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Bushings and bearings are two of the most integral components of machines, including barbells. Whilst both provide similar functions, they have distinct differences that make them suitable for different applications.
The primary function of these components is to reduce friction between two moving parts of a machine. Consequently, they both help the machine function smoothly and limit wear.
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Selecting the right option for a commercial gym or even a home gym is crucial. Below, we look at the differences between a bushing barbell and a bearing barbell. We also consider needle bearings, linear bearings, and other types of bearings and bushings in detail. Dive right into this bushing vs bearing barbell comparison.
Bushing vs Bearing : Barbell Uses
Both bearings and bushings provide high levels of protection from wear and tear by reducing friction between two surfaces. However, there are slight differences between the two with each being more beneficial depending on their application.
They can also help with shock absorption, providing smooth and efficient operation even when subjected to heavy weight. A machine may have several types of loads, such as:
● Axial loading when sliding
● Radial loading during rotational movements
● A combination of axial and radial loading
● Shock absorption during impact
● Torsional loading when the two surfaces rotate in opposing directions
What Is A Barbell Bushing?
A bushing, sometimes referred to as a sleeve bearing, is of cylindrical shape and provides a buffer between two moving parts with the aim of reducing friction and wear. It is typically made from metal, plastic or a composite material.
It is supplied in several forms, including conical, flanges, and split bushings. When compared to a bearing, a bushing can typically withstand the transfer of a heavier weight load.
A bushing can also absorb shock during impact or vibrations. Depending on the material used, bushings can provide electrical insulation between two parts.
Where Are Bushings Used?
Bushings are present in many applications. In automotive and mechanical engineering, bushings are commonly used to provide a secure fit between two moving parts, such as rods and shafts. They can also act as a link between two parts and provide lubrication to reduce friction.
Bushings are often found inside machines, engines, and precision instruments. They can also be used in plumbing and electrical wiring systems to provide an insulation barrier between two wires.
What Is A Barbell Bearing?
A bearing is a multi-component part that allows for the smooth rotation of surfaces helping to minimise friction and wear. Most bearings are made from hardened steel but are also available in plastic, ceramic and composite materials.
The most common type of bearing is a ball bearing, consisting of what is called an inner and outer race, with steel balls between them. These balls allow for two surfaces to glide or roll over one another. Ball bearings are used in wheels, axles, conveyor belts, computer fans, and electric motors and Olympic barbells. Other types of bearings include roller bearings, sleeve bearings, and thrust bearings.
Where Are Bearings Used?
Bearings have many applications. Some of them include the following:
● Automobiles: Wheels, axles, transmission, and suspension systems of cars
● Machinery: Machine tools and manufacturing equipment
● Aerospace: Turbines, fans, and hydraulics
● Sports Equipment: Roller blades, skateboards, and bicycles
● Industrial Equipment: Fans, pumps, compressors, and conveyor belts
Bushing vs Bearing In Barbell Design
Now that we’ve looked into the differences between a bushing and a bearing, let’s take a look at how they are used in the manufacture of barbells. But first, let’s consider each part of a barbell.
Parts of a Barbell
Every barbell is made up of distinct parts, these include the following:
The bar shaft is a the longest and thinnest part of a barbell and usually has some knurling (crosshatch pattern) at specific locations to improve grip.
Barbell sleeves are the ends of the barbell where weight plates are loaded on.
Barbell collars are located between the shaft and the sleeve and are where the weight plates would rest against.
Bushing vs Bearing Barbell Differences
Depending on the type of barbell, a bushing or bearing is housed within the barbell collar and at the very end of the sleeve.
Whether you have an Olympic barbell, power bar or a standard barbell they are all likely to have sleeves that rotate and the velocity of this rotation will vary depending on the type of bar that you have.
The purpose of this sleeve rotation is to reduce the spinning of weight plates during a lift. If weight plates spin too much this can create inertia, which may cause the entire bar to spin.
If you consider Olympic style lifts, such as the clean and jerk, these are faster lifts that can involve heavier weights.
If plates spin too much during this type of movement, this may cause instability with the bar shaft whilst holding it. Not only does this increase the likelihood of the bar being dropped, it can also put significant stress on wrist joints making injury more likely.
When it comes to the difference between a barbell with a bushing or a barbell with a bearing, a bar that houses bearings will feature collars that spin much more freely when compared to that of a bar that is made with bushings. So, how can you tell the difference?
Difference Between An Olympic Bar vs Standard Barbell
Olympic weightlifting bars have a need for the outer sleeve to spin at relatively high speeds to make Olympic lifting easier.
Standard Barbells and other variation of power bars, don’t need the ends to spin with such high velocity, typically because the exercises involved don’t build up as much inertia in the plates.
If your gym features a multitude of bars and you’re unsure which is an Olympic barbell compared to a regular bar, simply have a go at spinning the sleeve.
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If it spins with ease and a continuous rotation that gradually comes to a stop, then this will be a bar with a bearing. However, if it rotates but doesn’t continuously spin, it’s likely to a barbell that features a bushing.
It’s worth noting that both a bearing and a bushing are consumable parts. This means that, overtime, they eventually wear and will require replacement.
If you have an Olympic barbell that doesn’t spin as freely as it once did and makes an unpleasant grinding sound, you’ll want to replace the bearing as quickly as possible. If a barbell with a worn or damaged bearing or bush is not rectified, the metal on metal wear will eventually degrade meaning you’ll have to invest in a whole new barbell.
Do You Need An Olympic Bar Or A Standard Bar?
Choosing your ideal barbell very much depends on the exercises that you wish to undertake. If you plan on performing fast paced exercises with high repetitions, such as those in Crossfit or Olympic weightlifting, then an Olympic barbell is perfect.
However, if you’re more into powerlifting movements, such as the deadlift or bench press, and other exercises that are performed at a slower pace with heavier weights, then a power bar, standard barbell or equivalent would suffice.
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Let’s look at some of the other differences between an Olympic Bar when compared to other standard bars and power bars.
Loading and Velocity
There are many types of movements you may want to do in the gym, such as pulls, presses, squats, and deadlifts. A standard bar or power bar that have bushings are ideal. As the spinning movement of the sleeves is much less, there is more stability for the lifter during these type of exercises.
The rule of thumb is to use Olympic barbells that have bearings for high-velocity movements. So, if you are doing Olympic lifts, bearings will provide create less friction due to the higher velocity of the sleeves.
When it comes to frictionless rotation, this is significantly reduced with an Olympic barbell with a bearing. Whilst ball bearings are most common, other types of bearings include straight roller bearings all of which feature balls or rollers which allow two surfaces to glide effortlessly over one another.
When it comes to a bushing, whilst this certainly reduces friction between the two surfaces, it doesn’t allow for such a smooth and consistent movement due to it merely being a cylindrical tube.
When it comes to cost, an Olympic barbell will more expensive than a standard barbell. Not only do Olympic bars typically go through more complex manufacturing processes such as heat treatment, they also tend to have a higher quality coating, such as a cerakote finish or nickel plating.
What also pushes the cost up is the use of bearings. As a bearing is a precision made, multi-part component, these are more expensive to manufacture when compared to bushes.
That being said, when you compare a power bar to a standard barbell, whilst both feature a bush for sleeve rotation, a power bar will almost certainly be more expensive than a standard bar. This is because power bars are better suited to powerlifting exercises so tend to be case hardened to improve its durability.
At first glance most barbells looks very much the same. However, there are often size differences when it comes to both the length and the diameter of the shaft and sleeves. An Olympic barbell is 7ft in length with a 28 mm shaft diameter and has a sleeve diameter which allows for Olympic weight plates, which is 50mm. This does mean that an Olympic barbell cannot accommodate bumper plates.
Knurling is apparent on all barbells and can differ in terms of it’s locations. Most barbells have knurling which is located at either end of the shaft, this allows for a better grip. Center knurling is more common on power bars or squat bars and help prevent a barbell slipping during exercises such as the back or front squats.
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Aggressive knurling tends to be commonplace on Olympic and power bars that carry heavy loads. However, on standard bars it’s more likely to be passive (shallow) which does make it a little kinder to the skin but less effective when it comes to increased grip.
Material & Finish
Most barbells are made from mild steel with some being manufactured from stainless steel. Any stainless steel barbell will typically carry a much higher price point.
For any specialist barbell, Olympic and powerlifting bars, these are usually heat treated to make them stronger.
You’ll often see that barbells carry a maximum weight load with standard bars tending to be quite low, where as powerlifting barbells are quite high yet both contain bushes. The lower weight limit on standard barbells is due to the fact they have not been heat treated. Whilst this makes standard barbells cheaper to purchase, it also makes them less versatile and long lasting.
There are many finishes used on barbells and these can range from ceramic, black zinc, bright zinc and even hard chrome.
Which Exercises Can You Do With a Standard Barbell
As we mentioned above, a barbell that is manufactured with a bushing can usually carry a heavier weight load. Whilst this isn’t hugely significant when it comes to weight lifting and other strength based exercises, the lack of rotational velocity of the sleeves does mean these types of barbells are better for movements that are executed slowly and with control. Examples include:
However, do consider the differences between bars with bushings. This is because a power bar, which is likely heat treated, will be significantly stronger when compared to a standard barbell.
Which Exercises Can You Do With An Olympic Barbell
An Olympic bar is best for high-velocity exercises. The bearings housed within an Olympic bar allow the user to move quickly with minimal forces placed on the joints of the body making it perfect for fast lifts. Such exercises include:
- Clean and Jerk
- Squat Clean
- Power Snatch
- Squat Snatch
How to Maintain Barbells
Regardless of the type of barbell you have, maintenance is key. Here are some tips to keep the barbells in good shape.
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Clean the Bar Regularly
Use a soft bristle brush and remove any chalk sediment from the bar, especially the knurling.
Chalk build up can retain moisture which eventually may cause corrosion to your barbell. If you’ve washed it with any water based cleaners, be sure to remove all moisture afterwards and dry it properly to prevent rust.
Inspect the Bar
Look for signs of wear and tear and be sure to check the sleeves and how they rotate. As mentioned, if the sleeves make any unusual grinding sounds, its likely time for replacing the bearing or bush.
Lubricate The Sleeves
Many bearings and bushes are self lubricating which means this step isn’t always necessary. If you’re unsure, it’s worth enquiring with the barbell manufacturer as to whether or not the sleeves should be lubricated.
Both types of barbells have their pros and cons, which we have discussed in this bushing vs bearing barbell comparison guide. The kind of barbell you choose should depend on the exercises you want to do, your budget, and the weight you plan to lift.
You can also invest in a hybrid barbell that combines the features of a bushing and bearing barbell. Make sure you read the barbell reviews and review its specification before making the purchase.