Let's face it; the gym can be a confusing place. You have to consider the workouts, the machines, the weight, and even the length of the barbell you’re using.
Unfortunately, there's no clear guidance, and most commercial gyms have a range of options available, but if you want to meet your training goals, it's important you use the right one. Don't worry because we'll help explain everything so you can find the best barbell for your workout. Let's dive and and find out what length barbell do I need?
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Different Barbell Lengths Explained
Every gym has a few different sized barbells, and each is designed for a specific type of workout or lifter. The barbell you need will be influenced by the workout you’re doing, your build, and potentially any competitions you’re training for.
There are two main types of barbells to choose from, Standard or Olympic. Before diving into barbell length, check out our guide to all the different kinds of barbells.
1. Standard Barbells
Standard barbells are what you see in every gym, and you can source them easily enough for your home gym. There's a bit of a variety when it comes to standard barbells, and many manufacturers use different specs.
They generally range from 5-7 feet and have a diameter of 1 inch which means they can only be used with standard weight plates with a 1-inch opening. Standard barbells weigh anywhere from 20-45 pounds depending on the make, model, and length.
Standard barbells are generally made from cast iron or stainless steel and will weigh anywhere from 10-45 pounds depending on the make, model, and length. Stainless steel is more expensive but easier to clean and maintain. Don't forget to check out our barbell cleaning guide to make sure yours stays in tip top shape!
Standard barbells are sometimes used in some local weightlifting competitions but are not approved by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), which only uses Olympic barbells. Every competition is slightly different, but standard barbells are only used for casual lifters.
There's a wide selection of standard barbells to choose from, and they do come in some non-standard lengths. Generally, you'll have three main options:
2. Olympic Barbells
Olympic barbells are designed to be much sturdier and handle higher weight loads. The size and weight of the barbells are much more consistent because this type of barbell is used in weightlifting competitions. You’ll only find them in some commercial gyms, and they are more expensive to buy.
An Olympic barbell is typically made from steel and has a protective coating around the outside. Women's Olympic barbells weigh 33 pounds with a 1-inch diameter, and men’s Olympic barbells weigh 45 pounds and have a 2-inch diameter. Unfortunately, this means you can't load men’s Olympic barbells with standard weight plates, and you’ll need special Olympic plates.
Olympic bars are also made with rotating ends to help eliminate the torque. This makes it easier to rotate the barbell and is very useful in snatches or power clean movements, often performed in competitions.
A standard Olympic barbell will handle 500 pounds, but premium models can manage up to 1,500 pounds. They are generally used by advanced lifters and those training for competitions. If you aren’t looking to compete, you'll only need an Olympic barbell when you're lifting heavy. You can see a complete comparison on standard vs Olympic barbells in our detailed guide!
Olympic barbells are regarded as much more stable and are less likely to topple over even when racked up. There are only two sizes of Olympic barbell to choose from:
What Length Barbell Do You Need? (Things To Consider)
Now you know a bit more about each type of barbell, it's time to work out which you need. There are a few key factors that will influence your decision:
1. Lifting Exercises
The types of workouts you do will heavily influence the barbell you need. Compound exercises like the bench press, squat, and deadlift will require heavier loads to challenge your body. Isolation exercises like bicep curls or hip thrusts will focus the effort on one area, and you won't need to carry as much weight.
If you're planning to do a wide range of movements and compound exercises, then you’ll be better off with a 7-foot standard or Olympic barbell. If you know you’re going to be performing more isolation exercises, then you may only need a 5 or 6-foot standard barbell.
You should also consider whether you're going to use the barbell for high-intensity or cardio exercises. These typically use much lighter weights so you can get away with a shorter barbell. If you’re planning to lift heavy to grow muscle mass, then you’ll be better off with a longer barbell.
If you're in the market for a new barbell, I really like XMark bars. They are durable and relatively inexpensive. Read our guide for a complete XMark barbell comparison!
2. Weight Capacity
Weight capacity is a crucial factor in selecting your barbell. The larger the barbell, the more weight it can handle. So as you become more experienced, you'll need larger barbells. However, some premium barbells will be able to handle more weight regardless of size.
If you’re a beginner or intermediate lifter, then a standard 7-foot barbell should be able to handle enough weight. If you're an advanced lifter or training for a competition, then you'll be better with an Olympic barbell. It’s worth thinking about your long-term goals to determine which barbell is the best investment.
Related Article - How Does A Barbell Not Tip Over?
3. Your Height
The taller you are, the larger the barbell you’ll need because your hands will be further apart on the bar, and if it's too small, then the movement can become uncomfortable. If you’re on the shorter side, you may need a smaller barbell, or you may not be able to manage it safely.
If you're over 5 foot 8, you should be fine using a full-sized standard or Olympic barbell. If you're under this height, you might want to consider a slightly smaller bar. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking certain barbells are for men or women; just get the right size to suit your frame.
4. Space In Your Gym
If you have a home gym or a compact commercial gym, then you know that space comes at a premium. Larger barbells are generally better quality and can handle more weight, but they also take up a lot of space.
Your garage gym may not have 7 feet of space to accommodate the barbell, and you might not have enough space to use it properly. This is where you need to be practical and make sure you pick a barbell that will actually fit.
5. Other Equipment
Barbells tend to be used in conjunction with a power rack, or at least stored on one. If you have a home gym, you may have a half-rack or lower quality power rack, so you need to consider what size barbell it can handle. Some barbells may be too long and heavy and end up toppling over, so it's worth considering this before you buy.
You also need to consider your weight plates. Most standard weight plates only have a 1-inch hole, so they can only be used with standard barbells. Olympic barbells will need Olympic weight plates, which are noticeably more expensive. Make sure you have the proper weights so you can adequately use your barbell.
Read through our guide to the best Olympic weight sets here!
6. Cost And Ability
Finally, you need to consider where you’re at in your fitness journey and what you really need. It can be tempting to shell out a lot for Olympic quality barbells, but these could easily cost $250-$1,000 per bar.
In comparison, you can get an affordable standard barbell for $75-$150. If you're a beginner and not training for a competition, you should consider cheaper barbells until you start to lift heavier.
See Also - Barbell Cost Comparison
What Size Barbell Should Most Women Use?
There are no specific women's sizes for barbells, but generally, because women are genetically inclined to be shorter and physically weaker than men, they benefit from a smaller barbell. A 7-foot barbell may be too large for some women, and a 6-foot standard barbell is better to help keep the correct form.
The women’s Olympic barbell is 6 inches shorter than the men’s version and 12 pounds lighter. This makes it easier to handle and gives greater consistency across the board for competitions. If you are a woman taking part in a weightlifting competition, then you really need the women’s Olympic barbell.
When working out on a day-to-day basis, women should just use any sized barbell that they find most comfortable, regardless of the size, but most women benefit from a slightly smaller and lighter barbell.
Common Long And Short Barbell Questions
Is a longer barbell better?
Longer barbells tend to be stronger and can handle more weight, but they aren’t necessarily better. For shorter lifters, a smaller barbell is easier to handle.
Is it harder to bench with a shorter bar?
Yes, this is because your hands are closer together, and that puts the focus on your triceps rather than the larger chest muscles.
Can you deadlift with a short bar?
You can, though it may be more challenging because the bar won’t whip as much as you lift it up. It won't make much of a difference to beginners, though.
Can you squat with a 5ft barbell?
If you're short or looking for low-intensity exercises, then you can squat with a 5-foot barbell, but most lifters will benefit from using a 6 or 7-foot barbell to squat with.
Choosing the right barbell length is just as important as choosing the right weights. Olympic bars are much more durable and can handle really heavy loads, but they’re built for advanced lifters.
If you’re just starting out, you’re better off with a 6- or 7-foot standard barbell which can still handle a good amount of weight but won't cost you a future. Hopefully, you now feel more comfortable choosing your barbell, and you know which is best for your next workout.
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