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Olympic vs Standard Barbell: Which One Is Right for You?

The barbell, a fundamental piece of fitness equipment, holds immense value when used harmoniously with weight plates and collars. With a loaded barbell, you can effectively train all major muscle groups, regardless of your goals — shedding pounds, building muscle, strengthening your body, or enhancing muscular endurance. Owning a barbell is indispensable for reaching your fitness aspirations

Now, there’s a different barbell for every training style or goal. The barbell a bodybuilder needs differs from one you get for versatility in your garage gym. On the other hand, CrossFit athletes could get hurt from using the wrong barbell during a snatch. 

Considering getting a barbell? Make sure you choose the right one! This article explores the key distinctions between Olympic and standard barbells and offers guidance on selecting the optimal option for your needs.

Understanding Olympic vs Standard Barbells

Did you know that barbells are a more recent invention than dumbbells? While research traces dumbbells back to Ancient Greece, barbells only appeared in the nineteenth century (1). A major reason for this was that most training was for agility rather than muscle-building.

The Olympic barbell itself came into use in the 1950s when Eleiko mass-produced a barbell with reinforced steel. This device was the brainchild of one of their employees, Hellström, who did weightlifting by the side and was tired of barbells bending or breaking. It debuted at the World Weightlifting Championships in 1963 and soon after was in the Olympics. 

At first glance, you might not notice the difference between the Olympic and standard barbell. However, the standard is slightly smaller and can handle less weight. Of course, there are more differences between these two barbells; below, we get a bit more technical. 

Olympic Barbells: An Overview

The Olympic barbell is weightlifting equipment you can use for Olympic lifting. They’re larger and longer than most other barbells and have a weight capacity of about 700-1500 lbs. You’ll find that they range from 7 feet and weigh around 44 lbs. 

An olympic weightlifting bar will also have rotating bar sleeves that allow the weight plates to spin easily. This helps limit the force the bar exerts on you to avoid injury and aids Olympic lifts like cleans and snatches. Therefore, most competitive weightlifters like powerlifters and CrossFitters use this one. 

The olympic barbell is a great option if you’re serious about your strength training and want to lift heavier weights. It has a sleeve diameter of around 2 inches to fit your chosen Olympic weight plates. Below are some of the benefits of this barbell.

  • They allow for better weight training because of their wider sleeve diameter, which allows for a higher weight capacity.

  • This barbell is future-proof, as you can increase your weight over time as you get stronger.

  • While olympic weights could be more expensive, they’re of much higher quality and are designed to last a long time.

  • Olympic barbells are standardized, so if you train with one, it’ll have the same thickness, weight, and length as the one with which you compete.

Standard Barbells: An Overview

The standard barbell is smaller and usually around 5 to 6 feet long. It’s also lighter and can be as light as 25 lbs. Most standard barbells come with a 1-inch sleeve. Standard weight are made to match this with a 1-inch diameter opening. This makes using standard weights with an Olympic barbell impossible. 

You can only use a standard barbell for general weight training, meaning no Olympic lifts. And they’re generally cheaper. This type of barbell is also good when introducing yourself to weight training and for children since it has a thinner grip. See more benefits of the standard barbell below.

  • Standard barbells are more versatile, and if you have standard dumbbell bars, you can easily share your weight between both.

  • Since these bars are smaller, you can store them more easily. This is great for home gyms.

  • The smaller size also makes it easier to move around with this barbell. You can easily take it to a gym class.

  • Standard barbells are also more functional as their size allows a greater range of motion for many routines.

  • The standard barbell and standard plates used on it are also cheaper. 

Olympic vs Standard Barbells: The Key Differences

As you can see above, major differences exist between the Olympic and standard barbells. Let’s compare the main differences between them both below

Weight and Length

The Olympic barbell weighs around 44 lbs or 20kg, and the men’s version is around 86" or 2.2 meters long. The standard barbell typically comes in at around 25 lbs or 11.3 kg. You’ll find the length of this bar around 5-6 ft or 1.2 - 1.8m.

Collars and Shaft Diameter

A big difference between olympic and standard barbells will have to do with the collars and shaft diameters of each bar type. Olympic barbell collars have a diameter of 1.96 inches or 50mm. This is commonly referred to as a 2" collar that accepts 2" olympic plates.

This type of barbell also has a shaft diameter of around 1.1 - 1.25 inches or 28 - 32mm. The standard bar, however, has a bar diameter of 1 inch or 25.4mm, is that same for the shaft and collars.

These differences also create a need for different weight plates for each type of bar. 

Examining Bar Ends/Sleeves

A general basic weight training Olympic barbell comes with a 2-inch sleeve and bolt end collar with a nut at the end of it. This is an introductory level olympic style bar. 

The next step up for an olympic bar would be to have bushings in the collar. Bushing style olympic bars are great for slower, power based lifts like the bench, deadlift and squat. Powerlifting bars will commonly have bushings in their sleeves. 

True Olympic weightlifting bars that should be used for fast movements like the clean and jerk, power cleans, snatches, etc will have a bearing in the collar. This will allow the collar to rotate freely even with weight on the bar. Since we're not examining all types of olympic bars in this article, we won't go much farther into the weeds on this topic. 
Most olympic bars have an end cap with additional info at the ends of the bar, like its diameter and weight, the brand and more.

A standard barbell is very simple. It has a stopper section on its sleeve to stop the standard weight plates from sliding onto the shaft. You may also find a spinlock section on it. Here your weights are held by a clip end or a screw-on nut to keep them in place. No bushings, no bearings, and barely any difference between the shaft and collar.

Comparing the Strength and Quality of Bars

The Olympic and standard barbells share shafts, sleeves, bearings, bushes, and other components. However, the Olympic barbell uses other manufacturing processes like heat treatments to increase its tensile strength. This is what makes the load-bearing capacity of this bar higher.

Asides from these, Olympic barbells are also made from better quality stainless steel, which is rust-resistant. 

Standard bars are made from cheaper steel and then coated with nickel or zinc to prevent rusting. In cases where an Olympic barbell is made with mild steel, it’s coated with cerakote, which is more rust-resistant and feels better. 

Cost Analysis: Olympic vs Standard Barbells

Olympic barbells carry a higher price than standard barbells. This results from the high-quality materials used and the many production processes it undergoes. One of these is the case hardening heat treatment mentioned above. 

But Olympic barbells offer value for the money. The hardening and straightening that they undergo improves their strength and longevity. However, the standard barbell might be more cost-effective if you're looking for a simple barbell to do lightweight training around your house. 

Spotlight on Specialty Bars

Specialty bars are different types of barbells designed for specific purposes, e.g., squat bar, trap bar, deadlift bar, and cambered bar. There are even women's olympic bars with a smaller and lighter design.

Compared to Olympic and standard barbells, these bars are more exercise specific. For example, power bars are meant for squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. To facilitate this, they’re stiffer and come with a higher load capacity than standard barbells. 

Why Professional Lifters Prefer Olympic Barbells

Professional lifters prefer Olympic barbells because they offer many benefits and advantages in competitive scenarios. Using the wrong bar could contribute to failure (2). They meet competitive standards and will perform better when you powerlift with them. They support the rotational movements you'll need to do and have the right load-bearing capacity.

Olympic barbells also come with aggressive knurling, which is recommended for professional lifting as it offers a better grip. Medium knurls are better for functional training, CrossFit, and compound lifts. The center knurling on Olympic barbells also helps maintain your grip when lifting your shoulders or in the front rack position.

In Defense of Standard Barbells

You don't need an Olympic barbell if you want to do just general weight training or bodybuilding. A cheaper standard bar, while not perfect, gets the job done. If CrossFit or competitive lifting isn’t in your future, you could save the extra money and use it on other fitness gear. Plus, children getting an introduction to strength training might also benefit from the thinner and lighter weight of the standard barbell.

Making an Informed Choice

There are many factors to consider when buying an Olympic or standard barbell, and we've listed some above. In general, your preferences, training needs, and budget will determine the bar you end up with. However, we honestly never recommend a standard barbell to anyone. It is just unlikely to meet your needs over time and handicaps you ability to do certain movements. If you ask us, the proud owner of a home gym should also be the proud owner of a quality olympic barbell. 

 

Quality Matters: Tips for Buying Barbells

Whether you’re choosing the Olympic or standard barbell, here's a general checklist for quality assurance. It also includes common pitfalls to avoid when purchasing a barbell.

  • A good barbell will have a PSI rating of over 165K. This measure is an indication of how strong the barbell's metal is. A weak barbell will bend permanently with too much weight.

  • If you get a chance, give your barbell sleeves a spin. It should take at least 3 seconds to stop spinning. If buying online (checkout ours), examine the bushings or bearings. Bearings are fine (especially needle bearings), but bushings should be bronze at best or composite for quality reasons.  

  • There are better ideas than a raw steel barbell if you live near the coast or in a humid area. If you must get one, then dry it off after use and keep it in a sealed container. You can also lightly wipe it with an oil coating once every month to keep it furnished. 

  • Warranty is another detail to consider; generally, the longer the warranty, the better the quality. You want to get at least a year's warranty on your barbell. This is the standard point that guarantees a good return on your investment. 

Conclusion

Deciding between an Olympic barbell and a standard barbell is a personal choice influenced by several factors. Nevertheless, the Olympic barbell consistently outperforms expectations in is a good choice for almost every single situation. This versatile bar suits strength training, bodybuilding, and professional lifting.

On the other hand, the standard barbell is a more economical option that allows you to allocate your budget toward other equipment. However, it may not support lifting loads exceeding 200 lbs. Before making a purchase, prioritize quality and carefully consider your short-term and long-term fitness goals.

References

  1.  Todd, J. (2003). The strength builders: A history of barbells, dumbbells and Indian clubs’, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 20(1), 65–90. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/714001844 

  2. Liu, G., Zhu, H., Ma, J., Pan, H., Pan, X., Zhang, Y., Hu, T., Fekete, G., Guo, H., & Liang, M. (2022). A Biomechanical Study on Failed Snatch Based on the Human and Bar Combination Barycenter. Applied bionics and biomechanics, 2022, 9279638. https://doi.org/10.1155/2022/9279638 

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