Even those of us who are serious about working out can’t always make it to the gym every day. Sometimes you may find yourself thinking, wouldn’t it be great if I didn’t have to waste training time traveling to and fro?
If you are looking at building up your own home gym, perhaps the most important piece of equipment you can buy is the Olympic barbell. But why choose this type over a standard bar?
To help you figure it out, I’m going to share with you the key points to look for in the best Olympic barbell. Once you’re up to speed, I’ll weigh up five of my favorites out there.
Quick Product Roundup
CAP Barbell Olympic Bar with 1200 Pound Weight Capacity
Body-Solid Tools Olympic Straight Bar (OB86)
Titan 60” Barbell Solid 2” Olympic Plates Weight Bar
Rep Fitness Gladiator Bar
Weider Olympic Bar
What is an Olympic Barbell?
An Olympic barbell refers to a 7.2-foot long weightlifting bar, which is used as a standard for competitive weightlifting. You may have seen them in action during the Olympic games, hence the name. Classic moves include the “Clean and Jerk”, and the “Snatch,” as demonstrated in the following YouTube video.
A men’s Olympic bar weighs 44 pounds and is typically rated for a weight load of between 1000 and 1500 pounds. By comparison, most standard bars will start to bend when used with weights over 200 pounds. Shorter bars are made for women, with a narrower shaft and a reduced weight of 33 pounds.
On both ends of the bar, you will find rotating sleeves where the Olympic plates (those with a 2-inch hole) are placed. These allow the plates to spin as you lift, which forms a crucial part of the moves you can do with this bar.
What to Look for in the Best Olympic Barbell
The best way to choose an Olympic barbell is to try it for yourself. However, these days most of us will purchase our gym equipment online, for a greater selection and better deals.
It’s also very doubtful that too many stores would allow you to test them with loaded sleeves anyhow. They certainly wouldn’t let you drop them to see how well the bearings hold up.
Instead, here are the six most important factors you should consider when comparing Olympic barbells.
I hate to say it, but the reality with Olympic barbells is that you often get what you pay for. Quality Olympic barbells will normally be made with a higher grade steel than budget options, which are often made from recycled refrigerators and the like.
Most manufacturers will list the strength of an Olympic barbell in yielding weight. This measurement of strength refers to the maximum weight you can use with a bar before it becomes permanently bent. Most Olympic bars will usually have a capacity of over 1000 pounds.
Tensile strength tends to be more of an accurate gauge of a bar’s strength. This measures the pressure which the metal used can withstand in PSI, before it’s pulled apart. A tensile strength of 180,000 PSI should be enough for most home bars and still offer the whip you need.
Knurling is what allows your hands to grip hold of the bar. Manufacturers will often list this as being light, medium or aggressive. Although most Olympic bars will have moderate knurling, if you have smaller hands or perform heavier lifts, you will need a more aggressive knurling.
Traditionally, men’s Olympic bars will feature knurling in the center of the bar. However, this can sometimes tear up your neck or chest, especially when doing cleans or thrusts. To combat this issue, you could use an additional barbell pad, or simply choose a women’s or trainer bar without the center knurling.
Durability and Coating
It’s not just the strength of the bar which affects how long it lasts, but also the coating used on the shaft. Bare steel with no coating will be more prone to rust, while a finish like zinc tends to be more expensive but will last much longer.
Other options for the finish include black oxide, manganese phosphate, zinc and chrome for the highest level of protection. Unfortunately, even though chrome does look better, it also costs a lot more and, over time, it will eventually start to chip and flake.
The spin of a bar can be useful for people who want to focus on explosive workouts. Even if you aren’t too worried about this element, the bearings used are still important. Low-quality components can break more easily, causing the sleeves to fall from the barbell.
Bushings consist of rings that fit between the inner and outer sleeves on your barbell, to reduce friction. Although they are durable and don’t need maintenance, they appear to be the more economical option and don’t offer as much spin as bearings. Yet, for those who use their barbell for CrossFit or slower lifts, they make a great budget choice.Barbells which use bearings have round balls, or needles, between the bar and the sleeve. As they move freely, they perform a better job of reducing resistance and offer more spin. Bearings are a better choice for faster lifts, however, they do cost more, require oiling, and are higher maintenance.
For barbells which cost under $300, a warranty is not too important. Often the manufacturer will not include the shipping of returns, which can cost more than a new bar.For more expensive barbells, a lifetime warranty is normally the sign of a top quality barbell. Mid-range bars will generally have warranties between two and five years, although they rarely cover bearings or bushings.
The Five Best Olympic Barbells
With so many Olympic barbells available, which should you choose? I’ve looked at some top-selling barbells to bring you, in my opinion, the best five on the market.
To celebrate 30 years in business, CAP has released this Olympic barbell, also known as “The Beast,” in custom colored coatings. A traditional 7.2-foot Olympic barbell, it has an impressive weight rating of 1200 pounds. Featuring a medium diamond knurling on the surface, it also offers sleeves that swivel at the lightest touch, which should be easier on the wrists.
- Custom colored Accu-Coat is highly durable and rust resistant.
- Extremely strong.
- No center knurl—not so harsh on your chest during lifts.
- Offers a decent level of spin.
- Backed with a 3-year warranty.
- When adding or removing plates, metal flakes can often come off the non-polished sleeves.
- The threaded ends can become sharp, plus when they chip it may splinter your hands.
This standard size Olympic bar weighs in at 44 pounds and has a reasonable weight capacity of 600 pounds, for a budget price. A sleek black oxide finish or chrome plating ensures it won’t rust. Smooth sleeves shouldn’t strain your wrists too much and the larger grip areas between collars are ideal for CrossFit training or users new to an Olympic barbell.
- Standard 86-inch long Olympic bar at an affordable price.
- Choice of black oxide finish or triple chrome plating for extra durability.
- Rust resistant.
- Knurling along the entire length of the bar for more grip.
- Decent 600 pounds capacity should be enough for most beginners and intermediates.
- The knurling can be sharp and inconsistent.
- Bolt-on collars need constant adjustment.
Although shorter, at just 5 feet, this bar uses the same 2-inch Olympic weight plates and has a maximum weight yield of 500 pounds. The shorter length may not suit everybody, but it’s a great bar for bench presses or seated overhead presses.
Constructed from a heavy-duty steel, the bar features diamond knurling in the grip areas, to prevent slipping.
- Heavy-duty steel construction with chrome plating for a durable finish.
- Uses standard 2-inch Olympic plates.
- The shorter length is ideal for beginners or seated workouts.
- More compact and takes up less space at home.
- A 1-year warranty with excellent customer service.
- Some people will dislike the shorter length.
- Too short to fit in a power rack.
- Smooth bar ends require clips for the plates—unfortunately these aren’t included.
Standout features of this Olympic standard Gladiator are the 230k tensile strength and a static 1500-pound rating. As soon as you hold the bar, you can feel it is made with quality steel. Needle bearings give it a smoother motion and it is chrome plated for more rust resistance.
- Dual medium knurl won’t tear or shred your hands.
- No center knurling for more comfortable use.
- Excellent tensile strength.
- Needle bearings for greater spin.
- Great value for money.
- Only a 5-year warranty.
- Pretty stiff, with very little whip, or elastic energy.
The Weider Olympic bar is my pick as the best budget Olympic barbell. It’s listed as a 45-pound bar, which, at 7-foot, pretty much meets the standard length. However, it only holds up to 350 pounds and is more suited to beginners looking to firm and tone their body.
- Ergonomic design with non-slip grip.
- Comes complete with locking pins and Olympic clip style collars.
- Chrome finish is aesthetically pleasing and also rust resistant.
- Many users have noted the bar actually weighs less than actually stated.
- Not suited to lifting with higher drops, the bearings can break quite easily.
My favorite Olympic barbell would have to be the CAP Barbell Olympic Bar. With a capacity of 1200 pounds and a stable acrylic clear coat, it will last you many years. A medium diamond knurling at the grip ends combines with the smooth spin of the sleeve for a safer and more comfortable workout.
The Cap barbell may not be the cheapest I looked at, but it’s a top-notch bar that is definitely worth the money. It’s very similar to the popular mainstream Rogue Echo bar 2.0, but less expensive.