So far I feel that I have bars, bumpers, and racks pretty well covered on this site. I’m certain you can find something useful here if you’re shopping for one of these core home gym pieces. What I haven’t covered very well to date are change plates. Since it’s likely that just about every lifter will ultimately find themselves in the market for change plates in some form, I felt that it was about time to give them a little attention.
So what’s the difference between a change plate and a fractional plate? Nearly any weight plate that is smaller than 450 mm in diameter is a change plate. In a standard kilogram bumper plate set, the 10-kg plate is the lightest full-size (450 mm) plate, so the 5-kg discs and lighter would be considered change plates. In most American pound sets, the 2.5-lb, 5-lb, and 10-lb discs would be considered change plates, though in basic bumper sets the 10-pound is commonly a 450 mm plate
Fractional plates are different in that they weigh “fractions” of a unit; either kilograms or pounds, of course. So while the change plate set would consist of pairs of 2½-lb, 5-lb, and 10-lb discs, a fractional set in pounds would consist of a pair of ¼-lb, ½-lb, ¾-lb, and 1-lb discs. Fractional plates do allow for much smaller increases in weight, but it is my opinion that most people can make the jumps in weight that normal change plates would allow and don’t need to micro-load with fractional plates, especially with those that lift in kilograms. Still, that’s up to you to decide.
Friction plate is another term you’ll hear floating around. Friction plates are exactly what they sound like, plates that hold on to the bar by friction alone; no collars needed. Most rubber plates out there are not friction plates, but they still do a pretty good job of holding on to the bar without the use of collars. Both the Rogue and Vulcan change plates I’ll be talking about work very well without collars even though they are not “actual” friction plates. If you want real friction plates, Eleiko offers nearly a full set (all sizes except 2.5 and 5 kilograms.)
Do You Need Change Plates?
Probably. If you’re new enough to lifting, you can usually get away without having change plates for a little while since bigger jumps in weight are more common as a beginner, but ultimately you’ll need them. If you work out with pounds rather than kilograms, there are only a few change plates to get so you can generally gear up for very little cash. On the other hand, if you work out in kilograms, expect to spend quite a bit for a full set; there is no less than 6-pairs of kilogram change plates; more if you include the fractional plates.
Technically; you can save a lot of money by buying cast iron change plates. This is especially true if you work out in pounds, as you can run to the box-store and pick up 2½’s, 5’s, and 10’s for practically nothing. However, you should know though that cast iron plates will destroy the finish of the sleeves on your barbell. Any lift containing an impact with the floor (deadlifts, barbell rows, snatch, clean & jerk, power clean, etc) sends those metal plates bouncing and rattling on the bar, and you end up with gashes, nicks, and lost chrome/zinc. I suggest only using cast iron plates for controlled static lifts like bench press, strict overhead press, shrugs, etc unless you just don’t really care about your bar.
Vulcan Strength Rubber V-Lock Change Plates
So I’m going to just start with my top pick rather than try to build up a bunch of anticipation by listing them in a special order like bad – good – better, or something like that. If for some reason you don’t like these, then by all means read on. Otherwise, take a quick glance at the others just to be sure and then go read another article… preferably on this site.
Why are these my favorite? Well, there are a few things that I expect from my change plates: accuracy in claimed weight, durability, and affordability. Additionally, I don’t want to worry about bar damage, and I want for them to stay on the bar without having to be collared on. Less important is the IWF-color scheme, and a lack of noise.
The Vulcan V-Locks are not the only change plates to offer all of these qualities, but of those that do, they are the most reasonably priced. Indeed the V-Locks are more expensive than painted steel change plates like the SS-USA plates I’ll cover below, but they are still affordable. About $50 less than Rogue’s kilogram set, and nearly $300 less than Eleiko’s!
V-Locks are not just rubber coated; they are completely rubber. There is no steel anywhere, and this is why they are of a larger diameter than the other brands that contain steel cores. They offer all the benefits of rubber-coated steel discs like the Rogue or Eleiko plates, but then there is the added benefit of there being no risk of exposing metal over time, which generally happens inside the hole; which of course will start to scratch your bar.
While not technically friction plates, the V-Locks do function in a similar manner. Since there is no steel insert or any other smooth material wrapped around the diameter of the hole, they do an excellent job of staying put on the bar outside of the collars. I still personally stick the 5 kg disc inside the collars, but that’s only because it’s a decently sized plate. Each plate also fits well inside the recess of the next larger plate when on the bar rather than just sitting next to each other as it is with the other brands.
All-in-all, these are the best bang for the buck. If all my change plates disappeared tonight, I’d order the V-Locks again to replace them. They aren’t as expensive looking as the Eleiko’s, but they aren’t actually as expensive as them either. It just so happens that they just as accurate as the Eleiko’s though.
The entire V-Lock set is $229 and is warranted for 5-years. That’s anywhere from 2 to 5 years longer than the rest of them. Solid!
Strength Shop USA Kilogram Change Plates
There is one thing I really like about the Strength Shop USA plates; the price. However, I don’t like what they do my bar sleeves during lifts that involve the bar hitting the ground. I’m talking deadlifts, hack squats, cleans, snatches, and so forth. When that bar hits the ground, these things bounce around on the sleeve, and more times than not, they take a piece of the bar’s finish off and replace it with colored paint from the plates.
The SS USA plates are nothing more than steel plates with a thin coating of paint. They look nice enough, but they have no protective rubber or urethane coating, not even around the circumference of the insert. The very first day that I used the 2.5 kilogram change plate for deadlifts, I ended up with paint in the grooves of the sleeves and two deep scratches that are there for good. That damage was done from dropping a bar only 1 or 2″ at the bottom of deadlifts. I never even got a chance to drop the thing from an overhead position. It wasn’t worth damaging the bar any further simply to verify that it would.
These are very affordable when compared to the rubber-coated brands, no doubt about that. Still though, I can’t see these being useful to anyone that has a bar they care about. Even if you follow only a basic strength training program that involves no Olympic lifts, you still need to worry about deadlifts and power cleans unless you intend to baby that bar down to the ground each rep.
The Strength Shop change plates are the same basic design as the Pendlay change plates, only slightly less expensive. If you’re going to smash steel on steel, at least buy them from SS-USA where you get a better price and much better customer service. I ordered my SS-USA change plates on Monday and had them Wednesday afternoon. Last thing I ordered from MDUSA took eight days to even ship!
All six pairs of colored steel change plates will cost you about $110. That’s the 5-pair set (0.5 kg, 1 kg, 1.5 kg, 2 kg, and 2.5 kg) for $85 and a pair of 5-kg for $25. Oddly enough, SS-USA also offers 0.25 kg fractional plates, which I suppose could be useful. They also offer 0.125 kg plates which seem a little silly to me.
I appreciate that someone offers such affordable kilogram change plates, but I don’t recommend them unless you’re using a beater bar or a something to that effect.
Rogue Kilogram Change Plates
The Rogue kilogram change plates are one of your best middle-of-the-road options. They cost more than the economy, painted steel change plates, but significantly less than the certified brands like Eleiko.
Rogue’s change plates are still metal at their core, but they are covered in a thin rubber coating. This rubber not only helps protect the plates from getting scratched and dinged up when they smash into each other on the bar, but it also helps to protect your bar sleeves from getting dinged up as well. Better yet, it’s this rubber coating that allows you to load up change plates outside your collars without having to worry about them sliding off; much like friction plates.
Rogue change plates have a matte finish, and the rubber is color coded using the IWF color scheme. The standard six pairs from 0.5 kg to 5 kg are available, and they can be purchased in pairs or sets. Buying the whole set will get your free shipping.
I like these plates. I think they’re a great compromise between the too cheap and the too expensive. They still cost more than the Vulcan V-Locks by about $50-60, but they’re still hundreds less and nearly identical to the Eleiko’s. Well, other than the IWF certification.
Eleiko Olympic Comp/Training Kilogram Change Plates
The Eleiko change plates are definitely the nicest looking change plates in my collection, but they also happen to be the most expensive. The full 25 kg set consists of all six pairs of IWF-color coded discs (0.5 kg – 5 kg), and that set sells for $498. This is a couple hundred bucks more than what the 25 kg Rogue set costs, and nearly four times what a colored steel set would cost you.
There is no two ways about it, the Eleiko set is an expensive investment. If you can afford them without having to skip meals, I think they can be a worthwhile investment; although it probably goes without saying that discs like these should really only be considered if you an extremely hardcore, veteran weightlifter.
There are advantages to owning premium change plates like these. For starters, these are IWF-certified. I realize that most people won’t really care about the certification stamp itself, but by having it you know that your plates can deviate very little from the claimed weight. Also, you technically could bring these to a sanctioned event, where as none of the others on this page are legal equipment.
The Eleiko set should also outlive nearly all other plates. The coating is well done, and there is actually a thin, protective insert around the circumference of the hole that even the Rogue’s don’t have. The rest of the rubber coating on the plate feels a lot like the coating on the Rogue plates, but that insert will prevent the rubber from flaking away over time as you load and unload the discs on the bar.
Change/Fractional Plates for CrossFit (pounds)
Most CrossFit shops don’t carry true kilogram change plates. They usually they only sell iron change plates in pounds (2½-lb, 5-lb, and 10-lb), and the small washer fractional sets in pounds that consist of ¼-lb, ½-lb, ¾-lb, and 1-lb pairs. The fractional plates can be helpful if you do lift in pounds because the change plate options in pounds don’t allow for the minor jumps in weight that kilogram change plates allow, but you still need the change plates.
Sometimes CrossFit shops have the same washer-style fractional sets in kilograms, but these are not nearly as helpful as the pound sets. Most folks are content with the ½-kg increments that are possible with standard change plates, and don’t need ¼-kg jumps. Besides, normal kilogram change plates make three out of four of the included washer plates practically useless (the ½-kg, ¾-kg, and 1-kg.)
Whether you lift in kilograms or pounds, the fact is that fractional plates are useless without also owning change plates, so worry about change plates first.
Vulcan V-Lock in Pounds
I mentioned that you can run down to the local sporting good stores to pick up those cheap CAP branded cast-iron change plates in 2½ and 5-pound discs. Well, you already know that bare metal plates can wreck your bar, but the CAP change plates are actually worse. The holes are so big and uneven (not really round) that bar damage is almost unavoidable. Not only that but they tend to be ridiculously inaccurate in claimed weight; although if you bring a scale into the store you can find some that are close. Fortunately those aren’t your only options for pounds.
Vulcan recently started offering the V-Lock plates in 2½-pound and 5-pound variants. They are not colored, but they are affordable, and like the kilogram V-Locks, they contain no metal whatsoever. These are perfect for folks that prefer to work out with pounds rather than kilograms, but dislike the metal plates. With these V-Locks, whether you Olympic lift or just strength train, you never have to worry about thrashing your bar during a lift with these rubber plates, and you can rest assured that the claimed weight is accurate.
Vulcan sells pairs of 2½-pound plates for $18, and 5-pound plate pairs for just under $40. You can get all four plates for just under $50 though. Just like the kilo V-Locks, the price is more than reasonable.
In addition to the kilogram change plates, Rogue offers their rubber coated plates in pounds as well. A full set that includes a pair of 2½’s, 5’s, and 10’s will set you back about $165, and they ship for free. If you don’t need the 10’s because you have those covered with bumpers, a pair of 2½’s and 5’s will cost you about $75, but without shipping included. The colors are pretty cool, but these are roughly 33% more expensive than the black Vulcan’s.
I haven’t’ actually seen the Rogue plates in pounds, but I would imagine that they fit the bar just as snugly as the kilogram plates do, and are within the same weight tolerances as well.