Olympic Barbell Vs Standard: Lifting Bars Compared (Pros & Cons)

One of the most basic yet most used pieces of equipment, newbies and experienced hands alike often don't know the difference between the different types of barbells. If you want to get serious about your training or buy a barbell for yourself, you will need to know the difference.

In this article, we will discuss what makes each barbell different, what they are best used for, and we are going to show you what to look for when purchasing your first bar.

The first thing we are going to look at is the different sizes of bars. This includes length, diameter, and weight.

Olympic bars have to meet the standards set out by the IWF. This means that every Olympic bar should be the same length and the same weight.

When it comes to your standard barbell, there is a lot more variation. You can get bars of different lengths, weights, and designs. This means you can get a lot more versatility from standard bars.

An example of this is barbells that have specifically been designed to weigh very little. These might be used in classes that combine strength and cardio.

One other thing to mention is that people often get confused regarding powerlifting and Olympic bars. These are two very different bars. Powerlifting bars are actually regulated by a different body, the IPF.

  • Men's Standard Barbell 
    Your standard men's barbell will weigh 18-44lbs; it will be 2.2 meters long with an outer diameter of an inch. The grip diameter is also 1 inch.
  • Women's Standard Barbell 
    Your standard women's barbell will weigh about 18-33lbs and will only be 2 meters long. The grip is slightly smaller, too, at 0.9 inches.
  • Men's Olympic Barbell 
    A men's Olympic barbell will be a strict 44lbs, strict 2.2m long, and will have a 2-inch outer diameter with a 1.1-inch grip diameter.
  • Women's Olympic Barbell 
    A women's Olympic barbell will be a strict 33 lbs, 2.01m in length with a 2-inch outer diameter and 0.98-inch grip.
barbell squat

Other Differences: Olympic Barbell Vs Standard Barbell

Loading Capabilities

Unless they are of the highest quality, standard barbells tend to have a maximum load of around 350lbs. This is perfect for most gyms.

Olympic barbells are designed to hold a lot more, sometimes even 500lbs+, depending on the classification. Powerlifting bars with aggressive knurling will be able to hold a similar amount.

Different Knurling

On a standard bar, you get very obvious knurling designed to give maximum grip. This helps newer lifters and experienced lifters to complete their lifts.

Olympic barbells have different knurling, with a smooth section in the middle of the bar. The knurling is removed from that section to protect the necks and skin of lifters from ripping during Olympic lifts.

Powerlifting bars will come with much more aggressive knurling, which helps during deadlifts and squats where the grip is more valuable and less dangerous.

Bearing Spin

Standard barbells usually come with bushing style bearings, these spin but not as fast as the bearings used in an Olympic barbell. This is better for normal compound lifts.

When it comes to Olympic lifts, having a faster, smoother amount of spin on the ends of your Olympic barbells prevents wrist damage and aids during complex movements.

Whip

Barbells come with the potential to store elastic energy during movement. This is essentially how far the bar can bend before returning and bouncing back to position.

Experienced lifters leverage this whip to their advantage. For beginners, though, a lower whip is better, which is why your standard barbell will not whip as much as an Olympic bar.

Olympic bars have a lot more whip because it is helpful to the lifters. Not all Olympic bars are the same, however, and there are 3 different designs.

  • Olympic Deadlift Barbells 
    This style has a high amount of whip to them.
  • Olympic Squat Barbells 
    This style has a little whip to them.
  • Olympic Bench Press Barbells 
    This style is inflexible and has virtually no whip
gym barbell

Olympic Vs Standard Weight Plates

The first difference that you will find between the weights used on the different bars is the hole used to locate them on the bar.

Olympic bars have a 2-inch diameter at the end which means Olympic weight plates will need to have a 2-inch hole in order for them to slot on properly.

Standard barbells come with a 1-inch diameter. This means standard weights will have a 1-inch hole. Then you have the color-coding. Olympic weight plates use a set color-coding system set out by the IWF.

Olympic weight plates are also known as bumper plates due to their rubber coating, which allows them to be dropped from above without damaging the Olympic bars.


Olympic Barbell Vs Standard Barbell: Which one should you buy?

Now that you know all of the main differences between Olympic bars and standard barbells, you might be wondering which one is best for you.

If you are looking at purchasing a barbell for your home gym, you might want to consider starting with a standard bar. They are a lot cheaper, which makes them the better choice if you need to purchase all of the items necessary to fill your space.

Standard bars do wear quicker, though, and if you are an experienced lifter, you might begin to wish you had more space on the bar for heavier weights.

You will also have to figure out whether or not you will be focusing on the lifts that you need Olympic bars for or the normal lifts that can be done with standard barbells and standard weights.

Experienced lifters will also massively benefit from the spin provided by an Olympic bar. This will take a lot of the strain from your wrists and your back as you progress up to heavier weights.

If you have decided to pursue the Olympic lifts, then you have no choice; you will need to get an Olympic bar and Olympic weights to go on it. This is the one downside to buying an Olympic bar. Olympic weights are a lot less common on the 2nd hand and used marketplace.

This means you will have to purchase something new, which can set you back a hefty sum.


Tips for Buying High-Quality Bars

Now you have decided what kind of bar you need, here are some tips and tricks to help you purchase one that is high quality and worth the dollars you spend.

Tensile Strength

Tensile strength is essentially how much weight your bar can take before snapping or shattering. The tensile strength point is the point at which that happens.

When looking for a new bar, you should make 165,000 PSI your absolute lowest. 180,000 PSI is the standard for a good barbell, and anything over this will be perfect.

Finish

The finish of your bar has two purposes. The first is to make the bar look good. This isn't important for lifting, but it's a nice touch to have fresh-looking barbells.

The main reason for the finish is to protect the barbell. Some people like their barbell to be bare steel. This is common in old-school gyms. The problem with bare steel is that it corrodes quickly and picks up rust from contact with the moisture in your palms.

A zinc finish is one of the most common finishes. It protects your Olympic bar or Standard Barbells from rust. They need regular maintenance to keep them looking fresh, though.

Chrome finished bars are usually much more expensive (and aren't suitable for those on a budget), but they have by far the best protection against rust out of all the finishes. Some people complain that chrome finish bars have a lower grip. To combat this, manufacturers often use a more aggressive knurl to compensate.

Stainless steel bars a good choice for those that like that bare steel feel but don't want to risk the rust that comes with it. This is the material used in most high-end bars.


Other Types of Barbell

  • Powerlifting Bars 
    Powerlifting bars are the other type of bar that is regulated by an external body, the IPF. The difference is that these bars are designed with much more aggressive knurling to maximize grips during incredibly heavy loads. They also differ in the fact that they have very little whip and are much more rigid. This makes them a lot safer when used for deadlifts and bench press, where the weight is much greater. 
  • Technique Bars 
    Technique bars are made to replicate the look of Olympic barbells. They usually have a lot less weight and are used to teach the movements and practice lifts without heavyweights. Sometimes you might see people using broom handles, and this is essentially an upgrade of that.
  • Trap Bar 
    Trap bars are a standard bar type used as a replacement for the usual standard bar in deadlifts. They are designed so that you step into the bar, which brings the weight into a more central alignment, reducing the chances of injuring your back.
  • EZ-Bar 
    E-Z bars are designed as a replacement for standard bar curls. They have an angular shape that allows for the wrists to be positioned in a more natural position. This reduced the strain on the wrists and helps lift with more strength and security.
  • Fixed Barbells 
    Fixed barbells are usually found in commercial gyms. They typically come in set weights similar to a dumbbell collection. They cannot be changed, and they are usually in the range of 10-80lbs.

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Are Olympic weights better than standard?

Standard plates are usually manufactured with more allowance for tolerance compared to Olympic plates. This means that Olympic weights are slightly better, but the main difference between the two is the rubber coating that allows for the weight to be dropped from a height without damage.

What is the difference between a powerlifting bar and an Olympic bar?

The main differences are that Olympic bars have more whip and less knurling. Powerlifting bars are rigid and have aggressive knurling.


Conclusion

We hope that this article has helped fill in the gaps of your knowledge. Now you are a pro on everything barbell, and you should know exactly what type of bar you should buy. Good luck with your purchases, and remember... Eat lots of protein.