Barbell Basics

Barbells serve as a crucial component in your home gym, enabling you to enhance your lifting capacity and efficiently build strength.

A barbell consists of a long metal bar, usually around seven feet long, to which you can attach weight plates at both ends.

In the middle is the shaft, which is where you’ll find smooth sections broken up by rougher parts. These rough sections are called knurling.

Different types of knurling are applied to different bars depending on the discipline weightlifters practice.

On both ends of the bar, you’ll find two raised parts on either side called sleeves. Inside these parts reside bearings and/or bushings that allow the barbell to spin during power-driven like Olympic-focused exercises or withstand the thousands of pounds powerlifters can lift.

The sleeves are also where you can place your weight plates that are held in place by a clip or collar.

Barbells are considered the most popular type of weightlifting equipment because they offer several benefits for every level and discipline of a weightlifter.

As versatile as dumbbells, barbells allow for adjustable weight increments, progressive loading, and the selection of bar styles to target specific muscle groups and achieve personal records.

Barbells excel in facilitating heavy lifts, such as squats and deadlifts, while also being effective for curls and presses.

There are many different types of barbells designed to cater to different workout styles and preferences. Here are some common types of barbells you may encounter:

Types of Barbells

Various barbell types may be found when shopping for weightlifting equipment.

Olympic Barbell

The Olympic barbell is the most prevalent type of bar available in commercial and home gyms. They can be considered the umbrella term for most standard bars that are not designed for a specific sport or purpose.

It is characteristically 7.2 feet (2.2 meters) long and weighs 45 pounds (20 kilograms). Budget-friendly Olympic barbells hold a minimum of 500 pounds while higher-end barbells can hold up to 2,000 pounds.

The Olympic-style barbell serves as a basis for numerous other barbell variations depending on the discipline and purpose they will be used for.

Weightlifting Barbell

Weightlifting barbells are specialized types of barbells designed specifically for use in Olympic weightlifting competitions, which include the snatch and the clean and jerk.

They are built to meet strict standards set by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) to ensure consistent performance across competitions and training facilities.

A weightlifting barbell has defining features that set it apart from other types of barbells:

Rotating Sleeves: These sleeves house high-load ball bearings which allow the weight plates to spin independently of the bar reducing the risk of injury during explosive lifts.

Knurling: They have a specific knurling pattern that includes double outer knurl marks with no center knurl.

Whip: They're specifically constructed from flexible, high-tensile strength steel that provides a degree of "whip" or bounce beneficial for dynamic lifts.

Powerlifting Barbell

A powerlifting barbell is designed specifically for powerlifting exercises, such as squats, bench presses, and deadlifts.

It must endure substantial weight and doesn't require the same level of rotation.

Instead, its exceptional rigidity compensates for the reduced spinning.

Olympic barbells tend to bend as the weight increases, whereas powerlifting bars don’t.

Barbells for powerlifting are designed to take on extremely heavy weight loads without bending in the same way as this could interfere with the lift.

The knurling marks on a powerlifting barbell are spaced and positioned differently, focusing on the top three power exercises.

Women’s Weightlifting Barbell

While standard weightlifting bars can be used by anyone, women’s barbells are designed specifically for the average woman.

The barbells are shorter in length and have a smaller diameter than regular weightlifting barbells.

Women's bars measure 6.9 feet (2.1 meters), weigh 33 pounds (15 kilograms) and have a 25mm diameter.

The shorter length makes them easier to maneuver, while the smaller diameter helps reduce the risk of injury.

Naturally, women’s barbells have the exact same characteristics as men's weightlifting barbells, except for their dimension and load capacity.

Women’s barbells are just as strong and high quality as your best Olympic barbells.

How to Choose the Best Barbell?

The answer depends on a few factors, including your experience level, what type of lifting you plan on doing, and what your overall goal is.

When planning to buy a barbell, the initial consideration should be identifying the kind of weightlifting exercises you intend to perform.

To put it differently, establish your objective. Are you a beginner in weightlifting, or do you participate in performance-focused sports such as Olympic lifting, Cross-Training, Bodybuilding, or Powerlifting?

If you're new to weightlifting, then you might want to start with a standard multipurpose Olympic barbell so you can learn the basics and get used to the barbell.

If you’re a seasoned lifter looking to narrow your fitness goals to performance such as powerlifting or CrossFit, then you might want to consider a powerlifting bar or a weightlifting bar.


Another important factor to consider is your budget. Barbells can significantly range in price, depending on the quality and features. 

If you're a beginner, you may prefer a barbell with fewer features while still maintaining quality.

On the other hand, if you're committed to weightlifting, consider investing in a barbell with a higher weight capacity or attributes tailored to your specific sport.

Although the latter option may be more costly, it is a valuable investment in yourself, your time, and your objectives.

Investing in a high-quality barbell is crucial for both your safety and long-term progress in weightlifting.

This not only ensures the barbell can withstand the rigors of heavy lifting but also provides you with a more consistent and enjoyable training experience.


Ensure that the barbell's durability aligns with the demands of your training regimen.

Weightlifting barbells, for example, are designed to withstand a lot of wear and tear, making them perfect for Cross-Training and Olympic lifting sessions.

Powerlifting bars, on the other hand, are designed to be significantly more durable, catering to the rigorous requirements of powerlifting exercises.

Durability is often correlated with cost; therefore, it is essential to take this into consideration when looking for a barbell.

It is advisable to invest slightly more in a reputable and robust barbell brand to ensure long-lasting performance and reliability.


The importance of a barbell's finish should not be underestimated. The finish not only contributes to the barbell's overall appearance but also plays
a crucial role in its durability and resistance to corrosion.

Various finishes are available, such as bare steel, chrome, zinc-plated, stainless steel, and Cerakote, each offering unique benefits and drawbacks.

Ultimately, the choice of finish should balance your preferences for aesthetics, maintenance requirements, and budget to ensure a satisfactory and long-lasting investment in your barbell.

What to Look for When Choosing a Barbell

It is important to carefully evaluate specific features when determining the most suitable barbell for one's needs.
Type of Steel

The material of a barbell plays a critical role in ensuring safety during weightlifting exercises, as it can mean the difference between a secure workout and a severe injury.

High-quality materials, such as high-tensile strength steel or stainless steel, provide durability, strength, and resistance to bending or breaking under heavy loads.

Additionally, a well-constructed barbell with appropriate knurling improves grip and stability, further reducing the risk of mishaps.

Type of Knurling

The knurling refers to the elevated, textured design of a barbell, which aids in gripping the bar. Generally, Olympic barbells feature a medium-depth knurl, while powerlifting bars possess a deeper, more aggressive knurl.

The choice of knurling depth is subjective, as some weightlifters favor a deeper knurl for an enhanced grip, while others consider it too abrasive on their hands.


The spin is the amount of rotation on the barbell sleeve. Olympic barbells typically have a high spin, while powerlifting bars usually have a low spin. 

The type of spin you choose should align with your training and fitness goals. Some lifters prefer a high spin for a smoother lift while others find it to be too bouncy.


The whip is the amount of flex in the bar. Olympic barbells typically have more flex, while powerlifting bars usually have less flex. 

Just like with the spin of the barbell, you have to align the barbell with your personal training goals. More whip is better for Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit exercises.


The coating is the protective layer on the barbell. Olympic barbells typically have a hard chrome coating, while powerlifting bars usually have a black oxide coating. 

Some lifters prefer the hard chrome for its durability, while others find it to be too slippery.

If you want a premium material, go with cerakote. This is the same protective coating applied to firearms. It makes the barbell look better and significantly reduces the wear and tear for years to come.