Bumper plates are an essential part of any modern gym. Choosing the right bumpers for your members, however, requires some research and insider insights. In this article we provide the knowledge you need to make smart bumper plate buying decisions.
We’ll cover the following topics:
- What’s the difference between a bumper plate and weight plate?
- Which type of bumper plates should I buy?
- How are bumper plates made?
- What durometer rating is best for a bumper plate?
We believe we’ve put together the most comprehensive bumper plate buying guide available online. That’s because we’ve gone the extra mile to interview 10 experienced workers from 7 bumper plate factories to give you the insider knowledge that you won’t find anywhere else.
So, let’s dive in.
(Note: There are a number of different names used to describe bumper plate. These include bumper weights, rubber weights, Functional Training plate, rubber plate, bumper set, etc. To maintain consistency, however, we will refer to them in this article as bumper plate.）
Table of Contents
- 1. Bumper Plate Industrial Regions
- 2. Bumper Plate Types
- 3. Bumper Plate Physical Structure
- 4. Bumper Plate Physical Properties:
- 5. Buying Tips and Traps to Avoid
- 6. Conclusion
1. Bumper Plate Industrial Regions
Most of the Chinese bumper plate factories are located in Qingdao, Nantong and Xiamen. Those in Qingdao and its environs mainly produce rubber plates, while Nantong factories predominantly manufacture urethane bumper plates.
Qingdao has a much larger export volume and its products are relatively more expensive than those from the Nantong area. Factories located in Xiamen mainly focus on high-end bumper plates.
2. Bumper Plate Types
2.1 Types by Function
Training Bumper Plate
The thickness and diameter of weight plates vary with the weight of the plate. For bumper plates, however, the diameter remains constant, with only the thickness varying. Bumper plates are strictly made to the size and weight standards specified by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF). An Olympic-sized plate (450 mm in diameter, 50.4 mm for steel hub) is usually made of thick, dense rubber. This is designed to make it safe when lowering a loaded bar from the top position of the snatch or clean and jerk movement without damaging the floor, the bar, or the bumper itself.
Bumper plates have the same weight range as conventional cast-iron weight plates. In times past, weightlifters used cast iron plates. However, these proved to be unsafe and impractical in terms of lifting and lowering the weights. The earliest plate versions also limited the amount of weight that could be added to the bar due to their thickness. Bumper plates were created for Olympic Game competition to overcome these problems. As the years passed, their use was extended to commercial gyms and, then, for home use. Many bumper plates now have a steel hub in the center that adds weight without adding thickness.
The training bumper plate is the most common bumper. These are usually finished in black. Recently, however, manufacturers have started making color versions, some of them with cool graphics. Training bumper plates may use metal ring, making them thicker than a competition plate. This limits the amount of weight that can be loaded onto the bar. It also makes the plate more likely to warp. For those reasons, training bumper plates are cheaper than other types.
Bumper plates that are marked ‘Olympic’ are compatible with Olympic bars.
Competition Bumper Plate
Competition bumper plates are plates that conform to the IWF specifications for size, tolerance, and color. By using solid steel core embedded into a solid rubber plate, manufacturers are able to reduce the plate thickness by about 40%. This is a better option for athletes, as it allows them to use a sturdy rubber plate to maximize the barbell’s load area.
The steel hubs used in bumper plates are usually constructed in two parts and then bolted together to hold the rubber tight. The steel hub is heavy so that it can be mounted on a bar. It also comes in different colors and is usually quite expensive. Competition bumper plates usually have more dead bounce than training bumper plates. However, this is not always the case. The bounce mainly depends on the durometer shore rating of the plate materials (more on this soon).
Insider Info About Competition Plates
Many companies claim to offer bumper plates that meet IWF standards, but very few are actually IWF certified. This means they are not “real” competition plates, but are officially “training plates.” This distinction makes no difference to anyone who is not participating in IWF approved competition.
For a manufacturer to gain IWF Certification is expensive. This will add considerably to the cost of the overall product price, with no benefit for those who do not plan to compete in Olympic event.
The actual weight of a genuine competition plate is guaranteed to be within 10 grams (0.02 LBS) of the claimed weight. The weight tolerance of an uncertified plate may be up to 10% higher than its expected tolerance. Weight variability is one of the main reasons why professional athletes stay away from cheap Amazon plates. If you are buying a 45-pound plate, it should be very close to 45 pounds. Yet, some of the cheapest options could end up weighing 40 pounds or less!
If you stick with a reputable brand, however, there is no need to worry about major weight variances. Most of the major bumper plate suppliers offer products close enough to the claimed weight to not affect the majority of fitness enthusiasts.
The extra metal used in the steel hub and the more stringent tolerances required to comply with the IWF specification mean that the cost of competition plates are much higher than bumper plates made from virgin rubber plate or crumb rubber plate.
– If you are an IWF or IPF competitive weightlifter: then it may be worth the extra investment to buy genuine competition bumper plates.
– If you’re not a weightlifter: we don’t recommend spending extra money on competition bumper plates. It’s a huge cost difference, and it won’t help your workout very much! It doesn’t make much sense to spend twice to three times as much on a competition plate just to make sure you get an extra half a pound of weight!
Technique plates are one-piece solid plates that are the same size as a training bumper. They are made of such solid plastics as polyethylene. They are usually available in 5 lb,10 lb (2.5 kg, 3.75 kg and 5 kg) weight increments. These very light weights are ideal for introducing beginners to the sport and helping them to improve their technique. Technique plates allow you to balance the bar without having to contend with heavy weight. They are also beneficial for use during rehabilitation training, serving as a transition to standard bumper plates.
Each pound is very expensive, but you should only need one or two pairs at most. Technique plates are made from a simple one-piece rubber with no steel hub around the center hole. They should only be used indoors on rubber flooring.
Change Plates and Fractional Plate
A “change plate” is a small plate with a diameter that is much smaller than a standard plate. For Kg, the common weights are 0.5 kg, 1 kg, 1.5 kg, 2 kg, 2.5 kg and 5 kg. For pounds, the common weights are 1.25 lb, 2.5 lb, 5.0 lb and 10 lb.
Sometimes, adding 5 kg to the bar is too much for the athlete. Since the lightest standard bumper plates typically weigh 10kg, or 25lbs, change plates can add the needed small weight increment. As a lifter gets stronger, the weight increments are much smaller, so change plates are especially beneficial for weightlifters and bodybuilders.
Change plates can be cross-used with fractional plates， both of which are an effective way to add a small amount of weight. The difference between the two lies in incremental degree. Compared to change plates, fractional plates drop from 1 lb to 0.25 lb, or from 1 Kg to 0.125 Kg. Fractional plates typically weigh a fraction of 1 pound or 1 kg. This allows for a “micro load” at times when adding several pounds would be too big a jump.
Fractional plates are the ideal choice for competition. A great benefit is that they can be added to the bar without removing the collar. The handle in the inner ring of the plate will secure itself to the bar and will not move, keeping the other plates in place.
Fractional plates will not touch the ground when in use. For that reason, they may be either iron or rubber coated.
2.2 Types by Material
Bumper plates are usually made of rubber. This contrasts with weight plates, which are made from cast iron or another metal and usually have a rubber coating.
Here are the most common bumper plate materials:
Typically made in China, virgin rubber will offer a denser, thinner plate with less bounce. This will prevent it from bouncing too much when it hits the floor. The virgin rubber plate is extremely wear-resistant and is designed to survive the rigors of a gym environment. In addition, rubber is usually vulcanized, which helps to reinforce the plate and makes it more durable.
Virgin rubber will produce a plate that is smooth and thin. This makes it more convenient to move the plate around the gym. In addition, rubber is a good absorbent material, so it will not damage the floor.
Because virgin rubber does not come from recycled tires, there is no use of adhesives. This means that its smell is relatively mild, which is a huge advantage for those who are odor sensitive.
Crumb / Recycled Rubber
Crumb rubber is made by grinding small pieces (known as “crumbs”) of recycled rubber from used tires or other waste rubber sources. Recycled rubber plate is cheaper, softer, and bounces higher with a lower density than virgin rubber. The rubber crumbs are glued together under heat and pressure with the use of adhesives. The type of adhesive applied determines the quality of the rubber. Better quality adhesive makes the rubber more durable and produce a less noticeable odor (though there is still some odor).
Crumb rubber plates are less durable than virgin rubber plates. They tend to break down and deteriorate over time, though durability will vary among different manufacturers. For example, the Hi-Temp factory in Tuscumbia, Alabama is one of the few America-made bumpers on the market and one of the best, as recognized by many trainers, gym owners and competitive weightlifters.
Hi-temp plates are made of indestructible recycled vulcanized rubber with a 2-inch stainless steel insert. This manufacturing process sometimes causes a slight aesthetic flaw. However, a quality plate should be more about performance than appearance.
Crumb rubber plates are often much wider than their virgin rubber counterpart. This means that you will not be able to fit as many crumb plates on a bar.
- Impact absorption: it has a better impact absorption ability than virgin rubber plates due to its lower density.
- Cost: it provides almost the same function as virgin rubber plates with a lower cost.
- Environmentally friendly: it is made of recycled rubber, which conforms to environmental protection protocols.
Urethane is a synthetic compound material that combines some of the best properties of plastics and rubber. As a result, urethane bumper plates produce the required bounce and weight, wear resistance, cutting resistance, and tear resistance. At the same time, it remains flexible enough to resist impact damage and deformation. This makes it far more durable than rubber. In addition to durability, Urethane can be combined with colorants more easily, resulting in incredibly bright colors.
Urethane bumper plates are often thinner than rubber bumper plates. This allows you to load more plates onto the barbell. This also means that the weight is closer to the center of the barbell, which makes a big difference in load stability when using heavy weights.
Another benefit of urethane plates is that they are completely odorless. A new rubber bumper plate typically emits a “new tire” odor for a long period of time, so an odorless urethane plate is a good choice for people who are sensitive to strong odors.
Bumper plates made of urethane have an extremely low bounce. This is even lower than a high-end rubber plate. Urethane bumper plates are considerably more expensive than a same-quality rubber plate. However, if you want a bumper plate that looks good, durable and smell-free, urethane plates are probably your best bet.
3. Bumper Plate Physical Structure
Bumper plate quality is largely determined by the materials used. Urethane is the best overall, followed by virgin rubber second and then recycled rubber (with the exception of hi-temp).
3.2 Steel Hub
The steel hub in the middle of a bumper plate is an important construction element. While some plates are designed without a steel hub, most professional bumpers carry steel hub sections with a galvanized or chrome plated finish.
A few years ago, many manufacturers applied brass hubs to their bumper plates. However, brass proved to be less than ideal due to its softness. This made it vulnerable to bending and cracking, severely impacting its durability. Most manufacturers now use stainless steel to make their hubs. However, some producers are still using with brass. These should be avoided.
The bumper plate’s steel hub should fit easily into the sleeve of the bar. If the collar is too wide, the counterweight will slide. The bumper hub should have a diameter that is close to that of the bar to ensure a quick on/ off operation and a secure fit.
Steel hubs are usually made of steel 45, and all steel hubs have the same diameter. For bumpers of different sizes, though, the thickness of the hub will vary.
There are 3 reasons to choose a steel hub in your bumper plate:
1. It’s metallic appearance can improve the aesthetic appeal of the bumper.
2. It counts for 40-50% of total weight.
3. It reduces the thickness of the bumper, allowing more bumper plates to be placed on the barbell.
4. Bumper Plate Physical Properties:
All weight plates should, ideally, be round. If they aren’t, the flat surface on the plate’s outer edge may cause it to move. Having a lip on the edge of the plate also makes for easier pick-up, especially when the plate is lying flat on the floor. A lip also makes the outer edge of the bumper wider than the center. This prevents collision and damage of the steel hub.
Bumper plates are available in kilograms and pounds. They come in the same weight range as standard Olympic weights.
Bumper weights in pounds:
- 55 lb
- 45 lb
- 35 lb
- 25 lb
- 15 lb
- 10 lb
Bumper weights in kilograms:
- 25 kg
- 20 kg
- 15 kg
- 10 kg
We see from the above, that there is more variety in pounds measurement than in kilograms. If manufactured in accordance with the IWF standard, each plate should be guaranteed within + /-10 grams of the claimed weight.
The majority of bumper plates on the current market have a weight tolerance of between 2-3%.
At Yanre Fitness, we offer bumper plates with a guaranteed weight tolerance within +/- 1%!
Due to the fact that bumper plates all have the same diameter, it can be hard to tell the difference between them. That is why bumper plates are traditionally color coded to the IWF standard. These standards are followed by all countries involved in Olympic competition. For fitness enthusiasts, color bumpers can help provide motivation and visual feedback during the training session. They can also help the lifter and his/her coach to quickly pick and calculate the right weights.
How does color match the different weight?
- Red: 25 kg or 2.5kg
- Blue: 20 kg or 2 kg
- Yellow: 15 kg or 1.5 kg
- Green: 10 kg or 1 kg
- White: 5 kg or 0.5 kg
These colors are not only applied to bumper plates, they also apply to all color coded weightlifting competitions.
Rubber plates feature raised lettering. These are usually coated with indelible ink in another color to identify the weight. The raised lettering on urethane plates is molded to look more intricate in a different color than the plate itself.
Some manufacturers offer bumper plates that do not conform to international color-coding standards. Others mix color and weight, have their own unique color scheme, or have uneven coloring. All of these types of bumper plate should be avoided.
Steel weight plates produce more noise when used than bumper plates. The rubber or urethane material absorbs the impact, greatly reducing the noise factor.
Any product that is made from rubber, including virgin rubber and recycled rubber, will produce an odor. However, the smell of virgin rubber is noticeably milder than that of recycled rubber. Urethane bumper plates will not give out any odor at all.
Hi-temp rubber is the most durable type of recycled rubber. However, it produces a strong odor, making it unsuitable for home use. It is ok, however, for garage and commercial gyms.
For those who are sensitive to the smell of rubber, exposure to the sun or soaking in a solution will remove a certain amount of odor. Over time and with exposure to the atmosphere, the odor will reduce to the point that it is not noticeable.
4.6 Bounce and Hardness
Bumper plates aim to achieve what is called dead bounce. This is when the bumper falls to the ground and stays still. However, this is difficult to achieve. It requires a very high material hardness, known as the Shore hardness. To achieve a dead bounce, the shore hardness scale needs to be 100. Still, the best bumper plate barely bounces, even when dropped from a certain height.
Let’s take a closer look at the Shore Hardness Scale.
The Shore A Durometer scale was invented by Albert Ferdinand Shore. It is used to judge the hardness of a material.
The higher the scale, the higher the resistance of the material to permanent indentation. See the chart below:
For Bumper Plate, a higher Shore rating indicates less bounce. However, less bounce means more noise. Most bumper plates have a hardness scale between 70 and 95. A plate with a 95 Shore rating will have less bounce, greater durability and more noise than one rated at 75.
If noise reduction is a priority for you, crumb rubber plates are a good choice, as they are usually in the “medium” to “hard” range. Virgin rubber has a higher hardness rating than crumb rubber. Virgin rubber is harder, less bouncy and more durable. Due to its hardness, its falling noise is louder than that of crumb rubber.
Competition plates will provide the greatest level of both dead bounce and noise, as they usually have a “hard” shore rating.
In the end you need to balance how important bounce is to you compared to the noise factor.
Poor rubber quality and excessive fineness can cause bumper plates to bend. This can be a problem with small plates which are thin and fragile. A bent plate will produce an uneven load.
5. Buying Tips and Traps to Avoid
- Material: When comparing materials, be aware that some manufacturers apply urethane which is not pure enough; others apply inferior recycled rubber materials, such as the use of shoe rubber. Manufacturers may also add an inferior iron core to large-weight bumpers to bring the cost down.
- Weight Accuracy: Plates that conform to their stated weight will give better performance. However, you will pay more for greater weight accuracy. A weight variance of +/- 3% or higher weight tolerance is not recommended.
- Warranty: Any good bumper plate will have at least a one-year warranty.
- Width & Diameter: Bumper plates should be as close as possible to 450 mm in diameter as possible. The collar opening should be as close as possible to 50.4 mm, which is the IWF standard.
- Color Coding Accuracy: Make sure the weight and the color matches the IWF standard. Check, too, that the coloring is even.
- Printed or Raised Letter: Printed words fade with time, making it difficult to know their weight over time. We recommend choosing raised lettering to indicate the weight.
- Steel Hub: The hub should be made of steel or stainless steel and brass should not be used. For the finish treatment, both chrome-plating or zinc-plating are good options.
- Drop Test: Check to see the data on the maximum number of drops the plate can withstand. Good bumper manufacturers will have such tests and data on their website.
Yanre Fitness Drop Test Details: When dropped at a height of 2.2m, Yanre bumper plates assure 30,000 uses for a hi-temp bumper, 20,000 uses for a competition bumper and 10,000 uses for a training bumper.
Choosing the correct bumper plate type can be a challenging task. We hope that the valuable insights that we have provided in this article have armed you with the knowledge you need to ask the right questions and make the right buying decisions. To get similar valuable insights into how to choose the best barbells for your gym, check out our Best Gym Owner’s Barbell Buying Guide.
Did you find this article valuable? Do you still have unanswered questions about buying bumper plates? Ask it in the comment section, and we’ll be sure to get back to you.
Related reading: top 10 gym equipment brands in China
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