Olympic Bar Comparison
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All at a low 60,000 PSI tensile strength. The GOB-72 is the only 6ft bar that will fit an olympic width rack.
POWERLIFTING / BODYBUILDING BARS
MEN'S WEIGHTLIFTING BARS(and hybrid bars also listed above)
WOMEN'S 25MM WEIGHTLIFTING BARS
LIGHTWEIGHT WEIGHTLIFTING TECHNIQUE BARS
TYPES OF BARS
Any of these 7ft bars can be called an “olympic” bar, as they have 2” diameter sleeves (actually 1 31/32”) to take olympic plates, but there is a difference between an Olympic Weightlifting Bar and a Powerlifting Bar.
Economy Bars – The cheap ones. Made in China. Not very strong. Good enough for beginner or casual lifting at home. They may bend or break easily if you drop them hard on the floor or rack. The easy way to tell if it’s a cheap bar is the sleeve is bolted on as shown at right. The allen bolt often loosens and can break or bend from a shock load.
The below two categories are bars are made from higher tensile strength steel. The sleeves are secured with an external pin or internal snap ring (either is good) rather than the bolt of an economy bar that may come loose or break. They are often USA-made.
Powerlifting Bars– Also called "power bars," these are good choices for bodybuilding, powerlifting or general weight training. These bars tend to be on the stiffer side to keep the wobble at a minimum during heavy squats and bench presses. The knurling is fairly deep for a solid grip. Center knurling is added to keep the bar from slipping off your back during heavy squats. A 29mm shaft is regulation size, but in casual lifting it varies, and a 28mm bar with deep knurling like the Texas Power Bar is popular for a killer deadlift grip.
Men's Weightlifting Bars – Weightlifting is the Olympic Games sport and also part of Crossfit. It involves two exercises, the snatch and the clean-and-jerk. These bars 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 tensile strength (PSI) is lower than powerlifting bars so that it isn't too stiff. They have a 28mm shaft for a good pulling grip. The knurling is soft so you can slide your grip enough during cleans. The IWF spec calls for center knurling as a throwback to when they did one-handed snatches, but many lifters don't like it because it scratches their necks during cleans, so if there is any center knurling it's at least pretty soft such as on York bars. The knurling further down the bar should extend to the end of the shaft to accommodate tall users with the maximum width snatch grip. Competition level bars use needle bearings in the sleeves for ultra-sensitive rotation, but bushings are suitable for most people.
Women's Weightlifting Bars - Similar in some ways to a men's weightlifting bar. The thinner shaft accommodates women's smaller hands, and at 15kg/33lbs it offers a lower starting weight for beginners than the men's 20kg/44lb bars. Because of the thinner steel they have to be made well to hold up to drops.
Lightweight Weightlifting Technique Bars - These 5ft or 6ft weightlifting technique bars are about the same 51" length between the inside collars, or the part you grip, as the above bars. They are meant for learning exercises with a lower starting weight. They are aluminum or hollow steel and won't take a pounding.
To avoid confusion for people who are just skimming this article and aren’t aware that Weightlifting is a technical term, and considering the fact that some people also call Weightlifting bars "olympic bars" to differentiate them from powerlifting bars (even though I say above that you can call all of them olympic bars), much of this article will simply say whether a bar is good for doing cleans.
ATTRIBUTES OF A BAR
Grade - For power bars. This is a rough classification and open to debate, but here's how we define it:
Level - For weightlifting bars.
Finish - The finish applied to a bar makes a difference in the durability of a bar and how tacky/grippy it feels.
Diameter – Not to be confused with the size of the sleeve where the weights go, which is always about 50mm (2") on a high quality bar. We're talking about the shaft that you grip. A shaft diameter of 28-28.5mm (1 1/16”) is perfect for pulling motions like cleans or deadlifts, especially to get a hook grip for cleans. 29mm (1 1/8”) or thicker is good for bench presses, and 30-32mm ( 1 1/4”) for squats. 28-29mm is a common size for a general purpose bar. A larger diameter also means less spring, so anything over 28mm diameter isn't as good for cleans. Women and people with smaller hands will want a smaller diameter bar, 25mm or 28mm.
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.
Static Test - The static test strength is what you see sometimes advertised as the “capacity” or "weight limit" of a bar, such as 1200lb, 1500lb, etc. What, you don't see this in the chart above? That's right, we removed them. They don't mean anything. The numbers are determined different ways by different manufacturers. It doesn’t mean it will hold up to anyone loading 1500lbs on it and dropping it badly (if they were theoretically even able to lift such a weight). It's a static rating. The manufacturer determines it by perhaps loading the bar to 1500 lbs and seeing if it has a permanent bend in a few hours, or using a machine to press on the center of the bar with 1500 lbs of force, or who knows. They all may do it differently. Remember that the dynamic force is much greater during heavy cleans or heavy squats due to the high torque from momentum reversal. And when a bar is dropped on a rack or the floor it can incur quite a shock load that is very difficult to estimate, depending on how evenly it ws dropped. So even though I know you're looking for this number to compare the strength of bars, don't fall for it. It's a number used by companies who are trying to mislead you. If you want to know the strength of the bar, take a look at the PSI and the diameter. The thicker it is and the denser it is, the stronger it is. If you want a relatively strong bar, get one that we rate as Commercial quality.
Spring – Also called whip or flex. This is highly desirable for cleans. You can roughly determine this from the PSI and bar diameter, but the carbon content of the steel also makes a difference, so there's no formula you can nail it down with. But generally speaking, a 28mm or 28.5mm bar between 120,000 and 170,000 PSI will have some good spring. A PSI under that range is pretty weak steel prone to bending permanently rather than flexing, and a PSI above that range may or may not start to get a little stiff. At light weights when you're learning the movement, the shock absorption of the spring is only noticeable when you do a power clean and do a bad high-impact catch on your shoulders. For slow power lifts, the spring is noticeable when the bar is loaded maybe over 300 lbs. Powerlifting bars are usually thicker than 28mm, so they have less spring. But again an exception is the Texas Power Bar, which is 28.5mm but is pretty stiff.
Rotation - Bushings or bearings inside of the sleeves serve to reduce friction and make the sleeves spin freely. Bushings are the most common and are appropriate for the most majority of poeple and even professional powerlifters. Bearings allow for an even smoother and sensitive spin (it will start spinning easier), but they are more expensive and are usually only desired by elite olympic weightlifters. We don't recommend you get a bearing bar unless you know that's what you want or you're really curious. Bearings in the past tended to not last as many years as bushings, or they would need more frequent oiling to keep the spin smooth. Nowadays many are sealed in and shouldn't ever require extra oil. One consideration is if you slam the bar down into a vertical bar rack (used for storage), you may damage bearings, whereas bushings can take the impact.
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. Center knurling is primarily for heavy squats, to keep the bar from slipping down your back, but it's also useful for some other exercises. Center knurling is usually undesirable for cleans because it can scratch your neck during the catch if the knurling is too deep or your form isn't good. But it doesn't matter for snatches, and the IWF specifications for men's bars have center knurling, so that's why York's men's bars all have center knurling. There's also the issue of how deep the knurling is. Deep knurling is sometimes preferred for deadlifts due to the superior grip. For anything else a medium knurl is best. The Troy AOB-2000B Texas Power Bar is currently our only bar with very deep knurling.
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