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Olympic Barbell vs Standard Barbell

So you're getting into lifting, and you want to know about barbells for strength training...

When it comes to lifting basics, there is no distinction more important to understand than the difference between an Olympic barbell and a standard barbell before you ask the question of, “What size barbell do I need?”. This guide will help walk you through what makes each bar unique and then compare the two to help you decide which barbell is best suited for your needs.

Without any further delay, let's take a look at what defines, unites, and separates an Olympic barbell vs. standard barbell.

What Is An Olympic Barbell?

Very simply, an Olympic barbell is a piece of exercise equipment used to stack weight plates, such as bumper plates, for exercises that involve lifting. This may spark the question of, “What are bumper plates?”. Despite being called an Olympic barbell, this type of barbell is actually the industry standard as far as competitive lifting is concerned.

According to IWF specifications, a men's Olympic barbell is 7ft long and weighs 45 lbs, whereas a women's Olympic barbell is 7ft long and weighs 35 lbs.1 Typically an Olympic barbell has an average load capacity of 1000 lbs, though the brand of barbell and the material used for the bar can have an impact on the maximum weight load an Olympic barbell can handle. 

An Olympic barbell is commonly used for exercises like deadlifts, power cleans, and bench press.

What Is A Standard Barbell?

Similar to an Olympic weightlifting bar, a standard barbell is used for exercise that involves lifting heavy amounts of weight. Unlike the Olympic barbell, the standard barbell can only handle an average max load of 150 lbs.

Fitness Town tells us that a standard barbell measures 6ft in length and only weighs about 20-25 lbs.2 The smaller nature of the standard barbell makes it harder to stack a lot of weight, making it a suitable choice for those whose lifting regimen is on the lighter side.  

A standard barbell is often used for things like curls and presses.

What Is The Difference Between An Olympic Barbell And A Standard Barbell?

There are three main differences between an Olympic barbell and a standard barbell. Length, weight, and circumference are all major differences between an Oly bar and Standard bar, with an Olympic weightlifting bar being larger in each category. Here's why it matters:

Length

Olympic barbells are traditionally longer and can fit more weight as a result. Being that Olympic barbells are the standard for competitive powerlifting, the need to have a bar that fits as much weight as possible makes the Olympic barbell the premier choice for stacking more and more weight.

Weight

While the weight difference is not substantial between an Olympic and standard barbell, it is enough of a difference that competitive weightlifters should be aware. Especially if you are using a standard barbell to train for competition, you may be in for a rude awakening when all of a sudden, you are unable to add that final weight plate. It may seem silly, but the difference of 20 lbs can make the difference between being able to add one more weight plate vs. being unable to lift the stack.

Diameter

The diameter of the bar, and the subsequent area where the weights go, called the sleeve, are both larger on an Olympic bar. This means two things:  

  • First, the collars you use on an Olympic bar are going to be larger than those used on a standard barbell. While this may not make a difference for weight purposes, it will make a difference when deciding whether to invest in an Olympic barbell vs. a standard barbell of your own. If you already have a standard weight set in your home gym, then the likelihood of your current collars fitting a standard bar is very high. However, the collars you have on your current standard weight set will probably not fit the Olympic powerlifting barbell you are used to training with.
  • Additionally, the larger diameter of the Olympic barbell in between the sleeves means your grip will be different on an Olympic barbell vs. a standard barbell. When you are lifting all the time, especially if you are training for a competition, form, and technique play a large role in the way you lift. This means that changing your grip from one training session to the next could drastically throw you off and prevent you from getting the most out of your training sessions.

In addition to these three main differences, it should also be mentioned that Olympic barbells usually have rotating sleeves to help with weight stacking, whereas standard barbells typically do not. The rotating sleeves on an Olympic barbell are the result of a bushing/bearing design that helps the weight to stay centered. Additionally, Olympic bars typically have a knurled design for anti-slip and a stiffer design for more whip, which translates to more control for the athlete doing the lifting.

Should I Buy An Olympic Barbell Or Standard Weights?

Before buying weights, it is vital that you establish what the weights will be used for. If you are trying to get in shape, build muscle at home, or just add a little weight-based training to your exercise regimen, then standard weights are an excellent choice. Standard weights are especially good for those who don't already belong to a gym, as you will likely have an easier time adjusting to the smaller size of standard weights.  

For those who have experience in Olympic lifting, like those who train at a gym or are competitive lifters, buying an Olympic barbell is the only logical conclusion. IFPA suggests that buying standard weights when you are already used to training with an Olympic barbell can throw off your technique, mess with your gains, and even lure you into a false sense of security regarding how much weight you are able to lift.3 The general consensus among the lifting community is that while a Standard barbell may have standard in the name, the Olympic barbell is the real gold standard of lifting.

Should I Buy An Olympic Barbell Or Standard Weights?

Before buying weights, it is vital that you establish what the weights will be used for. If you are trying to get in shape, build muscle at home, or just add a little weight-based training to your exercise regimen, then standard weights are an excellent choice. Standard weights are especially good for those who don't already belong to a gym, as you will likely have an easier time adjusting to the smaller size of standard weights.  

For those who have experience in Olympic lifting, like those who train at a gym or are competitive lifters, buying an Olympic barbell is the only logical conclusion. IFPA suggests that buying standard weights when you are already used to training with an Olympic barbell can throw off your technique, mess with your gains, and even lure you into a false sense of security regarding how much weight you are able to lift.3 The general consensus among the lifting community is that while a Standard barbell may have standard in the name, the Olympic barbell is the real gold standard of lifting.

Why Olympic Barbells Are Good For Competitive Lifters

Maybe you're just getting into competitive lifting, or perhaps you have been doing it a long time. Whether you're part of your CrossFit gym's team as a fun way to stay fit, or whether you're a self-starter looking to further your career as a professional bodybuilder, your involvement in competitive lifting will determine whether a standard barbell or Olympic barbell is right for you.

 If you are part of a competitive team, chances are you are already using an Olympic barbell. This specialty bar is standard for every weightlifting competition as it offers a uniform baseline on which to accurately stack and measure weight. Fitmus reminds all lifting enthusiasts that there will never be a sanctioned competition that uses a standard barbell over an Olympic barbell.4 For those who are serious about training for competition, the Olympic barbell is the only option.

This is not to say that the standard barbell isn't a viable option for training in other ways. Even if you are a competitive bodybuilder, the standard barbell can be used as an effective strength training tool. There are numerous exercises that you can do with a standard barbell that will help build muscle. But, the point remains that if you are trying to gauge progress for how you would fare in a competition, then the Olympic barbell is the only choice. It’s just a matter of determining the weight of the Olympic barbell, whether it’s a 35lb bar or 45 lb bar.

Is It Worth Buying A Barbell?

For those of you thinking, "I don't need a barbell, I only lift at the gym, and my gym has plenty for me to use;" consider this: In 2020, people were locked out of gyms for months at a time because gyms were deemed to be high-risk areas for spreading and contracting Covid-19.

 During that period of time, when people were locked out of their normal gym and thus unable to adhere to their normal workout regimen, there was an immediate rush to purchase at-home workout equipment. The sudden spike in sales caused a subsequent shortage of all at-home workout equipment and made it nearly impossible to find an Olympic barbell to use at home. You were lucky if you could get your hands on the cheapest possible knockoff weight set, and even the less popular standard barbell was hard to come by. As far as getting hold of an Olympic powerlifting barbell was concerned, you were hard-pressed to find one unless you found a gym selling its equipment in a panic.

The point is, if you are serious about lifting, then owning an Olympic barbell is a smart investment. Whether you have it in case of emergencies for when your gym is closed or whether you simply have it to get some extra reps in between gym sessions, it's not a bad idea to own your own bar.

Wrapping Up

While we are not predicting another catastrophic nationwide shutdown, we do live in a time where gyms may close for short periods of time. Whether it's due to a Covid spike among gym members, a gym closing its doors because of financial hardship, or maybe you just can't make it to the gym because of bad weather, having an at-home Olympic barbell to fall back on as a last resort is a wise failsafe for ensuring you can still get your reps in if something interrupts your normal workout routine. 

When it comes to buying a barbell, you have to decide whether an Olympic or Standard barbell is the right choice for you. Each type of bar has its merits, and while the Olympic barbell is certainly the better choice for competitors and serious lifters, having a regular barbell at home will do fine for keeping yourself in shape between gym visits.  

When it comes to the major differences between a standard and Olympic barbell, your desire for length, weight, circumference, and whip should make it very clear which one suits your preferences. When in doubt, try both of them out! Most gyms have standard and Olympic barbells, so don't be afraid to go test each barbell. As well, our team at Tru Grit is here to help you choose the right barbell for your fitness goals so you can keep crushing it at the gym.


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