Comparing the Best Olympic Weightlifting Bars

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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.

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Clean with Olympic Bar

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

Finish

The finish, or outer coating, applied to a bar makes a difference in its durability, tackiness, rust resistance, and how well it holds chalk.

Hard Chrome
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.

Black Oxide
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.

Stainless Steel
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. 

Center Knurling

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.

Knurl Feel

 

Rotation

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.

Ring Markings

ring mark in knurlingEvery 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.

  Get Rx’d
Stealth
York 32110 Intek 3NBR  Strencor
Evolution
Rep Gladiator
           
Shaft 28mm 28mm 28.5mm 28mm 28mm
Finish  Black Zinc or
Hard Chrome
 Hard Chrome  Hard Chrome  Bright Zinc Hard Chrome
PSI  209,000  150,000  200,000  209,000  230,000
Rotation  8 Bearings, 2 Bushings  Bearings  8 Bearings  4 Bearings, 2 Bushings  5 Bearings
Knurl Marks Dual Dual Dual Dual Dual
Center Knurl  No  No  No  No  No
Knurl Feel  Medium  Soft  Medium  Soft-Medium  Medium
Price  $265.00  $280.00  $419.00  $179.00  249.00

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. 

  Eleiko  Sport Training York 32000 Uesaka Training Werksan Training Rogue Oly WL
   eleiko sport training bar  
 Uesaka Training Bar  werksan training bar  
Finish Chrome Chrome Nickel Chrome Chrome or Bright Zinc
PSI 215,000 195,000 ?? 205,000 190,000
Rotation 8 Bearings Bearings Dry Metal 10 Bearings 10 Bearings
Center Knurl Yes Yes No Yes Your Choice
Knurl Feel Medium Soft Soft Medium Medium
Price $729.00 $553.00 $899.00 $880.00 $525.00

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.

  Eleiko Uesaka Werksan
   eleiko comp bar
 uesaka comp bar
 werksan comp bar
Finish Chrome Nickel Chrome
PSI 215,000 ?? 205,000
Rotation 10 Bearings Dry Metal 10 Bearings
Center Knurl Yes Yes Yes
Knurl Feel Aggressive Soft Medium
Price $1,049 $999.00 $960.00

 


 

WOMEN’S AFFORDABLE BARS

in progress


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.

in progress

 


WOMEN’S WL COMPETITION BARS

in progress

 

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2 comments

  1. Richard Draper 8 September, 2016 at 08:02 Reply

    Very good information. I’m working out with a tentative muscle building goal. Not bodybuilding or any power lifting just toning and strength training. I’ve been shopping around and mostly just see weight test ratings. Rogue is the only bar I’ve seen with tensile strength rating.
    I imagine I won’t go higher than working out with about 250# on bench and squats.
    Should any retailer be able to quote the tensile strength of their bars?
    Any bar I purchase will definitely last me a lifetime so I’m looking to spend between $100 and $200.
    Is it possible to get a 190k to 200k bar for that price?

    • David Kiesling
      David Kiesling 9 September, 2016 at 11:58

      Good questions!

      All of our bars show the tensile strength (PSI). Other stores might not always have that info or understand that customers would like to know it. Any bar for around $100 will have such a low tensile strength that they might not know because it’s not a selling point at all. But anything more expensive nowadays should have it.

      You should be able to find something in your price range. This article about bars under $200 is geared towards olympic lifting bars, but they’re good for your purposes too.
      https://blog.adamantbarbell.com/698/best-olympic-bar-under-200/

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