Need to buy weight plates for your gym? Here’s some valuable info to help you choose the best.
Weight plates, also called barbell plates, weight discs, or bumper plates, may seem alike, being metal discs for adding on bars. However, even among standard plates, there are many different kinds to choose from.
One obvious variation among weight plate sets is their heaviness. There is a wide range of such barbell weights available, suited for everyone from newbies to powerlifters. Since they are quite costly, it is important to select the right ones to make maximal use of them.
This guide discusses weight plate sets at length so that you can make an informed purchase. This article addresses the following queries:
- What kind of weight plates should I select for my workout studio?
- What are the most important properties to consider?
- What kinds of products should I stay away from?
With this comprehensive buying guide for weight plates, you can get to know the basics of this equipment along with valuable recommendations and suggestions from experts in the industry.
Table of Contents
- 1. Quick Comparison Chart
- 2. Weight Plate Types
- 3. Weight Plate Physical Structure
- 4. Weight Plate Physical Properties
- 5. Buying Tips and Traps to Avoid
- 6. Conclusion
1. Quick Comparison Chart
Before diving into the details of weight plate types and their various properties, we have charted an overview of it all to summarize it for you.
Since a variety of weight plates are available out there, it is important to know their differences and how each feature influences their usability and performance. Right now, traditional metal plates aren’t the only option. Bumper plates are increasing in popularity as well.
While we have a separate buying guide for bumper plates in detail, you might be wanting to consider metal ones too. Both have their unique properties, as you’ll see right below in the chart.
2. Weight Plate Types
2.1 By Material: Steel vs Cast Iron
Now that you know weight plates come in different materials, you must keep in mind their differences. The material of gym plates can be significant in determining what they are used for.
The majority of weight plates are still made of cast iron. These are less durable and less costly than steel plates, while both are used the same way. Metal weight plates of cast iron or steel may be regular or calibrated.
Calibrated Weight Plates:
Calibrated steel or iron plates are of accurate weight, enabling you to know the exact amount of weight you lift. These are thinner than traditional cast iron plates, allowing more of them to be loaded together on Olympic bars. Calibrated plates are also more expensive, and are used in competitions.
Regular Metal Plates:
These are traditional iron or steel plates that have been in use for decades. While they may be noisier, they are pretty affordable and effective as well.
We always recommend calibrated plates over regular ones for serious lifters. Calibrated machined plates aren’t that expensive if you don’t buy them from top brands. Their level of accuracy and machined texture that prevents damage and injury makes these plates worth the extra cost.
2.2 By Finish & Coating
You’ll usually find rubber or urethane coated barbell plates in commercial fitness centers since they are budget-friendly and rarely damage the floor when dropped lightly.
The choice between rubber-coated and non-coated weight plates is up to you. Uncoated plates make a good amount of noise when loaded onto a bar, but they may not be durable enough. Not all plates without coating can be dropped on the ground safely.
Based on the coating and finish, weight plates can be classified as bare (uncoated), chrome-plated, rubber-coated, and urethane coated.
Bare Iron / Steel Weight Plate
These are plates that cost the least, made of either iron or steel and lacking any coating. Bare weight plates tend to make a lot of banging noise when in use, so we don’t recommend these for commercial use.
Bare steel or iron is prone to corrosion and rust as in the long term. No matter whether you paint, powder-coat, or plate them, rust will be the result. While this won’t affect their weight, it will make them look old and feel rough to hold.
Another important issue is that iron weight plates can be very inaccurate as well. Purchasing them from cheap brands increases the chances of deviation in weight, which may be as much as 5 to 10%. It’s better to spend a few more bucks to get something of higher quality instead that will last its worth.
- Low cost
- Good grip
- Make noise
- May damage the ground
- Weight deviation
Chrome Weight Plate
While pure chrome weight plates aren’t generally available, some high-quality plates come with a chrome finish. This increases durability while giving them a finished look. Moreover, you can expect steel plates to have some chrome in them since chrome is often used in manufacturing steel.
- Glossy finish
- Low cost
- More lasting than uncoated iron/steel plates
- Available in rubber or urethane coated forms
Rubber-coated Weight Plate
Rubber is the commonest material used for coating weight plates. Although it makes weight plates durable, it gets scratched easily. The plate itself is made of iron or steel and is then coated with rubber on the surface. This coating helps minimize damage to both the plate and the ground it is dropped on.
If you need something that lasts and are not concerned about maintaining its looks, rubber-coated plates are a cost-effective option. However, you should prepare yourself for their characteristic rubbery smell, which is stronger in cheaper quality plates.
These weight plates are also referred to as ‘Non-standard Olympic plates’. Rubber-coated plates owe this name to the grips cut in them for ease of handling, and to their smaller circumference compared to standard Olympic plates.
- Reasonably priced
- Protective for both the plate and the ground
- Rubbery smell
- Easily scratched
Urethane Coated Weight Plate
These are the most durable yet most expensive kind of weight plates. This is because while urethane is more lasting than rubber, it also comes at a higher cost.
Urethane coated weight plates are overall identical in size to rubber plates while being far more resistant to scratching and damage. These commercial-grade plates also offer superior protection for your gym equipment, floor, and walls.
If you need to make a durable one-time purchase that will last you decades, we recommend you to go for these. Along with being built to last while appearing presentable even after regular use, urethane weight plates look impressive with their smooth finish. Their odorless nature makes them further appealing, unlike the off-gassing properties of rubber.
Lastly, urethane coated weight plates are generally thinner than rubber-coated plates of the same weight. This enables more plates to be loaded on a single bar, which can be helpful when using many plates at once or when using them together with thicker bumper plates.
With all the benefits that urethane-coated plates have over rubber, it doesn’t make rubber plates a bad choice if you’re on a budget. Just be prepared for the rubbery smell and don’t mind the scratches that appear with use.
- Most durable
- No smell
- Resistant to scratching easily, unlike rubber
- Thinner than equally heavy rubber plates
3. Weight Plate Physical Structure
Instead of simply looking at a weight plate as a whole disk, look closer at each of its parts to know whether it is any good.
You can predict the quality of a weight plate if you know its material. Steel plates are better than cast iron ones.
3.2 Handle / Grip
One more thing to notice about weight plates is the inclusion of handles in them. With lighter plates of up to 10 lbs, it’s still easy to pick up and load them without handles. However, heavier plates of 35 lbs or so can be challenging to use without any handle.
We recommend steering clear of smooth plates. While they may look good, they are not convenient to use.
Handles can also open up new exercise possibilities for you by allowing you to use the weight plate itself as a free weight. Weighted exercises like shrugs, loaded carries, etc can be conveniently done by gripping a weight plate with its handle.
3.3 Bevel / Lip
One feature of weight plates that is commonly ignored is their bevel. This is an indentation on the outer part of the plate which helps you slide your finger underneath a plate to pick it off the ground. It also makes it easy to separate a plate from others loaded together on a bar.
4. Weight Plate Physical Properties
There are 5 major factors to consider when selecting an Olympic weight plate set for your gym:
This is the first thing to notice among the features of a weight plate. While weight plates are generally known for being round (as they should be), you may come across 8 or 12 sides weight plates every once in a while.
These have decreased in popularity nowadays, but were once popularly used in high-end gyms, and can even be found in some places to date. While this unique design may seem attractive to gym owners, it is not recommended since it can be dangerous. When you’re doing lifts that begin or end on the floor, round plates are the safest. Flat-sided plates can make them move due to their outer edges.
The hole size of a weight plate matters more than you think, and according to that, plates may be standard size, Olympic size, or studio size. These are discussed below, along with their uses.
Olympic Size Plates (2 Inch Hole)
While the other two plate sizes aren’t that confusing for most people, Olympic size plates are often misunderstood despite being used widely in weightlifting activities.
Olympic Discs worldwide measure the same, which includes a hole 2 inches (around 5 cm) in diameter. These can be loaded on all commercial bars, and the majority of plate loaded varieties of gym equipment.
Whether you’re a serious powerlifter or a commercial gym owner in any part of the world, Olympic plates are what you should be using. Don’t mistake them as exclusive items for Olympic weightlifting – these plates are popularly used in bodybuilding, fitness enhancement, and virtually any aspect of weightlifting activity.
Standard Size Plates (1 Inch Hole)
Standard weight discs can be used in gyms as well. These have a smaller hole of 1 inch (2.5 cm) diameter. Standard size weight plates cannot be loaded on Olympic bars.
The most common use of these weight plates is in a gym environment. They are hard to find in commercial gyms as those exclusively use Olympic sized bars. While these plates may work well for beginners due to their reasonable price, they are not recommended for carrying out complicated compound lifts.
Studio Size Plates (30 mm Hole)
Used mainly in studio classes as indicated by their name, studio size plates have an approximately 30 mm hole. These are easy to load on specialized studio bars which are compatible with their size. However, studio bars are not suited to gym floors since they aren’t convenient for higher reps while lifting.
Instead of being used for powerlifting, studio discs are almost exclusively used in group exercise programs such as Les Mill’s body pump. Generally, these weight plates are easily identifiable, having a smaller size and vibrant colors. They also tend to have handles and are coated with rubber, and can be easily stored in the corner of any studio.
As far as plate thickness is concerned, it can firstly affect the level of impact on the ground when a plate is dropped. Thicker plates like bumper plates are usually safer in this regard.
However, bumper plates are more suited to CrossFit workouts and home gyms since they can’t be loaded in greater amounts on a bar because of their thickness. For commercial gyms and powerlifting, Olympic plates are your best bet.
4.4 Weight Tolerance
As we mentioned before, sometimes, a weight plate may not be exactly as heavy as stated. While weight plate manufacturers may be trying hard to get them to weigh as precisely as possible, metals may be difficult to manipulate at times. If you’re serious about lifting, accuracy matters. Trying to work with different weights on two sides of a bar can be ineffective and even dangerous.
Tolerance is the percentage of accuracy in a weight plate and is used to indicate the difference between the labeled weight and actual weight of a plate. A 45 lb weight with 2% tolerance, for instance, indicates that its weight may vary by 0.9 lbs (2% of 45) above or below its stated weight.
For those training for competitions, we always recommend a maximum tolerance of 2% and no more. For general strength training, up to 4% tolerance is generally acceptable.
If you need a weight plate set that will last you decades, you can’t go for cheap weight sets. Urethane coated plates are ideal in such cases, with the initial expense being enough for your plates to stay in good condition even after years of use.
As far as breakage is concerned, it is quite rare with weight plates since most are made of sturdy cast iron. However, cases of cracks after dropping have occurred, mostly in plates with grips. Urethane coated plates protect from such damage as well.
5. Buying Tips and Traps to Avoid
One thing to be aware of is that while you may find many high-quality gym weight sets in the market, there’s also an abundance of cheap quality stuff you should avoid. Here are some things to take care of when shopping for weight plates:
Barbell / Plate Compatibility
- Ensure that the bar you are using doesn’t have a larger diameter than the plate hole so that you can load it for use. Since a regular Olympic bar is 2 inches in diameter, an Olympic plate with a 2-inch center hole works well with it.
- If you’re using another kind of bar, find out the diameter of its sleeve (the rod where plates are loaded) before purchasing weight plates for it.
- Don’t buy plates with holes much larger than your bar’s diameter, since they may make the bar unstable and even slip off during use.
Know more about barbell, read best gym owner’s barbell buying guide here.
Look for Ease of Handling
- Handles and raised inserts can make your weight plates convenient to use.
- Handles make a plate easy to pick up and load on a bar. Smooth weight discs can be challenging to use since there’s no place to engage your palm.
- Raised inserts prevent plates from resting flat on the floor, leaving space for your fingers to slide under and pick them up.
Now that you know all the details any gym owner should about weight plates, you can make a better purchase according to your requirements and budget. Leave any feedback you have in the comments below. We value your input!
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