One of the most important factors you have to consider when picking the best barbell for you is whether to get a bushing or a bearing barbell. Different types of barbells will have different rotation systems that can impact how the bar feels during different lifts.
At a first glance, you would think that bearings barbells are superior since they are often described as the premium, fast, and smooth option. While all this sounds great, the truth is that the vast majority of people, home gym owners included, would be better suited by a bushing barbell.
Bushing barbells may spin at a slower rate, but this is actually what you want for most lifts unless you are a competitive Olympic lifter. The high-speed spin of bearings often makes the barbell feel unstable during everyday lifts, On the other hand, bushings are more stable, more affordable, and even more durable than bearing barbells.
Why Does Barbell Spin Matter?
The sleeve spin or barbell spin is a term you will often hear thrown around by manufacturers or reviewers when talking about the specs of a barbell. It really refers to how the sleeves of the barbell spin independently from the shaft of the barbell. In simpler terms, the weights on the bar will spin separately from the section that you hold onto.
For example, when you do a skull crusher or barbell curl, the bar will rotate as you move through the range of motion of the lift. This will happen throughout all lifts but will be most pronounced during lifts that do not follow a linear motion like curls or cleans.
From a pure lifting standpoint, the spin allows the weight plates to rotate freely which reduces friction on the barbell and improves the overall feel and performance of the lift. If the sleeves did not spin, the lifter would have to overcome the additional friction forces and as a result, be forced to use less weight.
From a safety standpoint, a fixed barbell sleeve is also not a good idea. During a more explosive lift, the weight plates on the ends of the bar can begin to build up inertia and actually cause the bar to spin in your hands if there is no sleeve spin. This creates a whole list of safety issues:
- Tear Your Hands: With enough speed and an aggressive enough knurling, the barbell spinning in your hands can cause your hands to tear.
- Lose Control Of The Bar: The last thing you want is to have a bar spinning in your hands while you are holding heavy weight. Losing control of the bar could cause you to harm yourself or someone near you.
- Wrist Injuries: Assuming you manage to keep control of the bar, all that force had to be absorbed by your wrists and elbows. This can easily cause an injury.
Bushings are the most common rotation system found in barbells. Mechanically, they are small rings of metal that are usually made of softer material than that of a steel barbell. They produce a slower, more controlled spin. Additionally, bearings are also more affordable and require less maintenance.
Within the actual barbell, there is one pushing near the barbell collar and another at the end of the bar. These bushings allow the weight plates to spin freely with minimal friction.
Bushings come standard in power bars. The majority of multipurpose bars and specialty bars (the ones that have Olympic sleeves at least) use bushings since they are more affordable and more applicable to different styles of training.
Bushings work great for lifts like the bench press, squat, and deadlift since they are linear movements and do not require that much spin. In fact, a more rigid, stable bar tends to be the preferred option among powerlifters. On the other hand, the bearings barbell would produce too much spin and cause the lift to feel unstable.
They are four types of barbell bushings that you will find:
- Bronze Bushings: Bronze bushings are the most common type of barbell bushing seen on the market today. This is simply because they are highly affordable and durable. If you are going to opt for a barbell with a bronze bushing, be sure to get one that is oil-impregnated. All this means is that the bushing will release oil as it spins to increase lifespan and performance.
- Composite Bushings: Composite bushings are a more premium option as far as bushings go. First, released by American Barbell, these bushings reduce noise and increase life expectancy by eliminating the metal-on-metal contact seen on other bushings.
- Stainless Steel Bushings: You will not see stainless steel bushing very often if at all. Since they are stainless steel, these bushings are incredibly durable. However, since they are so hard they can actually damage the shaft of the barbell if the barbell is made of less hard material.
- Brass Bushing: Brass bushings are really only seen on cheap or poorly made barbells. Since brass is such a soft metal, the bushing can easily deform over time.
- Very versatile: Can be used for any training style
- Bushings are very durable and do not require much maintenance to stay in good shape
- More affordable
- The composite bushing option can reduce noise
- Do not provide the same level of spin as bearings that are required for Olympic weightlifting
- Brass bushings will deform over time
Bearings are not as common as bushings and usually more expensive. The key attribute of bearings is that they produce a faster and smoother spin that is optimal for Olympic weightlifting movements like the snatch, clean, and jerk.
Bearings barbells can have anywhere between 2-5 bearings in each sleeve. More bearings could mean better spin but two premium bearings will produce a better spin than 5 mediocre bearings. It really is a case of quality over quantity.
A bearing itself will have a series of needles or balls that rotate around the barbell shaft. The higher quality bearings will tend to have a closer, tighter fit to the barbell. Meanwhile, poorly made bearings will have a looser fit. You can easily test this by observing the spin of the bar. When unloaded, high-quality bearings will exhibit a slow, controlled spin similar to that of the bushing. However, as soon as they are loaded, a good bearing will begin to spin fast and smoothly. Poorly made bearings will exhibit the opposite behavior. They will spin fast when unloaded but not as much when loaded.
The other issue with poorly fitted bearings is that they can deform over time. As you drop the barbell during lifts, the space between the bearing and bar, the harder bearing will begin to damage the shaft. As a result, the spin will not be nearly as smooth and you will notice certain portions in the rotation where the sleeves slow down dramatically.
If you are getting a quality bearing barbell, the inner sleeves should be harder to protect the shaft. As long as the bearings were tight to begin and there is some form of additional protection, deformation should not be an issue with higher-quality barbells.
As you may have noticed, the mechanics of bearings are more complicated than that of bushings. There are more moving parts and more expensive parts. On top of that, since many bearing bars have to be up to a competition standard, the result is an overall more expensive barbell. When taking price into account, it is hard to recommend bearing barbells since they are really only optimal for Olympic-style lifts.
- Bearings produce the best barbell spin for Olympic weightlifting exercises
- Bearings spin faster than bushing
- Premium bearing barbells are very durable
- Bearings are more expensive than bushings
- Bearings can vary a lot based on the piece and manufacturer
- Bearings are more complex and require more maintenance
Hybrid Rotation Barbells
Hybrid rotation barbells are bars that feature both bearing and bushing rotation systems within the barbell. Hybrid barbells are pretty rare and have yet to really catch on in the lifting world.
Essentially, manufacturers claim that a hybrid rotation system takes the best from both bearings and bushing to produce a barbell that can spin both slowly and fast when required, and is highly durable.
It sounds like a cool idea but I would need to the long-term durability and application of a hybrid bar before recommending it ahead of a well-built bushing barbell.
Should You Buy A Bushing Or Bearing Barbell?
All you need to answer the question of bushing vs. bearing barbell is to determine your budget and desired training style.
For the majority of home gym owners, I would recommend bushing bars. The combination of versatility, affordability, and durability make bushing barbells the easy choice for most people.
The reality is those expensive bearing barbells are overkill for the majority of people who will just be doing squats, rows, deadlifts, and presses. Do not spend more money than you need to. a good bushing barbell can easily be found for under $300.
Now, if are a dedicated weightlifter and love the sport to plan to compete, then sure spend the extra cash on a good bearing barbell. The only thing I will caution though is that if you are going to get a bearing barbell, make sure you buy one from a reputable brand that makes competition standard barbells. Bearings can vary a lot in terms of quality, you might as well play it safe and get one from a good brand like Eleiko or Rogue.
How To Take Care Of Bushings and Bearings In Your Barbell
Since barbells are an expensive investment in your health, it makes sense to take barbell maintenance seriously.
Since the rotation system of a barbell is internal, it will not require as much care as the barbell finish but you should still be doing some basic maintenance to keep things running smoothly.
As we already touched on, a good bronze bushing will come oil-impregnated and release oil over time to maintain a smooth spin. However, just to be safe, there is no harm in applying some 3-IN-OIL into your barbell sleeves whenever you feel some friction.
Premium barbells will have seals to keep it any dirt, moisture, or debris from getting into your barbell sleeve and causing friction or damaging your rotation system. This is a great feature but you protect your barbell even more by having a storage rack or at least making sure that you are not storing your barbell on the ground.
Find The Best Barbell
After years of testing, we assembled a master list of the best barbells on the market for every home gym owner. Whether you are just starting out or looking to buy your tenth barbell, this guide will have you covered,
Bushing vs Bearing Barbell Video Guide
Bushings will be better suited for linear lifts like the squat, deadlift, or bench that do not require much sleeve spin. Bearings are more optimal for explosive lifts like those seen in Olympic weightlifting. The faster spin rate of bearings makes lifts like the snatch, clean, and jerk feel smoother.
Bushings tend to be more durable since there are fewer moving parts involved. Also since bearing bars tend to be used for lifts that require dropping the bar overhead, bearings bars just tend to not last as long. However, bearing barbells made to competition standards are very durable.
Brass or composite bushings are best for barbells. Brass bushings are cheaper but composite bushings reduce noise and are overall more durable. Both options are excellent and will last a long time.