Barbell Sets

A barbell is one of the most basic pieces of exercise equipment, and has been around in one form or another since the very start of weightlifting.

Different types of barbell

Used in both powerlifting and weightlifting training, barbells range in length from 4 feet (1.2m) up to 7.2ft (2.2m). The shorter barbells are most often used in fitness training when loaded with either a fixed amount of weight, or used with relatively low weight.

For heavier weights and more professional lifting, the longer barbell will be used. This is because it offers far greater strength, as well as keeping the weight plates well out of the way when performing the main mass building movements including Olympic lifts.

The actual width of the central section of the bar (not the end sections where the weight plates are attached) also varies, usually between 1 inch and 2 inches in thickness and is engraved with several sections of knurled crosshatch pattern for added grip when performing exercises such as shrugs and deadlifts.

The crosshatch pattern that starts at where the weight plates are slid on and ends about a quarter of the way across on each side also usually features a thin break in the crosshatch. This smooth section is normally only a few millimetres wide and can be useful for acting as a marker for hand positioning and is particularly useful when setting up for bench pressing.

Men’s Olympic bar

This is the most common type of barbell you will find in commercial gyms. There are often a range of smaller bars but the bench press equipment and free weight squat rack will almost always use the 7ft 2inch long bar that weighs 20kg.

Although you may not see it when using lighter weights for heavier compound movements such as deadlifts, when you start lifting over around 240kg you may start to see the bar appear to bounce and bend a little under the tension of the weight at each end. This is a standard part of their design and a requirement of many competitive weightlifting events such as the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics.

Women’s Olympic bar

The slightly smaller and lighter barbells that you may find in your local gym are actually the same as the bars Women use in weightlifting competitions such as the Olympics. As well as being slightly shorter than the men’s bar at 6.9ft it is also lighter at 15kg.

So if you switch between bars from one workout to the next, always remember to add a little more weight if you are dropping down from using the larger bar to the smaller bar.

Outer barbell sections and collar types

There are three main sections to any barbell, the thinner bar section in the middle and the two end sections for attaching weight plates or where the fixed weight has been added.

These end sections are another area of design that differs between barbells. Some have a smooth finish that allows you to slide weight plates on and slide the collar on after, while some have a threaded design that allows you to slide the weight plate on, but requires you use a hand wheel type design and spin the locking collar along the end of the bar until it reaches the weight plate and tighten it in place.

Both designs are equally as effective, with many professional lifters preferring thicker locking metal collars that usually weigh around 2.5kg each and can slide along the bar to the weight plate, then use a special pin to tighten the collar against the bar.

The Marcy 100kg Weight plate set features smooth weight plate sections and very simple locking collars

Exercises you can perform with some weight plates and the different variations of barbell

  • Bench press (flat, incline and decline)
  • Military press
  • Upright row
  • Bicep curls
  • Overhead tricep extensions
  • Barbell pullovers
  • Barbell rows
  • Deadlifts
  • Squats (front and back)
  • Shrugs
  • Variations on the barbell

    EZ curl bar

    The EZ curl bar is a variation on the standard barbell design that looks like someone has bent it out of shape, but the angles are all specially designed to ensure your wrists aren’t put in any uncomfortable positions that could cause injury during exercises.

    EZ curl bars are most often used for exercises such as bicep curls (including standing and seated preacher curls), upright rows and lying or overhead tricep extensions.

    The cambered or 'EZ curl' barbell design features a variety of different angles, to work different areas of the muscle depending on your hand position

    Fixed barbell

    If you walk into any fitness center or commercial gym, one of the most basic pieces of exercise equipment together with a rack full of dumbbells, is the rack loaded with barbells that have a fixed weight.

    These are the shorter bars that provide much more stability compared to the longer Olympic bars, and make the perfect start for anyone that is new to weightlifting or looking to switch quickly between weight ranges.

    Thick-handled barbell

    Although the standard barbell width could be considered the 1 inch bars, there are those that are made with a 2 inch or 3 inch width to the central section. This is to improve your grip strength, particularly in lifts where you are pulling a very heavy bar off the floor such as deadlift, or trying to hold the bar for longer periods of time such as barbell shrugs.

    Although you probably won’t be able to perform as many repetitions with the same weight as a thinner bar, this will help build overall grip strength and forearm size at the same time as working the usual muscles that would get worked in that movement. Whereas the usual Olympic barbells won’t weigh much more than 20kg on their own, these with the thicker bars can weigh up to more than 60kg.

    Trap bar

    Although this type of bar can also be used for deadlifting, the triangular shape of the bar and large space in the middle of the bar’s frame allows for you to stand inside and lift the bar up around you.

    This takes a lot of the pressure off the lower back when performing deadlifts as you are starting the movement from a more vertical position and can drive straight up rather than leaning over the top of the barbell in a traditional deadlift.

    What to consider when buying a barbell set

  • Bar length – If you are just looking for a barbell set that comes with some weight plates and will be using the barbell for free weight exercises that don’t require a rack then the length of the barbell might not be important. But if you already have a bench or squat rack at home then it’s best to always go for either the 6ft or 7ft barbell to make sure the collars sit on the outside of the rack. If you are looking to take part in competitive powerlifting then look to buy a bar as close to the competition bar design and weight as possible so you can get used to lifting with it.
  • Bar weight – When looking at Olympic barbells there is usually a standard weight of between 15kg and 20kg depending on the style. If you are looking to buy a cambered or ‘EZ Curl’ bar then the weight of the bar will be a lot less than the full Olympic barbells, usually around 7kg to 10kg so be sure to factor this in if you are buying this style of bar to replace an old Olympic barbell for any exercises.
  • Bar shape – If you want to train with more than one bar shape, such as a cambered bar and a barbell, then it can make sense to buy this as a set to allow you to perform more exercises. These sets even come with weight plates and locking collars so you can get lifting straight away, such as the 100Kg Vinyl Complete Weight Set
  • Weight plates supplied – Although you can just buy the barbell on its own, this is usually for people who have weight plate sets already. If you are new to weightlifting then you can save money by buying a set that will include weight plates. If you are buying just the barbell and weight plates on their own then you will often get a lot more weight than if you were buying a barbell and dumbbell combo set, such as for the Marcy 140kg Olympic weight plate set.
  • Locking collars supplied – If you are buying an entire weight plate set then you will almost always get a set of locking collars. In many cases though these tend to be relatively lightweight and if you are performing exercises with heavy weight then it may be worth replacing these with a more secure design such as the Lock Jaw Olympic Barbell Collars, which can also be locked in position or removed a lot quicker than most collar designs.
  • Compare Barbell Sets

    The original and still arguably the most effective form of resistance for many exercises is the weighted barbell. Whether you are powerlifting, bodybuilding or lifting weights for fitness, the chances are you would have used this piece of exercise equipment before.
    Barbell Sets

    Despite the simplicity of the barbell, there is still a wide variety of products available and it’s important to choose the best weight set for you. These articles look in detail at the best barbell weight sets available today.

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