"Standard" and "Olympic" can be confusing terms regarding barbells. Wouldn't standard mean a regular barbell, and Olympic mean it's used in the Olympics? Not so fast.
Olympic barbells are made from higher quality steel, can handle heavier loads, are 7 ft long, and have a 2” sleeve diameter. Standard barbells are made from low quality steel, 5 - 6 ft long, and have a 1” sleeve diameter.
But these aren't the only differences between barbells, as there is much more to consider when buying a new bar. So, how do you know which one to choose?
Table of Contents
- Olympic vs. Standard Barbells Key Differences
- Should You Get A Standard Or Olympic Barbell?
- Budget Olympic Barbell
- Premium Multi-Purpose Barbell
- Barbell For Olympic Weightlifting
- Barbell For Powerlifting
Olympic vs. Standard Barbells Key Differences
Standard barbells have a 1" sleeve diameter while Olympic barbells have a 2" sleeve diameter. This means standard barbells must use standard-sized weight plates, and Olympic bars must use Olympic-sized plates.
Olympic barbell sleeves also spin, allowing you to easily maneuver the bar into position when performing fast Olympic lifts or holding the front rack position. Standard barbell sleeves don't spin, making the barbell fixed.
Steel & Tensile Strength
Tensile strength, measured in pounds per square inch (PSI), is a vital factor in determining the robustness of a barbell. It reflects the maximum stress the bar can withstand before breaking or becoming permanently deformed.
Standard barbells, typically made from lesser-grade steel, usually have tensile strengths around 130,000 PSI or below. On the other hand, Olympic barbells are engineered from higher-quality steel.
This quality difference means Olympic barbells have a tensile strength of around 190,000 to 220,000 PSI, offering increased durability and safety.
You'll find some Olympic barbells with tensile strength below 190,000 and above 220,000, but they are rare. You can find excellent barbells in the 190 - 220k PSI range.
The low tensile strength of standard barbells means you should avoid heavy strength training with them.
Length & Weight
Standard barbells are usually 5 to 6 feet long and weigh between 15 and 25 pounds. Adhering to international competition standards, Olympic barbells are consistently 7.2 feet long and weigh 45 pounds or 20 kg.
The extra length and weight of the Olympic barbell make them more suitable for strength training.
Standard barbells have a smoother knurling. This makes them unusable for heavy-strength training.
Olympic barbells, designed for heavy lifting and professional competitions, feature more aggressive knurling. This texture ensures a secure grip, reducing the risk of slippage during those sweaty, heavy sessions.
Standard barbells are the same diameter from the sleeve to the shaft at 1 inch or 25 mm.
Olympic barbells will typically range between 25 - 29 mm. Women's Olympic Weightlifting bars are 25 mm in accordance with competition rules. Men's Weightlifting bars are 28 mm. Multi-purpose Olympic bars are 28 - 28.5 mm in diameter.
Powerlifting bars are 29 mm in diameter. The shaft diameter you pick will depend on the type of training you gravitate to. Most lifters will do best with a multi-purpose barbell that can be used for Weightlifting, CrossFit, and Powerlifting movements.
Barbell whip refers to the oscillation or flex of the barbell under load. It's the barbell's ability to store and release elastic energy, especially during dynamic lifts such as the clean and jerk or snatch, prevalent in Olympic weightlifting.
Standard barbells don't have any whip as the tensile strength doesn't allow the bar to flex back into its original form. Low-quality steel means it shouldn't be used for Olympic lifts (among other factors) and heavy strength exercises, as you're risking snapping the standard bar.
Olympic barbells are designed to support heavy, dynamic lifting but have varying degrees of whip depending on what they are made for. Olympic Weightlifting barbells have a higher degree of whip assisting the transition between different phases of the lift.
Powerlifting barbells are very stiff for more control during heavy-strength exercises. Multi-purpose barbells meet in the middle with a moderate whip.
The barbell coating or finish provides rust resistance and protection. Different coatings provide varying degrees of this. Standard barbells typically use cheap chrome coatings, which can chip and peel.
Olympic barbells will also use chrome with varying quality but also use stainless steel, zinc, and Cerakote for aesthetic reasons.
The quality coating on an Olympic barbell will last much longer than a standard barbell chrome coating.
Standard barbells are typically more budget-friendly. Prices can vary based on the specific model and brand, but you can expect to pay less than $100 for a standard bar
Given their higher-quality steel and precise specifications, Olympic barbells are more expensive. The price range can vary significantly depending on the brand, type (e.g., powerlifting, weightlifting), and quality.
Price ranges typically vary between $250 - $1200. High-end Powerlifting and Weightlifting bars are in the $1000 range but will last you a lifetime.
General strength training and multi-purpose barbells will range between $250 - $400. Then you have premium CrossFit and multi-purpose Olympic barbells up to $700 - $800.
Should You Get A Standard Or Olympic Barbell?
The low price of a standard barbell may tempt you. But there is not one circumstance that you should consider a standard barbell over an Olympic bar, whether that's fat loss, muscle gain, or getting strong.
Standard-sized barbells are slippery and can't handle heavy loading. You're limited in exercises, and they won't last in your home or garage gym. Olympic barbells are suitable for all types of lifting, depending on the barbell.
You can buy a decent Olympic barbell under $200 from the Rogue Fitness Boneyard, even if you're on a budget.
Here's a list of my recommended barbells.
Budget Olympic Barbell
Rogue Ohio Bar From The Boneyard
The Rogue Ohio Bar, with a 28.5 mm diameter, serves as an ideal budget Olympic barbell. Its 200k PSI tensile strength ensures durability, while non-aggressive knurling and the absence of center knurling make high-rep moves skin-friendly.
Bushing sleeves ensure smooth spin for different lifts. It mimics the feel of premium bars with dual markings, a decent whip, and a rust-resistant stainless-steel build with a chrome finish.
Pick it up from the boneyard at an even lower price. The only difference is that it may have a cosmetic blemish that does not impact performance.
Premium Multi-Purpose Barbell
Eleiko XF Bar
The Eleiko XF Bar is built for CrossFit and multi-purpose lifting. This beauty sports an awe-inspiring tensile strength of 215,000 PSI, promising reliable resilience and an enduring lifetime for those unforgiving heavy lifts.
The 1mm soft knurling offers a firm yet comfortable grip, so it doesn't shred your hands with high-rep lifting. There's no center knurling which means a smooth, no-scratch contact point on your neck during heavy cleans.
The Eleiko XF bar has dual knurl markings, a combination of needle bearings and bushings, and a 12-year warranty.
It’s the ultimate multi-purpose barbell for your home gym.
Barbell For Olympic Weightlifting
Eleiko IWF Weightlifting Training Bar
Eleiko reigns supreme in the Olympic Weightlifting barbell space. My decade-old bar, used daily at a Weightlifting club, remains in top-notch condition, retaining its spin. Its exceptional tensile strength of 215,000 PSI enhances durability, backed by a 12-year warranty.
The bar features moderately aggressive 1.2mm knurling, unlike harsh competition bars. Its spin, whip, and rust-resistant chrome coating and needle-bearing sleeves offer a premium lifting experience.
Although the IWF Training Bar comes at a premium, it's a worthy one-time investment. It's why it is ranked the best Olympic Weightlifting barbell.
Barbell For Powerlifting
Eleiko IPF Powerlifting Training Bar
With roots in Olympic Weightlifting, Eleiko also dominates Powerlifting, often the chosen brand at major meets. Their top-tier Powerlifting barbell stands out with a 29mm stainless-steel diameter, preventing rust, and aggressive 1.5mm mountain-style knurling.
The sleeves use bronze bushings for ideal spin, covered by a 12-year warranty. What sets it apart is the integrated Enode sensors.
They let you track bar velocity via an app, tailoring your training for strength, power, or size by monitoring velocity loss. Detailed tracking for data-driven lifters!