Olympic vs Standard Weights
So you’re not sure what to go with, olympic or standard weights. Here’s everything you need to know.
First, the Bars
Standard weights are often found in home gyms. What you’ll see right away is olympic bars are thicker on the ends. But that’s actually just one of many differences.
Standard bars are exactly 1″ in diameter throughout the whole length (besides the shoulders that stop the weight plates). They are made to take standard weight plates.
Standard bars weigh 13 to 19 lbs or so. That’s for solid steel ones. Special “cardio” bars are hollow, only 5 lbs, and are not meant to take much weight.
Olympic bars are just short of 2″ diameter on the ends (actually 1 31/32″, or 50mm). As such, they will only take olympic weight plates, which have 2″ diameter holes. These actually can also be divided up into olympic weightlifting and powerlifting bars, but they are often just called olympic bars.
Olympic 7ft bars are supposed to weight 45 lbs or 44 lbs (20kg). There are cheaper 7ft bars that weigh less. Shorter olympic bars, 5ft or 6ft, may weigh as little as 29 lbs. “Technique” bars are hollow or aluminum and a good choice for sticking with olympic weights but at a low starting weight as low as 10 lbs.
Both types can come in a variety of styles, like grip holes and rubber coating.
Both types are generally all made of the same cast iron, other than the solid rubber olympic bumper plates, and then covered with a baked-on enamel paint or a rubber or urethane coating.
Typical standard plates are the “pancake” shaped plates with rounded edges, consisting of these sizes: 1.25lb, 2.5lb, 5lb, 10lb, 12.5lb, 20lb, 25lb, 50lb. The holes are just over 1″ diameter to fit on a standard bar.
Olympic plates come in pound or kilogram sizes, but in the US most are converted roughly from kilogram sizes to pounds. 1 kg = 2.2 lb.
This is why olympic plates come in strange sizes like 25, 35 and 45lb.
Plate Diameter and Thickness
With the way standard plates come in the smooth pancake shape, along with their smaller holes, they are the thinnest style.
STANDARD PANCAKE PLATE EXAMPLE SIZES
|1.25 lb||3 15/16″||7/16″|
|2.5 lb||4 15/16″||9/16″|
|5 lb||6 7/16″||11/16″|
|7.5 lb||7 7/16″||3/4″|
|10 lb||8 3/16″||13/16″|
|12.5 lb||8 15/16″||7/8″|
|20 lb||9 7/8″||1 1/8″|
|25 lb||11 3/8″||1 1/16″|
|50 lb||14 1/2″||1 3/16″|
Olympic plates will vary in diameter and thickness. Here are the dimensions of the thinnest iron olympic plates available with small rims that make them closest in shape to standard plates:
THIN OLYMPIC PLATE EXAMPLE SIZES
Olympic Weights Advantages
Standard bars will start flexing pretty severely somewhere over 200 lbs and will likely develop a permanent bend. In contrast, even cheap olympic bars can take more than that, and high quality olympic bars are made with good steel to hold up to just about any normal use. They will flex under load but will return to straight.
Certain models of olympic weights are quality controlled for precise weight. A small inaccuracy isn’t likely to matter much with a single plate, but with several plates loaded on one side of a bar, those differences can add up, throwing off your numbers or even the balance of the weight on each side. It’s nice to be able to have an accurate log from one day to the next of how much you’re really lifting.
Olympic bars are thicker and heavier on the ends and are much more difficult to tip over due to unbalanced weight when loading heavy plates while the bar is racked. You can easily load a 45lb plate without worrying about it tipping, whereas on a standard bar, good luck.
- No Torque
Olympic bars have revolving ends, or sleeves, so that there is no added torque while performing certain exercises such as snatches or cleans where the bar needs to rotate quickly.
It helps for other movements where your grip will just slightly want to rotate – though you may not realize it – as your position changes during the range of motion.
- Rack compatibility
Power racks and olympic width bench racks are made to take 7ft bars. They’re about 48″ wide, and olympic 7ft bars have shafts about 52″ long, so they fit with enough room to spare. Standard bars in most prepackaged weight sets are only 5 ft or 6 ft long and are not going to fit on these.
The middle portion of the bar, or shaft, is a slightly larger diameter on olympic bars. A standard bar is typically 25mm (1″ exactly), while olympic bars can range from 28mm (1.1″) to 32mm (1.25″). There are also special 25mm women’s bars.
- Bar Options
There are power lifting bars and weightlifting bars, to be geared towards certain exercises, with different knurling patterns, different steel, different finishes, more sensitive rotation, etc.
- Plate Options
Bumper plates are solid rubber, all the same diameter, and are made for dropping. Bumper plates are only made in olympic sizes. Olympic plates also have the best variety of other types like grip holes and urethane or rubber coatings. See our guide to different types of olympic weight plates.
Standard Weights Advantages
Standard bars are more cheaply made and are lighter to ship. The weight plates cost about the same as olympic for basic cast iron models that aren’t calibrated or machined.
- Light Weight
Lighter bars mean a lighter starting weight for people new to lifting weights. However, you can get lighter and/or shorter olympic bars for this purpose.
- Adjustable Dumbbell Handles
Most standard dumbbell handles (14″) are shorter than olympic (18″). The 18″ are a bit long, such as when you’re doing presses and want to clink the ends together at the top of each rep. Or you’ll hit yourself in the head if you’re not careful. The 14″ are significantly easier to use and can hold up to about 80 lbs each, using 10lb plates. So it isn’t unusual for people who use entirely olympic weights to get a set of standard dumbbell handles and plates to use with them.
- Spin-Lock Collars
Also called star lock collars. Some Standard bars come with threaded sleeves to accommodate spin-lock collars to secure the plates, rather than the traditional collars that slide on and lock in place by compression. Spin lock collars on long bars are not fun, because they take a moment to spin all the way on and off. On dumbbell handles as above, they make more sense, because they aren’t going to fall off all of a sudden from slipping just a little bit. That’s nice when you have them over your face and want to feel safe. Note that all standard bars use the same standard plates, whether they are sliding onto a threaded bar or not.
Olympic weights are by far the most commonly used by gyms, pro athletes, powerlifters, bodybuilders, high schools, colleges and universities, as well as a large number of casual home users. It’s the way to go if you’re unsure.
However, group classes using light barbells, such as BodyPump and RIP all use standard weights. See the cardio barbells for the special 4.5ft standard bar they use that is only 5 lbs, as well as rubber coated plates.
The whole reason they’re called olympic is because they are the type used in the Olympic Games for the “clean and jerk” and the “snatch”, the two olympic weightlifting competition lifts. Nowadays most athletes perform those two lifts with bumper plates, which are olympic plates made with solid rubber instead of iron (though with a steel hub), to help cushion the blow when dropped from overhead. So bumper plates are one type of olympic plate, but everything else with 2″ holes are still considered olympic plates too.
In a perfect world, all olympic plates and bars would be the same size and would work together perfectly. That isn’t always the case.
You can’t really fit a 2″ rod into a 2″ hole. Good olympic bars have 50mm (1 31/32″) sleeves. The center holes in good olympic plates are just slightly larger than 50mm, such as 50.4mm or 50.8mm (exactly 2″).
But what happened at some point was manufacturers started making olympic plates with holes a little larger than 2″. That way plates with casting defects in the holes would still fit the bars, or bars with bad sleeve sizing would still take the plates. York still does this today. So they have a very sloppy fit, which is annoying for any type of lift you do off the floor, such as deadlifts, cleans or snatches, because you have to pull the slack out.
This is kind of a chicken-or-egg situation, so I don’t know exactly how it happened, but at about the same time, cheaper bar manufacturers started making their bar sleeves 2″ diameter, maybe because they decided to round up to 2″ and didn’t understand it was supposed to be 50mm, a little less than 2″. That worked out fine for their own weight sets, but then customers wanted to fit higher quality “snug” plates on the cheap bar and found they were so tight they got stuck.
Most plates we sell, and the olympic bars, are made for a snug fit. One exception is our “Economy” plates that are clearly described on the product page as being a more sloppy fit than normal. York plates also all have a sloppy fit. For any of these, we’re talking about a good 1/8″ to 1/4″ of slop. Other brands, including Troy, Intek, etc, are all snug. York’s bars actually are made very precisely to 50mm. It’s just their plates that are made larger.
Other fitness equipment retailers are often ignorant of this whole issue and just assume olympic is olympic, and they get confused if you try to tell them the fit is too sloppy or too tight on the equipment you bought from them. This is why it’s important to do your shopping with a company that understands what they sell.
Have you run into situations where plates didn’t fit? Share your comments below!