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Olympic lifting has become very popular recently, as it requires the perfect combination of form and function. If you are an experienced lifter, or you are just starting out, the good news is that the rising popularity of Olympic lifting means there are a lot of choices and options for getting your own equipment.
If you want to lift at home, and are planning your own lift studio, then your Olympic bar will be the cornerstone of your equipment. Even if you lift at a gym, you might be thinking about investing in your own bar that you bring with you.
Choosing the Perfect Olympic Bar for You
When you are choosing your own bar, you will of course be looking for the right size and weight. There’s not a lot of variation here, mainly longer, heavier men’s bars and shorter, lighter, women’s bars. Men’s bars do offer a choice of bar diameter, typically from 28 to 33 millimeters. Most Olympic lifters will opt for the narrower, 28 millimeter bar, to ensure a secure grip.
Bars with larger diameters are a bit tougher to grip, but if you need to lift heavy and on a budget, a wider bar is sometimes stronger. And they are stronger because of added steel and not expensive innovation or technology. On the other hand, 28 millimeter bars allow more ‘whip’, or flexion in the lift. And that flexion adds to the momentum of the lift, so it matters.
Whatever size you get, you will want to consider the location of the knurls, or the rough grips, and how those have been machined. You want to be sure you have knurls where you need them for your preferred stance, and for the lifts you do. Higher quality bars will have smoother knurls, and cheaper bars may have rougher – even sharp – knurls.
Deeper knurls do give better grip, but if you are lifting a lot, you might opt for a shallower knurl to save your hands. You’ll also need to decide if you want a center knurl. A center knurl can help keep the bar from slipping on your chest or back in some lifts, but it’s also pretty uncomfortable. If you don’t like the rub of center knurls, and you are lifting frequently, you might opt for a bar without a center knurl.
One of the biggest questions – and where you will need to think about your budget – is in the bearings or bushes. Bars with bushes are more common for powerlifting, but the complex and precise form of Olympic lifting means that most lifters prefer bearings, and top quality ones as well.
Bearings allow the bar to roll with the lift, preventing ‘breaking’ at the wrist and enabling smooth, clean movements. Top quality bearings cost more, but they make a big difference to the effectiveness and the safety of your lift.
The Importance of Bar Strength
Last of all, and what will have the most impact on your budget, is bar strength. Bars are measured primarily by ‘pounds’ (the amount of weight you can load on the bar before it won’t return to a straight bar again after a lift), although you might see a lot of different ways to measure bars as you shop around.
In reality though, they all pretty much come down to the same thing; how many pounds can the bar take before the flex is permanent – or worse – the bar breaks. Low price bars typically measure 500 to 1000 pounds, most mid-range (and the most popular bars) measure 1200 to 1500 pounds, and really top-end bars can take over 1500 pounds, even without adding to the diameter.
The strength of your bar is critical, so don’t think of it as a simple measure of what you plan to lift; after all, not many lifters will be loading their bar over 1000 pounds. Cheaper bars with lower ratings won’t last as long, and they’ll grow weaker with repeated lifting. Also, remember that you add a lot of force to the bar – which equates to weight – at different parts of the lift.
Powerful jerks add a lot of flex and snap to the bar, all of which add pounds to the force the bar needs to accommodate. And if you drop your bar – and let’s face it, everyone does – consider the extra force when your bar hits the floor. For these reasons, unless you are a new lifter, or not lifting very often, you will probably want a minimum 1000 pound bar.
Here are our reviews of some of the best Olympic bars that you can find on the market today.
The CAP Barbell Olympic bar is one of the best bars to choose, combining quality with a good range of features that will suit most Olympic lifters. This 1000 pound bar is a standard men’s bar, with a 7 foot length, taking 2 inch plates, and weighing in at the typical 44 pounds.
The steel bar has a black phosphate coating that will help it keep its looks and protect it from rust. Steel ends make sure plates slide on easily.
There’s no center knurl on his bar, and the grip knurls on the 28.5 millimeter wide bar are a smooth diamond cut and medium depth – all features that reflect this bar’s quality. We think what really sets this bar apart is the quality of the bearings for what is a very competitively priced bar.
Of course, you aren’t going to get a bar for competition use, and powerful lifters using a lot of weight will want to spend a bit more. For training use, and loads up to around 250 pounds, this bar is a great buy and should hold up to regular use.
If you are working with a budget, and you are new to Olympic lifting or use Olympic lifting with lower weights as part of a metcon workout, then you might be looking for a lower-weighted bar to keep costs down. If that sounds like you, then The Body Solid Olympic bar is a good choice.
This 7 foot, 44 pound bar does have a wider grip, at 30 millimeters, so keep that in mind if you really want a standard, 28 millimeter grip. You can get it in raw steel, chrome or with a black phosphate coating. But like a lot of wider (and lower priced) bar, the knurls are deep.
It really isn’t designed to allow a lot of roll, and consequently it comes with bushes instead of bearings.You’ll feel the knurls if you are lifting heavy with this bar. There’s also a center knurling, so if you want to combine olympic lifting with powerlifting, then this bar stands out.
Most important, this is a 600 pound rated bar. That means it isn’t designed to stand up to really heavy use, maximum loads or dropping it fully loaded from the top of your clean and jerk. As a first bar, especially if you want to do both powerlifting and Olympic lifting, or if you are trying to keep your costs down, then the Body Solid bar is a perfect choice.
That said, if you end up loving Olympic lifting as much as we do, you’ll outgrow this bar and will want to invest in a higher quality bar with bearings. For starting out though, this is just about the more affordable, good quality bar you can find.
The Xmark Olympic bar is somewhere in the middle of the Body Solid and the CAP Barbell bars in quality. This steel bar has a standard 7 foot length and 44 pound weight. And with a 1000 pound rating, it’s a good entry level personal bar for even serious or seasoned lifters.
It’s a 30 millimeter grip, which means it has some potential for powerlifting as well as Olympic lifting, and it has a center knurl for powerlifting too.
If you are comparing ‘budget’ bars, you’ll notice that not only does the XMark bar give you more strength than the Body Solid one, but you’ll appreciate the smoother machining of the medium depth knurls.
The XMark bar also has a good quality bushing system, which gives it stability for powerlifting. But serious Olympic lifters might prefer the smoother roll of a bearing-system bar (but of course, that costs more). Overall, this Olympic bar gives you more strength, and it looks good too, with a smooth chrome finish that lets plates slide on easily.
If you think you need a 1000 pound bar (and sooner or later most lifters will), and you are trying to keep to a budget, then the XMark Chrome Olympic bar is a great choice.
The Troy Barbell Olympic Bar is a 5 foot bar, so it’s not an ‘official’ Olympic bar, but for a home gym or for Olympic lifters just starting out, it’s a great quality bar. This 29 pound bar is really designed for entry level lifting, and hence its 300 pound weight rating.
It’s still an excellent quality bar, and it looks great with black phosphate coating over a steel bar. The knurls are nicely done, smooth and medium deep, reflecting the quality of the manufacturing. The bushes roll well enough for lighter Olympic lifting, and the center knurl provides grip for power lifts too.
There are some limitations to this bar, and you will certainly need to be aware of the 300 pound rating. That said, this is really a ‘starter’ bar, so chances are if this is the right bar for you, you won’t be loading it up like crazy anyway.
The 5 foot length makes it stable and easy to handle, perfect while you are learning Olympic lifting form. And of course, if you have to fit your lifting into a small space, then a shorter bar like this might be safer and more convenient.
What we really like about the Troy Barbell bar is its versatility. This bar is well made and will last a long time if you treat it with respect. That means that even if you outgrow it and get yourself a 1000 pound 7 foot bar, there’s still a place for your Troy Barbell bar.
The 5 foot length means it’s a stable bar, which makes it easy for new lifters to handle. But it also means you can use it for military press and curls, and leave your fancy new 7 foot bar for the big lifts.
If you really like the idea of a 5 foot bar, but want something with a little more strength than the Troy Barbell bar, then the Champion Barbell bar is ideal. This steel 5 foot bar has a 700 pound rating. That means that while it’s perfect for new lifters who want the stability of a shorter bar, or lifters working in a small space, it can take a bit more of a beating, and might last you longer as your strength increases.
Just like the Troy Barbell bar, even if you max out the Champion Barbell bar, you can still use it for curls and other short-bar movements. At 32 pounds, it’s a little heavier than some 5 foot bars, but that weight pays off in the added strength. At 28.5 millimetres, it’s a pretty standard width that allows for a good grip.
The Champion Barbell bar is really designed for Olympic lifting and not as a joint power/Olympic lifting bar. There’s no center knurl, so if you don’t like the way center knurls can scratch your chest or shoulders, then this bar is perfect.
The knurls are pretty well done, medium width, although not as smoothly machined as the Troy Barbell bar. They are long, and placed to allow a wide grip, making this bar very versatile for all Olympic lifts.
Best of all, this is a smooth rolling bar, specifically designed to give you a really great introduction to Olympic lifting. It looks good, should last a long time, and is pretty versatile with a higher rating than the Troy Barbell bar. That also means if you are looking for a personal bar to take with you to the gym, this one should be able to do most of what you need, and it might just fit in your car.