So far I feel that I have bars, bumpers, and racks pretty well covered on this site. I’m certain you can find something useful on this site if you’re shopping for one of those core garage gym pieces. What I haven’t covered very well to date are change plates. Since it’s likely that just about every lifter will ultimately find themselves in the market for change plates in some form, I felt that it was about time to give them a little attention.
Last updated January 2018 – minor revisions and price checking.
Difference between change plates and fractional plates
Change plate collections can vary slightly, but they are typically the six pairs of metric plates that include 0.5 kg, 1 kg, 1.5 kg, 2 kg, 2.5 kg, and 5 kg plates; or the three pairs of Imperial plates including 2.5 lbs, 5 lbs, and 10 lbs. When thinking in terms of bumper plates, one can usually associate any disc smaller than 450 mm in diameter as a change plate, but this line of thinking doesn’t work with steel or rubber-coated discs since all plates below 20 kg (or 45 lbs) is of a smaller [than 450 mm] diameter.
Fractional plates are still change plates, but are different in that they weigh “fractions” of a unit; either kilograms or pounds, of course. So while the change plate set would consist of pairs of 2½-lb, 5-lb, and 10-lb discs, a fractional set in pounds would consist of a pair of ¼-lb, ½-lb, ¾-lb, and 1-lb discs.
Fractional plates do allow for much smaller increases in load, but it is my opinion that most people can make the jumps in weight that normal change plates would allow for and don’t need to micro-load with fractional plates, especially with those who lift in kilograms. Though needless to say, that’s up to you to decide.
Friction plates is another term you’ll hear floating around. Friction plates are exactly what they sound like, plates that hold on to the bar by friction; no collars needed. Most rubber plates out there are not friction plates, but they still do a pretty good job of holding on to the bar without the use of collars. Both the Rogue and Vulcan change plates I’ll be talking about work very well without collars even though they are not “actual” friction plates. If you want a real friction plate set, Eleiko and Rogue offers them (plate sizes 0.5 kg through 2 kg.)
Do you need change plates?
Probably. If you are new enough to lifting, you can usually get away without having change plates for a while since bigger jumps in weight are more common as a total beginner, but ultimately you’ll need them. If you work out with pounds rather than kilos, there’s only three change plate pairs to get so you can gear up for very little cash. On the other hand, if you work out in kilograms, expect to spend quite a bit for a full set since there is no less than six pairs of kilogram change plates; more if you include any of the fractional plates.
Technically you can save a lot of cash by buying cast iron change plates. This is especially true if you work out in pounds, as you can run to the box-store and pick up 2½’s and 5’s for practically nothing. However, you should know though that cast iron plates will destroy the finish of the sleeves on your bar. Any lift ending in an impact with the floor (deadlifts, barbell rows, snatch, clean & jerk, power clean, etc) sends those metal plates bouncing and rattling on the bar, and you end up with gashes, nicks, and lost chrome/zinc. I suggest using steel plates only for controlled, slow lifts like bench press, overhead press, etc.
Vulcan Strength Rubber V-Lock Change Plates
So I’m going to just start with my top pick rather than try to build up a bunch of anticipation by listing them in a special order like bad – good – better; or something like that. If for some reason you don’t like these then by all means read on. Otherwise take a quick glance at the others just to be sure and then go read another article – preferably on this site!
So why are these my favorite? There are a few things that I expect from my change plates: accuracy in claimed weight, durability, and affordability. Additionally, I don’t want to have to be concerned about bar damage, and I’d like for them to stay on the sleeve without having to be collared on. Less important is the IWF-color scheme, and a lack of noise.
The Vulcan V-Locks are not the only change plates available that offer all of these qualities, but of those that do they are the most reasonably priced. Yeah V-Locks are more expensive than painted steel change plates like the Strength Shop plates I’ll cover below, but they are still affordable. About $25 less than Rogue’s kilogram set, and about $50 less than Eleiko’s.
V-Locks are not just rubber coated; they are completely rubber. There is no steel anywhere, and this is why they are of a larger diameter than the other brands that contain steel cores. They offer all the benefits of rubber-coated steel discs (like the Rogue and Eleiko plates), but then there is the added benefit of there being no risk of exposing metal over time, which generally happens inside the hole; which of course will start to wear down the sleeve finish.
While not technically friction plates, the V-Locks do function in a similar manner. Since there is no steel insert or other smooth material wrapped around the diameter of the hole, they do an excellent job of staying put on the bar outside the collars. I still personally stick the 5 kg disc inside the collars, but that’s only because it’s such a large plate. Each V-Lock also fits well inside the recess of the next larger plate when on the bar rather than just sitting next to each other as it is with the other brands.
All-in-all, these are the best bang for the buck. If all my change plates disappeared tonight, I’d order the V-Locks again to replace them. They aren’t as expensive or fancy looking as the Eleikos, but they aren’t actually as expensive as the Eleikos either. Now it does just so happen that they just as accurate as the Eleikos though.
The entire V-Lock set is $239, ships for free, and is warranted for 5-years. That’s anywhere from 2 to 5 years longer than the rest of them. Solid option? The best option!
Strength Shop USA Kilogram Change Plates
There is one thing I really like about the Strength Shop USA plates; the price. However, I do not like what they do my bar sleeve during lifts like the deadlift or power clean; lifts that end with the bar hitting the mats with any momentum. When that happens, these things bounce around on the sleeve, and more times than not, they take a piece of the bar’s finish off and replace it with colored paint from the plates.
The SS USA plates are nothing more than steel plates with a thin coating of colored paint. They look legitimate enough, but they have no protective rubber coating – not even around the circumference of the insert. The very first day that I used the 2.5 kilogram change plate for deadlifts, I ended up with paint in the grooves of the sleeves and two deep gouges that are there for good. That damage was done from dropping a bar only 1 or 2″ at the bottom of deadlifts. I never even got a chance to drop the thing from an overhead position.
These are very affordable when compared to the rubber-coated discs, no doubt about that. Still though, I can’t see these being useful to anyone who does anything but bench pressing and squats. That is, unless you’re lifting on a bar with bare steel sleeves, or a beater bar of some kind. Clean, snatch, deadlift, or barbell row with these plates and you will mar up your bar sleeves.
The Strength Shop change plates are the same basic design as the Pendlay change plates; for those who remember those beauties. All six pairs of colored steel change plates will cost you $150 before shipping. That’s the 5-pair set (0.5 kg, 1 kg, 1.5 kg, 2 kg, & 2.5 kg) at $105 and a pair of 5-kg at $45. This total price used to be closer to $100, now it is way too close in price to the V-Locks to even be worthy of consideration. They’re never in stock anyway.
I appreciate that someone offers steel kilogram change plates at a slightly better price than rubber-coated, but again, over the years the price has climbed and they are just too pricey considering their inaccuracy and what they do to nice Olympic bars.
Rogue Kilogram Change Plates
The Rogue kilogram change plates are literally the same plate as the Eleiko change plates, only without the IWF-certification. These used to be the perfect alternative to Eleiko – until Eleiko lowered their price considerably (no doubt due to a total lack of sales). Technically these are still less expensive than Eleiko, but not by much, and I can see some paying the small difference in price for IWF-approved equipment.
In any case, Rogue’s change plates are metal at their core, but they are covered in a thin rubber coating. This rubber not only helps protect the plates from getting dinged up when they smash into each other on the bar, but it also helps to protect your sleeves from getting dinged up as well. Better yet, this rubber coating allows you to load up your change plates outside your collars without having to worry about them sliding off; much like friction plates.
Rogue change plates have a matte finish, and the rubber is color coded using the IWF color scheme. The standard six pairs from 0.5 kg to 5 kg are available, and they can be picked up in pairs or sets. Buying the whole set at $265 will get your free shipping.
I like Rogue’s plates. I think they’re a great compromise between the too cheap and the too expensive, and between these and the V-Locks they did wonders to help drive change plate prices down. They still cost more than the Vulcan V-Locks, but not by too much – if you’re a Rogue fan and find it’s worth paying the difference.
Eleiko Olympic Comp/Training Kilogram Change Plates
The Eleiko Change Plates are definitely the nicest looking change plates in my collection, but they also happen to be the most expensive. The full 25 kg set consists of all six pairs of IWF-color coded discs (0.5 kg – 5 kg) and sells for $277 before shipping. If you think that’s bad, did you know that they used to sell for $498 prior to Rogue releasing the same plates? That price was just eff’n insane!
There are advantages to owning premium change plates like these. For starters, these are IWF-certified. I realize that most people won’t really care about the certification stamp itself, but by having it you know that your plates can deviate very little from the claimed weight. Also, you technically could bring these to a sanctioned event, where as none of the others on this page are legal equipment.
Like the Rogues and Vulcans, the Eleiko set should survive for decades. The coating is well done, and there is actually a thin, protective insert around the circumference of the hole that even the Rogue’s don’t have. The remainder of the rubber coating on the plate feels pretty much the same as the Rogue discs, but that insert will prevent the rubber from flaking away over time as you load and unload the discs on the bar.
Change/Fractional Plates for CrossFit (pounds)
Most CrossFit stores do not carry true kilogram change plates. They usually they only sell iron change plates in pounds (2½-lb, 5-lb, and 10-lb), and the small washer fractional sets in pounds that consist of ¼-lb, ½-lb, ¾-lb, and 1-lb pairs. Fractional plates can be helpful if you do lift in pounds because the change plate options in pounds don’t allow for the minor jumps in weight that kilogram change plates allow for, but you’ll still need the change plates.
Sometimes CrossFit vendors have the same washer-style fractional sets in kilograms, but these are not nearly as helpful as the pound washer sets. Most folks are content with the ½-kg increments that are possible with standard change plates, and don’t need 0.125 or .25 kg jumps. Besides, normal kilogram change plates make three out of four of the included washer plates practically useless (the ½-kg, ¾-kg, and 1-kg.)
Whether you lift in kilograms or pounds, the fact is that fractional plates are useless without also owning change plates, so worry about change plates first.
Vulcan V-Lock in Pounds
I mentioned that you can run down to the local sporting good stores to pick up those cheap CAP branded cast-iron change plates in 2½ and 5-pound discs. Well, it is an option, but you should know that the super cheap change plates from the box-stores are actually worse for your bar than the SS USA change plates I discussed. Not only is the insert hole so big and uneven that bar damage is unavoidable, but they are embarrassingly inaccurate. You can bring a scale and do you best to avoid the wildly inaccurate plates, or you can again look to V-Locks.
Vulcan recently started offering the V-Lock plates in 2½-pound and 5-pound variants. They are not colored but they are affordable, and like the kilogram V-Locks they contain no iron whatsoever. These are perfect for folks that prefer to work out with pounds rather than kgs, but dislike the metal plates. With these V-Locks, whether you Olympic lift or powerlift, you never have to worry about thrashing your bar during a lift with these rubber plates, and you can rest assured that the claimed weight is accurate.
Vulcan sells pairs of 2½-pound V-Locks for $32, and 5-pound V-Lock pairs for $54. You can get all four plates for $75. Just like the kilo V-Locks, the price fairly reasonable.
Rogue Change Plates in Pounds
In addition to the kilogram change plates, Rogue offers their rubber coated plates in pounds as well. A full set that includes a pair of 2½’s, 5’s, and 10’s will set you back about $165 and they ship for free. If you don’t need the 10’s because you have those covered by bumpers, a pair of 2½’s and 5’s will cost you about $75, but without shipping included. The colors are pretty cool, but in this case the V-Locks aren’t really any more affordable, making it a wash.
Honorable Mention – Rogue Calibrated Powerlifting Plates
Guaranteed to be accurate to within 10 grams, the Rogue Calibrated Steel Plates feature various change plate sizes. These plates are quite pricey, and they are steel, but they are accurate.
For pounds there are 0.25 lb, 0.5 lb, 1 lb, 2.5 lb, and 5 lb change plates available (sold in pairs).
For kilograms there are 0.25 kg, 0.5 kg, 1.25 kg, 2.5 kg, and 5 kg plates available (sold in pairs).