Your Expert-Approved Guide to Barbells
Weightlifting can be pretty intimidating. If you’ve considered getting into it but have thought that there’s just too much to learn about this very niche, and very powerful area of fitness, you’re far from alone. Of course, as with any new venture the best thing you can do is learn the basics—and that’s exactly what we’ve got for you here.
Barbells are integral to weightlifting, whether you’re doing simple squats with one or Olympic-level snatches. Considering there are over half a dozen different types of barbell bars, it isn’t exactly easy to just jump in and get started with them. And in addition to the assortment of barbells, there are also different types of weight plates.
How can the average person know which to use for what? We have you covered! We spoke with two trainers about the various types of barbells, and when and why to use each of them. Read on for your complete guide to barbells.
Standard / Power Barbell
This 45 pound bar is the go-to. It’s the basic bar that you’ll find in most gyms, and it has many uses. Honore tells us that they’re usually made of aluminum or steel, and notes that “these bars are stiff, but may flex a little when heavily loaded.” He says they’re the main bar in gyms because “they are resilient, affordable, and suitable for a broad spectrum of skill levels.”
As for their usage, he says, “from back squats and deadlifts to cleans and landmine rows, these bars can accommodate most barbell exercises pretty well.”
Weighing only 15-20 pounds, this introductory barbell is a great place to start for anyone who finds the idea of a 45 pound barbell intimidating. Kollath tells us, “this is shorter than the standard barbell and has a few spots where it bends so that you can grip it easily.” She goes on to say that she uses it “mainly for isolating upper body movements such as biceps curls or lying triceps extensions.”
For anyone not quite ready for a 45 pounder, but beyond the need for the EZ barbell, this 33 pound bar is your option. Kollath says that “these barbells have a smaller diameter so they are generally easier to grip for certain movements.” As for how to use them: the 33 pound is multipurpose. She notes that she will generally use this bar for, almost every barbell movement, including Olympic movements (snatches and clean and jerks).”
The Deadlift Barbell
Though it sounds like something that might weigh more, deadlift barbells weigh the standard 45 pounds. However, Kollath says they “are longer and they bend more as you pull the weight off the floor.”
She recommends using them for deadlifting when there is a lower back limitation that can prevent you from lifting the straight barbell off the floor. Honore adds that the “ability to bend helps the lifter create mounds of tension against the load for a more stable lift.”
Use these only for deadlifting, though, as Honore warns us that same bend makes it much less comfortable for bench pressing, overhead pressing, and most upper body exercises.
The Trap / Hex Barbell
Weighing in between 50-60 pounds, Honore tells us that the circular hex bar is great for any lower body lift. “Its parallel handles make gripping a piece of cake compared to straight bars,” he explains. “Additionally, this bar circles around the body allowing for massive versatility with knee and hip position.”
He says that “whether you’re targeting glutes, quads, hamstrings or all of them at once, the hex bar will gladly accommodate your intentions.”
Safety Squat Barbell
No surprise here: this 50-70 pound barbell is used for squatting safely. “This bar has handles with padding on them that sit on the shoulders,” Kollath says. “The safety squat bar allows you to squat with a more upright torso and puts more stress on the upper back and core than the standard barbell-on-your-back position when squatting.”
Honore adds that its features a good option for those who might struggle with shoulder discomfort. “Another bonus of this bar is that the load position helps target more of the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, which makes this bar excellent for developing overall strength,” he says.
With a weight of 80 pounds, this barbell is a feat even before you add weight plates. “This bar sits on the shoulders but the weight actually sits much lower due to the way this bar is structured,” Kollath says. “The bar allows the upper body to stay more vertical and puts an emphasis on the posterior chain because the weight sits lower.” They’re ideal for squats and standing good mornings.
The Olympic Barbell
Contrary to what you might assume from the name, the Olympic barbell isn’t excessively heavy. It weighs about 45 pounds. “The Olympic bar makes a massive difference when performing cleans, jerks and snatches as it is designed to whip,” says Honore. “Whipping during Olympic lifts turns the weight into a sort of sling shot the load and assist with the lift. Additionally, Olympic bars spin to reduce drag as the bar turns over during the lift.”
He suggests not using it for squatting due to how it doesn’t grip.
Different Types of Weight Plates
Now that you know all about the different types of barbells, there’s still one big thing to learn about: the weights that go on them. Our trainers broke the options down for us.
Standard (Cast Iron) Plates
The standard option, these metal plates have a single hole to attach to a barbell through. “These are the most durable types of plates, but you definitely don’t want to leave them in a humid environment for too long as they could potentially rust,” says Kollath. She warns that they should never be dropped on the floor.
Rubber / Bumper / Olympic Plates
Unlike metal plates, these are designed for some floor dropping. “Olympic plates, are all standard in diameter, typically made of different forms of rubber and are designed to be dropped as a part of the sport of weightlifting,” Honore tells us. “Bumper plates are another version of Olympic plates made from more cost effective materials but still designed to handle being dropped without ruining the floor.”
Kollath adds that the heavier the weight, the thicker the plate will be, and that they can be dropped from fairly tall heights.
Honore explains that “numbers are essential” in powerlifting—and these plates are specifically designed for the sport. They have been measured and adjusted to maintain consistency.
Weightlifting can be a big deal—but it doesn’t need to be intimidating. Armed with the knowledge of the different barbells there are, how to use them, and what plates to put on them, you’re one step closer to being ready to head to the gym and get started.