The Best Olympic Barbell – The Ultimate Guide

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The Most Important Information

The best Olympic barbell is a specialized barbell. It’s specifically designed to facilitate two different movements:

  • The Snatch
  • The Clean & Jerk

In my opinion, if you’re a beginner, you should absolutely not purchase an Olympic barbell or any other type of barbell until you’ve used one for a few months at a local gym. If you’re currently at the intermediate level, I believe you should opt for a multi-use barbell.

Note: If you’re an intermediate athlete you should head over to this article where I breakdown which multi-purpose barbell is ideal for you.

If you’re an advanced athlete and are passionate about Olympic lifts feel free to jump straight to my recommendations directly below. However, if you want to understand the reasons behind my suggestions please continue reading.

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International Weightlifting Federation (IWF)

Any Olympic barbell that meets this federation’s requirements will have “IWF” or “IWF certified” in the barbell’s description. This means that the barbell has a stamp of approval to be used in an IWF competition. 

The IWF requires a barbell used in any serious competition to meet certain criteria. You should train with a bar that is as similar as possible to the bar you’ll be competing with.

Note: This doesn’t mean your bar needs to be IWF certified!

Material

The IWF requires competition barbells to be made with chromed steel. Chromed steel is simply steel that contains some chromium. 

Note: Stainless steel is a chromed steel.

Strength

There are three ways to measure the strength of a barbell:

  • Tensile strength
  • Yield strength
  • Test strength

Tensile Strength

The tensile strength of a barbell, measured in pounds per square inch (psi), reflects how much weight can be placed on the bar before it snaps in half. As I’ve said before, if you’re at the point where you’re training with a specialized barbell, it’s time to get equipment that’s reliable. 

An Olympic weightlifting bar should have a tensile strength greater than or equal to 200,000 psi.

Yield Strength

Yield strength, also measured in psi, reflects how much weight a barbell can handle before it bends permanently.

Just know that true Olympic weightlifting bars have a high yield strength and good whip as a result.

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 an Olympic 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. 

You should not use a barbell’s test strength as a determining factor of quality. A single test cannot tell you anything significant about how a barbell will perform in the long term.

Whip

Whip is a term that is used to describe a subjective measurement that reflects how stiff a barbell is. You’ll normally see terms like “good whip” or “no whip”. 

Good whip means that the barbell will bend more which is ideal for performing Olympic lifts. No whip is something you’ll only see in powerlifting or multi-purpose barbells.

Finish

IWF certified Olympic barbells can have any finish you want. A barbell’s finish is one of the biggest contributors to the price tag. 

Here’s what makes a great finish:

  • Corrosion-resistant
  • Thin
  • Customizable

A great finish will increase corrosion resistance but no finish can resist the accumulation of debris in the knurling. Only regular barbell maintenance can eliminate debris. Maintenance also brings barbell rust back down to zero which, in some cases, defeats the purpose of a high-end finish. 

For this reason, I would normally recommend that you stay away from high-end finishes. However, I know that those of you looking to purchase an Olympic barbell are training very frequently. 

To reduce the frequency of maintenance I will be recommending higher end finishes on the shaft. 

Note: Only the shaft comes into contact with the metal frame of a rack. Companies will often use a higher quality material or finish for the shaft than the sleeves.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is very expensive because it’s a high-end steel. Since stainless steel isn’t actually a finish it has a bare steel feel. The knurling will still accumulate debris over time so you’ll still have to perform bi-weekly maintenance to keep it in the best shape.

Cerakote

Cerakote offers the best corrosion resistance. It isn’t the thinnest finish out there, but it’s still pretty thin. In addition, it opens the door to visual customizations.

Dimensions & Weight

The IWF has fairly strict rules about an olympic barbell’s dimensions. In my opinion, your barbell should adhere strictly to the dimensions below.

IWF Certified Barbell Dimensions & Weight

Men’s BarWomen’s Bar
Total Weight20 kg/44.09 lbs15 kg/33.07 lbs
Shaft Diameter28 mm / 1.1”25 mm / 0.98”
Loadable Sleeve Diameter50 mm / 1.97”50 mm / 1.97”
Shaft Length1310 mm / 51.57”1310 mm / 51.57”
Non-Loadable Sleeve Length30 mm / 1.18”30 mm / 1.18”
Loadable Sleeve Length415 mm / 16.34”320 mm / 12.60”
Total Sleeve Length445 mm / 17.52”350 mm / 17.52”
Total Length2200 mm / 86.61”2010 mm / 86.61”

Note: You can consult the original source by downloading the pdf here.

Knurl

Olympic barbells used in competitions will usually have aggressive knurling. If you’re going to compete, you should be practicing with a bar that’s as close to the real deal as possible. Because of this, I recommend you opt for an aggressive knurl. That said, the IWF does not require a competition bar to have a specific knurl.

At the end of the day the knurl you choose to train with is your choice entirely.

Knurl Marks

The IWF does require a single 5-millimeter knurl mark to be placed 195 millimeters from the outer edge of the shaft. This is true for the men’s and women’s Olympic barbell.

Here are some diagrams:

Men’s IWF Oly Bar
Women’s IWF Oly Bar

Spin

You should have bearings on an Olympic barbell. At this point in your training, you need an accurate simulation of a competition. 

It is absolutely not true that more bearings in a barbell are better. It’s the quality of the bearings that matter most.

There are three types of bearings:

  • Ball bearings
  • Thrust bearings
  • Needle bearings

Needle bearings are more durable and spin better than any other bearing or bushing. In my opinion, the only bearing that should ever be on the inside of an Olympic barbell is the needle bearing. 

At this level of Olympic lifting, you should be using needle bearings. Any number of needle bearings will get the job done.

Bolts, Punch Pins, & Snap Rings

At each end of a barbell, there are removable parts. These exist to keep the sleeves and everything inside them in place. They also protect the sleeves’ interiors from dust and debris.

To perform maintenance on a barbell’s sleeves, the ends need to be removed. This means you’ll have to consider how easily you can remove a barbell’s end pieces as well. 

Bolts

Due to gradual corrosion and the collection of debris, a bolt system will get stuck in place without regular maintenance. So bolts will require a bit more upkeep. 

To remove a bolt, you’ll need a socket wrench or a large allen key. 

Punch Pins

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 loose without regular maintenance. 

You’ll need a hammer and something small enough to push the punch pin out of its hole to remove it. 

Snap Rings

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. All you’ll need is a set of pliers. 

Warranty

You’re paying a large sum of cash for a barbell. If the seller doesn’t offer a 10-year warranty at the minimum, look somewhere else. Olympic barbells in particular will ideally have a lifetime warranty.

Checklist

  • Chromed steel
  • 200,000+ psi tensile strength
  • Good whip
  • Stainless steel or cerakote finish
  • IWF barbell and knurling dimensions
  • Standard or aggressive knurling
  • Needle Bearings
  • Snap rings
  • 10+ year warranty
  • IWF certified if the bar is for a competition

Recommendations

Eleiko Performance Weightlifting Bar

If you’ve been in a few competitions Eleiko might be a good brand for you. In my opinion, this level of quality is only useful for advanced Olympic lifters. An Eleiko bar should by no means be your only Olympic barbell. This should only be an addition to a pre-existing barbell collection. I’ve linked to Eleiko’s ‘performance bars’ below, however, there are more expensive versions such as the ‘IWF certified training bar’ and the ‘IWF competition bar’. I believe that these bars are only valuable if they’re going to be used for competitions.

Advantages

Eleiko makes some of the best bars I’ve ever heard of. If you’re competing, this bar is a great option.

Drawbacks

The finish on the whole bar, including the shaft, is chrome. Chrome can easily be chipped away when it comes into contact with other hard surfaces. As a result, you can’t rack it without eventually ruining it. Elieko bars can still be dropped with weights on it, no problem there.

Check out the 20-kilogram (44.09-pound) bar here or the 15-kilogram (33.07-pound) bar here.

Rogue IWF Pyrros Bar

Rogue’s Pyrros bar is an option for any advanced olympic weightlifting athlete. 

Advantages

Due to the stainless steel used to build the shaft, this bar is a bit more expensive than my next recommendation. However, those of you who want a bare steel feel and a clean looking bar will be better off with this one.

Drawbacks

The only negative is the price. I said it at the beginning and I’ll say it again: These bars are for advanced athletes only. Do not spend hundreds on an Oly bar only to later realize that you don’t like Olympic weightlifting.

Check out the 20-kilogram (44.09-pound) bar here or the 15-kilogram (33.07-pound) bar here.

Rogue IWF Olympic Weightlifting Bar

This one’s for you if you’re a high-frequency lifter or if you’d like to customize your barbell’s appearance.

Advantages

Rogue’s standard Oly bar has a cerakote finish on the shaft with chrome-plated sleeves. While it’s true that you won’t have the same bare steel feel with this bar as you would with a stainless steel bar, the difference probably won’t be noticeable for most of you. You can customize the shaft but not the sleeves. 

Drawbacks

There is no downfall to this bar. If it suits you it suits you.

Check out the 20-kilogram (44.09-pound) bar here or the 15-kilogram (33.07-pound) bar here.

Last Words

If you are still confused please check out this article where I break down multi-purpose barbells. Your questions will probably be answered there.

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.

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