One of the most commonly followed strength training programs for those working out in a garage gym is Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength, a simple and effective strength training program that focuses exclusively on compound barbell movements. Starting Strength (SS) is popular not only because it offers relatively quick and noticeable strength gains, but also because very little is required in the way of equipment. Since the program consists of only five lifts, none of which involve machines, dumbbells, kettlebells or other fancy accessories, it can be easily followed in any minimally-equipped garage gym.
The five lifts utilized in Starting Strength include the back squat, deadlift, overhead press, bench press, and power clean. This makes the gear requirements a barbell, weights, bench, and a power rack. Since the barbell is absolutely the most important piece of equipment for any strength training program, and Coach Rippetoe is fairly vague about barbell selection in the Starting Strength book, it’s the barbell that I’m going to talk about and give some guidance on.
Barbell Spec Suggestions for Starting Strength
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; when it comes to the equipment in your gym, the barbell is not the place to be a cheapskate; it’s just too damn important. If you need to save some cash while building out your garage gym, buy used iron plates off Craigslist or get your bench off Amazon; do whatever you gotta do to make sure a real barbell is in the budget.
Now, you don’t need to go crazy and spend a grand on a barbell, but you can’t spend just $100 either; that kind of money just doesn’t cut it. Truthfully, a bar that sells for anywhere near the $100 mark is garbage, and garbage bars bend easily, lose sleeve rotation quickly, flake their spray-on chrome finish all over the place, and are even known to come apart at the sleeve or break entirely. Not only that (as if that wasn’t enough), the cheap bars are riddled with inaccuracies; from shaft and sleeve diameter to bar weight, length, and knurl placement, all kinds of things are known to be way, way off with the cheapo imported garbage bars. Just.. don’t.
In order to get a quality barbell that will both perform well and survive years upon years of training, you should expect to pay around $300 or so. Sure you can spend more, but you don’t really need to. You definitely shouldn’t spend too much less than that though.
If $300 seems like a lot to you, try and remember why you’re even doing this in the first place. It’s really a small price to pay if you’re even remotely serious about your training goals and progress. To help put that into perspective a little bit, $300 is less cash than what your iPhone is worth. You know, that device that even the brokest of people manage to update every 12 months. Priorities.
Here is what you should be looking for in a barbell suitable for the Starting Strength program, or any strength training program for that matter.
- A standard “Olympic” barbell that follows the specification guidelines for either the IPF or IWF. This means a 2200 mm (~7.2 ft) long barbell with 50 mm (~2 in) sleeves weighing 20 kg (~44 lb). Some American power bars like the Texas Power Bar are 45 pounds rather than 20 kilos, and that’s perfectly fine.
- Shaft diameter should be within the 28 mm – 29 mm range, with 28.5 mm and 29 mm being the most common for power bars.
- Sleeve assembly should contain bushings, not bearings. The bushings should be either sintered/self-lubricating bronze, or composite. Avoid brass bushings, steel bushings, and bars that don’t even specify what makes the sleeves spin.
- Sleeves should be held onto the bar using either an end cap (like seen on the B&R Bar below), or snap rings (like almost all Rogue bars.) If there is a bolt of any kind (usually a hex) sticking out of the end of the bar, you’re looking at the wrong bar.
- Knurl should be moderate to slightly aggressive. Starting Strength has two heavy pulls (the deadlift and power clean), so you’re going to regret buying anything with a soft, baby knurl. A center knurl should also be present for back squats.
So I’ve eliminated most barbells already by suggesting you not spend anywhere near $100, so the question becomes: what bars can you use?
Temporary Update: Currently American Barbell is selling the AB Power Bar for $299 instead of $345, the Elite Power Bar for $325 instead of $485, and the Super Power Bar for $360 instead of $595. The Elite and Super are stainless steel bars; by far the best feeling shaft material available. They are not included in this article because their normal price puts them beyond what is necessary for the SS program. These are huge discounts, so its worth considering these bars while they are discounted. You can see the sale details here.
Burgener & Rippetoe (B&R) Bar
This is the obvious bar choice for many folks following the Starting Strength program being that the Burgener & Rippetoe Bar was co-developed by Mark Rippetoe himself (alongside Coach Mike Bergener.) As you might expect, the B&R Bar meets and exceeds all of the bar requirements of the SS program, and it does so at a very reasonable price.
The B&R is a raw steel bar, just like in the days of old. It’s manufactured by York Barbell in Canada and sold exclusively at Rogue Fitness for $295. This 20 kg barbell has a 29 mm shaft, a pair of sintered bronze bushings in each sleeve, and dual markings for both powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting. The knurl is moderate, but secure.
There are a number of reasons why this bar works well for Starting Strength. For starters, the bare steel. It gives the shaft a very natural feel. Couple that natural, raw feel with the very nicely done knurl and you’ve got a bar that just stays securely in the hands, and does so without sharpness or discomfort. This nearly perfect grip is very important in a program in which 40% of the movements are heavy pulls.
Additionally, the B&R has self-lubricating bushings that offer smooth, reliable sleeve rotation for years and years. Even if you lose some of the spin to chalk, dirt, and dust build up, just a little oil in each bushing once or twice a year will completely restore the spin. Also, this bar has a center knurl for squats; something too many companies are leaving off their bars lately.
My personal B&R is about four years old now and it’s not only still perfectly straight, but it spins flawlessly. The bare steel requires some maintenance to keep rust at bay; mostly for the first year or so while the bar develops a patina, but overall this is one of the best bars for the Starting Strength program, or any similar S&C program. It’s really a modern day classic.
Rogue Matt Chan Bar
The Matt Chan Bar is another great option for the Starting Strength program. It’s a 190k PSI, multi-purpose (dual-marked) bar with a more aggressive knurl than most multi-purpose bars on the market, and a custom knurl pattern that gives your shins more smooth surface area for pulling deads and cleans. These knurling features along with the presence of a center knurl and added rigidity of a 28.5 mm shaft (vs 28 mm) makes the Chan feel very at-home when doing any of the static lifts.
As much as I like the B&R Bar, it’s the Chan that ultimately replaced it for all of my non-Olympic training. I’m not necessarily saying that the Chan is superior to the B&R, but I personally prefer it. I prefer it for a couple reasons, but mostly because I lean towards more aggressively knurled bars. That may not be for you though.
I also liked the Chan over the B&R because the Chan
is was offered in a satin chrome; a finish that eliminates any need for bar maintenance. Unfortunately, this finish option is no loner available, and the black zinc that is currently being offered on the Chan is not really my cup of tea. If I had to choose between the raw B&R and the black zinc Chan now, the decision would not be as easy as it was when the bar was offered in chrome.
Finish choices aside, I still believe that of all the bars manufactured by Rogue, the Chan is one of the best; it’s certainly my favorite. I recommend it all over the Garage Gyms site because it’s just a well-designed, multi-purpose bar sold at a reasonable price. It’s a bar that you can expect to perform well all over the gym.
Texas Power Bar (TPB)
The Texas Power Bar by Buddy Capps is another possible option. Power bars work well for the Starting Strength program since the program is based almost entirely on the slow, static lifts. The problem that I think most people will have with the TPB is the depth and sharpness of the knurl. This bar will just wreck the hands of most intermediate lifters, and no doubt all beginner lifters. The current generation TPB is really designed to be lifted by advanced powerlifters that work in the 1-2 rep range, not in multiple sets of 5’s like in Starting Strength.
Having said that, the older generation Texas Power Bars are not quite the cheese graters that they are now. If you are able to find yourself a used, old school TPB, I think you’d be good to go. Those older Texas Power Bars tend to maintain good sleeve spin, and they generally stay straight. They’re probably not an easy bar to track down used, but it could be worth checking into.
The current generation TPB is a 28.5 mm, 45 pound (as opposed to 20 kg) bar. The deeply knurled shaft is coated in zinc rather than being raw, but the sleeves are still bare steel. The bar has no published tensile strength, but it is rated for 1500 pounds, which is more than you’ll be lifting. Prices from the few vendors that offer this bar vary a bit, but expect to pay around $300 for it.
You should also know that due to Buddy Capps failing to patent his bar back in the day, there are knock-off Texas Power Bars galore. In order to avoid these imported imposters, you just need to know that the real TPB is still made by Buddy Capps in Irving, Texas, and you can identify them by their State of Texas end caps (in above image.)
You can get a genuine TPB from LB Baker at Iron Dawg, an official distributor for Texas Power Bar. You can also get the other Capps powerlifting bars such as the Texas Squat Bar and Texas Deadlift Bar from Iron Dawg. Don’t order your TPB from Amazon and expect it to be real.
x Power Bar
Just about any mid-range or higher power bar can be used for the Starting Strength program. The only issue is that there is a shortage of high-quality, affordable power bars on the market. Prices start at around $125 for the super shitty garbage bars that you’d find on Amazon or in Dick’s, then they jump to about $325 for a good, reliable power bar. This is one of the reasons the B&R is so appealing, because it’s practically a power bar and it sells for under $300.
Of course premium power bars are all over the place. Ivanko, Eleiko, Iron Wolfe, and American Barbell all offer very nice, high performance power bars, but these premium bars start at $500 and can easily exceed a grand. Obviously no beginner or even intermediate lifter needs a thousand dollar power bar, and we already know not to buy a $100 bar, so we’re pretty much stuck at the $300’ish price point for a solid power bar.
Well there are three power bars that come to mind in the $325 to $350 range that would make excellent bars for the Starting Strength program. Those bars are the Ohio Power Bar, the Westside Power Bar 2.0, and the American Barbell Power Bar.
The Ohio Power Bar is a 29 mm bar that has a very rigid 205k PSI shaft, a pair of bronze bushings in each sleeve, and a fairly aggressive knurl. The shaft of the Ohio Power Bar is finished in black zinc, and the friction welded sleeves are finished in bright zinc. I’m personally not the biggest fan of black zinc as I don’t like the green hue that they take on over time, but it will prevent the rust, and it’s certainly better than black oxide. The Ohio Power does have a center knurl, and it sells for $325.
There is an alternative Ohio Power Bar that is sold as a 45-pound bar rather than a 20 kilo bar, has the same 205k shaft and deep knurl as the kilo Ohio Power Bar, but is offered as an unfinished, bare steel bar; much like the B&R. This version doesn’t have friction welded sleeves, but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper at only $250. Like the B&R, some maintenance is required due to the lack of finish, but the feel of the raw steel is amazing; rivaled only by stainless steel.
Louie Simmons’ Westside Power Bar 2.0 is more or less the same as the Ohio Power Bar. Both are Rogue bars with the same 20 kg, 205k PSI shaft, and the knurl is just as aggressive. The difference is that the bushings of the Westside are composite rather than bronze (green composite!), and the entire bar is black zinc. For the same $325 price tag, it’s really a wash between the two. I’d probably go Ohio just because there is less black zinc involved, but I know some of you love those black bars.
Finally, the American Barbell Power Bar is a 190k PSI bar like the B&R and Chan, making it less rigid at really heavy weights than the 200k+ Rogue power bars or the TPB. The shaft is 28.5 mm, and the bar has composite bushings rather than bronze. Of all the bar’s I’ve talked about, the AB Power Bar has the lightest knurl. It’s adequate, but it’s by no means aggressive. This is the only bar on the page with a chrome finish, and since that process is superior to zinc, it’s more expensive. The AB Power Bar has a center knurl and it sells for $345. Actually it’s on sale right now for $299.
All three of these power bars are made in the USA.
I hope this has helped you zero in on a bar for the Starting Strength program. If you have any questions or comments, proceed below. If you want to be a swell fella or nice lady (I know you do), feel free to share this article on your favorite social media site.