The first time I went to a gym to train, I was completely clueless about the different types of weightlifting bars. Afraid to ask, I just grabbed the standard bar and used it across multiple exercises – even when I really should have been using a completely different barbell type.
Luckily, the bodybuilders at my gym were helpful and quickly educated me. This was before the era of the internet, so their advice was especially valuable. Now I want to pass on the knowledge about the different types of weightlifting bars so you can make the most out of your training or build a better home gym.
1. Standard Weightlifting Bar
A standard barbell for men is typically 7.2 feet long and 44 pounds (20kg) in weight. For women, the standard bar is 6.5 feet and 33 pounds (15kg).
- Bench presses
- Bent-over row
- Virtually any strength or power barbell exercise
- Incredibly versatile
- Start bending at around 200 pounds and weight over that could cause permanent bending
- Cheap standard bars might start rusting
- There is a lot of variation between bars
How to Choose a Standard Weightlifting Bar:
The thing to really pay attention to when choosing a standard barbell for weightlifting is the knurling. This is the grooved part of the bar which helps you get a better grip. Depending on where the curling is located, the barbell might be better suited for specific types of exercises.
Likewise, some types of standard bars have more or less bend (whip). The bending helps take some of the slack when you lift.
- Bench Press Barbell: These barbell types need to have virtually no whip to them. They sometimes are a bit wider in diameter to make it easier to hold during bench presses.
- Squat Barbells: These weightlifting bars will have knurling in the center so it grips better against your back. Sometimes they are thicker and usually have a slight amount of whip.
- Deadlift Barbells: These bars have a lot more knurling and a smaller diameter so you can keep your grip better during deadlifts. They also have more whip to them.
2. Olympic Weightlifting Bar
- Diameter: Olympic barbells have a standardized 2-inch (50mm) diameter and can only be used with Olympic weights. Note that the women’s bar is smaller at 0.98 inches (25mm).
- More whip: For serious weightlifters, barbell whip is not just hype. A trained lifter can sync the whip in during clean and jerks and squats to get a slight lift upward. Or, during deadlifts, the bend actually can put the lifter in a more advantageous starting position. Unless you are this serious about lifting though, you probably won’t know how to utilize whip or even be able to lift enough weight to take advantage of whip.
- Spin: An important difference between standard and Olympic barbells is that Olympic bars have a collar that spins. The spin gives lifters momentum as they ascend and takes strain off of the wrists.
- Less knurling: When you are lifting huge amounts of weight, the knurling stops helping grip and instead destroys your hands and gloves. This is why the Olympic type of barbell has less knurling than standard barbells.
- Weight and length: A men’s Olympic barbell is 7.2 feet long and 44lbs (20kg). A women’s Olympic barbell is 6.6 feet long and 33lbs (15kg).
Same exercises as you’d use a standard weightlifting barbell, just with more weight. There are also many types of Olympic barbells with various knurling, spin, and whip depending on the exercise.
- Can hold more weight
- Are generally better quality
- More expensive
- Requires 2-inch diameter Olympic weights
- Not good for people with smaller hands
How to Choose:
Unless you want to spend a lot of money on many different types of Olympic barbells, it might be worth considering a hybrid bar. These have multiple markings so you can use them for Olympic lifting and powerlifting.
3. Hex Bar (Trap Bar)
The benefit of hex and trap bars is that your body is in the middle of the bar’s center of gravity. This position is safer for deadlifts. It also takes strain off the joints. There are also handles which help you get a better grip.
- Unconventional trap bar exercises like overhead presses, squat jumps, and pushups.
- Helps ensure proper posture when doing deadlifts
- Reduces strain on joints
- Good for beginner weightlifters
- Easier to grip
- Limited uses
- More expensive than standard barbell
How to Choose:
Because of the shape, hex bars are a lot harder to make. So, don’t expect to find a cheap hex bar that can actually hold some weight and won’t start rusting quickly. Pay attention to the lengths of the barbell when buying because there is a lot of variance.
4. EZ Curl Bar
The difference between EZ curl bars and standard bars is that curl bars are shorter and lighter weight. The angled hand placement really makes it more comfortable to do a bicep curl because your wrists have more pronation and less stress is placed on them.
There are standard EZ curl bars and Olympic EZ curl bars. Standard curl bars are usually around 11lbs (5kg), 47 inches long, and 1 inch in diameter. Olympic curl bars can weigh upwards of 20lbs, are up to 52 inches in length, and have a 2 inch diameter.
- Bicep curls
- Upright rows
- Take stress off of wrist during curls
- Better bicep and triceps muscle isolation
- Limited use
How to Choose:
A lot of people are fans of Super curl bars. Compared to standard EZ curl bars, these have more acute curves so you can train with parallel grip.
5. Tricep Bar
Also known as a Swiss bar or hammer curl bar, a triceps bar is shaped like an oval with two metal bars going through it. You grip these bars while doing upper body exercises. The bars create a neutral grip and thus reduce shoulder strain. Check out these best triceps bars.
- Skull crusher exercises
- French curls
- Bicep hammer curls
- Many upper body exercises
- Take strain off shoulders
- Great for people with shoulder or back injuries
- Very affordable
- Great addition to home gym – many users say they won’t ever go back to standard bars for triceps development
- Not designed to hold a lot of weight
- Limited use
How to Choose:
Most people stocking their home gym will want a standard triceps bar which has a 1 inch diameter. The main thing to look at here is the grip: Does it have curling or a rubber grip? Note that some versions of the Olympic triceps bar are pretty weird looking. They have multiple grip bars and are a lot longer. You’ll get a bit more versatility out of them though.
Do You Really Need to Use All These Types of Barbells?
If you are trying to build a home gym on a budget, then you can probably get by with just a standard barbell. However, investing in a specialized barbell type can really pay off by preventing injuries and helping you keep proper form. Start with the basics and build from there!