Bumper Plates Vs Iron (Which To Choose & How They Compare)

You're looking at incorporating more weight training into your workout routine, but you're not sure what the differences between bumper plates and iron plates are. Both are great for weight training, but each has different uses. If you're unsure which option to choose and why - this bumper plates vs iron guide will tell you everything you need to know!

Bumper plates are weight plates made mostly of solid rubber. They feature a beveled edge, along with a steel insert for added durability, and a metal collar opening for easy loading/unloading.

They get their name from the fact that they can be dropped (bumped) and will bounce back slightly. Because of this, bumper plates are ideal for CrossFit and Olympic lifting. They're an excellent investment for your garage gym or anyone who lifts without a rack and/or spotter. 

When doing power-focused exercises that require lifting as much weight as you can and as fast as possible, using bumper plates is essential. This is because many athletes will drop the weight from overhead when performing exercises like the overhead squat, snatch, or clean and jerk.

Thanks to their solid rubber design, bumper plates (when paired with rubber floor mats) are designed to withstand being dropped without causing damage to the floor or the barbell).

Additionally, bumper plates are ideal when doing exercises like barbell squats if you don’t have a spotter available. This allows you to lift more safely since you know you can simply drop the bar backward if needed. 

While many people refer to bumper plates as Olympic plates, this is a common misconception. A standard weight plate features a one-inch (25 mm) center hole, while an Olympic plate features a center hole that fits onto the two-inch (50 mm) sleeve of an Olympic barbell. Jump over to our article on Olympic barbells vs standard for more info.

Most bumper plates are designed to fit Olympic barbells (and are therefore only available in an “Olympic plate” size, hence the confusion). However, Olympic-size plates are available in cast iron as well. 

Bumper Plates Vs Iron (Which To Choose & How They Compare)

Types Of Bumper Plates  

  • Standard Bumper Plates 
    Also sometimes called "training bumper plates," standard bumper plates are generally made of solid virgin rubber. They usually come in an all-black, glossy finish but come with color labeling and/or a colored collar around the plate as well. This helps to identify the different weights easier. Standard bumper plates are the thickest weight plate type, usually measuring around 2.9 inches for a regular 45-pound plate. Although designed to be dropped, they’re best suited for low-height exercises like deadlifts, as drops from overhead can be quite loud compared with other bumper plate types. 
  • Competition Bumper Plates 
    Competition bumper plates are generally thinner than standard bumpers and are also color-coded for each weight. Additionally, competition bumper plates feature a steel inner plate for added durability. This makes them more suitable for high-impact workouts. These plates have a "dead bounce," which means they have very little to no bounce when dropped. In order for a bumper plate to be officially classed as a competition plate, it needs to be certified by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF). The IWF has specific standards, including weight, diameter, and collar size. However, these days not all bumper plates marketed as "Competition plates" have IWF certification.
  • Crumb Bumper Plates 
    Also sometimes called “hi-temp” or “MIL-spec” bumper plates, crumb bumper plates are made of recycled rubber. These plates have a different texture and are designed to be more durable for high-impact workouts. This bumper plate type bounces more than a standard bumper plate does and is also quieter when dropped, making them better suited for overhead exercises.

Pros

  • Durable & rust-resistant 
  • Ideal for CrossFit or Olympic lifting 
  • Same size plates, regardless of weight 
  • Designed to be dropped 
  • Great for beginners 

Cons

  • Expensive 
  • Harder to grip 
  • Not suitable for powerlifting 

Cast Iron Plates (Overview + Pros & Cons) 

When it comes to metal plates, cast iron, steel, and chrome are common metal plate types, with cast iron being the most popular. While there is a difference between cast iron and steel, these names are often used interchangeably in the weight training world. Particularly with steel plates being referred to as iron.  

Cast iron plates, as you might have guessed, are weight plates made of cast iron. These are the classic “old school” weight plates you often still see in powerlifting gyms. Cast iron plates are not suited for CrossFit and Olympic lifting, since they’re not designed to be dropped. However, they’re great for powerlifting or any weight training where you won’t (likely) be dropping the bar. 

Even if you don’t have a spotter, making use of a squat rack or power rack when using iron plates for your lifts ensures you are still able to lift safely. Additionally, they're an excellent investment for your garage gym and (if cared for properly) are likely to last a lifetime.

rogue cast iron weight plates

Types Of Iron Plates  

  • Cast Iron Plates 
    As mentioned above, iron weight plates are available in both standard and Olympic sizes. These weight plates are your regular iron plates, often featuring a coating that prevents chipping. Unfortunately, cast iron plates are prone to rust, so it’s important to run a dehumidifier if your garage has a lot of moisture in the air. You can visit our page on the best dehumidifiers for garage gyms to find one within your budget.
  • Rubber Coated Iron Plates 
    Some brands apply a thin rubber coating to iron plates in order to prevent rusting. Since bumper plates are also made using rubber, some people get these two confused. A rubber-coated iron plate still has an iron/steel core and is not designed to be dropped like a bumper plate is. The benefit of these plates is that they are slightly more durable, which is why you’ll generally see them used in commercial and/or college gyms. Some people find them to be more aesthetic, but old-school gym rats will usually prefer the look and sound of traditional (non-rubber-coated) iron plates.
  • Calibrated Iron Plates 
    Calibrated plates are commonly made with steel but are available in cast iron too. When a weight plate is calibrated, it means it has been fine-tuned for precision to offer an accurate weight. Calibrated plates are extremely precise, and each plate's weight must be within 0.25 percent or 10 grams (whichever is lighter of the two). It's also worth noting that calibrated weight plates are advertised as being thinner than other metal weight plates. 

Pros

  • Durable (when used correctly) 
  • Ideal for powerlifting 
  • Cheaper than bumper plates 
  • Easier to grip 
  • Can stack the bar with more weight 

Cons

  • Different size plates 
  • Prone to rust 
  • Can cause damage if dropped 

Bumper Plates Vs Iron: Key Differences Compared For Home Gyms

Now that you know what exactly a bumper plate and an iron plate is, we’re rounded up a few key differences between them. If you’re unsure which option is better suited for your home gym, we’ve covered everything you need to know below! 

1. Weight Options 

Bumper plates are available in a larger number of weight options. With bumper plates, the options available are usually 10, 15, 25, 35, 45, and 55 pounds. Whereas with iron plates, your weight options typically include 5, 10, 25, and 45 pounds.  

Something not often mentioned is the tedious task of racking and unracking your weights. Let's say you're ready to attempt a beginner bench press with two 45-pound plates on each side. The weight feels a bit much, and you realize you're more comfortable starting with 35-pounds instead.

If you're using iron plates, you'd need to first take off your 45-pound plates and add on a 10-pound and a 25-pound plate for each side (since there is no 35-pound iron plate option). This means you'll need to load and unload 6 plates in total!

However, since bumper plates come in a better range of sizes, you'll only need two (one for each side) 35-pound plates. Bumper plates can, therefore, translate to less time spent racking and unracking plates for specific amounts of weight you intend to lift.

Related Article - How Many Weight Plates Do I Need?

rogue fitness plates

2. Safety For Lifters 

When it comes to whether or not bumper plates are easier to lift compared with iron plates, purists and those who are anti-CrossFit will be the first to shout “YES!” from the rooftops.

However, there may actually be some science behind it. Since bumper plates are larger than iron plates of the same weight, the weight on either side of the barbell applies a larger lever arm on the bar, causing it to bend more. This could give the lifter a slight advantage on the starting portion of the lift.

When it comes to safety, in particular, bumper plates remain the winner purely because you have the option to drop the weight if needed. When doing CrossFit or Olympic lifts involving overhead lifting, it's best to use bumper plates.

For powerlifting and bodybuilding, which is more focused on perfecting form and time under tension, you're less likely to need to drop your bar. Therefore, bumper plates aren't required for these types of lifts, but they can still be used. 

However, some exercises (like squats) can still be performed safely with iron plates - simply by using a squat rack. If the choice is between one or the other plate type, it’s best to opt for bumper plates. This is because you can use them for your overhead CrossFit or Olympic lifts, as well as your powerlifting exercises. Whereas with iron plates, you should only use them for powerlifting.  

Read Also - Powerlifting Vs Weightlifting

3. Performance, Durability & Price 

One of the most significant factors to consider when assembling your home gym is price. With this said, iron plates are generally cheaper than bumper plates. Depending on the brand and quality, a 45-pound bumper plate could be anywhere from 25 to 40 dollars more. Iron plates, therefore, sound like the winner, right? Well, that’s going to be largely determined by the personal opinion of the lifter.  

While iron plates will save you money, they are also prone to rust if not taken care of. Bumper plates, on the other hand, are usually resistant to rust. Depending on the quality of the brand, the center ring of bumper plates is only susceptible to rust if it’s a low-quality product.

Additionally, if you’re going to do overhead exercises or squats with iron plates, you’ll have to factor in the cost of needing a squat rack or power rack as well. In addition, bumper plates make less noise when dropped and are better for your floor than compared with iron plates. 

While you might enjoy the sound of iron weights clanging as you return the barbell back to the ground, your neighbors certainly won't, and neither will your floors. Although bumper plates do still produce a decent thud when dropped, it's nothing compared to the crash you'll experience when dropping iron plates. 

4. Size (Diameter & Width)

When it comes to size, bumper plates and iron plates each win - but for different reasons. Iron plates allow you to lift more on the bar. Now, I don’t mean that iron plates give you a cheat code to lift more.

Rather, they’re accommodating for more weight when compared to bumper plates. Why? Because bumper plates are thicker than iron platers are. This means that when stacking eight 45lbs bumper plates on a barbell, things will get crowded, and you may hit a limit in terms of space available.  

This is why most people tend to gravitate towards iron plates if they’re attempting heavy weightlifting, compound movements, and one-rep max exercises. If you’re you’re focusing on conditioning or maintenance, then bumper plates won’t be a problem. However, if strength, size, and progression are your focus, then iron plates are the way to go. 

Conversely, bumper plates all have the same size diameter (whereas iron plates are different sizes). This means that you can still perfect your form and elevate the barbell to the correct height while using a lighter-weight bumper plate. If you were to go lighter using an iron plate, the barbell would be too low. 

rogue fitness bumper plates

How Bumper & Iron Compare To Other Weight Plates Types

While bumper plates and cast iron weight plates are popular choices, they’re not the only choice available. As mentioned before, other metal weight plate options include steel and chrome.

Within the metal plate family, rubber or urethane coatings are available too. These are not to be confused with rubber bumper plates, though. Additionally, while bumper plates are a class of their own, they do have their 'cousin' technique plates. Sound confusing? Let's break it down further below:

Technique Plates 

Technique plates are often sometimes regarded as a type of bumper, but they’re not. As the name suggests, technique plates were designed to help you master your technique before moving on to "real" weights.

Made using hard, recycled plastic (rather than rubber), these plates are only available in three sizes: 5, 10, and 15-pound plates. So instead of using your 10-lb bumper plate, technique plates are generally around 18-inches in diameter and allow you to position the barbell at the correct Olympic lift height for a deadlift, clean, or snatch.

While not completely indestructible, technique plates can withstand being dropped and are unlikely to break. They won’t bounce like bumper plates do, which makes them quite loud when dropped. While technique plates are on the pricier side, you generally only need to purchase a single pair. 

Other than using technique plates to perfect your form, they're also very useful for weightlifters recovering from injuries and who can't lift a lot of weight but want to maintain their form.  

Rubber & Urethane Coated Weight Plates 

You’ll often find rubber-coated or urethane-coated weight plates in commercial or college gyms. They’re quieter and offer a cleaner look than compared with regular iron plates, but they do cost more too.

However, these are still just regular iron plates with a coating applied and are not designed to be dropped. As such, they’re not suitable for CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting.


Frequently Asked Bumper Plates Vs Iron Questions 

Can you use bumper plates for bench press?  

Yes, you can. Bench pressing with bumper plates is not an issue unless you want to compete in powerlifting. In that case, it’s best to stick to iron plates while you’re training.

Is it easier to deadlift with bumper plates? 

Yes, it can be. If you’re a beginner and starting with a lighter weight, having smaller-sized iron weights on the bar means you have to dip down lower for the starting position. Bumper plates bring the bar up, making it easier to deadlift. Additionally, bumper plates cause the bar to bend more than iron plates of the same weight would, making them easier to deadlift.

Can I squat with bumper plates? 

Yes, you can. However, some people do notice a difference between squatting with bumper plates vs. iron plates, particularly when lifting heavy. If you're planning to compete in powerlifting, only iron plates are allowed, so you should stick to iron plates when training. If you don't have a squat rack or you think you might drop the bar, opt for bumper plates. 

Can I mix iron plates and bumper plates? 

Yes, but it depends. Loading the barbell with a combination of iron and bumper plates is fine to do unless you’ll be dropping the bar. While the bumper plates might offer some floor protection, the iron plates can still damage the barbell when dropped. Additionally, you should make sure that you add the same combination to both sides of the bar.

How long do iron plates last on average? 

If cared for correctly, a lifetime. However, since moisture rusts iron, storing your plates in an area with high humidity levels can lessen the lifespan of your iron plates. Additionally, you should avoid dropping your bar when loaded with iron plates. While uncommon, iron plates can break or crack from repeated drops. Even more so if rusted.  


Conclusion

That wraps up our comprehensive guide to bumper plates vs. iron plates. We hope that all of your questions and concerns were addressed. Now that you know what the differences between the two plates are, how they compare, and which one to choose -  you’ll be able to achieve your weightlifting goals in no time!  

Last Updated on April 16, 2022