If you’re new to the gym or looking to build your home gym, and have heard the term barbell knurling thrown around, you may be a bit confused.
Barbell knurling is simply the small pattern you see on along a barbell. While it may seem very minimal and nonimportant, it is actually a very distinguishing feature of a barbell and a highly debated topic. In this guide, we’re going to explain all the different types of barbell knurling and which one you should get or use.
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What Is Barbell Knurling?
So, at a basic level, barbell knurling is the cross pattern you see on barbells along the grips It is an important part of the barbell that is meant to increase friction between your hands to help you grip the bar better during your lifts.
The problem is, is that there’s no standard way of doing barbell knurling. It varies a lot.
Not only in how deep the actual pattern is etched into the steel of the bar, but also by the pattern itself. There’s also the impact of what kind of coating is applied to the bar itself.
For example, if you get your bar and that’s coated with Cerakote or chrome, you’ll be able to feel the knurling a bit less because there’s some coating over it.
This is also why many people prefer regular stainless steel bars because there is no coating separating their hands from their knurling allowing them to get the best grip possible.
What Are The Types Of Barbell Knurling?
There are several different types of knurling but generally when you’re looking at barbells that you’ll find in a commercial gym are ones that you’ll get for your home gym, there are three basic types:
Generally among these types, they can either be categorized as passive knurling or aggressive knurling.
The first type and most common type is the hill knurl pattern.
This is a pattern characterized by many soft individual hills etched into the barbell. These hills have rounded tops instead of points. So this knurling pattern is categorized as very passive.
If you’re talking about the casual lifter, they will probably prefer this type of knurling because it provides some great benefits without really causing any discomfort in your hands or digging into your skin at all.
However, if you’re looking to really lift heavy, or go for those one-rep maxes, this may not be the bar for you because it really won’t do that much to help put your grip strength to the next level.
If anything, I think this bar is mostly intended for the casual weightlifter doing high reps.
Next up we have the mountain knurling pattern.
This is very similar to the hill pattern in the sense that it is made up of repeated small mounds. But, the difference is that the mountain ends in a sharp point at the top. This means that when you grip it, you have hundreds of these sharp mountains digging into your skin allowing you to grip the bar better.
This type of knurling pattern is found very commonly on aggressive powerlifting bars or deadlifting bars that are used for people that are serious about powerlifting and competing.
Now I think there are many misconceptions about the mountain knurling pattern. Many people think that just because it feels more aggressive and it digs a lot deeper into your skin that it works better but that is simply not the case.
Out of all the knurling patterns, this bar will hurt the most. It will provide improved grip compared to the hill pattern, but the pain may not be worth it especially when there are other options.
The last pattern is the volcano. This is my personal favorite. And the one I think strikes the most balance between the passive and aggressive knurling patterns.
You can think about it as many small mounds that have had their top indented creating a volcano shape. In comparison to the mountain pattern, your hand now has more surface area on the bar making it easier to grip. But since there is no singular point, your hands will also not feel as strained by the knurling itself.
Now, if you’re looking for a singular barbell, that can really do it all I would look for one with a volcano pattern. It just provides the best combination of benefits for me at least.
Why Barbell Knurling Matters
Barbell knurling matters because it helps your grip strength and improves overall safety while lifting.
During heavy compound movements, it is often your grip strength that is going to be a limiting factor.
Once you start getting very strong in movements like the deadlift, or the row, you will start to notice that it’s not necessarily your back, legs or arms that are the weak points but it’s the grip itself. Your hands simply aren’t strong enough to hold that weight. Especially if you want to do higher reps.
So this means that while you could be progressing and making your back and legs grow stronger but you can’t really progress as fast as you’d like because your hands and their grip strength just aren’t up to par.
So the last thing you want really is for your hands to essentially be a limiting factor for progressing in your lifts. Especially if you’re serious about competing, you want to make sure you’re training with the most optimal conditions possible. This is why training with bars that have moderate to aggressive knurlings can be important.
There’s also the question of general safety. This applies more to home gym owners but if you can imagine things like if you’re squatting with a heavy bar on your back, or let’s say you’re bench pressing with a suicide grip, you want the grip to be as strong as possible.
You want as much friction between your hand and the bar as possible to keep you safe. And now I can sit here and tell you that there are tons of other precautions you could take like proper safety arm placement but you always want to have the extra security of a good barbell knurling.
If you have ever looked at a barbell, you will notice that the knurling is broken up by rings that do not have a knurl pattern. These rings generally have two main purposes:
Helps With Hand Placement
From a balance point of view, it is very important that you place your hands evenly on the barbell to prevent imbalances and potentially dangerous situations. The rings help you stay consistent as you can use them as a reference point.
The other aspect of hand placement is that an exercise can drastically change with just a few inches of hand placement. If you want to implement progressive overload properly, you will want to make sure you place your hands in the same spot every time.
Different types of lifting sports require different standards for knurl rings. Competition bars used in powerlifting have their rings set 31.8″ apart. Meanwhile, Olympic weightlifting bars have their knurl rings set 35.8″ apart. The international weightlifting federation sets the protocols for these types of competition bars.
The importance of these rings in the context of competition is that there are often rules associated with the rings. For example, the international powerlifting federation states that your hands cannot exceed the rings while performing a bench press.
Generally, you will tend to find multipurpose bars at most commercial gyms and as options for home gym owners. These are bars that have both the powerlifting knurl rings and the Olympic weightlifting knurl rings.
Another thing that you’ll notice that varies from bar to bar in terms of knurling is that some bars have a center knurl and some bars do not.
Now it’s up to you. Usually, the bars with the center knurl are powerlifting bars. This is because the idea is that the center neural will prevent the bar from slipping off your back when you’re squatting and just make you feel safer. Furthermore, the center knurl helps you make sure that you are centered and balanced during your lifts.
The only real downside is that you may find the center knurl to be painful during front squats. Companies usually counteract this by making the center knurl more passive but it is still something you should consider.
Effect Of Bar Coating On Knurling
When buying a bar, you should pay attention to how it is coated. The coat can dull the knurling across the bar.
The knurling will feel most aggressive when you’re using regular stainless steel, carbon steel or a blacks oxide coated bar
Chrome, zinc, and Cerakote will fill in the knurling to some degree making it less effective than usual.
What Type Of Knurling Should I Use?
Now, in terms of which type of neural link you should get for your particular taste of weightlifting.
For powerlifting, I think that volcano is the best choice by far.
If you’re doing movements like the squat bench deadlift, or overhead press this bar will stick your hands without really digging hard and causing extreme pain.
And just like everything, you can get a volcano knurl that is more passive or aggressive depending on your preference.
Now, that being said, if you’ve tried volcano and you didn’t like it, or maybe you did and you want something even more extreme or hardcore that’s gonna improve your grip strength even more you should look at mountain knurl bars.
I wouldn’t recommend a bar with mountain knurl for high-rep workouts because it can start really digging into your skin. But if you’re going for a solid one or two rep max, the mountain knurl may be appropriate here.
Bodybuilding, Crossfit, Casual Lifting, Olympic Lifting
For most general applications that don’t involve powerlifting like CrossFit, weightlifting, or bodybuilding, you’re gonna want to use a bar with a more passive knurling. Volcano or hill will be the best options here.
Now it’s worth mentioning, no matter what kind of bar you use you’re gonna get some form of blistering or tearing in your hand. This is perfectly normal. It’s something that you should expect and it’s something that your hands will get accustomed to over time.
What If The Knurling Hurts My Hands?
Anybody who is new to lifting is going to have to go through a period where their hands adjust to frequently using a barbell. An advanced lifter will tell you, that they quickly adjusted and developed calluses that made hand pain a nonissue.
I strongly advise you to stick it out and lift RAW with no extra equipment so you can properly strengthen your hands and grip. However, if you want some other options due to extreme pain or weak grip strength you do have a few options:
Straps basically remove your grip strength from the equation. All you have to do is attach the straps to your wrist and wrap them around the bar. The straps will then significantly reduce the load of the bar on your hands.
Lifting gloves usually provide some protection and padding against the barbell so that any pain caused by the knurling is minimized. I would look for a minimalistic, slim option so that you do not feel awkward on your usual lifts.
Although the trap bar also has knurling, the neutral grip may be easier on your hands. It may be worth using the trap bar to further strengthen your grip and add variation to your lifting routine.
Using A More Passive Knurl
Usually, when people complain of extreme pain caused by a barbell, it is because of an aggressive knurl. There is really no need to use aggressive knurling unless you are used to it or are going for a few heavy reps.
Consider switching over to a bar that has a shallower depth knurl pattern. Volcano knurl or hill knurl should prove to be significantly less painful.
As you become a more advanced lifter, the type of equipment you use gets increasingly important. Little differences in knurl pattern start becoming the difference between you progressing or not. For that reason, it is good to be informed and knowledgeable about all the options you have when it comes to barbell knurling.
For most people though, I would recommend a moderate knurling with the volcano pattern. This should suffice for the vast majority of use cases in the gym.
Yes, many machinery manufacturers will add knurling to any bar you want.
Aggressive knurling could be useful when going to low-rep heavy sets since you want your grip to be as strong as possible. However, aggressive knurling can cause pain if done for higher reps.
The center knurl is useful for helping the bar stay on your back while squatting and helping you stay centered while lifting. It is useful but definitely not needed.
The knurl marks provide you with a reference for hand placement and are used by weightlifting federations to set rules on grip width.
An aggressive knurling is a knurling that is particularly deep or harsh on your hands. It may be painful to use but will provide the best friction for a better grip.
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