Olympic vs. Standard Weights

So you're not sure what to go with, Olympic or Standard weights. Here's everything you need to know.

Standard weights are often found in home gyms. The most basic difference is the bar diameter, or thickness. Both Olympic and Standard bars are about 1" diameter, or slightly more, in the middle section, but the bar diameter differs on the ends where you slide weights on.

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.

Standard bars are 1" in diameter on the ends, ie: the entire bar is about 1" diameter. They are made to take Standard weight plates with 1" holes. They will also take Olympic weight plates, but Olympic plates will fit loosely as their holes are larger. You can purchase Olympic Adapter Sleeves so that the Olympic weights fit snugly on the Standard bar, but usually people just buy an Olympic bar.

Olympic Weights Advantages

  • Strength - Standard bars will start bending somewhere over 200 lbs, whereas even cheap Olympic bars can take more than that, and high quality Olympic bars are made to hold up to just about anything.
  • Accuracy - 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. And it's nice to be able to have an accurate log from one day to the next of how much you're really lifting.
  • Stability. 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.
  • 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 even helps for curls.
  • Rack compatibility. Power racks and olympic width bench racks are made to take 7ft bars. Standard bars in most prepackaged weight sets are only 5 ft or 6 ft long.
  • Thickness - The middle portion of the bar, or shaft, is a slightly larger diameter on Olympic bars. A standard bar is typically 1", while Olympic bars can range from 25mm (1") to 32mm (1 1/4"). Some women like 25mm bars. Most men prefer 28mm or larger, depending on the exercise performed.
  • Bumper Plates - Bumper plates are generally only available in olympic. They are plates with a metal hub and several inches of rubber that can handle being dropped to the floor unlike iron plates, and they are all supposed to be the same 450mm (17.72") diameter, no matter the weight, so they can share the shockload. They are popular for CrossFit and other people doing deadlifts, snatches and cleans.
  • Other Options - Grip plates have built-in handles that make the plates much easier to carry safely. Rubber or urethane encased plates combat paint chipping, noise and rust. Olympic plates have the best variety of these options.

Standard Weights Advantages

  • Price - Standard bars are more cheaply made and are lighter to ship. The weight plates themselves cost about the same for basic cast iron models.
  • Light Weight - Lighter bars mean a lighter starting weight for people new to lifting weights.
  • Dumbbell Handles - Most Standard dumbbell handles (14") are shorter than Olympic (18"), and many people prefer shorter ones for dumbbell exercises.
  • 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 may not even be an advantage, as they take a moment to spin on and off a long bar, but some people like them, so it's worth mentioning. Note that whether spin-lock or not, all Standard bars use the same Standard plates.

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.


Olympic Lifting

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 weightlifting competition lifts. Nowadays most athletes perform those two lifts with bumper plates, which are plates with several inches of rubber over a metal hub, to help cushion the blow when dropped from overhead. So bumper plates are Olympic plates, but everything else with 2" holes are still considered Olympic plates too.


Notes on Quality

In a perfect world, all Olympic plates and bars would be the same size and would work together. That isn't always the case.

You can't fit a 2" rod into a 2" hole, so good Olympic bars have 50mm (1 31/32") sleeves, and 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 cheaper Olympic plates with holes a little larger than 2". That way plates with casting defects in the holes would still fit the bars. 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.

Making matters worse, because their plates were so loose, the manufacturers making these cheap plates didn't need to care about the bar sleeves being exactly 50mm, so they made the bar sleeves more like 2" and sold them with their plates in weight sets. That worked out fine until customers wanted to fit high-quality plates on the cheap bar and found they were so tight they would get stuck.

Nearly all the Olympic plates we sell on this website, and the olympic bars, are made for a snug fit and conform to the IWF (International Weightlifiting Federation, the organization that specifies the equipment used in the Olympic Games weightlifting competition) specs on size. The exception is our "economy" plates that are clearly described on the product page as being a more sloppy fit than normal. Other fitness equipment retailers are often ignorant of the 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.



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