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.
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
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.
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.
Exercises you can perform with some weight plates and the different variations of barbell
Variations on the barbell
EZ curl bar
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.
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.
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.
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
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.