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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.