The selection of barbells for your gym is an essential and potentially confusing topic. The grip feeling and the performance of your members will depend upon the quality of the barbells that you provide. This equipment will be used thousands of times by hundreds of members for many years. Yet, many gym owners simply do not have the knowledge upon which to make informed barbell buying decisions.
In this article, we’ll address the following issues to give you the information you need to make the right decision for your gym barbells .
- What are the different types of barbells?
- What’s the difference between a deadlifting bar, Olympic bar and powerlifting bar?
- What type of metals are used to make barbells?
At Yanre, we have more than 10 year’s fitness industry experience in China. This gives us the insider knowledge to guide gym owners and commercial gym equipment buyers with practical buying advice. In this article, we reveal everything you need to know from the inside out to make the best barbell buying decisions.
To provide our readers with the most up-to-date insider barbell knowledge, we have reached out to more than 10 factories, interviewing a dozen experienced workers who actually make commercial barbells. The result is the most comprehensive barbell buying guide you’ll find online!
So, let’s dive in.
(Note: There are a number of different names used to describe barbell. These include weightlifting bar, Olympic bar, powerlifting bar, etc. To maintain consistency, however, we will refer to them in this article as barbell.）
Table of Contents
- 1. Barbell Industry Region
- 2. Barbell Physical Structure
- 3. Barbell Physical Properties
- 4. Barbell Manufacturing Process
- 5. How to Choose Barbell (Tips for Gym Owner)
- 6. Conclusion
1. Barbell Industry Region
The key barbell manufacturing regions in China are Hebei, Nantong, Qingdao and Tianjin. In Hebei, barbells are predominantly sold to the Zhejiang Yiwu Wholesale Market. The quality of manufacture in this region is not very high. Barbell raw materials are often not subjected to heat treatment and are nickel-plated. These barbells are rough, cheap and low quality.
Statistics reveal that annual sales of high-end bars are between 200,000-300,000 worldwide. Some 80,000 of these are purchased from China. The main areas of production for high-end barbells are Nantong, Qingdao and Tianjin.
Manufacturers in these areas generally source their raw materials from the same suppliers. A few manufacturers, including Zhang Kong & DHS Sports, can manufacture competition barbells.
1.1 Bar Types By User
- Total Length: 2.01 m
- Diameter: 25 mm
- Net Weight: 15 kg
- Center Knurling: Yes
- Total Length: 2.2 m
- Diameter: 28 mm
- Net Weight: 20 kg
- Center Knurling: Yes
Note that the total length of each brand may differ, but the length between the sleeves is fixed at 1,310 mm to maintain the correct grip habit.
- Total Length: 1.7 m
- Diameter: 25 mm
- Net Weight: 10 kg
- Center Knurling: No
1.2 Bar Types By Function
Barbells differ as to their specific exercise function.
Olympic Bar/Weightlifting Bar
Olympic bars were originally designed for Olympic competition. They are now the most commonly used plate loaded bar in most gyms. Olympic bars require a good amount of whip. This is the amount of bounce in the bar when the lifter stops moving, while the bar’s momentum continues. The bar should also have a rotatable sleeve. This will greatly relieve the wrist pressure of the user. Men’s and women’s bars will have specific size and knurling design mentioned as above.
The total length of a powerlifting bar is usually 2.2 m with a central knurl. The standard diameter is 29 mm. This is thicker and harder than weight lifting bars, meaning that the bar will not bend in the process. This ensures that there is no whip in the bar. The powerlifting bar also has a stronger knurling, which increases grip feeling.
- Total Length: 2.2 m
- Diameter: 29 mm
- Net Weight: 20 kg
- Center Knurling: Yes
A deadlifting bar has more aggressive outer knurling to provide better grip feeling, but it has no center knurl. It is slightly thinner and longer than a regular bar, and the shaft is softer, allowing for larger load capacity.
The deadlifting bar has a longer sleeve so that it can support more weight plates. You don’t have to worry about whip and rotation, as it is not intended to provide either quality.
- Total Length: 2.3 m
- Diameter: 27 mm
- Net Weight: 20 kg
- Center Knurling: No
The squat bar is specifically designed to perform the squat movement. It features central knurling to allow the bar to rest more comfortably across your trapezius muscles without slipping.
The squat bar has a higher load capacity than other bar types. As a result, it has a longer sleeve to accommodate more weight plates. As with the powerlifting bar, there is no whip or rotation on a squat bar.
- Total Length: 2.4 m
- Diameter: 32 mm
- Net Weight: 25 kg
- Center Knurling: Yes
The multi-purpose bar combines features of the powerlifting bar and the weight lifting bar. It usually has two kinds of knurling marks to accommodate dual functionality. For safety reasons, multi-function barbells are generally without a center knurl. They provide a moderate amount of whip and rotation. The versatility of the multi-purpose bar makes it cost-effective.
- Total Length: 2.2 m
- Diameter: 28-29 mm
- Net Weight: 20 kg
- Center Knurling: No (mostly)
2. Barbell Physical Structure
The sleeve is the outer part of the barbell where the plates load. The length of the sleeve determines the maximum load, while its structure determines the rotation. Bushings or bearings are positioned between the barbell shaft and sleeve, to ensure optimal rotation of the sleeve under heavy weights.
Typical Bushing: Most barbells use typical bushings, which have low friction to ensure optimal service life. Bushings are less expensive than bearings. They consist of a cylindrical tube mounted between the sleeve and the shaft to reduce friction. They are usually made of brass or bronze. Brass bushings are self-lubricating.
Olite Bushing: Some high-end barbells may use olite bushings, which contain oil. This US-manufactured bushing is made of porous bronze. As the sleeve rotates, it greases itself. Olite bushings offer better durability, performance, and lower maintenance costs than bronze or brass bushings.
Composite Bushing: Composite bushings are made of hardy plastic. They are stronger than bronze bushings and are very durable. When tested by hand, composite bushings have been shown to have a more uniform rotation speed than olite bushings.
Bearings allow for more stable, quiet and smoother rotation. They also enable a more reliable turnover under large load. Professional lifters, consequently, prefer to use barbells with bearings.
There are three common types of barbell bearings:
- ball bearings
- thrust bearings
- needle bearings
As with bushings, bearings are mounted between the bar and sleeve and reduce friction between them. Of the three types of bearings, needle bearings are the most expensive, followed by thrust bearings and ball bearings. Ball bearings are slightly noisier than the other two types.
Barbells will usually have between 8 and 10 bearings mounted on them. More bearings mean smoother rotation. However, Yanre Fitness have found that the quality, grade and match level of the bearing, along with the type of lubricant used, has a greater effect on rotation than the quantity of the bearings. In other words, a bar with two high quality bearings will give you better rotation than a bar with ten cheap bearings.
Bearings have different max loads and widths. Bearings with higher loads do not rotate as easily as ones without any loads. But once the bar is loaded, there is no significant difference in the speed of rotation. Bearings with a higher max load have a longer life span and can absorb more impact.
A sleeve with rough-made bearings will rotate faster and longer than a sleeve with delicate bearings. However, the precise bearing works by rotating slowly at no load, but can rotate effortlessly at full load. This is because there is very little clearance between the shaft and the hardened needles in the bearing.
The smoother rotation and reduced noise of needle bearings over bearings adds to the extra cost of the bar.
Rotational ability is a critical component of an Olympic bar. If you are unable to test a bar’s rotation personally, be sure to check a video that shows the rotation before purchasing. Look for a smooth rotation that ends gradually rather than suddenly.
The sleeve design refers to the method of fixing the sleeve to the bar. Both the snap ring and end cap methods work, and you can choose either one. A third method involves using a hex bolt, however this is not recommended. Hex bolts are normally used on low-quality bars. They are less safe than the other designs, with the potential for screws to loosen over time. This may cause the sleeve to fall off as it rotates.
The vast majority of barbells are made from steel. The specific type of steel used will determine the strength and durability of the bar. High end bars will be made of stainless steel
Raw barbell materials include:
- A3 steel
- 45 steel
- Alloy steel
- Low-end spring steel
- High-end spring steel
Olympics bars are usually made from high-end spring steel.
Knurling is the area cut by a machine on the shaft to provide a better grip. Both the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) and the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) stipulate that the men’s 20kg bar should have central knurling. For the Women’s 15kg Barbell, the IWF stipulates there be no central knurling.
A standard Olympic bar has a shaft length of 131 cm. Apart from two 15 cm smooth sections at the ends and two 5 mm-wide rings or marks, the other areas should be knurled.
Knurling depth is generally between 0.35 mm and 0.5 mm. However, there is a lot of variance in the design and feel of the knurling. High-quality barbells achieve a balance between too much (positive) and not enough (negative) knurling. You can think of knurling the same way as you think of sandpaper; it has different grades of thickness. If the thickness is insufficient, it can be hard for the athlete to secure a firm hold on the bar. This may cause their grip to give out early. On the other hand, knurling that is too aggressive may scratch or cut the skin on the palm.
Most commercial gyms cater for general weightlifting use rather than the powerlifting or weightlifting crowd. As a result, they generally avoid rough or positive knurling. Neutral knurling is the best option for most gym users. However, it is a good idea also to provide a couple of bars with more aggressive knurling. This can accommodate the few hardcore powerlifters, weightlifters or bodybuilders who make up a portion of your membership.
Knurling Borders have emerged as a recent trend in barbell manufacture. These protruding lines look impressive and are marketed as an indication of quality. However, this innovation impairs the strength of the steel of the barbell. The physical cutting of the steel that is involved in this process creates stress points tat make the steel vulnerable. Unnecessary stress points along the barbell shaft will weaken the strength of the steel. The higher the tensile strength, the more serious the problem.
- Type 1- Sharp Diamond Projections
These small, sharp projections can wedge into the skin of the palm when holding the bar. This allows the bar to fit more tightly into the palm, making it likely to slip down the fingers. However, the sharp raised diamond configuration of this knurling can easily tear the skin from the palm as the bar turns in your hand. This type of knurling also brings the bar closer to the body when deadlifting. This increases the likelihood of shin abrasion as you pull the bar upward.
- Type 2-Flat Diamond Design
The flat diamond design is not as aggressive as its sharp diamond counterpart. This avoids the problem of palm tear and scraping of the shins. However, the counter to this is that the friction is reduced and there is not as much gripping security.
- Type 3-Concave Diamond Design
The concave design of this knurling forces the skin of the palm to squeeze into the concave diamond. This increases friction and adheres the palm more closely to the bar. The lack of sharp projections in favor of concave round holes reduces the danger of skin tears and calf scrapes. It spreads out the stress on the skin, making it far more comfortable than the previous two types. The concave diamond design is the most popular knurling type.
Type 1- Sharp Diamond Projections
Type 2-Flat Diamond Design
Type 3-Concave Diamond Design
When we refer to the finish of a barbell, we are talking about treatment of the shaft and sleeve. Here are the 10 most common finish treatments:
1. Bare Steel:
While bare steel looks and feels good straight out of the factory, it will quickly begin to oxidize and rust. This can be avoided with regular oiling and maintenance, including wiping sweat off the bar after every use. Storing the bar in a temperature-controlled environment will also help to avoid rusting. When properly looked after, a bare steel bar will form a beautiful bronze or gray patina and provide you a natural grip.
2. Black Oxidation:
This type of finish will provide you with a ‘bare steel’ feel but with enhanced rust protection. In practice, however, anti-oxidation protection is rather limited. As a result, you will need to follow the same measures as outlined for a bare steel bar to keep the bar rust free.
3. Black Manganate Phosphating:
This type of finish provides a matte black look to the bar. It offers slightly better oxidation than black oxidation. Rather than a typical coating, this is a type of chemical process that causes the steel to blacken. The finish will scrape but not peel off. As a result, it will be prone to rust if not properly maintained.
4. Black Zinc:
This is an attractive looking finish treatment that adds extra resistance to the steel. It also helps to prevent water from getting into the bar, helping to stop oxidation. However, this finish wears out easily. They also get very smooth when the user’s hands get sweaty. Over time, the bright black finish will also turn green unless you diligently maintain the bar.
5. Hard Chrome:
Hard chrome finishes may either come in the form of polished or satin chrome. It is the highest-quality and most expensive finish, which is also among the most durable finish treatments. Hard chrome is the standard finish for competition barbells. It may feel a little slippery in comparison with bare steel.
However, high-end barbells often have excellent knurling to compensate for this. Hard chrome is actually an industrial paint. It strengthens the reinforcement and increases the overall tensile strength. This type of bar will last for more than 20 years.
But you should note two things. First, the bar may be suspended by fine lines during plating. This may cause a slight mark. Fortunately, hard chrome is so thick that even small imperfections can become unnoticeable. Second, hard chrome should not be applied when the knurling is deep and aggressive. Hard chrome will require a second coating, which will affect this type of knurling.
6. Decorative Chrome:
This is an imitation chrome which is used on cheap barbells. The finish will easily break or peel. It will also rust very easily. If the bar is bent, the finish will be broken. This is the same type of chrome finish used on car bumpers.
7. Nickel Plating:
This type of finish provides an impressive classic look to the bar. However, it will peel more easily than hard chrome. Though not widely used, nickel plating can be found on low-quality bars to give an impression of high quality.
8. Bright Zinc:
This is another finish that provides a pretty good look to the bar. The finish can differ from very shiny, almost chrome-like to a more matte appearance. This is a more cost-effective alternative to hard chrome. In humid environments, it provides a good level of rust protection. It has a higher corrosive resistance than black zinc. Over time, bright zinc will lose its luster and turn gray. This is considered a sacrificial coating because it oxidizes itself rather than the steel beneath. The bar will eventually be bronzed to give each bar a unique appearance depending on its use.
Cerakote is a kind of colored ceramic that is usually used in guns. It’s durable, strong, and antioxidant. However, it is considerably more expensive than other finishes.
This is an electronic coating that provides excellent adhesion, rust resistance, and oxidation resistance. It is cheaper and better than black zinc in appearance and has better anti-aging properties than other black finish treatments (except Cerakote). E-coating was first popularized in the automobile industry due to its environmental protection advantages. It will not produce any HAPS (harmful air pollutants) or VOC (volatile organic compounds) . E-coat is resistant to corrosion by water, sunlight and household chemicals, and complies with environmental safety standards of Rohs, Osha and EPA.
Yanre Fitness applies the hard chrome finish treatment to all of its barbells. As a result, all of our bars meet competition standards.
You should expect the finish to last for at least 12 months. When selecting the barbell, be sure to ask the manufacturer about the finish details.
3. Barbell Physical Properties
Steel quality is vital to the performance of a barbell. When determining the quality of the steel used, the two most important indicators are tensile strength and yield strength.
3.1 Yield Strength / Max Load Capacity
Yield strength is the weight required to bend the bar permanently. The yield strength of a bar is statically tested by simply adding weights to both ends of the bar. This is not an overly reliable method. However, yield strength testing can provide a good gauge of maximum load capacity.
The yield strength determines the theoretical maximum load capacity of the bar. But the actual maximum load capacity also depends on the barbell “sleeve” length. The longer the sleeve, the more weights it can support. Weight plates also come in different configurations, and these also impact upon the maximum load capacity. For example, powerlifting weight plates are thin and can be easily stacked. In comparison, weightlifting plates are usually larger, taking up more sleeve room.
It is important to note that a bar’s maximum load capacity is not an indication of usable load. For commercial use, it’s best to use only a quarter of the max load.
3.2 Tensile Strength
Tensile strength indicates the point at which the barbell breaks. Tensile strength is determined dynamically and is therefore more accurate than yield strength. It is measured in pounds per square inch (PSI) . PSI is the number of pounds per square inch of pressure. International brands now use PSI to indicate the strength of the barbell. Here is an overview of barbell usability according to the tensile strength:
- 150,000- suitable for beginners and general gym users.
- 150,000-180,000 — A good fit for most professional athletes.
- 180,000 + — a well-constructed barbell that lasts for a long time.
All the of barbells made by Yanre Fitness, have PSI’s that are at least 170,000. Some of them are even in excess of 200,000 PSI.
Whip refers to the ability of the barbell to bend. It provides extra protection to muscles and joints when working out. Many people misunderstand the whip of the bar, believing that the more whip the better. This is largely due to misleading marketing from some low-end manufacturers.
The Olympic bar does require some flexibility. But it doesn’t mean that the more elasticity in the bar, the better it is. These bars are designed for the Olympic events: the clean and jerk and snatch. The diameter of the bar is thin, resulting in more whip. The right amount of whip allows the athlete to make use of the momentum of the bend to complete the rapid transition when performing the snatch and jerk movements.
Powerlifting bars, on the other hand, require the bar to be relatively rigid and stable, with a minimum whip effect.
The whip effect of the barbell is influenced by the following four factors:
- The load on the barbell: In general, the bigger the load, the more whip produced.
- Materials: Some materials will produce more whip than others. For example, molybdenum alloy provides the most whip, with the precise level depending on its molybdenum content. Steel without heat treatment, and carbon steel will have less whip.
- Diameter: The larger the bar diameter, the less whip it will produce. For example, if the barbells are made of the same material, the whips of a 29 mm bar will be less than that of a 28 mm bar.
- Processing method: Heat treatment, cold rolling, and other methods that affect the properties of steel may also affect the amount of whip.
You can get a good idea of the whip of the bar by checking the diameter of the bar, and the type of steel. You can also view online comments and videos, or even conduct your own tests.
4. Barbell Manufacturing Process
5. How to Choose Barbell (Tips for Gym Owner)
- Check whether the basic parameters of the bar and the material used match the actual bar.
- Check whether the finish treatment is of high quality and provides an attractive finish.
- Sleeve fixation: Look for either snap ring or end cap systems to connect the barbell sleeve to the shaft. Avoid bars that use hex bolts, which are unreliable.
- Rotate the sleeve and check whether the rotation is concentric. Rotate it by hand and observe the number of rotational turns; the more turns, the more sophisticated the processing technology, and the more advanced the combination of shaft and sleeve.
- Weight: The smaller the tolerance between the actual weight and the standard weight, the better. The weight tolerance of each part should be within the following range:
Choosing the right type of weightlifting bar can be very challenging. Our in-depth analysis has broken down every aspect of the barbell manufacture process to provide you with an insider’s insight into what to look for and what to expect. Use this information to guide you through the buying process.
We hope this barbell buying guide will help you make the right choice.
If you have any other questions, please leave a comment below!
Related reading: top 10 gym equipment brands in China
Appendix: Quick Spec Chart
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