Updated: May 9, 2020
Welcome to the second part of Olympic and Powerlifting barbell review.
Type of Bar (Olympic vs Power)
There are three major types of barbells available; Olympic bars, power bars, and dual-marked, multi-purpose bars.
• Power bars are designed for heavy deadlifts, squats, and bench presses. They are very rigid, stiff bars that do not store elastic energy, making them a poor choice for the Olympic lifts. Power bars have their own unique knurl markings that differ from those on the Olympic bar.
• Olympic barbells are designed for the two explosive Olympic lifts; the snatch and clean & jerk. Olympic bars are generally smaller in diameter and more flexible than Power bars (28 mm vs 29 mm+), and they store more elastic energy (referred to as whip) that is used to the lifter’s advantage when performing heavy cleans. The markings on an Olympic bar are also a couple inches further out from center than the markings on Power bars.
• There is a third type of bar that has become commonplace these days, and that is the dual-marked weightlifting bar. These hybrid bars are intended to be used as a general-purpose bar; a bar that is suitable for Olympic lifts, but can also handle the slower and heavier power lifts. This type of non-specialized bar is generally the best choice for most beginner and intermediate lifters and CrossFitters, and more times than not what you will find in a box or affiliate setting.
Both the IWF (International Weightlifting Federation) and the IPF (International Weightlifting Federation) specify that a bar for men must have a central knurling. While you will always see the center knurling on the power bars (for heavy squats), it is not so unusual these days to find Olympic rods offered without the center windlass despite the IWF standard. The central knurling on olympic bars is usually much smoother or passive than knurling on the rest of the bar, while the center knurling on a power bar can be the same as the rest of the bar, or passive. Having this central knot is really a personal preference. Just pay attention to the descriptions of the products if this attribute matters to you.
Sleeve assembly: hub vs bearing
This describes what components are used to allow the sleeves to rotate on the shaft. The bushings are a low friction material (usually bronze, sometimes compound) that is placed between the shaft and the sleeve. Needle bearings (or roller bearings) rotate more smoothly than bushings, but generally increase the cost of the bar. Both mechanisms produce a wide rotation of the sleeve, but the bearings allow a smoother and quieter turn.
Almost all general purpose / double marked bars and power lifting bars are bus bars. In general, bearings are only found in high-end olympic bars (novices do not have to look for them). Consult this discussion if you are curious about these two mechanisms.
Measured in PSI, this is the breakpoint of the bar. Avoid the weight bars without tensile strength offered in the specifications, since that usually means that it is too low to want to attract attention. 165k is a good minimum, 190k is a number that you will never have to worry about. Ivanko Barbell suggests that you never buy less than 190,000 (which covers all your bars and eliminates a large part of your competition, so take it with a grain of salt). The higher it usually means the more expensive, that is not always the case. Lately, many bars in the $ 350- $ 400 range reach 190k + PSI. Tensile strength can be a difficult thing, so I do not suggest basing a bar purchase on this attribute alone. Many manufacturers know that you will be looking for this specification, so they use it as a means to market a cheap lower bar as a premium bar at a price that will make you think that you have just found the offer of the century. Do not worry too much. If you observe enough bars on this page, you will get a pretty clear idea of what is normal. When you hit a bar with more than 210,000 PSI for $ 259, you'll know it's not reasonable.
Shaft and Sleeve Finish
This is the protective coating on (or not on) the bar. Bare steel requires the most maintenance but has the most natural feel. Black oxide offers slightly more oxidation protection than bare steel, but still requires some maintenance. Both bright and black zinc offer even more oxidation protection that oxide, but quickly lose their luster; while satin, hard, and polished chrome offer almost full protection from oxidation, but can increase the cost of the bar significantly.
One step up from chrome would be stainless steel (not pictured here, but found on a couple bars within this guide). Stainless offers a similar (arguably better) feeling to bare steel, but without the oxidation. It’s by and far the best feeling of any of these options, but also the most expensive. Read reviews on bars with finishes you’re interested in to see what people think of the feel.
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