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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

{ 30 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.


    • 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!

  • Jim L June 30, 2017, 2:15 pm

    Thoughts on the American Barbell Mammoth bar? Worth the premium over one of the Rogue power bars?

    • jburgeson June 30, 2017, 3:36 pm

      I’m a big fan of American Barbell bars, but I think the Mammoth is an odd product. The $550 price tag is because it’s stainless steel, but the true benefit of that material (the feel – the grip) is negated by having a finish on it. It doesn’t matter if Cerakote feels close to as grippy as stainless, there is simply no point in paying a $200 premium that you can’t benefit from. That is to say, were this bar 210k alloy steel with Cerakote, it would feel about as good as stainless in the hands, but it would cost only $300-$350. So yeah, nice bar, extremely (and unnecessarily) overpriced. I personally wish they would have just kept making the Super Power Bar – one of my favorite power bars of all time.

      • Jim L June 30, 2017, 4:40 pm

        I kept looking at it and wondering what i was missing to justify that price.

        As I’m transitioning out of crossfit and more into power lifting (though I’m still under a 1,000 lb total), I want to get a stiffer bar with the center knurling. I’ve got a Vaughn bar and a Bomba bar and I’d gladly sell off my Bomba for a proper power bar.

        • jburgeson June 30, 2017, 4:51 pm

          Yeah it’s just that stainless premium is all. Covered up with fancy ceramic.

          In terms of alternatives, the Ohio Power Bar for $250 is solid, but it’s bare steel. For zinc there is the Vulcan Power Bar. For oxide, the Vulcan Absolute PB. You can pay more than these three bars for a power bar, but you don’t need to. It’s all luxury beyond that. Power bars just aren’t as expensive to make and sell because the shaft is thicker, they always have just bushings, and generally they have less expensive finishes (when not stainless of course). Vaughn is good enough to keep, Bomba should go though – that bar is very weak in this market, in every sense of the word. Sell it before you bend it powerlifting. When straight you can dent your power bar price a little, but bent it’s worth nothing.

          • Jim L July 6, 2017, 12:08 am

            I sold my Bomba bar and some other unused equipment and went with the American Barbell Elite Power Bar. I was trying to choose between that and the Vulcan Absolute Bar. The Vulcan bar was going to be out of stock for 40 days or so. AB also offered to give me a discount after I messaged them on Facebook, so I went that route to get the stainless bar.

            I’ll let you know what I think after I’ve used it for a bit.

            • jburgeson July 6, 2017, 12:28 am

              Just today I noticed Vulcan is out of a lot of bars. They doing booming business lately I guess. Is all good though, AB is top-tier too.

              And yeah I’d be curious to know how you like the knurl on that one. Thanks Jim

              • Jim July 14, 2017, 9:57 am

                So I got my first workout in today with the American Barbell Elite Power bar and I must say, I’m impressed. I don’t have near the experience that you do, but I have lifted on a variety of of bars while I was a CrossFit coach. I would consider thie knurling to be relatively mild, but in an amazing way. I used to prefer the cheese-grater knurling but this is something completely different. It’s mild, but incredibly “sticky”. I felt completely locked in when I grabbed it, and even more so when I added some chalk.

                I immediately thought of it as the difference between a dirt bike tire and a track bike tire. One is chunky and aggressive to grab loose and uneven terrain, the other is fine and grippy to stick to high speed flat surfaces. It’s already a real winner in my book.

                Oh, and do you have an Instagram account? I can tag you in my post where I just used it for the first time.

                • jburgeson July 14, 2017, 11:28 am

                  American Barbell knurl is perfect for people who dislike sharp bars. Grip is good for being as soft as it is. And no, I’m embarrassed.. I need an IG account still. I’m so bad with social media.

  • Jim L July 12, 2017, 12:06 pm

    Can you help me understand what characteristic it is that allows some bars to be so whippy under heavy loads without deforming (oly bars) vs power bars that have no whip. I’m sure there’s a loot of science to it but I’m kind of fascinated seeing the heavy loads those oly bars move without deforming.

    • jburgeson July 12, 2017, 6:06 pm

      Mostly it’s just diameter, but there are other factors including the inherent properties of the formula, the quality of the finished steel (lack of impurities), the way it’s worked, stuff like that. Most bars manufacturers just pick steel ‘off the rack’ so to speak. Very few have their own proprietary blends and dedicated mills. But yeah basically 28 mm is in that sweet spot for elasticity for the type of weights being used, but add 1 mm and it adds a ton of rigidity. Heat treating can add even more stiffness. I’m sure a metallurgist could elaborate on this much more and get all technical, and maybe someone will!

  • Courtney Bisinger July 16, 2017, 10:15 am

    Would it make any difference in training to use an Olympic bar for powerlifting? If so what? Or are they about the same? Would it hurt your training in power lifting if you use an Olympic bar? If so what?

    • jburgeson July 16, 2017, 11:18 am

      Other than the shaft diameter and the rigidity factor that I have already mentioned, there is no real reason why you can’t use any bar you want for any lift you want. Think about it this way. You can play kickball with a basketball and you can play basketball with a kickball, but when you get pretty good at one or the other, you’ll probably start looking to use the proper equipment for the sport.

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