The ZKC and Eleiko barbell are two of the most prominent barbells in International Weightlifting. Especially outside of the USA. If you're a barbell enthusiast who loves collecting them or looking for a new barbell for your gym, then this comparison will help you to decide on your next purchase.
Throughout our training years, my wife Mona and I have extensively used the ZKC and Eleiko barbells. Mona, more so with her 20+ years of International Weightlifting experience, so we have plenty of hands-on knowledge to pass on!
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ZKC Barbell History
ZKC is a Chinese brand of Weightlifting equipment established in 1983. They are easily the most prominent Weightlifting equipment company in Asia, expanding its reach to the Western world.
More competitions are using ZKC equipment. Most notably, the recent Tokyo Olympics and the Rio Olympic Games previously. If you watch any Chinese Weightlifting training videos on YouTube, you’ve seen the ZKC barbell in action!
Eleiko Barbell History
Eleiko has been the gold standard Weightlifting barbell since its inception in 1957. Both Mona and I own Eleiko barbells for this reason. Mona has even visited the Eleiko factory in Sweden and seen how these barbells are made.
They used to be handmade, and only the barbells that passed the experienced eye of Mr. Hellström would go for sale. This is why they had a lifetime warranty.
Now, Eleiko barbells are machine-made. However, their quality is just as excellent and will last you a lifetime if you treat them well. You’ll often see Eleiko bars and plates at most International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) competitions.
ZKC vs. Eleiko: Key Differences
These key differences are compared between both brands' men's training bars. I have trained extensively with both bars and own an Eleiko men's training bar. But these differences also apply to the women's training bars which my wife Mona has trained on extensively.
One of the primary differences between the ZKC and Eleiko barbell is the roughness of the knurling. The ZKC is much softer than the Eleiko, which is quite sharp, especially when brand new. Some Weightlifters prefer the sharper knurling of the Eleiko for the extra feeling of security when gripping the bar.
It's important to note that the Eleiko knurling will soften over time. I've had my barbell for almost 10 years, and the knurling is no way near as sharp as when I got it brand new. The knurling felt almost like a competition bar when new.
I’m very fond of the ZKC knurling as if you are training daily, your hands don’t get shredded. Even though the knurling isn’t as sharp, it doesn’t negatively affect your grip in my experience.
On the other hand, Mona finds the ZKC too slippery and prefers the Eleiko knurling because of its grip.
ZKC = soft knurling
Eleiko = sharp knurling
You may notice some barbells no longer have the center knurling. These are mainly bars designed for CrossFit or hybrid-style training. But International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) certified barbells always have a center knurling.
Unless they are women’s barbells. Women’s barbells do not have a center knurling. According to the Eleiko educator Colin Buckley, the center knurling for the men’s bar was for the single arm press. But when women started Olympic Weightlifting, the single arm press was no longer part of competition so they were made without it.
The ZKC and Eleiko barbells have made sure the center knurling is not a cheese grater. It's a smooth pattern that won't leave you bleeding.
ZKC = soft center knurling
Eleiko = soft center knurling
The whip of the barbell is how much it bends when it is loaded. Different barbells have different grades of whip, which is most notable when comparing barbells between sports. For example, Powerlifting power bars are much stiffer than Olympic Weightlifting bars.
But even among Weightlifting bars, there are minute differences in whip. As you can see in the videos, the Eleiko bar is slightly stiffer than the ZKC, which has more whip. The extra whip from the ZKC made the deadlift feel easier from the floor.
ZKC = more whip
Eleiko = less whip
Typically, the Eleiko is known to be a “spiny” barbell. It uses needle bearings that allow the sleeve to spin freely. The ZKC has slightly less spin, which many Weightlifters prefer when catching the clean or snatch.
In my experience, both barbells spin perfectly fine, and this should not be a deciding factor in your barbell purchase. Mona, who has been an international level Weightlifter for over 20 years, has extensively trained on every barbell brand. She also is never affected by this when using quality Weightlifting barbells.
In the video above, I spin the ZKC first then the Eleiko. While difficult to see in the video, the Eleiko was much easier to spin. You can see this slight difference in the sleeve spin test below.
ZKC = slightly less spin
Eleiko = slightly more spin
I can’t separate the ZKC and Eleiko by quality. Both are the highest quality barbells on the market. They can handle some real abuse and be great Weightlifting bars for your garage gym. I've owned my Eleiko training bar for close to 10 years, and it is still perfectly functional.
I've also used ZKC for many years at my Weightlifting club, which stayed in excellent condition with no issues. It’s a tie on this one.
ZKC & Eleiko = high quality
Again, Eleiko and ZKC are equal on the durability scale. I've never seen either bar break or stop spinning unless something idiotic was done with them that would destroy any barbell. Our barbells have been transported in cars, used in Weightlifting clubs, shipped overseas, and used on different surfaces with no issues.
Eleiko has a 12-year warranty on their new barbells. It used to be a lifetime warranty when they were handmade. This has recently changed. ZKC has a warranty period, but it doesn't seem like they display it anywhere on their website.
Ultimately, if you received a ZKC barbell damaged, you have 15 days to report it for repair or replacement.
The Eleiko men's training bar is $1024 when writing this. The ZKC barbell doesn't have training bars for sale, but their Tokyo Olympic Games barbell is $875. Essentially, this is a used barbell from the Olympics, an epic novelty.
Brand new these will be similar price so cost may not be a deciding factor in your decision.
ZKC vs. Eleiko – Which Should You Get?
This is where you'd select the barbell you're going to compete with. If local competitions use either one, you would ideally train with that barbell. If your competitions use other barbells such as Rogue or Uesaka, you can go with either barbell as they are both great!
Availability also plays a role. When writing this, Eleiko training bars are sold out while there are no ZKC bars listed other than their second-hand Olympic barbells. Therefore, it may be a case of whichever becomes available first. Here’s a summary of the key features:
Eleiko Men's Training Bar Key Features
Overall Rating: 5/5
ZKC Men's Training Bar Key Features
Overall Rating: 5/5
If you're still on the fence, you can see how Eleiko tests their equipment below!