The Olympic Barbell or Standard Barbell for CrossFit, Olympic Lifting, or Power Lifting
In the simplest terms, a barbell is a metal pole that allows weighted disks to be attached for weightlifting.
However, like everything else in the world there are several things that makes barbells different and better geared toward specific training.
For example, an Olympic barbell has a standard design with the only variation being between a men’s and a women’s bar. The men’s Olympic barbell is 7.2 feet long, weighs around 44 pounds, and has a bar diameter of 28 mm. The women’s Olympic barbell is 6.9 feet long, weighs around 33 pounds, and has a bar diameter of 25 mm.
This bar is always used for Olympic weightlifting, which consists of only two lifts, the snatch and the clean and jerk.
Fortunately these lifts are not the only thing a barbell is used for, and as a result there are now options for power lifting barbells and multi purpose barbells.
There are several differentiating features between these barbells but we are going to use the Olympic barbell as the standard for the rest of this post.
If you just want to see what’s out there and our top pick then check out the chart below, otherwise keep reading for everything you need to know about barbells.
Barbell Benefits…Why You Need a Barbell!
The barbell is a great piece of equipment that when used correctly can develop several muscles simultaneously.
For example, using a barbell to complete a standard deadlift targets the majority of the muscles in your body.
This includes primary muscles such as your glutes, hamstrings, quads, etc as well as stabilizer muscles in your lower back, neck, and abs.
Very few pieces of exercise equipment do this and in fact most machines nowadays focus on specific muscle groups. This allows for muscle specific training but is very timely and deters the development of much needed stabilizer muscles.
Overall, a barbell with weights is the foundation for a full body weight training program and one of the most efficient muscle building and weight loss activities available.
Here’s what to look for in your barbell.
The most important part of a barbell is the steel it is made from, with the quality being gauged in two ways; tensile strength and yield strength.
Tensile strength is the amount of pressure, measured in PSI (pounds per square inch) a barbell can handle before breaking, high quality steel having high PSI and low quality steel having low PSI.
The tensile strength of a barbell is a great measurement but not as important as the yield strength of a barbell. Yield strength of a barbell is the amount of pressure before the bar becomes deformed and will not return to its original straight design, the bar being permanently bent.
Most people are not going to lift heavy enough to worry about the tensile strength of a bar and it breaking during a workout, however a permanent bend of a bar is a real concern.
With a bend in mind it is recommended to get a barbell with a tensile strength of at least 190 PSI, a barbell with this measurement is not likely to bend with “normal” heavy lifting.
Knurling on a barbell is the textured etch on the shaft of the barbell that is used for grip while weight lifting.
An Olympic barbell has a center knurl for a men’s bar and no knurl for a women’s bar.
A powerlifters bar will typically have aggressive knurl throughout the bar and a multi purpose bar has medium grade knurling on the outsides of the shaft, with a clear middle to not chafe or scratch during certain movements.
Multi purpose barbells usually have a smoother/fine knurling along the entire shaft of the barbell allowing for a variety of grip distances.
This is an important feature but not a defining one as adjustments can be made with the addition of tape, chalk, grips, and gloves.
The spin of a barbell refers to the bushing or bearing in the sleeve assembly, which allows the sleeve to rotate or spin on the shaft of the barbell.
Depending on the use of the barbell you are going to want different spin speeds.
Olympic weightlifters usually want a bearing system for a faster smoother spin in order to get under the bar quickly, whereas a power lifter wants a bushing, which spins slower and is more rigid.
The majority of barbells use a bushing system as they are less expensive, require little maintenance, and last for years. Bearings are only really seen in high end Olympic barbells due to cost.
The whip of a barbell is the flex, movement, or momentum of a barbell once lifter movement has ceased.
Whip is ideal for an Olympic weightlifter that uses the momentum of the bar when doing a movement like the clean and jerk, and whip is terrible for a powerlifter that wants a rigid bar to perform movements like the deadlift.
The movement or use of a barbell is going to be the deciding factor on whip, however this is a difficult thing to measure and is usually best reviewed by actual users instead of the manufacturer.
In any case a general rule of thumb is that the thinner the bar the more whip it will have and the thicker the bar the less whip it will have.
Diameter of Barbell
Olympic barbells have a standard men’s bar diameter of 28 mm and a women’s diameter of 25 mm, when made with high quality steel these standard diameters are considered to have the best whip for Olympic lifting.
There are however a variety of barbell diameters available.
For example, a powerlifter typically uses a bar with a minimum diameter of 30 mm for grip and less whip.
In addition to movement specific bars, diameters has been created for different users, such as children, larger hands, etc.
To most, diameter isn’t a huge concern but a signal of steel quality.
If a bar has a large diameter but low tensile strength it usually means it is made with low quality steel. The manufacturer cut costs by using scrap type steel and made a thick bar for a minimum PSI measurement and price point.
So far there are a lot of things to consider when selecting your barbell; the steel, knurling, spin, whip, shaft construction, and diameter.
Considering all of these factors you will need to look at overall quality of design and construction.
Which combinations are you looking for?
What’s does a barbell need to have?
The list goes on and on, but overall I think everyone can agree that they want a solid bar that allows for weight training without breaking.
To meet this basic want, it is recommended to go with something made in the USA instead of saving a few bucks for a low quality scrap steel bulk import.
Rogue is a recognizable brand that offers this exact thing, you can check more out here.
Barbell Finish / Barbell Coating
The finish or coating of a barbell can impact how long your bar lasts but is usually thought of as a preference.
You can get a basic unfinished steel bar or something as high end as coated with Cerakote (a polymer ceramic coating).
Obviously you will need to consider if your barbell is going to be used inside or outside as this will play a factor into your decision, but most barbells are going to have some type of coating to deter from rust or oxidation due to sweat, salt, etc.
Some barbells offer colored coating for a more personalized barbell while protecting your equipment.
Price of Barbell
As with anything else, you can get the cheapest option available or spend way too much money with something unnecessary.
Just keep in mind that you get what you pay for, so we recommend staying within a price range that is relative to the features you want in a barbell.
A realistic price range for a solid barbell is between $200 to $400, anything cheaper and you’re sacrificing quality, and anything more expensive is only necessary for highly technical movements.
When looking at the warranty of a barbell it is more important to consider the manufacturer than it is the warranty, if the manufacturer is out of business in a few years a warranty isn’t worth squat.
Lifetime warranties have become the standard these days, but still some are better than others, some require you to pay for shipping whereas others allow you to bring to a store for exchange.
Get a quality barbell and you won’t have to worry much about this feature.
Selecting the Best Barbell for CrossFit, Olympic Lifting, or Power Lifting
Now that you know what to look for when selecting your next Olympic barbell, Powerlifting barbell, or multi purpose barbell, which one are you going to pick?
We have selected the best options available, offering multiple features and price points.