bearings
    • Volcano knurling
    • Centre knurling: optional, hill
    • Dual grip markers
  • Olympic weightlifting barbell
    • Diameter: 25mm / 28mm 
    • Tensile strength: 215K PSI
    • Coating: Cerakote / Cerakote + mediablasting
    • Bearings only
    • Volcano knurling 
    • Centre knurling: optional, hill
    • Single Olympic lifting grip marker
  • Powerlifting barbell multi-use
    • Diameter: 29mm
    • Tensile Strength: 210K PSI +
    • Coating: cerakote / bare steel /stainless steel
    • Bushings only
    • Volcano knurling/mountain knurling
    • Centre knurling: yes, volcano
    • Single powerlifting grip marker
  • Deadlift barbell
    • Diameter: 27mm 
    • Tensile Strength: 190K PSI
    • Coating: cerakote / bare steel / stainless steel
    • Bushings only
    • Mountain knurling
    • Centre knurling: No
    • Single powerlifting grip markers
  • Squat barbell
    • Diameter: 32mm
    • Tensile strength: 210K PSI +
    • Coating: any
    • Bushings only
    • Volcano knurling
    • Centre knurling: yes, volcano
    • Single powerlifting grip markers
  • After reading all the above you should by now have a basic understanding of the following:
    • The difference between standard and Olympic barbells
    • The purpose of specialty barbells 
    • The parts of an Olympic barbell
    • How those parts interact together 
    • The various ways in which those parts can be manufactured to serve a specific purpose
    • How long to expect a barbell to last 
    • And lastly how to select the right barbell for you!

We hope you have taken something away from this information and please feel free to search our selection of barbells online at https://www.kintafitness.com.au/category/bars-and-weights/barbells/ or come into our Perth showroom and see our selection of barbells in person and speak to one of our friendly staff members.

To ask any questions or provide feedback we can be contacted at admin@kintafitness.com.au or leave a review below.

Thank you from the team at Kinta.

Leave a Comment