A barbell is essential for strength training.

Different types of barbells and how they are used in weight training

Olympic barbell

Olympic barbells are the gold standard. Typically, an Olympic barbell is around 7 feet in length, allowing even a super-heavyweight to get his hands far apart during the snatch. The weight is 20 kg (44 pounds). Sleeves mounted on roller bearings allow the weight plates to rotate freely during overhead lifts. This way, you can keep a tight grip on the bar without fear of abrasions caused by the bar’s knurling.

An Olympic barbell: bar, weight plates, and collars.

An Olympic barbell: bar with rotating sleeves, weight plates, and collars.

A huge array of styles is available. Prices range from $60 to several hundred dollars depending on the machining tolerances and the guarantees offered by their manufacturers. Olympic barbells used in traditional weight lifting competitions are springy, but those used in powerlifting meets are stiffer. Because of the increased diameter associated with the roller bearings, these barbells only accept plates with 2-inch holes (51mm).

Use this type of bar if:

  • You’re strong enough to handle a lot of weight
  • You like to lift overhead
  • You have a lot of room in which to work out
  • You plan to compete in weight lifting or powerlifting competitions

Check out the selection at Amazon: Olympic Barbells.

Standard barbell

Most home weight lifters are familiar with standard barbells. These bars accept weight plates with 1-inch holes, and they’re usually shorter and significantly lighter than Olympic barbells. It is rare to find a standard bar that holds as much weight as an Olympic barbell.

Ez curl bar

Ez curl bars are cambered to take pressure off the wrists during curls and other exercises. They are commonly used by bodybuilders (and others) to handle more weight than with a straight barbell without overstressing the wrist joints.

EZ curl bars give you several grip options to reduce wrist stress.

EZ curl bars give you several grip options to reduce wrist stress.

Although originally designed for curling, these bars are also useful during some triceps exercises, upright rows, and even during close-grip bench presses.

You can pick up a standard ez curl bar relatively cheaply, or spring for a rotating curl bar that accepts Olympic-sized plates.

For many casual fitness buffs, ez curl bars are the first piece of specialized equipment they purchase. Compare prices and features at Amazon: Ez Curl Bars.

Want to read a comprehensive article about EZ-curl bars? Check out EZ curl bars

Triceps bar

With a triceps bar, you can use a parallel grip.

With a triceps bar, you can use a parallel grip.

Triceps bars allow for a parallel grip, which is useful during triceps presses. You can use more weight during behind-the-head triceps exercises if you use one of these. Although they’re probably less useful in the grand scheme of things than an EZ curl bar, they are more expensive because of the extra welding required to manufacture one. If you’re in the mood to shop, check out a selection of triceps bars at Amazon: Triceps Bars.

Trap bar

Trap bars are uncommon, but some well-equipped gyms have them. Usually, however, they’re used by long-time lifters who can no longer do regular squats or deadlifts because of a bad back.

Trap bars take stress from the lower back during deadlifts.

Trap bars take stress from the lower back during deadlifts.

A trap bar gives you the chance to perform heavy deadlifts without bending over at the waist. Performing a trap bar deadlift is similar to using a leg press machine because the lower-back muscles are not put under as much stress as they are during a conventional deadlift.

Of course, you can use this bar to train the trapezius muscles of your upper back and neck. But most bodybuilding gyms have a trap machine that is more convenient and does away with time-consuming plate loading.

Check out the specs at Amazon.com: Shrug/Trap Bars

Specialty bars

Over the years, many people have invented barbell replacements that serve a specialized weight lifting niche. Thick or cambered bars, and safety squat bars are some of the most popular.

Safety squat

Safety squat bars make it easier to grab the bar by taking pressure off the shoulder joints, and they lower the center of gravity, aiding stability.

Check them out at Amazon.com: Safety Squat Bar

The safety squat bar is one example of a specialty barbell

The safety squat bar is one example of a specialty barbell

Thick barbell

Thick barbells are used by trainees who want to improve their grip. Generally, they’re heavier than normal barbells. See one at Amazon.com: Fat Olympic Barbell

For an in-depth look at thick-bar training, check out thick handle barbells.

Cambered or bent bars

World-class powerlifters sometimes use bent bars for squats or bench pressing. During squats, these bars enhance stability by taking some of the load from the lower back and shifting it to the legs; during pressing, they increase the range of motion.

Cambered bars are useful during bench rows for the lats and upper back. They allow lifters to increase the range of motion on this exercise which is designed to work the upper back without putting any stress on the lower back.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Dane Becker July 5, 2010 at 7:46 pm

I am a beginner. Why are some dumbbells longer than others. I have two regulation barbells and one is a good bit longer than the other. Why is that?

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Thomas July 5, 2010 at 10:13 pm

As with most bits of marketing lingo, the word “regulation” means nothing. For sports like (Olympic-style) weightlifting, the organizations which govern the sport specify a “regulation” sized bar, but they can’t enforce anything other than whatever goes on in their own competitions.

Weightlifters need to get their hands pretty far apart during the snatch. A 7-foot bar is a necessity for big guys who snatch.

But most people who work out at home don’t snatch or do other overhead lifts other than the military press or some variant thereof. They can get away with using a shorter bar, and some people like shorter bars because they don’t require as much workout space.

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Solomon Tewodros August 25, 2010 at 1:54 am

i want big body b/c i’m big fat. You so good like it very much

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toby November 3, 2010 at 7:48 pm

word fat brother, word…

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cyndi September 5, 2010 at 12:25 pm

i was wondering if you know of a websight that might explane the different parts of different bars and give an explanation as to why they are shaped that way etc….. what is whip and gnarling. what bars and where on the different bars will you find this? sorry for so many questions, but im curious why there is so little information out there explaning this unless i dont know where to look. thankyou cyndi

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Thomas September 5, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Whip is the “springiness” of the bar. Some lifters believe “whip” helps them lift more weight during Olympic lifts like the snatch.

Knurling is a crosshatch pattern that’s machined into the bar while it turns on a lathe. Here is a Wikipedia page that describes it: Knurling.

Traditionally, barbells have knurling at the grip points. Simply put, it makes it easier to hold onto the bar. Most barbells have knurling in the center, even though one-handed barbell lifts are uncommon in modern times. This is a vestige of past weight lifting practices, since one-handed lifts were much more common a century (or more) ago.

You’re right that there’s not much clear, unbiased information about barbells on the ‘web. That’s because there are very few true standards to which writers can refer. Each sports sanctioning organization uses different equipment; they all have different standards and practices. For instance, the barbells used by powerlifters are different than those used by the weight lifters in the Olympics (though superficially, they resemble each other).

Since most hardcore weightlifting and powerlifting is a club sport rather than a widespread pastime, it seems information is guarded by members and passed down by word of mouth, so as to avoid helping out their competitors.

Thanks for the comment, I wish I could provide more info.

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Dane Becker September 18, 2010 at 6:02 am

I have found that there are several manufactures of Olympic Straight Bars and Easy Curl Bars. The straight bars have different tolerances for weight, 750-900-1500lbs etc. Most bars do not seem to have name brands or model numbers on them. When looking at them new they vary in price from around $100 to $300. I can’t tell which I am buying when I buy used. My question is, when buying used bars, how do you identify make, model and tolerance levels of the bar.

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matt May 2, 2011 at 12:42 am

you can also use a tricep bar for hammer curls

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Jamie January 24, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Thanks so much for this post. I’m new to lifting and just pulled all of my husbands equipment out of the basement. This really helped me to make sense of what I was looking at :)

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Tyciol January 29, 2012 at 4:38 pm

I’d add to this Super-EZ which is just a variation of Ez-bars with more pronounced curves.

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Jean-Denis Haas April 16, 2012 at 12:36 am

I got a power rack to do some heavy lifting, pull ups, dips, etc. and it’s great, but then I realized the only thing I didn’t research was the width of the rack. I was naive to think that the j hooks would be okay for any barbell, but the width is 49″.

Sounds like I can only use olympic bars with a 51″ grip area? Do they have regular barbells that would fit?

Thanks!

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Phil March 26, 2014 at 9:04 am

If you have dumbbells there is no need for the EZcurl or tricep bars, other than personal preference.

I use a standard bar because an olympic bar is too heavy for my wife to manage and the smaller plates could be used on spin-lock dumbbells. I no longer have the spin-locks, but I still have my wife. So for cleans I use lifting gloves and leave the spring clips a bit loose so the weight can rotate. It’s not as good as using an olympic bar, but it’s good enough at the moderate weight I use.

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