Which barbell to buy?
This article discusses the attributes spin, knurling, whip, sleeve length, diameter and coating for a barbell and outlines some recommendations. If you want a deep dive on specific products to read which barbell to buy from Rogue.
What is your why
Before we go into the details of which barbell to buy, let me ask you a couple of questions:
Why do you want to buy a barbell
Why do you want to get stronger
Why do you want to build muscle
What happens when you do
What happens if you don’t
These questions will make all the difference to your long term success. Sitting down and reflecting on this will make you more focused on why you train and how to keep doing it. The key to reaching your goals is consistency. Most people drop out of the race when it gets hard. If you stay in you win by default. Many people go about their lives in this fashion:
What do I want
How do I get it
Why do I want it
If you focus on what you want you are setting yourself up for failure. What you want changes hundreds of times a day. If you keep following your impulses you will get nowhere but fat and disappointed. Something interesting happens when you flip the running order on their head:
Why do you want something
How do you get it
What needs to be done
This way you will focus on what matters to you. Your actions and thoughts will become more connected to a common goal. If you want to know how this works on a psychological basis read Daniel Kahneman's thinking fast and slow. Simon Sinek's TED talk on the golden circle will change your life if you have not seen yet.
One attribute you will check with a barbell is the whip. Whip describes how likely the bar is to bend a little under load. This is especially good for the Olympic lifts. The whip can help you with some extra momentum which makes the entire movement easier. If the bar has no whip it is harder to make the change direction during the lift.
For powerlifters, the whip can help to make the lifts easier too. For the deadlift, a bar with a great whip can help to have to pull less far as it bends up when you pull. For the bench press and squat whip might not be a good idea.
The knurling on a bar describes how aggressive the metal will eat into your skin. This sounds bad at first and is a good thing when you want to hold on to something that is very heavy.
If you buy barbells fro a commercial gym you might want to go for more neutral knurling. You want to avoid that your average joe and the soccer moms wreck their hands while training. That is not good for business.
If you have professional powerlifters and weightlifters around, or you are a dedicated weekend warrior, look into something with more aggressive knurling. It makes it easier to hold onto a heavyweight.
The sleeves are parts at the end of the barbell are the sleeves. Sleeve length is usually standardized, however, some barbells come with a longer sleeve. The most extreme example of this would be the Rogue Elephant Bar used at the Arnold.
A longer sleeve is especially interesting when you already have a lot of bumper plates and do not want to swap all your weights. As you progress to become a better lifter, bumper plates will take up a lot of real estate on the bar. You can either get a new set of plates or try to get a barbell with a longer sleeve. The longer sleeve might come in cheaper as swapping all your plates. Another solution can be to get 50kg plates.
Most barbells have a diameter of 28mm to 29mm. There are some differences between them but not a lot. The main point about the diameter is to check what you would compete in. Get that diameter for your gym.
There are different coatings for barbells out there. Again it does not make a huge difference to your lifts and strength. Knurling and whip make more of a difference in those. The coating relates More to how long your barbell will stay free of corrosion and how much maintenance you have to put in.
Cerakote is low maintenance but gets easily scratched by metal. Check whether you have the right bumpers to train with them. Avoid steel plates with this coating. It also gives more options to apply to different designs.
Chrome and steel do better with steel plates but are more susceptible to corrosion. The next level down in quality is zinc.
All of these coatings will last for you for years, especially if you are the only user of the bar. If the bar is being used in a gym you might want to be a bit more attention to quality.
Spin is determined by how the sleeves of the bar are attached to the shaft. A standard barbell usually has the capability to spin around its own axis. Most barbells either use bushing or bearing to create the spin. Bushing is of higher quality and more expensive. Weightlifters will appreciate good spin while orbits not as important for powerlifting.
Barbells for men and women
Another decision to make is whether you want to purchase a barbell for women or men. The dimensions differ slightly and the female version of the standard barbell comes in at 15kg weight. The male version will put 20kg on the scale.
A well-rounded barbell has a decent whip, not too aggressive knurling and a reasonable price tag. Good quality can be had at 300USD. They usually have bearing instead of the bushing and therefore spin not as good. A good example is the Rogie Ohio bar.
Weightlifting barbells have a more aggressive knurling and a good whip. They also use bushing over bearing for a good spin. All factors combined this makes weightlifting barbells the rolls Royce of bars. This is the reflected in the price tag which reaches from 500 to 1000 USD a piece. Good examples are Rogue weightlifting bar and Eleiko models which are often used in the Olympics.
Powerlifting barbells do not need a lot of spin. Aggressive knurling and stiffer metal are desirable as you will load them heavier than weightlifting barbells.
There are several specialty bars out there which are not standard barbells. Some examples are
These are often bespoke to a specific purpose. Unless you are very committed to the strength you do not have a need. They are definitely not your first purchase unless you get your first barbell for free or as a gift.