The barbell is a tool we use almost everyday in the gym, so I thought I would give you a quick overview of the parts of a barbell. While a quality barbell cost hundreds of dollars, it rarely gets the respect and care it should because they feel and appear to be extremely strong and durable. Don’t get me wrong, barbells are extremely strong, but they are also a mechanical piece of equipment with moving parts that should be handled with some degree of care.

The are two primary parts of the barbell:

  • Shaft: the middle area of the bar you grab with your hands when lifting
  • Sleeves/Collars: the ends of the bar where plates are loaded

Barbell Shaft

Size

Barbells comes in different diameters and lengths and often denote men’s and women’s sizes.

barbell-sizes

Knurl pattern and depth

The knurl is the “cross-hatching” texture on the bar that provides grip for your hands. Some bars also have knurling or a texture in the center of the bar to help keep the bar on your back during back squats.

Yield Strength and Tensile Strength

Yield strength deals with the amount of weight it would take to permanently bend the bar. This test is a static test where more and more weight is added to the ends. In general, we want bars to have some bend to them during movements, but we don’t want that bend to remain permanently when the bar isn’t loaded.

Tensile strength is tested dynamically and is rated in pounds per square inch (PSI). This measurement tells you the amount of weight needed to pull the bar apart. High-end Olympic bars use steel that is rated over 200,000 PSI. Anything over 180,000 will fit most everyone’s needs.

Whip

The whip of a bar is the bounce that occurs when you stop moving during a lift, such as the Clean and Jerk. The momentum of the plates at the end of the bar causes the bar to flex (whip) which is useful to an experienced lifter. A skilled lifter can bounce the bar off of their chest, which causes the bar to bend down and then up. They then use the upward momentum to help propel the bar into the jerk position.

Shaft Finish

Barbell shafts come in a variety of finishes. Rust-resistant finishes include bright zinc, black zinc, and chrome. Finishes that will rust include black oxide, raw steel, or any other oxide finishes, but a little maintenance will keep the bar rust-free.

Barbell Sleeves/Collars

Diameter

barbell-endsA quality barbell will have sleeves that are 50 mm (about 2″) in diameter. Precise sleeves are important because good bumper plates may not fit well if this demission is off.

Attachment

Sleeves are held onto the shaft of a barbell in a variety on ways. Ideally, you want to see is a C-shaped snap ring, however, a press cap, which uses a pin through the end or a two-piece collar pioneered by York, are also suitable. You don’t want to see a large hex bolt in the end of the bar as this is a sign that the barbell isn’t going to work well for functional fitness because they, typically, do not spin.

Mechanics (Spin)

The collars are the widest part of the bar. They separate the sleeve and the shaft. They are used to stop the plate from sliding onto the shaft. The mechanics inside the collar allow the bar to spin and determine how much spin it will have. Some bars use bushing, which is a solid material with low friction, such as brass. Bearings are also used to allow the bar to spin. Bearings are small balls or needles within a sleeve that roll. Bearings generally allow for faster spin, but are typically more expensive. Dropping an unloaded barbell can damage these mechanics, which reduces and eventually stops the shaft from being able to spin.

Finish

Zinc and chrome are both high-quality finishes that will endure repeated loading and stripping of the barbell without chipping. So sleeves have small grooves onto to help keep weight plates and they provide more friction for collars.

Barbell Types

There are different types of barbells designed to fit the needs of different types of lifting. Types of barbells include:

  • Powerlifting
  • Olympic
  • Hybrid
Powerlifting Barbells

Powerlifting bars typically have a more aggressive knurling (grip markings) to help with grip. The grip markings are a little bit wider than the markings on Olympic weightlifting bars. Powerlifting bars are also typically stiffer than Olympic bars, though there are some exceptions.

Olympic Barbells

Olympic bars, also known as “oly” bars, have less aggressive knurling to provide adequate grip, which reduces the wear and tear on your hands through the transition of movements. Oly bars have more whip or bend in the shaft and have collars that spin. Spinning collars assists the lifter by allowing the weight to rotate as the bar moves through the lift.

Hybrid Barbells

Hybrid bars attempt to combine the best of each type of bar. They can have two set-up markings on the shaft to line up with both Olympic lifting and Powerlifting standards. These bars, typically, have a spinning collar and provide some degree of whip. Hybrid bars are great for gyms that do both types of lifting in one workout.

More than you ever wanted to know

Hopefully you now have a little better understanding of how and why barbells are designed the way they are and can appreciate a quality barbell when you use it.

About Chris Elmore

Chris is the founder and owner of Metcon Media, and Creative Director of Metcon Magazine and WODTALK Magazine. He is an electronic engineer by trade, but has a passion for fitness. He is a CrossFit certified trainer, and loves long distance endurance events. He has over 20 years of competitive swimming, running and triathlon training, racing and coaching experience. Chris has competed in endurance events of all distances, including Ironman Coeur D’Alene, Ironman Lake Placid, and Ironman Arizona. Chris began training with CrossFit in 2008, when he realized that the years of long slow distance (LSD) training commonly practiced by most endurance athletes had significantly decreased his muscle mass, strength and power. He created the first functional fitness focused magazine, WODTALK, in 2012.

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