If you are new to the gym, you may be confused when you hear people at the gym use the term “plate” as a unit of weight.
For example “I just got a 4 plate squat!”
Well, what even is a plate? And how much does one plate weigh?
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How Much Weight Is A Plate?
In the context of the gym, one plate refers to one 45-pound Olympic weight plate. However, when people say once plate in the context of barbell lifts, they are usually referring to one plate per side.
For example, if I say I have a two-plate bench, this would mean two plates on each side (225 pounds). Most people usually get confused here because they tend to think that a two-plate bench means two plates total (so one plate per side) but this is just incorrect.
Plates Translated To Weights
The terminology of plates has become so commonplace that it can also be thought of as a unit of weight. For example, many people say that a 2-plate bench, 3-plate squat, and 4-plate deadlift are signs of an established lifter.
For this reason, it is important that you know how much weight each plate count is. Also, remember that the barbell (45 lbs) also has to be taken into account in these weight totals.
How Much Weight 1 Plate?
How Much Weight Is 2 Plates?
How Much Weight Is 3 Plates?
How Much Weight Is 4 Plates?
How Much Weight Is 5 Plates?
These numbers should help you out when it comes to understanding the plate count for heavy compound movements. The only context where this logic does not apply is when you are talking about lifts that do not include a barbell or only load one side of the barbell.
For example, a two-plate weighted dip really is just two plates added together so 90lbs.
Also, for lifts that only load one side of the bar like landmine presses or t-bar rows, the plate count is literal.
Why Are Weight Plates 45 pounds instead of 50?
It would seem like it would be more logical to make the biggest plate 50 instead of 45 and this is a nice and simple number. It would certainly make plate and weight calculations much easier for most people.
The real answer here lies in the metric system. Since weight plate standards were designed in kilograms originally, Americans had to make due by roughly converting the 20 kg plate into a 45 lb plate.
So really the gym math is easy for the rest of the world, we Americans just go the short end of the stick thanks to unit conversions.
What About The Small Plates?
I think that a lot of the confusion with the plate terminology also stems from the fact that are lots of different-sized plates in the gym. In most gyms you will find:
However, when people talk about plates they are really only referring to the 45 pounds plates.
The only exception here is that you may sometimes hear someone say “plate and a half.” This is yet again another confusing gym term. The true meaning of this is one 45lb plate and a 25lb plate per side. 25 lbs are not exactly half of 45 lbs but are close enough for the terminology to make sense.
So when you hear “half a plate” just add 25 lbs per side so 50 lbs total.
Are Weight Plates Accurate?
If you were to bring a scale and weigh the plates at your local commercial gym you will find that not all plates weigh exactly the same. Most 45’s for example tend to fall somewhere between 43-47 pounds.
For most people, this is perfectly fine. You will not really notice it in your training and will be able to make fine progress regardless. But if you want to have truly accurate plates, you may want to consider using calibrated weight plates from an established brand.
Calibrated plates tend to be pricier but if you are serious about powerlifting, they can be worth it. Another option would be to join a local powerlifting gym as these gyms tend to carry calibrated plates.
How To Progressively Overload With Weight Plates
The whole point of using weight plates is so you have a sure way to make progress in the gym. However, it is important to know how to do this in the context of the lift and your training experience.
At the beginning of your lifting career, “newbie gains” are very real. You will find that you consistently add 5 lbs per side to your bench and even 10 lbs per side to your deadlift and squat week on week.
As you get stronger, the gains will begin to level out. Progress will still come but at a slower rate. Shooting for an additional 2.5 lbs per side on your bench and 5 lbs per side on your squat and deadlift are realistic goals for every few sessions.
As you reach the limits of your strength, gains will be very hard to come by. The journey from 315 to 335 on bench press make take longer than the journey from 135 to 225. The key at this phase is to just be patient and slowly add reps and weight over time.
If you find that you are at a serious plateau, consider using microplates. These are small 1.25 lbs that allow you to make progress in even smaller increments.
Types Of Weight Plates
At the gym, you will not only find different weight plates in terms of their weight but also in terms of their design and build:
Standard Metal Plates: These are the ones most commonly found in any commercial gym. These are fine to use for any barbell exercise.
Olympic Weight Plates: These are specialty plates that can be found in premium gyms. These plates tend to be thinner and better suited for absorbing drops to the ground. You can also identify them as they tend to be colored code. If you are going to do Olympic lifts or any lift that requires you to be very explosive, you will want to opt for these plates. As a side note to home gym owners, Olympic/bumper plates also tend to cause less floor damage as well.
Benefits Of Training With A Barbell And Weight Plates
There are a number of reasons why barbells and weights have become the standard go-to for most people in the lifting world.
Barbells will allow lifting the most weight in the gym. Simply put, a barbell allows your body to be very rigid which in turn allows you to lift more weight. Compared to other free weights, a barbell requires less stabilization.
Ease Of Progressive Overload
Plates are by far the easiest way to progressively overload in strength training. Even if you are benching 300 pounds, you can add 2.5 lbs to each side and continue to slowly get stronger and stronger over time.
Gym terminology can be confusing at first but once you learn the meaning behind these terms, you will find that it is actually quite simple.
One plate is 45 pounds.
When you hear someone say one, two, or three plates they are usually referring to that number of plates per side in addition to the weight of the barbell.
One plate is 135 pounds, two plates is 225 pounds, and so on.
Still, there are tons of other plates in the gym. 45 pounds is just the standard when it comes to gym talk.
Yes, benching 405 pounds is elite benching strength.