What Is Barbell Knurling? (Benefits & Types Explained)

When we want to stump weightlifters, we ask them what barbell knurling is. Only the most advanced lifters can answer this question, but barbell knurling plays a vital role in your training.

If you're serious about lifting and building a home gym, you need to be familiar with barbell knurling. We'll go into more detail in the article below.

On a barbell, knurling is the crosshatch pattern where you place your grip. Knurling gives you something to grip on the barbell by providing more friction between the skin of your hands and the bar. 

Some lifters will notice that the knurling chews up your hands if they spend a lot of time lifting. But without it, you won't have a secure grip, and the barbell could easily slip out of your hands during a lift. That's a recipe for disaster. 

The center knurl on your barbell helps prevent the bar from slipping on your back while squatting. It also enables you to align the bar properly when lifting. 

Multi-purpose barbells have two sets of knurl markings, one for powerlifters and one for weightlifters. The inner set is powerlifting markers, showing the widest grip allowed for the bench press. The outer marks are weightlifting marks, showing the widest permitted grip in the snatch. The marks are 32″ and 36″ apart, respectively. 

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What Is Barbell Knurling? (Benefits & Types Explained)

Different Types Of Barbell Knurling

1. Passive Knurling 

There are a couple of different types of barbell knurling. The first type is a bit smoother and is commonly described as "passive." Passive knurling will have more cuts, but the cuts are finer and closer together. This provides the lifter with a decent grip, but there is less "digging" into the hands.

2. Aggressive Knurling 

There is also "aggressive knurling." Aggressive knurling essentially digs into your hands more. Aggressive knurling is definitely less comfortable, but it allows for a more locked-in grip. Competitive weightlifters and powerlifters tend to choose aggressive knurling. 

Everyone is different and will have their own personal preferences. Passive knurling will be more comfortable, but aggressive knurling offers performance benefits at the expense of comfort. 

3. Knurl Patterns  

In addition to the barbell knurling types, there are three different patterns of barbell knurling. They are hill, mountain, and volcano. 

Here's a quick breakdown of each style: 

  • Hill:
    Hill knurling is typically more passive. It's a cross-sectional pattern made up of flat-surfaced diamonds. Hill pattern knurling is excellent for beginners or someone who doesn't want their hands hardened by a sharper, more aggressive knurl. Hill knurling is on the lower end of the scale when it comes to extra grip on the bar. 
  • Mountain:
    Hill knurling is smooth, but mountain knurling is designed to have a "mountain peak" at the top of each point. This type of knurling is intended for experienced and serious lifters. It's very aggressive and will dig into your hands to provide tremendous grip benefits to the lifter.
  • Volcano:
    Volcano knurling is essentially a combination of hill knurling and mountain knurling. Volcano knurling has an etched diamond pattern, and the peak is either cut out or smoothed down. This still increases the grip for the user, but it's not as sharp, so it's much easier on the lifter's hands—the best of both worlds.
barbell knurling explained

Why Does Barbell Knurling Matter?  

When you start exercising with a barbell regularly, a couple of things will become very important very fast. The first is the grip you get on the bar. The heavier you lift, the more critical your grip will be.

You can effectively and safely perform movements like heavy deadlifts and rows if you can get a good grip on your bar. On the other hand, lifting hundreds of pounds on a bar you can't grip is ineffective and very dangerous.  

The next thing to consider is comfort when selecting your barbell. This is especially important to people putting together a home gym that will only have space for one barbell. Some lifters have different bars for different uses, but most home gym owners just want one bar they can use for everything.  

This is why barbell knurling is so essential. By selecting the right barbell knurling for your needs, you will achieve a decent grip, and it will be comfortable in your hands while you lift. But don't forget about center knurling.

The only thing worse than dropping your bar on a deadlift is having it slide off your back when you're squatting. Always look for a bar with a center knurling that is comfortable for you.

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different types of barbell knurling

Barbells With Center Knurl – Why Are They The Best?

Center barbell knurling helps prevent the barbell from slipping on your back while squatting. It will also help you properly align the bar before you lift. Like regular knurling, you should find a barbell with center knurling that is comfortable. 

Some barbell's center knurling will match the knurling grips. However, some barbells have a much more passive knurl in the center. It's okay for lifters to have cut and calloused hands, but no one wants to cut up their back.

A passive center knurl ensures the barbell won't easily slide off your back, but it won't leave any marks. Your skin won't be irritated, but you will still get the grip and alignment benefits you need from a center barbell knurl.  

Some movements like the barbell suitcase hold require you to grip the barbell in the middle. Without a center knurl, performing these moves will be a struggle, if not impossible. 

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Frequently Asked Barbell Knurling Questions  

Is aggressive knurling good for heavy lifting? 

Most heavy lifters prefer aggressive knurling. Although aggressive knurling isn't as comfortable as passive knurling, it allows you to dig into the bar and get a nice, firm grip. This is especially important for heavy lifting. 

Why do some barbells not have center knurling?  

Even though many lifters swear by it, not all barbells have center knurling. Some gyms, like CrossFit boxes or gyms with an Olympic Weightlifting tradition, won't have center knurling. It's not as important for their lifts. 

Can you squat without a center knurl? 

If you have a barbell without center knurling, you'll be fine. Although the center knurling makes exercises like squats much more manageable, it's not an absolute necessity. Just use extra care aligning your bar and performing the lifts. 

How do I protect my barbell knurling? 

You should clean your knurling quite often. Sweat, chalk, and dirt can get stuck in the knurling and cause the bar to corrode and rust. Just apply a small amount of oil to the knurled areas, work the oil into the knurling, and remove all excess oil and debris with a clean rag. 

See MoreHow To Clean Barbells


There's more to lifting than picking up and putting down the weights. There are many things most lifters never consider, and barbell knurling is one of them.

However, knowing which knurling to choose for your grip and comfort will help you reach your overall fitness goals and keep you safe. 

Last Updated on December 16, 2022

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Andrew White

Andrew White is the co-founder of Garage Gym Pro. As an expert fitness professional (gym building nerd) with over 10 years of industry experience, he enjoys writing about everything there is to do with modern fitness & the newest market innovations for garage gyms. When he isn’t testing out products for his readers, he’s usually out surfing or playing basketball.