Aside from prices, one of the biggest factors that people consider when shopping for basic bumper plates is how durable the lighter, 10-pound plates are. Anyone with a decent chunk of Olympic lifting experience knows that those 10’s are the first plates to end up in the trash due to warping and/or steel inserts popping out. People want to know that whatever brand they end up with is going to include resilient 10-pound bumpers (and to a lesser extent, the 15-pound plates) that can withstand some decent abuse before turning into a taco shell.
Clearly there’s nothing wrong with wanting every single plate in a bumper set to last as long as possible. On this site I continuously recommend the brands of bumpers that I know of to be the most durable simply because it just doesn’t make sense to do it any other way. This is especially true when you consider that quality isn’t even more expensive when it comes to basic bumpers. Be that as it may I think that some folks might still be expecting a bit too much from their 10-pound bumpers.
The fact is that those skinny, 10-pound bumper plates were never meant to be loaded onto a barbell all by themselves and then dropped from an overhead position; they simply aren’t built for it. They would probably hold up pretty well if you could guarantee that the plates on both sides of the bar touched down at the same time every time, but when that barbell falls unevenly and one side hits first, the lateral force on that one plate is just so bad for them.
Granted, some brands have come a long way when it comes to increasing the life of their 10-pound discs when used for training the Olympic lifts and for WODs. They’ve altered the geometry of the edge of the plate to have a larger and flatter surface area, they reinforced the steel insert and the center portion of the plate with an anchor, and they’ve found better, stronger rubber formulas. Still though, if you continue to drop 10-lb bumpers alone on a bar, you will eventually destroy them all the same; regardless of brand or design innovations.
Does brand even matter then?
Absolutely it does. Improved bumper designs and higher-quality components translates to a longer lasting plate; whether you abuse them or not. It’s much harder to destroy a 45-pound plate than a 10-pound plate (regardless of brand) since the thicker plates don’t really warp or taco, but insert separation is still a real possibility with any size disc. The innovations that help preserve the lighter plates also contribute to longevity of the larger, heavier plates. So yes, brand still matters.
The point I’m really trying to make is this: regardless of brand, don’t drop your 10’s and 15’s alone on the bar unless you’re willing to replace them before their time, and certainly do not add more weight to a bar with only 10’s by using smaller diameter change plates. If you are going to do it anyway, at least buy the more durable brands (like the Vulcan’s seen above) in order to maximize the amount of time you get to spend with them before you trash them.
What to use instead of 10-pound bumpers?
For the record, I’m not telling you that you can’t use your 10- and 15-pound bumper plates for CrossFit or Olympic weightlifting technique; they are your bumpers after all. I’m merely letting you know that they are not intended to be technique plates.
Honestly, I don’t know why a 450 mm, 10-pound bumper plate even exists in the first place. 10’s should just be a smaller, change plate size, not a full-size disc. Manufacturers could avoid a lot of customer-related headaches if they just stopped offering bumpers in 10-pound (full-size) varieties, but I digress.
Update: Vulcan Alphas actually adopted this idea and made the 10’s only 400 mm. Smart!
What you should be using for practicing Olympic technique and CrossFit at lower weights are technique plates. Technique plates are full-size plates that are made of a hard, recycled plastic rather than rubber, and they are practically indestructible. They allow you to lift at a light weight, lift the proper distance from the ground, and get the genuine feeling of having plates on the bar, and all without the risk of ruining equipment.
Matter of fact, by using a combination of tech plates, technique bars, and standard Olympic bars, you can train with any weight ranging from 20-pounds to 75-pounds without the use of any bumpers.
The best true tech plates are made by a US company called HiTech. They are available in three sizes in pounds (5, 10, and 15-pound plates), and four different kilogram plates (2.5’s, 3.75’s, 5’s, and 10’s.) You can find these plates from many retailers, and it looks like prices are set by the manufacturer because prices look to be the same everywhere. HiTech plates cost about 3-times the price of a comparable weight bumper plate, but should outlast more than a dozen pairs of same weight bumpers used for the same purpose.
Eleiko also makes technique plates. The Eleiko Tech Plates look more like actual bumper plates, but not only are they ridiculously expensive, they are only available in two sizes; 2.5-kg and 5-kg. The only reason I can see owning Eleiko tech plates over HiTech is if you host competitions for youth or senior athletes and you need an official plate. In a garage gym or even real gym setting, Eleiko tech plats are just not money well spent. You can thrash eight or nine pairs of good 10-pound bumpers before you’ve paid for one pair of Eleiko techs.
Does any of this matter?
If you’re new to Olympic weightlifting, but not new to strength training in general and you’re a quick learner, you probably don’t need to invest in tech plates. You’ll start training with the bar, add some 10’s, train some more, then be up into the standard comp plate sizes in no time (25+ pounds, or 10+ kilograms.) Go ahead and use your 10-pound bumpers; you may not even be at that weight long enough to do any real damage to them. Even if you do, one extra pair of 10’s is one-third the price of tech plates, so you’re still ahead.
Tech plates are a good buy for youth athletes though since they train in those lighter weight ranges for longer. Tech plates would also be good for master lifters who may have previous injuries or mobility issues that delay the progress, especially since these are the lifters more likely to frequently miss reps. Finally, they are a must in any gym setting that trains novices, either for Olympic weightlifting or just CrossFit. Then again if you run a gym I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.
I also think that tech plates are nice to have around for exactly what the name implies they are for, practicing technique. A 20 kg bar with 10 or 15-pound tech plates is heavy enough to feel a bar in your grasp, but light enough to train repetitive sets. Even experienced lifters that don’t miss reps often will still drop the bar from the waist after a set just to get it out of their hands, and that 2-3 foot drop with basic bumpers is just far enough to start damaging those bumpers. However, tech plates can handle that all day long.
Bumpers versus Tech Plates – Summary
Don’t drop a bar loaded with only 10-pound bumper plates. Either completely set down the bar after each rep, or invest in some tech plates. If you’re willing to risk damage to bumper plates, at least buy good bumper plates with design innovations.
Rogue HG 2.0 plates have a newer, denser rubber compound than their predecessor, and a wide, flat edge. Vulcan plates have these design improvements as well, but they also have the added benefit of anchored inserts that are less likely to separate from the bumper. Any easy way to make sure you get the better plates is to avoid bumper plate brands that have beveled edges on the 10’s (see below.) Also look for reference to an anchored insert in the product description.
In addition to the Pendlay and Vulcan plates in the picture above, I also have Rogue and HI-Temp basic bumper plates in my gym. While I have had no issues with any brand when it comes to the bigger plates (35’s and 45’s), my Vulcan 10-pound bumper plates have held their shape better than any other brand. I actually do treat them as technique plates from time-to-time, and they are still flat as can be. However, it’s still a risk.