Barbells are an important training tool. Here’s how to find one that will help you build muscle size, strength, and power for life.
Read time: 9 minutes
Barbells are one hell of a training tool.
From the old time strongmen to today’s monster powerlifters, barbell training remains the best way to pack weight onto a lift and increase strength and power output.
If you’re really looking to advance in weightlifting, powerlifting, or strength training, a good barbell is imperative.
Tried and true weight room movements like squats, deadlifts, bench pressing, overhead pressing, and rowing are the best ways to stimulate muscle growth and kickstart the fat-burning process.
Now, I’m not saying other tools don’t have their place, but the barbell should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind when they want to pack on muscle and get lean.
How are barbells a great choice for the person looking to get bigger, stronger, and leaner?
Let Us Count The Ways
But first a cool picture of me holding a barbell, enjoy 😉
1. Big Compound Movements
Big compound movements use many muscles at the same time, causing stress and leaving your body with that “oh shit!” moment forcing it to adapt. These movements not only damage more muscle fibers, leading to more growth, but they also stimulate hormone release such as king Test (osterone), his cousin Growth (Hormone), and their childhood friend Insulin (like growth factor-1) and all the fat burning and muscle building goodness that comes about when those guys come out to play.
2. Less Time In The Weight Room
You don’t need to spend hours, and hours, and hours, and hours in the weight room to get results. When you’re hitting multiple muscles on each lift, you don’t have to spend hours each day pounding away. This is good for naturals because we can’t, and shouldn’t be in the weight room for hours upon hours. Too much time under stress leads your body to release stress hormones, such as cortisol, which, when too much is present, breaks down muscle and is the opposite of what we’re after.
“Short and intense, in lifting, and really in any activity, is time well spent!”
– Jim Ratt
3. Less choice = Better Performance
We’re inundated with choices every day, everything from what restaurant to eat at, to what TV show to watch (how about… none! That’s my choice), so going into the weight room and having only a few choices to choose from should be absolutely liberating. Simple, big, multi-joint movements are what you need to be doing, and the choice is clear!
4. Easier to Get Started
If you’re building a home gym, a barbell and some weight plates is all you need to get started. Sure, you might need a rack to bench and squat, but you can start off with overhead presses, rows, deadlifts, front squats, cleans, and snatches, and get a hell of a good start at that! Instead of investing in every gadget and gizmo under the sun, why not stick to the tried and true methods that work? Oh yeah, did I mention…
5. Barbell Training Works!
All the aforementioned fitness crap is unnecessary and is a waste of precious materials. Stay far away from unproven garbage and stick to the basics. There’s a reason fitness fads come and go, and that’s because they don’t work, or maybe work for one person.
With that being said, don’t lift like an idiot! it’s easy to get caught up in “ego-lifting” and trying to show off your numbers with compound movements, so stay safe, train smart, and keep the gains coming!
Now with all this being said and certain feelings flying around, if you’re in the market for a good barbell, the amount of choices (like I said before, inundated!) out there will make your head spin.
Not only are there hundreds of company’s making barbells these days, but there are hundreds of different kinds of barbells out there just to confuse the hell out of you and lead to a nice case of paralysis by analysis.
I know because this happened to me, and not just with a barbell either. It also happened with just about every piece of equipment in my garage gym, but I digress.
The good news is that most people would get by just fine with a basic barbell good for all-around lifting, and then upgrade if they find that they take to a certain kind of lifting more than others.
I briefly covered barbells in this exhaustive post, but here we’re going to get into the bloody details and get down and dirty with it.
Listen, Mack, if you’re serious about your training, some cheap crappy barbell just won’t do.
What you want when choosing a barbell is something you can grow with, something that’s going to last a lifetime.
All of this is if you’re setting up a home gym of course, which I highly (highly!) recommend to keep you consistent and limit excuses. Nothing is easier than walking ten feet and having your equipment right there.
But let’s get into it, shall we?
Things to Look For When Choosing a Barbell
1. Optimal Use
First ask what you’ll be doing most of. Powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, Crossfit, or just general strength training? You’ll want a barbell to match your needs. If you’re going to be doing just general strength training or you’re going to dip your toes into many disciplines, an all purpose barbell wills serve you just fine.
2. Check the Knurling
Knurling is basically the rough pattern contrasting the smooth part of the barbell (where you place your hands and grip the barbell). Some bars will have more aggressive knurling, like those for powerlifting, and some will have less aggressive knurling, like those for Olympic lifting. Aggressive knurling gives you better grip on the bar for heavy-ass lifts, but will tear your hands up. Another option for serious lifters is to just get some chalk. Straps and gloves are big fat no in my eyes. Build hand strength and build those palms up with callouses. Also look for center knurling if you’re going to be powerlifting, as this will help keep the bar on your back for heavy ass squats.
3. Bar Weight and Girth
20 kg (about 45 lbs) is the standard Olympic bar weight. Some bars, such as “fat bars” or heavier duty powerlifting bars will weigh more, and some bars will even have a higher diameter (more girth) as well. These would be bars such as the aforementioned “fat bars”. If you’re a beginner or intermediate trainer, it’s probably best to just stick with the basics here and get a standard “Olympic” barbell. You can toy around with other types of barbells and training tools when you get to the advanced stages of your lifting career to eke out any remaining gains in size and strength.
4. Feel Out The Finish
The finish is important with a garage or basement gym, just because it may be a bit damp, and an unfinished or uncoated bar will rust out over time. And trust me, a rusty barbell is of no use. This is also true for uncoated weight plates. Look for a bar with some kind of coating, like zinc oxide, or chrome. These will mess with the “feel” a bit, but are totally worth the peace of mind of not having to maintain it as diligently as say, a raw steel bar.
5. “Whip”, and Bushings and Bearings
Bearings are responsible for the bars “whip”, or how fast the sleeves rotate. This is important in Olympic lifting as the bar will be moving at very high velocities, and good “whip” is imperative for correct momentum and inertia to avoid injuries. Look for high quality ball bearings. If you’re into powerlifting or just general lifting for strength gain and fitness, this doesn’t matter as much, and pretty much and type or bearing or bushing will do (just make sure the sleeves rotate!).
6. Check The Loadable Sleeve Length (LSL)
This is the area that is loaded with weight plates, and should be big enough to add some serious weight to. This area should be around 16″ in length. Smaller barbells, like EZ curl bars, will have a shorter LSL, but that’s because less weight is usually used on these bars.
7. Strength of Steel: PSI Tensile Strength
This is the strength of the steel. The higher the number, the stronger the steel is resistant to breaking apart under force. Most good bars are rated at 190,000 PSI or higher, which is very strong. All of this means it will handle pretty much any load you throw at it. Strong steel is good steel, and important when you get to lifting heavier loads.
8. Is There a Warranty?
There should be. Make sure any bar you buy has a lifetime warranty. You don’t want to be stuck with a lemon. This is why buying a barbell from a reputable company is imperative.
9. What Type of Barbell? Standard or Olympic
There are many different sizes of barbells, but the most versatile and probably the best is going to be an “Olympic” size barbell, or one that is around 7 feet long, has a 16″ LSL, and weighs around 45 lbs. These are the bars you see in most gyms, and they are compatible with “Olympic” weight plates with 2″ hole openings. If you can, try to stay away from smaller barbells, as most of these are compatible with 1″ diameter opening weight plates. These are not as strong as “Olympic” barbells, and are a lot harder to find weights for.
So What Barbell Do I Recommend?
I’m going to channel my inner Seth Godin here and drop a little marketing knowledge, and offer you the reasons I was sold.
After much research and bellyaching, I finally made the decision to go with a barbell from Rogue Fitness for three reasons, really:
1. Word of mouth, or word of lift, in this case. I was familiar with the brand as the gym I go to uses a lot of Rogue stuff. I knew it was quality and therefore I was more likely to be happy because I was already familiar with the brand. Since an authority (the gym) was using it, I was more likely to use it (and like it).
2. Great user experience. Rogue has a top notch website, great warranties, great customer support, and free shipping. The customer service part is also very important in any transaction.
3. Unmatched quality. Quality craftmanship and workmanship. Rogue knows their way around weight room equipment and every piece is forged and checked for quality and workmanship. You can see the
passion obsession on their website, newsletter, and marketing materials. You can also tell that the employees lift themselves. This passion obsession is contagious and spills into their remarkable products.
Put these three things together and you have something remarkable on your hands. How’s remarkable for a nice buzzword, eh?
I went with the Rogue Ohio Bar
After a full year of use, I can pretty much say I have very few qualms about this barbell. It’s done it’s job.
What I like about the Rogue Ohio Bar:
It does it’s job. The bar is solid and isn’t even touched by heavier loads. Like many of the best things in life, you usually just forget about it until it’s time to use it, and when you need to use it, the thing just works, and works well.
What I don’t like:
The knurling. This isn’t really the bar’s fault, but my own. I use it as an all-purpose bar, and it’s more for Olympic style weight lifting, hence the less aggressive knurling. The less aggressive knurling makes it tough to hold heavy deadlifts without chalk. I remedy this problem by using a alternating grip, but I’ve almost lost heavier deadlifts because of the lack of grip. Therefore, if you’re going to be going heavy in your lifts, it’s probably best to get a more specific bar to your needs.
The finish. Probably my fault again, but the finish is starting to show signs of being exposed to a little too much moisture, but hey that’s the name of the game when you have a gym in a garage. If you feel moisture will be a problem, go with a stainless steel bar or something with more protection.
Let’s Wrap This Thing Up
Really that’s it.
I have no other complaints.
It’s gets the job done, boy-0.
Remember that old commercial? Set it and forget it?
Well get it and forget it, my friends.
Any questions or comments, hit me up!
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Note: There are no affiliate links in this article, but if you do purchase from Rogue, tell ’em Sonny sent you. They’ll know what that means. 🙂
Cheers to the lifting life.
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