Barbells & Fixed Weight Barbells

Using a barbell to get fit is great if you're comfortable using them. You could of course use a machine to do the same exercises, but using barbells and free weights will help your muscles grow stronger and will give you more control with lifting.

Barbells are simply a long chromed steel bar with free weights attached to either end. They are useful for a range of exercises (you can see them below) and are great to help you build muscle as well strengthen muscle through control of the bar.

The two most common barbells are "plate loaded" and "fixed". The plate loaded barbells are the best option, as you can alter the weight to suit your strength anytime.

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buying guides for barbells

Barbell Buying Guide

What is a Barbell?

A barbell can weigh anything from 10 to 100 lbs. the weight is in discs which sit at the end of a bar. These are usually made of cast iron and locked in place by collars. A great range of strength work can be carried out with barbells including bench presses, deadlifts, squats and bicep curls. Read our guide to buy the right barbell however as they can warp, bend, rust and even break!

The Basic Construction of a Barbell

First you have the bar itself, which is sometimes called the shaft. On the shaft you have knurling, which we explain below. Some bars have knurling that extends all the way to the sleeves, some will have centre knurling and some will have no knurling where the bar meets the sleeve. If you are buying online, read reviews to see what’s right for you.

Then we have what you see referred to as sleeves. This is where you put the weight. The biggest thing you are looking for here is the rotation. Then we get to the real nub of the barbell- its strength.

Different manufacturers will use different ways to report this but you will see tensile strength, yield strength and test. Tensile strength is the maximum load your bar can support without breaking, so the higher the tensile strength, the better the bar. Tensile strength is reported in pounds per square inch (PSI). A good bar for most people should offer a tensile rating of 150,000-175,000 PSI.

Yield strength is how much weight the bar can take before being deformed, so again high yield strength, the better the bar. The test means that the bar has been loaded and tested with weights.

Different Types of Barbells

Olympic Barbells

An Olympic barbell can carry plates weighing as much as 800lbs. The steel bar is 7 feet long and weighs 45 lbs. You can get smaller Olympic bars, these are usually 4-6 feet long. The Olympic bar as the name implies is designed for Olympic weightlifting, the snatch, clean and jerk. They will flex a little bit and the loading sleeves rotate smoothly. They are a good choice if you can afford them as they are very robust, in other words they will withstand being dropped from over your head repeatedly.


A standard barbell measures 5-6 feet long and the steel bar weights 22 lbs. Standard barbells are cheaper and best suited to those who are new to lifting weights. You will also see these type of barbells used in classes like BodyPump

Powerlifting Bars

If you want to really focus on powerlifting however and want to do lots of bench press, dead lifts, squats then a power lifting bar could be good for you. They are different from Olympic bars in that they have thicker grips and less whip. They will hold very heavy weights without bending much. In essence they are very stiff.

What to Look for When Buying a Barbell


The grip that you want is all about your preference and how much weight you will be lifting. You will hear the word knurling used a lot. Knurling is all about the hatched grip pattern. Some bars have knurling in the centre of the bar. This can be useful when you are back squatting. Some people don’t like centre knurling as it can for example scrape your chest when you are overhead lifting.

If you want a really good grip as you may get sweaty then look for a knurled crosshatch pattern on the grip area.


Here you have a choice between bumper plates or iron plates. If you are power lifting then iron plates should be fine but if you are dropping the bar a lot then rubber bumper plates can be the best buy as they will not bend or break as easily when dropped on the floor. Black bumpers are thick and will give you a big bounce, coloured bumpers have less bounce.


This is all about the coating on the barbell which protects it from oxidation. Bare steel has no coating so you will need to do some maintenance on it. This will involve oiling the barbell. If however you buy a black oxide finish then you will have some rust protection. A zinc finish offers you a bit more and if you want the best protection then buy a barbell with a chrome finish.


Look for freely rotating sleeves, those that use the bearing mechanism are made up of small metal balls that roll between the moving parts making rotation very smooth.

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