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August 31, 2020
With bumper plate options more than covered across the Internet, I figured it was time to tackle the options for standard weight plates, coated plates, and powerlifting discs. In this guide I’ll cover multiple styles, numerous brands, and offer up enough product examples for you to be able to evaluate any brand or style of plate you happen to stumble upon in your quest for iron.
If you know of a good set of plates not listed here, feel free to comment. We don’t so much need to hear about any more of the cheap plates though. If I listed every VTX, Weider, and X-Mark plate on the market this page would crash your browser.
Purchasing basic, cast iron plates is the cheapest way to load up on weight plates in a gym. Cast iron can be had new for as little as ~$1 a pound; both in chain stores and online. Make some effort to find them used and you can pay as little as $.50 per pound.
Whether you buy new or used you’ll want to keep one thing in mind, cheap cast Iron plates are known to be wildly inaccurate. Some of the cheaper brands and styles can deviate from the stated weight by 5-10%; brands like CAP Barbell for instance. Matter of fact, these kind of inaccuracies are going to be hard to avoid unless you upgrade to machined plates.
Online prices are competitive, but you generally still have to pay for shipping for all but the shittiest of plates. This is what makes at least checking the box stores appealing. If you do plan to buy cast iron plates in a local store you absolutely must bring a scale with you. It’s unlikely that you’ll find plates that are the stated weight, but you can at least try to make sure that each pair of plates you buy are the same weight. It seems better to have a pair of 47-lb plates than a 41-lb and a 48.5-lb plate, right?
While still not accurate enough to be considered ‘precise’, non-calibrated, machined plates tend to be far more accurate than the cheap plates from the previous section. Machining or milling plates leads to a more refined product. The final weight is easier to control, as are tolerances to both the center hole and overall diameter.
If you’re not willing to drop the cash for calibrated powerlifting discs, but you would still like to have a fairly good idea of how much weight you’re lifting while knowing both sides of the bar are balanced, machined plates are the way to go. Expect a 2% accuracy with machined plates. Here are some brand and pricing examples.
Again I strongly suggest you buy machined plates versus simple cast iron if you take your lifting seriously. The price difference isn’t that much (if you avoid Ivanko) considering that you get a pretty solid level of accuracy and a refined surface texture that’s far less likely to damage the sleeve finish and/or cut your hands.
Calibrated, Professional IPF Powerlifting Discs
IPF-style, steel powerlifting plates are machine calibrated to very tight weight tolerances; typically to within about 10 grams of stated weight. They have a precise 50 mm opening, a much slimmer profile than basic cast iron plates, and they are painted according to the IPF coloring scheme. Most calibrated plates on the market are in kilograms, but Rogue Fitness was kind enough to offer these in pounds as well.
Pricing for calibrated, certified plates is obviously going to be more than what you’d pay for non-calibrated, machined plates. Needless to say it’s a whole lot more than what you’d pay for simple cast iron. Don’t expect much in the way of savings for buying sets unless you buy massive sets (400 kg or more.) Vulcan and Strongarm Sport have the best prices, and they both utilize the calibration plugs for increased accuracy.
There is a slight lack of consistency among the different brands when it comes to the size of the plates. All 25 kg plates are 450 mm in diameter and about 26-27 mm thick, but 20 kg plates can be either 400 mm or 450 mm depending on brand. Titex has smaller diameter 20 kg plates, while the others maintain the 450 mm on 20 kg plates. If you ask me, the 20 and 25 kg plates being the same diameter is best.
Generally considered more of a commercial gym product, coated plates are becoming more commonplace in home/garage gyms. People tend to like them because of the handles (they are easy to move around and use for random exercises), the lack of rust issues versus iron, and the fact that are just nice looking. While more expensive than simple cast iron, they are still more affordable than calibrated discs, and they do last a long time.
Technically speaking, urethane is a better and longer lasting material than rubber. It is also more expensive. If your plates are stored indoors and not exposed to the elements, there is probably no need to pay for urethane over rubber. Also, keep in mind that coated plates are not bumper plates.
When it comes to coated plates, there are really nice options and super shitty options. Just about every box-store manufacturer makes rubber-coated discs; CAP, Body Solid, X-Mark, and Troy’s non-commercial division (VTX and Troy USA); among many others. Just like the economy cast iron plates, accuracy is crap on the cheap coated plates. Save your money.
My best advice would be to avoid anything in the CAP price range or below unless you can somehow weigh out the discs prior to purchase. I can think of no situation in where it would be acceptable to have weights with tolerances in excess of 10%, and I can’t even begin to imagine being okay with having trash like that in your own gym for your own personal use. I mean talk about not valuing your training.
In terms of brands and value, Rogue has fair prices and highly accurate options in almost every plate style imaginable. Ivanko produces comparable equipment to Rogue, but at one heck of a premium. Troy’s commercial line is also solid for both steel and coated plates, but also expensive. Vulcan has great prices on their coated plates and calibrated discs. Never ignore Vulcan!
Again, if you’re going to go with simple cast iron, try to find them used before buying them new. If you end up having to pay for brand new, opt for machined plates. Price difference is minimal, but quality and accuracy is night and day.