NOTE: This is for olympic weightlifting bars that are best for doing the clean and the snatch. For powerlifting bars for deadlifts, squats and bench press, see the powerlifting bars comparison. Or learn about the difference between the two.
Olympic weightlifting bars are used frequently at olympic lifting gyms, Crossfit boxes, the Olympic Games or anywhere that lifters may be doing olympic lifts. They are made to be springy at high loads to facilitate explosiveness, prevent a high shock load for the lifter, and absorb the shock of being dropped.
The knurling further down the bar should extend to the end of the shaft to accommodate tall users with the maximum width snatch grip, but this isn’t the case on all bars.
Weightlifting bars typically have:
- More Flexible Steel to facilitate the whip desired for heavy cleans
- High Tensile Strength Steel to hold up under many drops onto a platform.
- Snap Rings or Roll Pins to secure the sleeves and prevent them from ever coming loose.
- No Center Knurling on training bars so it doesn’t scratch the front of your neck during cleans. The competition bars are required to have center knurling as per IWF spec.
- Soft Knurling on training bars so it can slide in your hands during the transition from the pull to the catch, and also not tear up your hands during lots of pulls. Competition bars may have deeper knurling.
- 910mm Spaced Ring Marks
- 28mm Shaft for a good pulling grip (or 25mm for women’s bars). Compare to other bars that are 29-32mm.
- Needle Bearings for sensitive spin
UNDERSTANDING THE CHARTS
The finish, or outer coating, applied to a bar makes a difference in its durability, tackiness, rust resistance, and how well it holds chalk.
Chrome plating looks nice and wears well from repeated banging on a rack. All of the bars we sell, including our standard 1″ bars, and virtually all of the high quality bars sold today elsewhere, have a hard chrome finish rather than decorative chrome. The cracking and flaking chrome you might see on old bars might be decorative chrome. Hard chrome has the lowest level of corrosion resistance in any finishes, other than bare steel (ie: no finish). The smoothness of chrome makes it slippery when your hands get sweaty, even over good knurling. Chrome can sort of get a bad rep because most of the economy 300lb weight sets include a cheap chrome bar which might be made with decorative chrome. And the last thing about chrome is it does NOT hold chalk very well in comparison to all the other finishes.
This is a thin coating that feels almost like bare steel. It’s thin enough that it doesn’t fill in any of the depth of the knurling like chrome or zinc plating does. It also gives a better grip than chrome. And it helps prevent rust (anti-corrosion), but the anti-corrosion properties of black oxide are activated by oil, so you have to oil it once in a while. It scratches more easily than other finishes, so a bar used in a rack will immediately show signs of use from the metal-on-metal contact. It can also wear off simply from the abrasion of your hands against it.
Bright or Black Zinc
Like black oxide, it provides a good grip and prevents corrosion without the need to oil it as much. Zinc plating has a certain thickness to it, so it does fill in the knurling slightly like chrome does, making the knurling softer. Zinc itself is a bright silverish color and the black coating is actually applied over the bright zinc.
Not a finish, but a type of steel. Stainless steel is easily the most resistant to rust, and you get a good grip on the steel bar even with sweaty hands.
Bare Steel (Raw)
These develop a light brown patina over time. Patina is actually rust, but it’s a non-active rust and won’t eat away at the steel. It actually is like a coating that protects the steel from active rust. And it clings to the steel really well, so there’s no danger of getting it rubbed off onto your hands and eventually in your eyes or an open wound. Anyway, some people prefer the feel of bar steel bars.
All finishes can eventually start rusting with exposure to enough moisture (sweat) that you don’t wipe off, and if you don’t apply oil to the surface to protect it, but it can take a while.
Diameter / Thickness
Not to be confused with the size of the sleeve where the weights go, which is always 50mm (1.97″) on a high quality bar. We’re talking about the shaft that you grip. For the optimal grip, 28mm is the best size for men’s bars, and 25mm for women’s bars.
PSI / Tensile Strength
The strength of the steel, measured in PSI, pounds per square inch. With a given bar diameter, this serves as a comparison of how much force can be applied before a bar breaks or bends permanently. The higher the number, the stronger it is. Another factor, yield strength, helps determine how much a bar can flex without suffering a permanent bend, but not all manufacturers have those numbers available, and some of them confuse the two terms, so we just give one number.
All bars have knurling over most of the length of the shaft. Some bars have a section of about six to nine inches of knurling in the center of the bar, while others are smooth in that area.
The IWF spec calls for center knurling as a throwback to when they did one-handed snatches, gripping in the center, but nowadays it’s useless for olympic lifting, and many lifters don’t like it because it scratches their necks during cleans. If there is any center knurling it’s at least pretty soft.
How sensitively and easily the sleeves spin is very important for olympic lifts so you can transition between the pull and the catch without tweaking your wrists.
Manufacturers like Eleiko have settled on up to 10 needle bearings per sleeve for their very best competition bars.
Fewer bearings will reduce the spin, as will a combination of bushings and bearings.
The bottom line is a bar with any bearings at all spins very nicely by most people’s standards.
Every bar has a 1/4″ wide smooth mark in the knurling where you place your hands. IWF spaced markings are spaced for olympic weightlifting and are 910mm apart. Lifters grip in various spots depending on their body size, but the knurl marks at least provide a reference point to help them guide their hands into the right spot for them.
In recent years, many manufacturers have added IPF 810mm spaced marks as well, for a pair of “dual” marks 5cm away from each other. They just help you position your hands consistently. That’s all there is to it.
MEN’S BAR COMPARISON CHARTS
I’ve divided these up into 3 charts:
- $$ Affordable Bearing Bars
Most popular, for 99% of athletes
- $$$ WL Training Bars
$500+ bars just a hair below competition-quality
- $$$$ IWF Certified WL Competition Bars
The best in the world!
MEN’S AFFORDABLE BEARING BARS
These bars are in the most popular price range of $200-400 and are suitable for beginner and advanced athletes alike.
These all spin on sensitive needle bearings, have medium or soft knurling to allow plenty of training, and have either only IWF spaced knurl marks or dual knurl IWF/IPF marks. They are a significant step above many “all purpose” bars that spin on bushings.
|York 32110||Intek 3NBR||Strencor
|Finish|| Black Zinc or
|Hard Chrome||Hard Chrome||Bright Zinc||Hard Chrome|
|Rotation||8 Bearings, 2 Bushings||Bearings||8 Bearings||4 Bearings, 2 Bushings||5 Bearings|
Too pricey? Check out our Best Olympic Bar Under $200 article.
MEN’S WL TRAINING BARS
Strict 28mm shaft diameter. These have soft to medium knurling, to facilitate plenty of training at sub-max weights without tearing up your hands. Some have fewer bearings than competition bars, so the sleeves might not spin quite as delicately as competition bars. Even so, it’s pretty close.
|York 32000||Uesaka Training||Werksan Training||Rogue Oly WL|
|Finish||Chrome||Chrome||Nickel||Chrome||Chrome or Bright Zinc|
|Rotation||8 Bearings||Bearings||Dry Metal||10 Bearings||10 Bearings|
|Center Knurl||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Your Choice|
MEN’S IWF CERTIFIED WL COMPETITION BARS
Below are the absolute BEST olympic weightlifting bars you can get, made with all the best parts, to extremely precise specs down to the millimeter and milligram, to ensure that no athlete is being cheated during a competition.
These bars spin entirely on needle bearings, have strict 28mm shafts, IWF knurl marks, and are IWF certified for use in competitions.
Some comp bars have more aggressive knurling than their training bar counterparts above.
|Rotation||10 Bearings||Dry Metal||10 Bearings|
WOMEN’S AFFORDABLE BARS
WOMEN’S WL TRAINING BARS
All women’s bars have a 25mm diameter shaft with IWF spaced ring marks, no center knurling, and are about 6ft long.
WOMEN’S WL COMPETITION BARS