Barbell Breakdown: Parts and Types

Daniel Mesa
Written by Daniel Mesa
Last Updated On

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barbell parts diagram
Barbell Parts Diagram

The barbell is by far the most useful and versatile piece of gym equipment. If you are starting a home gym, a barbell should be at the top of your list of things to get. Whether you buy a barbell or not, knowing the different parts and types of barbells is essential if you take lifting seriously.

Let’s go ahead and take a look at the barbell and everything there is to know:

Barbell Parts

A barbell may look simple but there are some different parts that go into it to make it so useful:

barbell shaft and sleevs

Shaft

The shaft makes up the majority of the barbell. This is the part you will be holding onto during all your lifts.

Sleeves

The sleeves are at either end of the barbell and are where place the weight plates on. The sleeves end where you see a thicker piece of metal known as the collar. The collar acts as the barrier between the slaves and keeps the plates from slipping.

Knurling

barbell knurling

The barbell knurling is the cross-hatch pattern on the shaft of the bar that helps you keep a tight grip. There are different types of knurling, some much denser and harsh than others.

Within the knurling, you will see breaks in the pattern known as knurling marks. These are used primarily as references for hand placement.

Since where you grip the bar can dramatically change a lift, the knurling marks help keep things constant.

Rotation Mechanism

Barbells can either rotate via bushings or bearings. Bushings are generally better for more general use since the slow, controlled spin of bushings is preferable for most lifts. Bearings produce a faster spin that is really only required for very explosive lifts like the Olympic lifts.

End Cap

The sleeve is capped off with an end cap. Usually, on the end cap, you will see important information like

  • Bar manufacturer

  • Bar weight

  • Type of barbell

Finish

Most modern barbells have a finish applied to them. This a type of coating meant to protect against corrosion and rust

There are a few different types of finishes

  • E-coat

  • Cerakote

  • Black oxide

  • Zinc

  • Chrome

Generally, the E-coat is the best option if you want to avoid corrosion while black oxide tends to be on the cheaper side and rubs off fairly quickly. These are the types you will find in most commercial gyms.

If you would prefer a barbell with no finish, your best choice is to get a barbell made of stainless steel. These are a bit on the pricier side but are VERY durable.

Dimensions

While most barbells tend to follow a standard, there are some variations or differences you should be aware of when it comes to

  • Weight

  • Length

  • Diameter

While there are some differences we will discuss later, the vast majority of barbells loaded follow the standard Olympic barbell

Barbell DimensionsTotal LengthShaft LengthShaft DiameterSleeve DiameterSleeve LengthWeight
Men Olympic Barbell220 cm/ 7’21.31 m28mm50mm.415 m20 kg/44 lb
Women Olympic Barbell201 cm/ 6’71.31 m25mm50mm.320 m15 kg/ 33 lb

Barbell Length

As we have established, the standard barbell is 7’2 feet long. However, you can still find plenty of barbells between 4-8 feet long.

If you are building a home gym, a 6-foot bar may be a great option since the shorter length makes it easier to store compared to an Olympic bar. If you choose to go down the route, you should be aware that the length has to come from somewhere:

  • If it is taken out of the sleeves, you have less space to load plates. This can be a problem if you are strong and want to add more weight

  • If it is taken from the shaft, then you are limited in terms of grip width. This can be a problem if you prefer to take a wider grip on exercises like the bench press or deadlift.

In terms of specialty bars like the EZ curl bar or trap bar, you will tend to more variation in length.

Barbell Weight

Nearly any barbell you see in the gym is going to weigh in at 20kg or 44lb. This is roughly equal to a standard large gym weight plate.

Barbell Diameter

The standard barbell is either going to be 25 or 28 mm. While it may sound like a small difference, how thick a bar is can drastically change how strong you are on any given lift.

If you have poor grip strength or smaller hands in general, getting a bar with a smaller diameter may be the better choice for you.

Different Barbell Features

Even if two barbells look and weigh the same, there still might be some tangible differences in these factors you should be aware of:

  • Whip

  • Knurling Type & Markings

  • Sleeve spin

Whip

barbell whip

If you have ever seen someone lift very heavy weights, you will have noticed that the bar bends a little bit. All bar bend to some degree, this attribute is known as the whip of a bar.

Generally, Olympic lifters want their bars to have more whip. This is because Olympic lifts tend to be very explosive and incorporate lots of momentum.

Meanwhile, powerlifting bars tend to have much less whip since their standard lifts do not require much momentum

The average lifter or home gym owner should get a bar with a standard whip unless they want to do Olympic lifts.

Knurling Type & Markings

Type

Not all knurling is built the same. Some knurling patterns are etched far deeper into the bar and are more pronounced as a result.

The extra depth makes the more aggressive knurling useful for lifts that require lots of grip strength. However, unless you are experienced I would not recommend getting a bar with an aggressive knurling. For most people that are not used to lifting, aggressive knurling will be very hard on their skin.

Markings

You may have noticed that barbells have small rings that break the knurling in different places.

Powerlifting bars: The small rings are 32 inches apart. There is also knurling in the middle of the bar for back squats

Olympic bars: The small rings are 36 inches apart. Depending on the bar may or may not have a center knurling.

Sleeve Spin

Sleeve spin refers to how much friction the sleeve has when spinning. As you already know, the sleeve spins separately from the shaft to allow the weight plates to rotate

It may sound as to why you would want the ends of your barbell to spin but it all comes down to force conservation. Rotating the plates takes additional force, so if you can minimize this force, you can lift more weight.

Once again, the main difference is between Olympic bars and powerlifting bars

Olympic bars: These tend to have a lot less friction. Olympics lifts are very explosive and require lots of rotation.

Powerlifting bars: These have more friction. Traditional powerlifting lifts do not require the plates to spin. In some cases, like the bench press, it is even beneficial to minimize spin.

What are the different barbells and what are they used for?

While we have mostly discussed a standard Olympic barbell up to now, there are several types of barbells that you should be aware of.

Competition Bars

Competition bars are barbells that are built to the standards of an international weightlifting federation. They tend to be on the more expensive side, but if you want to lift competitibley you should get one.

EZ Bar

ez bar

The EZ bar is a smaller barbell and has curves in the shaft. These curves help take a lot of the pressure and strain off the wrist.

The EZ bar is usually used for curls or skull crushers.

Trap Bar

trap bar

The trap bar, also known as the hex bar, is a common specialty bar. This bar is unique in that it allows you to stand inside it with a neutral grip.

It is usually used for deadlifts to help take some strain off the lower back and focus the lift more on the legs.

Safety Squat Bar

safefty squat bar

Safety squat bars have two arms that come across your shoulders when used. It helps distribute the weight of the bar more evenly across your back.

Swiss Bar

swiss bar

The swiss bar is similar in length and weight to a normal barbell but instead has a series of neutral grips. Like the EZ bar, the bar helps take some pressure off your wrists.

Not only that but the slight variation in grip is often used by strength athletes to push past plateaus and get more variation in their workouts.

Conclusion

This was a lot of information, but do not feel overwhelmed. When you are starting out, lots of the intricate differences we have discussed here will not make that much of a difference in your lifting experience.

If you are getting your new bar you also do not need to break the bank. Any bar that WORKS will be more than enough to help you build muscle and get stronger.

Once you get more advanced, develop preferences, and find your favorite exercises you can start worrying more about which bar you have. But for now, just lift!

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FAQs

What is the thing that holds a barbell called?

This is known as a squat rack.

What is a barbell sleeve?

Barbell sleeves are the smooth ends of the bar that hold the weight plates.

What are the rings on a barbell called?

The rings on a barbell are called knurl marks. They break the knurling in the bar and provide reference points for hand positioning.

What is the rough part of a barbell called?

The rough part is known as the knurling. It helps keep a tight grip on the bar.

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