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One of the essential pieces of equipment for weightlifting is a barbell. You’ll find it in every commercial gym, fitness studio and home gym. However, what you may not know is the many different types of barbells available, many of which offer unique features and benefits.
At it’s core a barbell is an implement that can be loaded up with weight plates allowing the user to perform a wide range of pulling and pressing exercises. When it comes to the different bars you can utilise, these range from a standard straight bar through to a range of specialty bars.
Understanding which bar does what can help you to choose a suitable bar factoring in what exercise you want to perform, how much weight you want to lift and any pre-existing injuries that need to be considered.
In this article we’ll look at the many kinds of barbells you may come across and what could be the best option depending on your training goals.
14 Different Barbell Types
Whilst most barbell types are quite versatile, some are suited for specific exercises. Here are 14 types of barbells you should know about:
The most common type of barbell that you’re likely to encounter in your local gym is that of the standard barbell. Made from steel and usually coated in something such as zinc, the length can vary from between 5ft and 6ft. The diameter of these bars can differ, as can the weight, this would depend on the manufacturer. However, the diameter only tends to allow for standard weight plates and bumper plates.
They are typically low cost barbells that have not had any form of specialist treatments such as precision straightening or heat treatment, this is what keeps the cost down. This does also mean that they are not designed for heavy loads when compared to Olympic barbells.
- Recommended Reading – 7 Critical Differences Between The Olympic Barbell vs Standard Barbell
This type of traditional barbell does have knurling although it can be quite passive. This means that it won’t offer the same superior grip as a barbell with more aggressive knurling.
You tend to find these types of barbells in chain gyms, they can be used for a wide variety of exercises and their weight and length make them easy to handle for most people. However, due to their limited load capacity they are not suitable for strength sports such as Olympic lifting and powerlifting.
Olympic weightlifting bars are, as the name suggests, best suited for Olympic lifts such as the clean and jerk exercise. These barbells are 7ft in length and are heat treated to allow for heavy lifting. When compared to a power bar, they are much more flexible making the loaded bar easier to control during weightlifting movements. In the industry, this is what is known as bar whip. When a barbell has a higher whip it essentially means it will bounce more.
- Recommended Reading – Olympic Lifting VS Powerlifting: How Are They Different?
All Olympic bars have a rotating sleeve that is 2 inches in diameter allowing for use of Olympic weight plates. These are less common in chain gyms and you’re more likely to come across them in independent gyms that may have a focus on certain strength sports.
EZ Curl Bar
The EZ curl bar has a distinctive shape which is designed to alleviate stress on the wrists, elbows, and shoulders. These bars are used for arm exercises, particularly bicep curls. However, they can also be used for movements such as skull crushers or lying tricep extensions.
- Recommended Reading – What Is An EZ Curl Bar And How Is It Used?
The EZ curl bar is much shorter in length when compared to standard bars and power bars, usually around 4ft. This short length does limit their use making them unsuitable for exercises such as squats and deadlifts. That being said, they are specifically designed for arm workouts and not heavy compound exercises.
A deadlift bar is around 7ft in length and offers far more bar whip when compared to a squat bar or power bar. This increased bar whip allows the lifter to pull more weight from the ground from a higher vantage point. They tend to feature an aggressive knurl for improved grip but no center knurl.
Deadlift bars can be used by some powerlifting federations during the deadlift exercise. However, it’s more common for lifters to make use of a generic power bar that can be used for all three disciplines during a powerlifting meet: squat, bench press and deadlift.
A powerlifting bar, sometimes referred to as a stiff bar or power bar, is designed for powerlifting specific movements, the deadlift, bench press and squat. Whilst they may appear like Olympic barbells, they are quite different.
First off, they are much stiffer by design. When you compare the speed of Olympic lifts with powerlifting movements, powerlifters execute lifts slowly, deliberately with much control and stability. An Olympic barbell is much too flexible to aid with these lifts potentially putting the lifter at a higher risk of injury. However, it’s worth mentioning that bar whip only really becomes important when lifting a heavy amount of weight.
A hex bar, also called a trap bar, is quite different from a standard straight barbell. It has six sides (trapezoid shape) with two sleeves either side for loading on your weight plates and neutral grips.
Used for deadlifting, a trap bar keeps the weight load evenly distributed either side of your body as opposed to just in front. This means it limits the amount of stress placed on the lumbar spine. The shorter length of the hex bar also means the weight plates are positioned closer to the body (and to center of gravity) so that executing a deadlift becomes easier.
This bar is also popular for shrugs, hence the name trap bar. Compared to shrugs with dumbbells, your hands would be positioned slightly wider making them easier to undertake and more effective. Some hex trap bars feature an open style shape, this makes them a little more versatile opening them up for movements such as the farmers walk.
The Swiss bar is a shorter style barbell that features several neutral grip options. This means that performing exercises such as the bench press is easier on the shoulder joints and wrists making it a good choice for rehab work.
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Designed specifically for pressing and pulling exercises, it’s better suited for isolation as opposed to compound exercises.
Safety Squat Bar
A safety squat bar (SSB) is designed just for squatting. The design of the safety bar features handles that allow for a neutral, chest height grip. This removes any stress away from the shoulder joints when compared to squatting with a regular barbell.
What’s more, the barbell features a slight camber at each end so that the weight is positioned slightly lower, keeping some of the load off the upper back. The padding on the handles and to the back of the neck also make it very comfortable to use.
- Recommended Reading – Safety Squat Bar : What is it and How Is It Used?
Because of this design, it does mean that more of your anterior chain (muscles at the front of your body) are recruited making it a great option for those who want to improve core strength and stability. This is because the weight load essentially pulls you forward which forces you to adopt a more upright stance during the movement.
A cambered bar is a specialty bar that is designed to make the execution of a squat more challenging by changing the center of gravity of the weight load.
As with the safety squat bar, it features a camber at either end. However, this camber is much longer meaning that the weight load sits quite a bit lower than that of the safety bar. This deep camber means that the weight load tends to swing backwards and forwards during the squat, resulting in the need to utilise core muscles to stabilise the weight load.
It doesn’t have the comfort of the pads, nor does it feature grips that allow for a neutral hand position, this makes it more difficult to use and is better for experienced lifters.
A bamboo bar is a unique and lightweight barbell that is designed to accommodate bands and kettlebells by way of incorporated slots. The focus on these bars is less about muscle building and more to do with improving muscle stabilization and joint health. As such, they are not designed to carry a huge amount of weight.
A log bar, sometimes called a strongman log, comes in different diameters and weights and is designed to allow a lifter to execute the log press movement. The log press is synonymous with strong man competitions and is a compound exercise that will work pretty much all your major muscle groups being especially good for improving upper body strength.
When compared to pressing with a regular barbell, the log bar will allow you to position your hands with a neutral grip and its cumbersome shape can make it harder to stabilize so it can be a great option for improving your core strength.
A tricep bar is a very compact and short specialty bar with one grip option. They also tend to have fairly short sleeves. As they are for isolation exercises specific to the triceps, long sleeves accommodating many plates is not necessary.
These are great for overhead tricep extensions and skullcrushers. Whilst they are called tricep bars, they can also be used for shoulder, chest presses, and front raises.
Axle bars are thicker in diameter when compared to standard barbells and tend to be more popular amongst strongmen athletes. They can be swapped out for most other exercises performed with a regular barbell.
Their primary purpose is to make standard barbell exercises more challenging by increasing the difficulty of maintaining grip on the bar. As an axle bar is designed to improve grip strength, they also tend to have no knurling.
Fixed Weight Barbells
When compared to a regular barbell, fixed weight barbells don’t feature loadable sleeves. Instead, they are of predetermined weight and typically range from 10lbs up to 100lbs making them suitable for accessory work and isolation exercises such as bicep curls.
They are also available with either straight shafts or ez bar shafts with multi angled grip options and tend to be sold in sets with a storage rack.
Barbell Terms You Should Know
No that we’ve looked at a range of different barbells, there is some common terminology that can be useful when you’re looking to either use, or even purchase, your next bar.
The sleeves on the barbells are located at either end and used for loading on weight plates. These begin after the notch that prevents the weight from sliding to the center and separates the sleeves from the bar shaft.
On many bars, such as Olympic bars, the sleeves rotate. The reason behind this feature is to allow the plates to spin during explosive movements such as clean and jerk. This limits force making the exercise easier and reducing the likelihood for injury.
On some types of barbells, such as trap or tricep bars, the length of the sleeve is usually much shorter allowing for less plates to be loaded.
Knurling is typically a pattern of diamonds designed to create a coarse texture allowing for improved grip of the barbell.
There are variations in the knurling, as aggressive knurling (sharper and deeper) is typically present on deadlift or powerlifting bars used for heavy lifting.
- Recommended Reading – What is Barbell Knurling And How It Helps Your Training
Furthermore, there are different positions of knurling. Aside from knurling being located either side and off center for grip, knurling can also be found at the center of a barbell. This is to ensure that the bar doesn’t slip during movements such as squat.
The term whip is used to describe the bounce in a barbell. Bounce is the momentum created by the weight load and the speed. This whip or bounce in the bar comes in handy during exercises such as clean or jerk and even the deadlift.
The more rigid the bar is, the less whip it would have. However, as previously mentioned, barbell whip only really matters when you’re lifting big weights.
There are two types of strength measurements for barbells. The first is tensile strength, which is the maximum weight capacity of a bar before it breaks. The second is yield strength, which is the maximum weight for permanently bending or deforming the bar.
Bars with more whip tend to bend with heavy weight but return to their shape. However, they bend permanently if the weight extends beyond their yield strength. In other words, they get damaged.
It’s important to pay attention to the strength of the barbell when buying one, taking into consideration what exercises you regularly undertake and how much weight you lift.
The finish of the barbell also varies, like its shape or size. If the barbell is not manufactured from stainless steel, then it will feature a coating to prevent it from rusting when exposed to the elements. Barbell finishings include zinc, nickel, or ceramic such as Cerakote. Some coatings are more hard wearing then others with ceramic and nickel being more superior to zinc.
Choosing the Right Barbell
With so many different barbell types, it can get confusing whether you’re buying for a gym or personal use.
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You may need to invest in a wider variety of barbells for a gym. Consider the clientele of the gym and choose the bars accordingly. If the gym or fitness center targets bodybuilders and athletes, you should invest in quality deadlift, cambered, and axle bars, in addition to the usual standard, Olympic, trap, and EZ curl bars.