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Difference Between Powerlifting Barbell & Olympic Barbell

powerlifting barbell vs olympic barbell

Do you know the difference between a Powerlifting barbell and an Olympic barbell? Did you even know there was a difference? The differences are subtle, and this article will explain them so you can make an informed decision when buying a barbell for your garage gym.

Olympic Barbells vs Powerlifting Barbells

Olympic Weightlifting (left) vs Powerlifting (right)

Powerlifting vs Olympic Lifting – Brief Explanation

For those who don’t know the differences between the two sports, here is a brief explanation. Olympic Weightlifting involves a lifter attempting a maximum-weight single rep in either the snatch or the clean and jerk. The lifter gets three attempts at the lift and the total of the highest two successful lifts determines the overall result. Olympic lifting is more of a test of an athletes explosive strength rather than raw lifting power.

Powerlifting on the other hand is a pure strength sport. Powerlifting involves three lifts: the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Powerlifting is similar to Olympic lifting in the sense that the lifter gets three attempts at each lift. However, powerlifting is more about moving the absolute maximum weight possible. Some federations even allow the use of supportive equipment such as a bench shirt or squat suit (they store elastic energy) to help the lifter complete the rep.

Olympic Barbells

First the fun stats. A men’s Olympic barbell is 2.2 meters long (7.2 feet) and weights 20 kilograms (about 44 pounds). The outer sleeves are 49-50 mm thick, and the shaft is 28-29 mm (1.1 inch) thick and makes up 1.31 (4.3 feet) meters of the total length of the bar.

The women’s Olympic barbell is slightly shorter at 2.1 meters long (6.9 feet) and weighs 15 kilograms (roughly 33 pounds). The shaft is also slightly thinner at 25 mm thick (.98 inches). Women’s Olympic bars do not have center knurling.

Olympic barbells have a couple unique characteristics. First is the whip (the ability to store elastic energy) of the bar. Professional athletes can use this flexing of the bar to their advantage during a lift. Olympic bars must also have smooth rotating sleeves. This allows the lifter to get under the bar quickly without having to release their grip. Finally, the quality of Olympic bars is such that they have to withstand repeated drops from overhead positions.

Powerlifting Barbells

A powerlifting barbell differs from an Olympic barbell in that it is more stiff or rigid in order to better accommodate the heavier weights. While a powerlifting bar is generally the same dimensions of the Olympic bar, it can also be both longer and/or thicker to allow for more weight to be added. Also slightly different are the markings on the bar; or the knurling. The grip marks are closer together on a power bar (32 inches apart vs 36 inches on an Olympic bar). This closer spacing is used to check legal hand positions for the bench press. Power bars don’t really need for the sleeves to spin so freely like they do on Olympic bars, so they tend to use bushings rather than expensive bearings.

Barbell Knurling

A random note on knurling. IWF certified Olympic bars have the center knurl. However, companies are starting to leave the center knurling off of some non-competition Olympic bars. Other than the fact that center knurling really serves no purpose, it can actually be uncomfortable with high sets of cleans typical in a Crossfit workout. Since Crossfit seems to be paying the bills lately, it only makes sense to be accommodating.

(For a list of barbells designed with Crossfit in mind, read this.)

Powerlifting barbells have the center knurling primarily for the back squat. The idea being that the knurling prevents the bar from sliding down the back on heavy lifts.

In the Market for a Barbell?

I would say that for most people who are doing Crossfit or standard powerlifting exercises in their garage, that you should expect to spend about $300 for a barbell. For Crossfit, I would suggest an Olympic barbell with no center knurling. If you’re a powerlifter in the making and you’re actually squatting 500 pounds already, you will probably want to buy a power bar.

Ivanko Barbell claims you should always buy a bar with 190k tensile strength or higher. All of their bars meet that qualification, but all of their bars will break the bank. Fortunately other manufacturers make bars that meet that qualification as well. Rogue, York,  and American Barbell come to mind. Here a few bars that really deliver a lot of bang for the buck.

Burgener & Rippetoe Men's Bar from Rogue

Burgener & Rippetoe Men’s Bar from Rogue Fitness – $295

The B&R Barbell is manufactured by York. This 29mm bar is marked for both powerlifting and Olympic lifting, has 205k tensile strength and is a steal at $295. This barbell has a perfect 5-star review at Rogue. I personally own this bar and I love it.

Westside Power Bar from Rogue Fitness

Westside Power Bar from Rogue Fitness – $375

The Westside Power Bar has a 29mm shaft; it has an aggressive, deep knurling; and has a tensile strength of 205k. The reviews confirm that this bar is rigid and that the knurling has a bite. This powerlifting bar is on my short list.

The Rogue Bar - The Olympic bar of Crossfit

The Rogue Bar is the bar used in the previous four Crossfit Games – $274

Another great bar for the money, the Rogue Bar, like the B&R bar is marked for both powerlifting and Olympic lifting. This bar is great for Crossfit because it has no center knurling. The bar looks badass too with the black zinc. This bar has over 50 reviews for a 5-star rating. You will not find a nicer barbell for the money.

Was that a Review??

No, but here is an actual Olympic Barbell Review.

Random Extra Barbell Info Video

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Sandarpan July 11, 2015, 8:01 am

    Hi J,

    What do you think is better to get as a first bar? 28mm or 29mm. We are talking complete beginner here. So maybe starting off with the big lifts as well as some Olympic lifts.

    Thanks

    • jburgeson July 11, 2015, 10:20 am

      For a beginner I really don’t think it matters all that much. I mean sure, for Olympic lifts ideally you’d want a 28 mm bar, but it’s not as if newbies that start lifting with a 29 mm or even 31 mm bar would be doing themselves a disservice or anything like that. It’s such a minor adjustment to make later to switch bars, certainly not like learning bad form. So yes, if you get to decide what to put in a beginner’s hands, pick the appropriate bar for what they’ll be training as if they were going to stick to that, but if it’s a matter of just getting a bar to start lifting with, get what you can get.

  • yigalev94 September 3, 2015, 6:53 am

    The best solution is to make …if is possible a big invest for his personal gym…. i have an IPF certified pallini french bar with complet set for a mondial record….more 1100lbs in steel plates. And a comptetition Uesaka wheightlifting compet bar and 600 lbs of training and compet Pallini rubbers discs.. and. For technics mvment and increase grib i have a weightllifting female 25mm bar (the best for rowing)

  • Martin October 28, 2015, 12:28 pm

    If you are going to do Powerlifting (bench press, squat, deadlift) and Olympic Lifting (Snatch and Clean & Jerk), I recommend a Cross-Fit bar (Olympic bar without the center knurling). Olympic bars have a wider center region without knurling, decreased diameter shaft, more elastic bar, and bearings on the sleeves. I do not agree with the author above that the differences between a Powerlifting bar and the Olympic bar are subtle.

    As the Olympic lifter pulls the bar up for the clean, or the snatch, he grazes the thighs. The knurling can chew up your thighs. In addition, I never got the whole center knurling for an Olympic bar. If you are going to do power clean reps, or jerks or push presses from the rack, you will tear up your upper chest and neck with the center knurl. If you learn how to extend your elbows out as you drop under the weight, the center knurl is completely unnecessary.

    The grip on a smaller diameter bar is better, the elasticity – paramount for very quick movements – is much better, and the immediate response of the bearings to turn the shaft – extremely important during the split second you are dropping under the bar – is much much better.

    As for Powerlifting with an Olympic bar, unless you are lifting very very heavy weights, I do not see that this would be a bad compromise. The Olympic bar’s elasticity can work against the power lifter when there is enough weight on the bar to cause considerable flexing, and the sensitive sleeve rotation of the Olympic bar is not something that benefits the Powerlifter.

    I hope you find this helpful.

    • David February 4, 2016, 9:00 am

      I actually prefer you use an Olympic barbell for deadlifts due to the diameter and the elasticity, but would NEVER use one for heavy powerlifting squats. The center knurl is essential for a low bar squat, which the majority of PL’ers use, and a rigid bar is crucial for squats above about 220 Kg.

      That being said, as a beginner, go with a Crossfit bar. Most likely you won’t be squatting past 180 Kg for a couple years anyway and, unless you are going into a competition which requires a maximum squat, low bar squat is a different movement than the majority of recreational exercisers use.

  • Nick May 12, 2016, 1:46 pm

    The center knurl is actually an important feature for the squat to provide grip to the back, the last thing you want is a smooth bar when you’re squatting near or at 1RM.

    On the other hand, good luck conventional deadlifting with a knurled bar and not ravaging your shins! You’ll be bleeding all over the bar.

  • Tre July 21, 2016, 4:42 pm

    I recently purchased 32mm olympic bar and im just wondering if it’ll be okay for training my cleans at home. Or should i have purchased something with a smaller diamter?5

    • jburgeson July 21, 2016, 4:46 pm

      You can use it. If a thicker shaft doesn’t bother you, then no worries. It’s not ideal or anything, but it will still work.

      • Martin July 21, 2016, 10:39 pm

        Not the most ideal for an Olympic lifter, but the likes of Paul Anderson made a lot less perfect equipment (a big understatement) work for him.
        Air Jordan shoes never made a Michael Jordan athlete.

        • jburgeson July 21, 2016, 11:00 pm

          Well I can’t argue with that.

  • Mike August 6, 2016, 12:41 pm

    I’m looking for a no whip deadlift bar. Any suggestions?

    • jburgeson August 6, 2016, 1:12 pm

      Yeah pretty much any power bar that’s 29 mm and in the 190k-220k PSI range. ‘Deadlift bars’ like the Ohio Deadlift, TDB, and Okie are going to be whippy because they’re all 27 mm vs 29 mm, and longer than standard power bars.

      Look at the Vulcan power bars for super rigid, or even the standard (non-deadlift) Ohio Power Bar. The Super Power Bar from AB is a favorite of mine, but it’s not available at the moment and hasn’t been for some time. The TPB isn’t the most rigid bar you can buy, but it’s up there. I’m training with Vulcan’s new Absolute Power Bar at the moment for a review, and it’s pretty damn stiff. Has a nice knurl to it as well – black oxide shaft so it’s pretty sticky. But I guess the point to all this is that you cannot buy an actual deadlift bar if you don’t want the whip, you’ll have to buy a standard power bar.

    • Martin August 6, 2016, 4:18 pm

      Look into the Texas Power Bar.

  • Martin August 6, 2016, 4:20 pm
  • Hongsun December 7, 2016, 1:18 pm

    Holy crap, this was a good read! Thanks for the helpful information. I noticed my cleans felt different at different gyms, and noticed the different knurlings (now a word I know), and didn’t think much of it. Now it makes sense. Great post.

  • Calum May 16, 2017, 1:56 pm

    I do the power lifts and the Olympic lifts too. What is the best bar which will accommodate all exercises? And for a good price?

    • jburgeson May 17, 2017, 12:33 pm

      A lot of that depends on what you consider to be a good price, but I’d probably recommend avoiding straight up power bars if you Oly lift and sticking with something in the 28-28.5 mm range. 28.5 mm multi-purpose bushing bars like the Rogue Ohio line and Vulcan Standard line offer good performance for both types of lifts up to pretty respectable numbers. American Barbell has similar bars to these two lines but almost all of their bars are 28 mm rather than 28.5 mm. This is kind of an advantage in my personal opinion – especially if you favor the Olympic lifts – but at the end of the day the difference is minimal.

      I’d say look at the American Barbell California or even their training bar, Rogue Bar 2.0 or one of the Ohio bars, and 28.5 mm Vulcan Standard. There are of course less expensive bars from the re-branding import shops, but the money you save will not cover the cost of a replacement bar, and that’s likely to come up in a couple years with a cheap imported bar. I say buy it right the first time so you only have to buy once.

      • Calum May 17, 2017, 12:50 pm

        Great, thank you!

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