I’ve been a gym rat for 26 years. I’ve done it all and while I’m in my 40’s now and take it easier, nothing has kept me in good shape like lifting weights.
While I use machines as well as free weights, at the end of the day, you can work out every part of your body very well with one barbell and weights. In fact, only recently I started getting into power cleans. I’ve never been a big powerlifter type, but a few weeks ago I was doing shoulders and thought I’d try some power cleans.
I sure felt it the next day in my shoulders, traps, back, and legs. It’s an amazing full-body lift that I continue to do weekly. I like it more than squats or deadlifts because I don’t load so much weight, yet it requires a big effort to pump out 8 to 12 reps.
If you’re putting together a home gym and want to get a good idea about the various barbells available, here’s a great list of 16 different types of barbells you can get.
1. Standard Barbell
The standard barbell is just a straight and, in most cases, steel pole, and if you have ever been to a commercial gym or a gym at school, you have most definitely seen one.
They’re typically seven feet long, rigid, and 45 pounds or less. The smooth parts of the steel are interrupted by grooved or knurled sections, usually existing at both ends and in the center. The center grooves are where you place your hands for grip, and the knurled sections on the outer parts are for the weights. There will be a small notch on both sides that stops the weights from sliding to the center.
Standard barbells are straight and have very little give, so they don’t bend unless they are extremely weighted down. While they aren’t built for any particular use, they can be used for a range of workouts, including bench press, squat, deadlift, and overhead press. The standard bar is used by weightlifters of varying skill levels, but as you get stronger and dive into different workouts, you might need a more specialized bar.
2. Olympic Bars
Olympic bars are special kinds of bars that, while similar to the standard bar, have some slight variations. Their design is intended to support the weightlifting demands of Olympic athletes while enhancing performance and reducing the risk of injury.
Olympic bars are designed to have a greater whip or bounce, which usually involves the use of a special kind of steel. For that reason, they are mostly used for specific exercises such as the snatch and the clean and jerk. The knurling on Olympic bars tends to be smoother than other bars, and this is because athletes that use these bars are making quick movements, and too much grip can be painful on the hands.
Additionally, the ends of the Olympic barbell are much thicker than standard barbells, so you have to use specific weights.
3. Trap or Hex Bar
The trap bar, unlike the previous two, is a four-sided barbell that is shaped like a trapezoid. When you use it, you’re standing inside of it and lifting with your arms at your sides. Exercises that use a trap barbell are typically more leg driven. With the trap barbell, your hands are kept in a more neutral position, and it tends to be easier to grip. Your center of gravity shifts when you use a trap bar, but in a way that makes lifting less stressful on your joints. Given its shape, the trap bar isn’t very versatile.
4. Safety Squat Bars
Source: Titan Fitness
Safety squat bars are barbells that are geared specifically toward beginners or the casual lifter. The bar comes equipped with shoulder pads that are attached to the bar but rest on your shoulders to make things more comfortable. Normally, you would grab onto the bar itself for stability, but with a safety bar, you grab onto two arms that extend outward from the piece of padding.
The safety bar is nicer on your shoulders, but it also changes the dynamic of your squats and may work different muscles more intensely. These are comfortable, beginner-friendly bars that can get you used to squatting before you move on to a bare bar.
5. Cambered Bars
Source: Ader Fitness
On the flip side, cambered bars are for more experienced lifters. They are also called arched bars because they’re awkwardly shaped. On standard bars, the bar is straight and the weights are shoulder level, but with a cambered bar, it’s a different story. While the bar itself still rests on your shoulders, it curves downward, and the weights are actually situated in line with your waist.
This unusual shape changes the mechanics of your squats and puts a greater load on your posterior chain. Additionally, the weights tend to swing, and this forces you to have a much tighter squat, which is why these bars are recommended for more experienced lifters.
If you want to buy a cambered barbell, you can find some here.
6. The Swiss Bar
Source: Titan Fitness
The Swiss bar is another type of bar that gives you a more neutral grip, and it’s sometimes referred to as the football bar. It’s used mostly for pressing, rowing, and other arm and torso training exercises. The shape is similar to the trap bar, but the difference is that you don’t stand in the middle of these.
Lifters use Swiss bars because they are great for arm training and less stressful on the shoulders, and they relieve stress on the wrist. The collars can be thick or thin, but they are small, so they can’t hold a ton of weight.
7. EZ Curl Bar
Source: XMark Fitness
The EZ curl bar is a barbell used specifically for arm training. They are lighter and smaller than most other bars, and they are called a curl bar because they are used mostly for bicep curling. The bar looks like a wave with a knurled area in the center. Compared to straight bars, the curl bar is easier on the wrists.
EZ curl bars vary in price, and they will have both standard sleeves and Olympic-style sleeves, such as this one here.
8. Deadlift Bar
Source: Rogue Fitness
The deadlift barbell is almost identical to the standard barbell, but there are usually slight variations. For example, deadlift barbells tend to have more whip, which makes it more ideal for quick lifts up off of the floor. They might also have a deeper knurling, as grip strength is slightly more important when it comes to deadlifts. Despite only slight variations, they tend to be more expensive than traditional bars.
One of the better places to buy barbells is from a reputable fitness center or lifting specialist, and you can find deadlift bars here.
9. Powerlifting Bar
Source: XMark Fitness
Powerlifting bars are very similar to Olympic bars in that they are straight with thick ends. However, they vary slightly because they are being used differently. While Olympic bars have a slight flex to them, powerlifting bars are built to be more rigid, and they are also built to be stronger because they need to hold a lot of weight. Good powerlifting bars are forged with a higher quality of steel, so they tend to last longer.
Other notable differences are the grip marks. Grip marks on Olympic barbells are, more or less, placeholders, but powerlifting bars are used for competitions, and the grips are often thinner so that competitors maintain legal hand positions.
10. Log Barbell
Casual lifters may not be familiar with the log barbell, as it’s typically only used for extreme lifting, such as what you will find in strongman competitions. The log barbell is a straight bar, but there is a metal cylinder around the shaft shaped like a log, and in the cylinder are two openings for the lifter’s hands. It’s also important to note the handles are perpendicular to the bar. It’s an extremely bulky, heavy-duty bar that is reserved mostly for professionals and those who can lift a ton of weight. Log barbells can hold upwards of 1200 pounds. Some DIYers make their log barbells out of actual logs and use them for training.
11. Tsunami Bar
Source: Gopher Performance
The Tsunami barbell is a highly-specialized barbell, and to achieve maximum results with a tsunami barbell, you actually have to have some skill. The bar is designed to increase power and strength, as well as contraction speed of the muscles, and the makers of the bar, Tsunami Bar, offer some in-depth explanations of the science behind their product.
This is an oscillating flexible barbell that comes in multiple levels of flexibility, weights, and grips. The bar bends and flexes throughout your movements, and the greatest amount of flexibility occurs both at the top and bottom of your lift. This barbell creates oscillating waves at various points throughout the exercise, and these are said to improve strength and power by exercising the muscles in unique ways.
12. Earthquake or Bamboo Bar
Source: Serious Steel Fitness
The bamboo bar is a bamboo-based bar that is made to create an emphasis on bar stability. They create what is called oscillating kinetic energy (OKE), which is supposed to increase muscle stabilization. Since they are bamboo-based they have some flex to them, but they are also extremely durable and can hold upwards of 300 pounds. Sometimes, earthquake bars and bamboo bars are used as interchangeable terms, but earthquake bars may be able to hold more weight.
Earthquake bars don’t absorb vibrations, so vibrations are amplified, and the bar may quiver like an earthquake as a result. While some earthquake or bamboo bars may hold traditional weights, others have collars with slits in them that are designed for bands. In this scenario, weights dangle from the bands.
13. Axle Bar
Source: Titan Fitness
The axle bar is another barbell that is popular among strongman competitors. It’s a straight barbell that is a thicker alternative to the standard barbell. The bar is used primarily for axle clean and press exercises in competitions, but the thickness of the bar forces lifters to focus more on their grip. Since the bar is thicker, lifters with particularly small hands or poor grips may have trouble using them. Conversely, the thickness of the barbell also builds grip strength faster than traditional barbells.
Fringe Sport sells axle barbells, and you can find them here.
14. Freak Bar
Source: Westside Barbell
This is a patent-pending, plate-loaded bar that has a very unique feature. While the bar is straight and normal looking, there are springs on the bar that allow lifters to adjust their grip throughout a lift by sliding the spring back and forth.
The intention is to enhance strength in the upper body by giving the lifter greater control over bar stability. The bar is said to be great for strengthening connective tissue, muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the upper body. It’s used most often for pressing, deadlifting, and shrugs, but the springs may allow you to create more interesting variations of these workouts.
15. Buffalo Bow Bar
The bar was created by a man named Chris Duffin, who is a well-respected powerlifter. The bar is curved and designed for both squatting and pressing exercises. The idea is that the curved bar will reduce stress on the back, shoulders, and biceps during movements, and it may also be more comfortable on the wrists. Since the bar is curved, it needs to be extremely durable, and the bar is not only durable, but it’s one of the stronger bars, and the creators claim that the bar can hold up to 2000 pounds.
16. Curl Bar
A curl bar is shorter than a full barbell. They come in the EZ (curved) variety or straight bar. This is an example of a straight curl barbell. You can get them with interchangeable weight plates or fixed weights.
Barbell Features and Parts
The “whip” of a barbell is the term used to describe the bounce of the bar. Some barbells are very rigid and have little whip, while others are designed specifically to have a little bounce. The bounce typically occurs at the end of a repetition, but the lifter remains stationary. To put it another way, the whip is what happens when the lifter stops moving in a direction, but the momentum of the bar forces it to keep moving.
For certain exercises, it helps to have a little more whip in the bar. For example, lifters doing clean and jerk lifts can use the bounce to their advantage. They will bounce the bar off of their chest, and the momentum helps them to propel the bar upward into the “jerk” position.
The two things that impact whip the most are the material that the bar is made out of and the thickness of the bar itself. In some cases, the thickness of the weights can influence whip as well.
Barbell sleeves are the ends of the barbell where you put the weights. On a lot of barbells, the sleeves rotate on a washer or bearing system, and there are specific advantages to having a barbell that can spin. The reasons that sleeves need to be able to rotate is that lifters need to be able to get under the bar quickly during a snatch movement, and the spin helps them do that without having to change their hand position.
Bars with good spin are used in Olympic lifting competitions, but some powerlifting bars will have some spin as well. Either bearings or bushings will permit the spin, but bearings offer a faster and smoother spin, so they are typically used for competition.
Barbell strength is divided into two different measurements: yield strength and tensile strength. The yield strength is the amount of weight it takes to permanently bend and deform the bar. Bars will bend naturally, but at a certain point, they won’t be able to return to their original shape. So, the yield strength is essentially how much weight the bar can hold without it becoming deformed.
Tensile strength, on the other hand, is the maximum weight a bar can hold before it snaps, more or less. This is the breaking point of the barbell, and it’s measured in PSI. High-end barbells will have a PSI rating as high as 215,000 PSI.
Load capacity is less about weight and more about the number of weights a bar can hold, and it’s determined by both the length of the sleeve and the width of the weights. This is why competition weights tend to be extra thin, or perhaps the sleeves on the barbells are extra long. This is because competition lifters have much greater load demands.
The knurling of a barbell is the area of the barbell with a different texture, usually consisting of grooves that have been cut diagonally into the bar. The bar forms diamond shapes that dig into your skin for better grip. The most aggressive knurling will typically be found on deadlift barbells or barbells where grip failure is most likely. The knurling affects how narrowly you can grip the bar, so the further in the knurling comes, the narrower your grip can be.
For a lot of barbells, knurling spots are separated by smooth spots, but for other barbells, there is a center knurling. The center knurling is said to prevent the bar from sliding off of your back during squats, and some center knurling is wider to accommodate those with bigger bodies. However, not all workouts require a center knurling, and it may even cause some damage to your neck.
Most barbells are either bare steel, or they have a zinc or chrome finish. Chrome finishes come in both satin and polished options. The finish of the barbell affects how the barbell looks, but more importantly, it affects how the barbell feels. While bare steel bars have a nice grip and a natural feel, they are more prone to rusting.
There are also black oxide bars that are better protected, and zinc finishes protect the barbell even further. Zinc, however, may lose its sheen quickly, whereas chrome finishes tend to retain their quality for the longest amount of time. Just keep in mind that some finishes can feel slippery, and this may not be what you want in a barbell.