So you want a good barbell, but you’re conflicted as to what type to get.
The two main types of bars are power bars (also called powerlifting bars) and olympic weightlifting bars. Weightlifting bars might also be called olympic bars, or “oly bars” for short. Just to confuse things, “olympic bar” might mean anything. When someone says it, maybe they mean a weightlifting bar, or maybe they mean any bar with 2″ diameter rotating sleeves that will take olympic weights. Who knows. It depends on the context.
FYI: “barbell” and “bar” usually mean the exact same thing. Back in the ancient days, when you had only fixed-weight barbells with those round heads, they were barbells. Then came the adjustable ones, composed of the weights and the bar. So the bar sort of becomes a barbell when it’s loaded with weight, but really it’s often called a barbell whether it’s loaded or not. A barbell, after all, is more than just a steel bar shaft straight from the steel mill. It’s got shoulders, sleeves, bushings, knurling, etc.
Power Bars are meant for the “big 3” powerlifting lifts: back squat, bench press and deadlift. These lifts are what powerlifting competitions are all about. But over the years they have also been embraced as good lifts for pretty much anyone to do, over a wide range of goals and training styles, so power bars are what you’ll see at commercial gyms and lots of other places.
There are also extra-long deadlift bars that are another special type of bar.
Power bars, or powerlifting bars, feature:
Stiff Steel to faciliate slow, controlled movements with minimal whip action
Center Knurling to keep friction on your back for squats
Aggressive/Deep Knurling for a no-slip grip
810mm Spaced Ring Markings
Thicker 29mm-32mm Shaft to be more comfortable for bench presses and squats
Steel or Brass Bushings to allow some spin
High Tensile Strength (180,000+ PSI) to withstand being slammed on a rack
Weightlifting Bars used to be seen mainly in specialized olympic lifting gyms. No longer! When Crossfit got big, manufacturers started producing more of these for all the athletes who started learning that olympic lifts were the way to go. The olympic lifts are the snatch and the clean-and-jerk, both lifts ending with the bar held overhead. You’ve seen those lifts performed at the Olympic Games.
These bars have:
More Flexible Steel to facilitate the whip desired for heavy cleans
No Center Knurling so it doesn’t scratch the front of your neck during cleans.
Soft or Medium Knurling on training bars so the bar can slide in your transition from the pull to the catch. However, competition level weightlifting bars have more aggressive knurling to help you complete that single rep and kick everyone’s ass.
910mm Spaced Ring Markings
Thinner 28mm-28.5mm Shaft for a good pulling grip (or 25mm for women’s bars)
Roller Bearings on the high-end bars for sensitive spin so you can transition your wrists to catch it in rack position on your shoulders.
Weightlifting bars are used for the snatch and clean-and-jerk.
Power bars are used for the deadlift, squat, and bench press.
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