The Most Important Information
Multi-use barbells are for intermediate and advanced athletes only. If you’re here as a beginner today, I strongly recommend you hold off on buying a barbell for the time being. Gain some strength and more importantly, lots of knowledge pertaining to training with free weights.
In this article, I’ll cover everything you need to know to buy your first barbell and recommend what I believe to be the best barbell for your home gym. Also, if you currently own a barbell and are looking for a more personalized upgrade, you’ve come to the right place.
Note: If you’re an advanced athlete looking for a competition level Oly or power bar use these articles to save time:
If you already know what you’re doing, feel free to jump straight to my recommendations. Barbells are very complex so this will be quite a long one. If you can stick around, please continue reading to better understand the reasons behind my recommendations.
- The Most Important Information
- Barbell Anatomy
- Bolts, Punch Pins & Snap Rings
- Recommendations For First Time Barbell Owners
- Recommendations For Experienced Barbell Owners
- Last Words
If you see a barbell that isn’t made of steel, stay away from it. These can only be one of two things: the worst barbells in the world or way too expensive.
There are three ways to measure the strength of a barbell:
- Tensile strength
- Yield strength
- Test strength
The tensile strength of a barbell, measured in pounds per square inch (psi), reflects how much weight can be placed on a bar before it snaps in half.
Can you get a bar with a low tensile strength? Yes. Will it last? Probably not.
My personal rule is simple: if a barbell’s tensile strength is less than 190,000 psi, I don’t give it the time of day.
Yield strength, also measured in psi, reflects how much weight a barbell can handle before it bends permanently.
Note: While yield strength does matter, there isn’t much point in worrying about it. Manufacturers rarely make a barbell’s yield strength public knowledge. The other barbell attributes outlined in this article will be sufficient for determining any barbell’s overall quality.
Test Strength (Test)
Test is also measured in psi. It just tells you how much weight a barbell was able to handle in a factory test run before it bent permanently or snapped in half.
Test is unimportant because it does not reflect a barbell’s true quality. A single test cannot reflect how a barbell will perform in the long term.
Whip is a subjective measurement that reflects how stiff a barbell is. You’ll normally see terms like “good whip” or “no whip”.
What you’ll normally find:
- A barbell with “good whip” will temporarily bend during a lift. This gives you the opportunity to take advantage of momentum. Since momentum is only useful for training explosively, I recommend that you stay away from bars with “good whip”.
- “No whip” or “stiff” means just the opposite. Barbells described as having “no whip” are ideal for most lifts. These bars can still be used for training explosively, they’re just not as nice to use for it.
Note: I will still recommend a few bars with “good whip”.
What you may see:
- A bar with “great whip” will bend more than a bar with “good whip”.
- A bar with “moderate whip” will bend less than a bar with “good whip” but more than a bar with “no whip”.
Note: You should only buy a bar with “great whip” or “moderate whip” if you know it’s something you specifically want.
A barbell’s finish is one of the biggest contributors to the price tag.
Here’s what makes a great finish:
- Corrosion resistant
It doesn’t matter what the humidity level is around you. Whether you live in the Atacama desert or a tropical rainforest, your bar will be exposed to sweat every time you use it. A great finish will increase corrosion resistance. No finish can eliminate it. If you want to clean your bar less frequently get a better finish.
That said, there is no such thing as a finish that can resist the accumulation of debris in the knurling. Only regular barbell maintenance can eliminate debris. Maintenance also brings a barbell’s rust back down to zero which, in some cases, defeats the purpose of a high-end finish.
If this is your first time buying a barbell, stay away from high-end finishes. They’re completely unnecessary in your case for the reasons I outlined above.
Note: Only the shaft will ever come into contact with the metal frame of a rack. Compagnies will often use a higher quality material or finish for the barbell’s shaft than its sleeves. This is totally fine.
High-end finishes are only ideal for those of you looking to buy your second, third, etc, bar.
- Stainless Steel is the most expensive corrosion-resistant material. It isn’t an actual finish, it just fills the role of a finish. Stainless steel has a great feel because it doesn’t fill in the barbell’s knurling. An actual finish will fill in the knurling at least a little.
- Cerakote is the second most expensive finish to my knowledge. It has outperformed stainless steel enough times for me to confidently tell you that it has the best corrosion resistance. Cerakote opens up the door to various customizations such as changing a barbell’s color and in some cases, printing taglines on the shaft.
Note: Stainless steel or cerakote are the ideal shaft finishes for those of you who are barbell owners.
- Hard Chrome is the best finish for a barbell’s sleeves. I do not recommend it for a barbell’s shaft. Hard chrome is a weak finish that will generally chip and peel after constantly colliding with other hard surfaces. This means any time you rack a hard chrome shaft you’ll likely damage it.
These are my favorite finishes for newbies. If you’re a newb you probably have no idea how to maintain a barbell and limited knowledge pertaining to how you like to train with a barbell.
Important note: Most of you will hate owning a barbell for three reasons:
- Barbells take up a ridiculous amount of storage space.
- Barbells require lots of upkeep
- Barbells are simply not for everyone. You may just not enjoy using barbells. There are many alternatives available that may suit your personality and training style much better
In my opinion, your first barbell should be an educational barbell.
- Low-Quality Hard Chrome & Decorative Chrome are even less durable than a quality hard chrome. You’ll know you’re getting a low-quality barbell if the price is low. I’d say anything under 300 United States Dollars is a little suspicious. Bottom line: Never get a low-quality chrome for any part of any barbell.
- E-Coat is basically a special kind of paint that is zapped on in an electric bath. This is the cheapest finish I could find and is generally the best of the lower tier finishes. I absolutely recommend an e-coat finish for your first barbell.
- Bright Zinc, Black Zinc, Black manganese, Black chrome, Black etc, are all low-quality finishes. These are the worst. Any of these are still way better than buying a high-quality finish for beginner barbell owners, but I would definitely try to find a barbell with an e-coat finish if possible.
- Bare steel barbells should be avoided at all costs. These are very high maintenance. Even the most devout can’t make these things last despite their best efforts. I believe that bare steel is too low-quality for anyone.
As a beginner barbell owner, it isn’t crucial that the barbell be exactly 20 kilograms (44.09 pounds) or exactly 15 kilograms (33.07 pounds). All you need is something close to one of those values.
Men should only ever get a 20-kilogram (44.09-pound) barbell. If you’re a woman who has never owned a barbell before, you should also get a 20-kilogram (44.09-pound) barbell.
If you’re a woman who has:
- Owned at least one other barbell in the past
- A specific interest in learning Olympic lifting
- Had consistent practice with an Oly bar
…then you may want to buy a 15-kilogram (33.07-pound) barbell.
That said, if you have an interest in Olympic weightlifting but you’ve never trained Olympic lifts consistently, this still isn’t an ideal weight for you. This is only a good option for you if you’re a woman who likes Olympic lifting but you don’t plan on taking your Olympic lifts to the next level.
Different barbells have different dimensions for three reasons:
- To adhere to Olympic weightlifting federation rules and guidelines
- To adhere to powerlifting federation rules and guidelines
- To function as a better tool for different lifts
For Your First Barbell
|Shaft Diameter||28 or 28½ mm / 1.1 or 1.12”|
|Loadable Sleeve Diameter||50 mm / 1.97”|
|Shaft Length||1310 mm / 51.57”|
Note: If you’ve never bought a barbell you don’t need to worry about any dimensions other than those in the table above.
For Your Second, Third, Etc, Barbell
|Description||Standard Bar||15kg Bar|
|Shaft Diameter||28-29 mm / 1.1-1.14”||25 mm / 0.98”|
|Loadable Sleeve Diameter||50 mm / 1.97”||50 mm / 1.97”|
|Shaft Length||1310-1320 mm / 51.57-51.97”||1310 mm / 51.57”|
|Non-Loadable Sleeve Length||30 mm / 1.18”||30 mm / 1.18”|
|Loadable Sleeve Length||415 mm / 16.34”||320 mm / 12.60”|
|Total Sleeve Length||445 mm / 17.52”||350 mm / 17.52”|
|Total Length||Less than or equal to 2200 mm / 86.61”||2010 mm / 86.61”|
Note: If you choose not to adhere to the dimensions in the table above you may have issues racking and storing your barbell due to abnormal size differences between the barbell and other equipment. An example would be a barbell’s shaft that doesn’t fit on the rack.
Heavy Duty 29-Millimeter Shaft
If you want a barbell that caters to the squat, the bench press, and really heavy deadlifts you should choose a bar with a 29-millimeter shaft diameter.
Versatile 28 & 28½-Millimeter Shaft
If you want a barbell that accommodates most movements you should opt for a thinner shaft. 28 millimeters and 28½ millimeters are generally great multi-purpose barbell shaft diameters.
Specialized 27-Millimeter Shaft
A 27-millimeter shaft isn’t pleasant to use for anything other than the deadlift. That said, when you do use this for the deadlift it’s pretty sweet. Grip problems go out the window because of the smaller diameter. This makes having a specialized 27-millimeter shaft well worth it for some.
I would personally never buy one, but I certainly do appreciate a good deadlift bar when I get the chance to use one.
No matter what, the diameter of a barbell’s sleeves should be 50 millimeters. Otherwise, it will not be compatible with the majority of weighted plates. In my experience, barbells with thinner sleeves become greatly annoying sooner or later.
Knurling is a rough crosshatch section machined into the shaft of a barbell to prevent it from slipping in your hands. A barbell’s knurl can be aggressive, standard, passive or absent in different locations.
Aggressive knurling should only be used for the outer section of a barbell’s shaft. It provides the best grip but is usually quite sharp due to its depth. An aggressive knurl will be uncomfortable to hold at first. As you train more and more this will affect you less and less.
Standard knurling is ideal for the center and outer sections of a barbell’s shaft. It isn’t sharp and still offers pretty good grip. If you want more comfort at the expense of a little grip, standard knurling is a good option for you. A standard center knurl is useful if you do close grip exercises with your barbell. Otherwise, a soft or absent center knurl will be better.
“Passive” or “soft” knurling should be avoided unless you’re using it for the center knurl exclusively. A soft center knurl isn’t strong enough to grip with a hand.
Passive knurling exists to hold on to your shirt while the bar is on your back. This increases the overall stability of each lift and helps you center the barbell on your back. A passive knurl will also limit any scratching of the neck and chin during front squats and other similar lifts.
You’ll often see a barbell that has no center knurl. A passive center knurl limits scraping. An absent center knurl will eliminate it altogether. If you train in such a way that the barbell is often resting near your neck, I would recommend you get a bar with no center knurl.
Note: On either side of the center knurl there should be a smooth section without any knurling. This way, when you go to deadlift you won’t scrape your legs on every rep. This is standard for any barbell.
Knurl marks exist to mark where competitive athletes should place their hands if they’re doing Olympic lifts or power lifts. Most barbell’s come with dual knurl marks or one knurl mark. As far as you’re concerned, those marks will just help you remember where you like to place your hands.
Inside of a barbell’s sleeves are systems that allow the barbell to spin a little or a lot. There are two types of systems:
It is absolutely not true that a barbell with more bushings or bearings is better. The number of bushings or bearings will vary from bar to bar. Any number of bushings or bearings will get the job done.
You should use bushings for a multi-purpose barbell. Bushings will let a barbell’s sleeves rotate a little. They are absolutely my recommendation for anyone purchasing their first barbell.
Bearings allow a barbell’s sleeves to rotate freely. They’re really nice to use for most compound movements. If you’re into Crossfit or dipping your toe into Olympic weightlifting, bearings are a better option for your second or third barbell.
There are three types of bearings:
- Ball bearings
- Thrust bearings
- Needle bearings
In my opinion, the only bearing that should ever be on the inside of a barbell is the needle bearing. Needle bearings are more durable and spin better than any other bearing or bushing.
Bolts, Punch Pins & Snap Rings
At each end of a barbell there are removable parts. These parts should:
- Protect the interior of the sleeves from dust and debris
- Allow easy access into the sleeves for maintenance
- Keep the sleeves’ internal components in place
All of the end cap systems below do a pretty good job keeping everything in place. The main things to consider are how protective and user friendly they are.
Due to gradual corrosion and the collection of debris, a bolt system will get stuck in place without regular maintenance. Bolts will require upkeep.
To remove a bolt, you’ll need a socket wrench or a large allen key.
The system that makes up a punch pin will do a better job keeping debris out of a barbell’s sleeve than a bolt system. However, punch pins are just as susceptible to corrosion and tend to get jammed or become loose without regular maintenance.
You’ll need a hammer and something small enough to push the punch pin out of it’s hole to remove it.
As I see it, the snap ring is the best option available. It completely seals off the sleeve from any dust or debris and it will take much longer to corrode.
A snap ring is also the easiest to take on and off of a barbell. All you need is a set of pliers.
You’re paying a large sum of cash for a barbell. If the company doesn’t offer a 10-year warranty at the minimum, look somewhere else.
- Steel construction
- 190,000 psi tensile strength
- Snap rings
- 10-year warranty
- The rest depends on your training style
Recommendations For First Time Barbell Owners
The barbells in this section are ideal for those of you who are either shopping on a budget, making your first barbell purchase or making your first specialized barbell purchase.
Important Note: In my opinion, you should absolutely not buy a high end barbell if you’ve never owned a barbell before.
Fringesport Wonder Bar
This bar is perfect if you have never owned a barbell or trained with one very consistently. However, you should still have enough experience with a barbell to know that you enjoy training with one before you buy this.
This is the cheapest bar I could find that is still very reliable. You can get this barbell with bushings or bearings so be sure to keep “Bushings” selected when you place your order. You get free shipping and a lifetime warranty.
All the dimensions and specs are on par with the standards I outlined in this article except for one: This bar’s finish is black zinc, a crappy finish. That said, a number of you will certainly be perfectly happy using this bar for many years regardless of the finish.
Check out the details here.
Rogue Bar 2.0
This is a great bar for you dudes and dudettes who are into Crossfit. This bar has good whip, a nice standard knurl, and a versatile 28½-millimeter shaft diameter with no center knurl. This is also a good bar to use to dip your toe into Olympic lifting without wasting money on an expensive specialized Olympic weightlifting barbell.
As a Crossfit athlete, you get what may be the perfect multi-use barbell out there. The specs are all good and the shaft is finished with an E-Coat which is exactly what I believe you should be looking for in your first Crossfit barbell.
If you’re getting this bar to explore Olympic weightlifting it’ll get the job done. In my opinion, an even better option would be a bar with a 28-millimeter diameter. Although I don’t think it exists with the specs I recommended in the article above.
Check out the details here.
Rogue Bella Bar
This is the exact same as the Rogue Bar 2.0 with the exceptions of the smaller 25-millimeter shaft diameter and lighter 15-kilogram (33.07-pound) weight. This makes it a better option for some women.
Bonus: A 25-millimeter shaft diameter and a 15-kilogram (33.07-pound) weight are competition standards for women’s Olympic weightlifting.
Check out the details here.
Rogue Ohio Power Bar
Any time you see “Power Bar” you’re getting something tuff. 29 millimeters, aggressive knurl, and stiff as a board. If you’re a new powerlifting enthusiast who has owned at least one other barbell in the past you’ll like this one.
You get an e-coated shaft and a center knurl. The center knurl in particular is a desirable attribute on any heavy-duty or powerlifting barbell.
I have no complaints about this bar. If you’ve owned a barbell before you know how you like to lift with one. If it’s for you, it’s for you.
Check out the details here.
Recommendations For Experienced Barbell Owners
Important Note: Those of you who are interested in Eleiko bars should forget it. These bars are way too expensive and offer little, to no extra value as a multi-purpose barbell.
The Ultimate Hybrid Barbell
Rogue’s Matt Chan Bar is by far my favorite barbell out there. If you want to buy one bar that does it all, this is the barbell for you.
Its shaft has a standard knurl with two knurl marks. It also has a passive center knurl which is great for gripping your shirt but leaving your neck and chin unscathed for front lifts. It has a 28½-millimeter diameter and good whip.
There is no downside. In fact, there’s only another upside. This bar is made with stainless steel which is pretty good at resisting corrosion. But then they took the stainless steel bar and gave it a cerakote finish making this the most corrosion-resistant bar I have ever found.
Check out the details here.
Rogue Ohio Bar
This barbell has close to the same specs, pros, and cons as the Rogue Bar 2.0 (listed above). The one difference is the cerakote finish. This allows for personalization and much greater corrosion resistance for reduced maintenance.
This particular Ohio Bar is a good fit for athletes buying their second, third, fourth, etc, barbell.
Check out the details here.
Rogue Bella Bar
This is the exact same as the previous Rogue Bella Bar (listed above) with the exception of the customizable high-end cerakote finish instead of an e-coat.
Check out the details here.
Rogue Ohio Deadlift Bar
Deadlift bars are made with a 27-millimeter shaft diameter to make it easier to grip. If you want a 100 percent specialized barbell designed to be used strictly for deadlifts, this is your bar.
It has a cerakote finish, an aggressive knurl, “Great Whip” (which is more whip than any other bar I’ve recommended), and a much longer shaft length. In addition, there’s no center knurl which will leave your shins unscathed. Everything about this bar is designed to facilitate the deadlift.
Check out the details here.
My recommendations are only useful to you if the respective specifications and dimensions are ideal for how you train!
If the bar you’re looking for isn’t listed here, keep looking! If you don’t want to go through the hassle of finding the perfect bar, that’s your choice but I believe you’d be making a mistake.
Another thing you may have noticed is every barbell listed above except for one is made by a single company called Rogue Fitness. Why? Because they offer better barbells than any other company according to my standards. American Barbell, Texas Power Bars, Cap Barbell, York Barbell, etc, etc, etc. They just don’t measure up if you ask me.
I hope this helps! Please leave a comment if you feel like something was missed or if there’s a topic you’d like to see covered in the near future.