This is a review of what is now officially the most magnificent and functional Olympic bar in my garage gym, the American Barbell Stainless Steel Olympic Bar. In addition to taking an awfully close look at this stainless steel beast over the last 45-days, I have asked American Barbell a lot of technical questions regarding construction as well. I have made every effort to be thorough in this review, and I am quite confident that by the time you finish this review you will know all there is to know about this American-made product.
Just so you know what kind of bar we are talking about here, the SS Olympic Bar is a true 28 mm, competition-spec Olympic bearing bar that is designed and intended to be used for training heavy snatches and cleans & jerks. This bar is a unique alternative to the high-end, imported training bars like the NxG IWF Training Bar in that it’s one of the few Oly bars in existence to feature a stainless steel shaft.
I realize that the elite Olympic weightlifting bars don’t fit into everyone’s garage gym theme or budget, but keep in mind that many aspiring, hardcore Olympic lifters train in their garage and need to buy equipment as well. In other words, the premium weightlifting bars need to be reviewed from time to time too.
Update Dec 2017: While this review is now 3-years old, it is no less valid today than at the time of writing, and even though this AB SS Bar isn’t the only stainless steel Oly bar on the market today, I still think it’s going to be the first choice for the majority of veteran Olympic lifters. Additionally, (and surprisingly for American Barbell) the AB SS Oly is actually priced lower than competing stainless steel Olympic bars while still having better components.
AB Stainless Steel Olympic Bearing Bar Specifications
First up, the specifications. As always, these specs can be found on the bar’s product page.
- IWF standard men’s 20 kg bar, 2200 mm in length
- IWF-spec Olympic markings with passive center knurl
- IWF-spec 28 mm shaft
- Stainless steel, corrosion-resistant shaft
- Hard chrome 50 mm sleeves, 16.3″ loadable length
- Minimum tensile strength rating of 190,000 PSI
- Minimum yield strength rating of 175,000 PSI
- Medium knurling on stainless steel offers an incredibly secure grip
- Proprietary high-load bearings with internal chalk/dust guards
- Double snap-ring sleeve assembly
- $675 including shipping – Lifetime warranty
I suppose that I should begin with what I think is the coolest aspect of this bar; the stainless steel shaft.
The feel of a stainless steel barbell shaft is just incredible. Stainless is the only bar material or finish available that offers that superior, raw steel feeling, but without all the maintenance that comes along with owning a bare, unfinished alloy steel shaft. You do not have to worry about constantly brushing out and oiling to prevent or remove rust because stainless steel is corrosion resistant. And since it’s not a finish, it can’t be chipped or nicked away like any of the applied finishes like as oxide, chrome, and zinc. Plus it’s just a beautiful material.
So you might be wondering, if stainless steel is so amazing, why are there so few stainless steel barbells?
Well, price! To give you an idea, the American Barbell SS Bar is about $125 more than its chrome-only counterpart. It sounds like a lot of money, but that’s actually fairly reasonable by comparison… Ivanko Barbell offers a couple stainless steel bars; their professional Oly Bar (OB-20KG), and their IPF Power Bar (OBX-20KG). You can get either of these Ivanko bars in black oxide for about $600, or you can get them in stainless steel for about $1100. Not a very subtle price difference, right?
Updated 2017: Stainless steel bar prices have dropped now that more manufacturer’s are making bars with this material. Even this AB bar now priced at $675 was $799 many years ago. Ivanko may be too proud to back off their high prices, but Rogue’s and Vulcan’s SS Oly bars are about $700 today.
So the question becomes, is stainless steel worth the extra cost? If you can afford it, I think it most definitely is.
Raw steel shafts have the best feel, but the fact is that you have very few options for bare steel and stainless steel Olympic WL bars. None of the IWF manufacturers offer stainless or bare steel Olympic bars. We now have Rogue and Vulcan making stainless bars, but American Barbell’s SS Bearing Bar is the closet thing to an IWF bar that you’re going to get in stainless. That is to say, it’s the closest thing to pre-existing competition weightlifting bars – mostly because of AB’s bearings.
Bearings / Sleeve Assembly
The American Barbell SS Olympic Bar has a slightly different bearing system than all other Olympic bars. Rather than having high-speed bearings that spin erratically for days with little or no weight on the bar (as most bar reviewers are usually quick to demonstrate; myself included), this bar has proprietary bearings that AB claims are the largest high-load, precision bearings in the industry (42k PSI vs the industry standard of 25k PSI.) These bearings are designed to spin smoothly, quietly, & reliably under any load.
How are they different? They are track bearings. Rather than the needles of the bearings being in direct contact with the bar shaft, there is an indestructible, groove sleeve (or race) separating the bearing from the shaft. This eliminates the wear on components indefinitely, leading to a more reliable and longer lasting bar.
This bar should never lose spin. No amount of weight that you can physically put on the bar should ever be enough to compress the bearing cartridges and create drag. Of course I did test this (video below) and found that I was indeed unable to slow or prevent rotation.
Since any decent bushing bar can be used for Olympic lifts (up to a point), the reasoning for dropping extra cash for an Olympic bearing bar is get access to sleeves that spin smoothly as you get under progressively heavier weights. When you’re still learning and you’re only cleaning 40 kilos, go ahead and use your bushing bar. When you’re cleaning 100+ kilos you want reliable sleeves that can rotate that 180 degrees without transferring any inertia to the plates, and this bar does that.
Regarding the video… since I cannot clean the amount of weight I loaded onto the bar (awww), I needed a creative way to demonstrate how these bearings would spin under an extreme load. By placing the loaded bar (455 pounds) on my spotter arms, I can roll the shaft across the spotters and look for any transferred inertia simply by watching the plates.
If the plates were to spin along with the shaft, that would mean that the bearings are being compressed and cannot spin freely within the sleeves. If the plates remain motionless (as they do), then the bearings are doing their job. No matter how quickly, slowly, or abruptly I rotate the shaft, the plates remain still. These are nice bearings, and I’m pretty sure this is more weight than you’ll be cleaning or snatching.
If you want to see the other extreme grab one of your bushing bars and try this test. I did, and with multiple bushing bars. In every case, the bushing bars could not be rotated without applying enough force to rotate the shaft, sleeves, and every plate on the bar. Clearly not ideal for Olympic lifts (and your wrists.) You can also try this with your favorite bearing bar to find out at what point the bearings fail to spin. Not all bearings are created equal.
There are a couple of other minor things that I find interesting about the sleeves; aside from the bearing system, that is. For starters, this bar has a very attractive, recessed weld joining the sleeve shaft to the sleeve collar/shoulder. Yeah, it’s cosmetic, but I think it’s extremely cool looking and gives the bar some unique flavor.
Second, there is a extra thick layer of hard chrome applied to the sleeves to help ward off scratches and help eliminate the chances of knocking off chunks of chrome as you load and unload plates. Chrome is already more resilient than zinc and oxide, but industrial chrome is just sick.
There is another cool side effect of this thick hard chrome, and that is that the sleeves end up being slightly thicker in diameter. How is that good? Well, the standard opening for IWF bumper plates (both basic black and competition) is 50.40 mm. With this gap between bar and bumper closed a little bit more, bumper plates fit more snugly, and that helps eliminate rattling on the bar. Sure, it’s only a tenth of a millimeter, but it makes a huge difference!
If you’re worried that a bar with a stainless shaft is going to feel any different than an alloy steel bar in terms of elasticity, worry not. This bar feels the same as any other 28 mm Oly bar at or around this tensile strength and yield rating (190k/175k). I wouldn’t consider it to be the whippiest bar I’ve ever touched, but it’s certainly not stiff or rigid. It takes about two wheels before whip becomes obvious, and just gets better as the weight goes up; all in all pretty standard stuff.
I mentioned this already, but I’ll mention it again; this Olympic bar was designed for heavy lifts. Everything about it just responds very well to a lot of weight. Rotation, whip, etc.
Ahh, the joys of explaining knurling…
The knurling of this stainless bar feels finer and more refined than would be considered typical for a premium Olympic bar. It doesn’t have the obvious aggressive sharpness to it like you would find on an imported training bar, but it still offers a very secure grip. It’s a great grip without chalk, and an ever better grip with it.
Of all my bars, the actual knurl itself (without factoring in the unique feel of the steel) feels the closest to the Rogue Chan. It’s very grippy, but not sharp to the point of uncomfortable. Couple the good knurl with the stainless steel and you have a bar that doesn’t slip and just feels really good. I still consider it a moderate knurl since it isn’t quite to the point of being aggressive, but I like it.
I know I’ve said this before, but knurling is getting much more sophisticated. Manufacturers are able to get very small cross-hatches on their bars now. Each “point” can have slightly less of an edge to it since there are so many more per square inch. While it may be nice (or shall I say, “familiar”) to have thousands of super aggressive points stabbing at your hand when you’re on the stage, that doesn’t mean you need that discomfort in order to have a secure grip when you train.
So, will this bar feel like an IWF competition bar? No, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hold on to it.
* Update ’16: This section was pretend redacted and updated to reflect the new, lower price of this bar (from $799 to $675; to compete with Rogue’s SS Oly). Thanks to the decrease, the biggest con was completely negated
The obvious con is the price. I don’t think it’s an unjustified price, but $799 for a bar that is not certified by the IWF is a lot. This bar is stage worthy, and it meets all IWF standards, but sadly it could not be used at a sanctioned event unless it becomes certified at some point down the road. What you have to consider is that were this not stainless steel it would sell for under $600. You have to really appreciate the benefit of lifting with raw steel in order to justify the added expense. Having said that, I do think that American Barbell offers stainless at a much better price point than the other brands that make stainless available. I already listed Ivanko’s SS prices, and the raw steel NxG Power Bar is just as much as the Ivanko (and it is just bare steel, not even stainless.)
Another con is that the sleeves do not have the pronounced grooves that help keep change plates on the bar when collars aren’t used. This could be one of the bigger oversights with this bar considering it’s being marketed strictly to Olympic lifters who, quite frankly, all tend to lift in kilos and therefore must use change plates. The sleeves are beautiful, but they are smooth as can be.
I don’t really have any other cons. It’s a functional bar, it’s a beautiful bar, it has the ultimate shaft, and it’s American made with a lifetime warranty. So long as you can afford it and still afford your macros, it’s one hell of an Olympic bar.
American Barbell SS Olympic Bearing Bar – Summary
I’m not always sure how long I’ll keep any given bar, but I know that I’ll never get rid of this one; it’s just too damn nice. It has a feel unlike any other Oly bar I own, and it’s practically indestructible. Interestingly enough, this is the only bar that I have reviewed that could still pass as new after lifting on it and testing it for over 30 days. The shaft looks the same as the day I got it, and so do the sleeves. It just cleans up so well, and the thick sleeves have nothing more than a few micro scratches from steel change plates (which I shouldn’t ever have used anyway.)
Is this bar for you? Could be. This is a bar intended for serious intermediate to experienced Olympic weightlifters, and elite CrossFitters who favor the Olympic lifts aspect of CrossFit. If your program revolves mostly around standard strength training and the big tres power lifts, this isn’t a great fit. You gotta love those snatches and cleans to own this bar.
Having said that, if you are a serious Olympic lifter and you’re about to drop a grand on one of the imported IWF trainers or comp bars, I suggest you track down a buddy or club with either this bar or the chrome version and get under it a few times. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I know it’s fun to tell people that you have an IWF brand, but there are plenty of high performance, stage-worthy bars that aren’t certified, and that IWF sticker is a big chunk of those bar’s prices.
To see what I think of the AB SS Bearing Bar 3-years later, check out my Reviews Revisited Volume I