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What Are Bumper Plates?

For those who are new to weightlifting, you may have overheard different terms being thrown around at the gym. Maybe you have been too shy to ask, or maybe you had an embarrassing moment where someone corrected you after you grabbed the wrong kind of plate. Whatever brought you here, rest assured, this is a safe space. 

There are actually quite a few different types of training plates for barbells. While we're only going to focus on bumper plates today, we can tell you that you are not the first person to wonder what a bumper plate is, and you certainly won't be the last.

In this article, we will cover what a bumper plate is, why you need them, how they differ from steel plates and Olympic plates, and we will even give you a brief tutorial on how to load them onto a barbell. Whether you are using a women’s Olympic barbell or a men’s 45 lb bar, we're here to help you come to a better understanding of your gym equipment. Today we'll do just that by answering the question "what are bumper plates?" once and for all.

So...What Are Bumper Plates?

A bumper plate is a type of weight that slips onto the sleeve of a barbell. A plate is another name for the type of weights that sit on a barbell. These types of weights are called plates due to their plate-like shape. Plate weights are often large and round. While the outer edge of a weight plate is usually a smooth circle, it can also be an octagonal shape.

Often called "bumpers" for short, bumper plates are of the smooth circle edge variety and are used as an industry standard in gyms across the world. Bumper plates are a weight made with an iron core and hard rubber exterior. This allows the bumper plate to be used for exercises like squats, deadlifts, and power cleans, where the lifter often drops the weights on the floor at the end of the set.

According to SMAI, bumper plates can be safely dropped on the floor due to their rubber nature. Often bumper plates bounce slightly when dropped.1 Even though they have a solid iron core, the rubber coating of bumper plates allows athletes to safely drop the weight-loaded barbell without harming the weights, the bar, or the surface of the floor whether in a commercial gym or in a garage gym at home.

What Is The Point Of Bumper Plates?

Bumper plates offer themselves as a safer way to lift. The point of bumper plates is to offer athletes the safest possible way to lift heavy without fear of potentially hurting themselves, their surroundings, or others.  

This is not to say that if you were to drop a barbell loaded with bumper plates on someone's foot that it wouldn't hurt; of course it would! Rather, bumper plates (due to their rubberized shell) provide a friendlier impact keeping the barbell, the floor, and the weights themselves intact. 

If you were to drop iron plates the way you drop competition bumper plates, the sheer sound of the impact would be horrifying. Additionally, the iron (largely due to its density) would cause severe disruption and damage to the ground below. Finally, iron plates being dropped with forceful impact could potentially bend the barbell. Bumper plates help prevent all of these negative outcomes for a lifter and their surroundings.

Do I Really Need Bumper Plates?

Deciding whether or not you need bumper plates is largely going to depend on the types of exercises you are doing. If you are doing a lot of clean and jerk, snatch, and/or deadlifts, then bumper plates are an absolute necessity.

Fringe Sport tells us that bumper plates are a must for any type of lifting exercise where you are dropping the weights from a high position (from the mid-thigh up).2 Additionally, bumper plates should be employed if you are working outside of a rack. While things like squats and presses are typically done with cast iron weight plates in a rack, there are those who prefer to do them without a rack, and in those instances, bumper plates are recommended.

What Is The Difference Between Bumper Plates And Iron Plates?

All bumper plates are Olympic-sized plates that are made with an iron core. The small iron core is the only part of the bumper plate that is not rubber.

Often there is confusion between a rubber-coated iron plate and a rubber bumper plate. A bumper plate is almost entirely rubber except for the small amount of iron in the center where the rubber plate slips onto the sleeve of the barbell.

Alternatively, a rubber-coated iron plate (like those most commonly found in gyms) is predominantly iron with a rubberized coating to help protect the plate if it drops unexpectedly.

Whether you are buying competition or high-temp bumper plates, it is vital that you make sure the plate is listed as a rubber bumper plate and not a rubber-coated bumper plate. If you are in the market for bumper plates and you see the phrase "rubber-coated," it's not a bumper.

Should I Get Bumper Plates Or Iron Plates?

Again, the type of lifting you engage in will determine whether you should or shouldn't get a bumper plate set. 

While you certainly can use bumper plates for exercises like bench press and squats, it may look a little strange to those you are working out with. Typically bumper plates are reserved for exercises that require you to drop the weights. While iron weights cannot be used as bumper plates, all bumper plates can be used in lieu of iron plates. 

It is certainly prudent to have bumper plates at the ready, should you decide to add an exercise that requires them in your workout routine. Even something as simple as a squat outside of a rack can necessitate bumper plates. Many home gym enthusiasts, like the experts at Gym Crafter, recommend bumper plates as a superior alternative to iron plates due to their versatility.3

When determining whether you should get bumper plates, ask yourself this question: If I couldn't hold the weight up and was forced to drop the bar, would doing so damage my weights?

If you answered yes, then you should definitely get yourself a set of bumper plates.

How Do You Load Bumper Plates Onto A Barbell?

Loading bumper plates onto a barbell may seem like a no-brainer, but it's a little more difficult than you might imagine.

When loading plates onto a barbell for the bench press or squats, the barbell is resting on the rack with the sleeves exposed on either side. This allows the athlete to easily load the weight onto either sleeve without the bar tipping or falling. Such is not the case with bumper plates! 

When loading bumper plates onto a barbell, you load them onto the barbell with the barbell on the ground. This makes it slightly more complicated than dealing with a barbell on the rack, but it's the same relative principle.

To load bumper plates onto a barbell, first determine how much weight will be added in total to the barbell. Just as bumper plates come in varying weights, so do barbells. When deciding how much weight to add to the barbell, first ask yourself, “What size barbell do I need?” This base weight of the barbell will help determine how much additional weight to apply using bumper plates. Just as you would for a racked barbell, add half of the weight to one side of the barbell and half to the other side.

Unlike a racked barbell where you want to evenly add weight one side at a time, with a barbell that uses bumper plates, you add all the weight to one side first, then the rest of the matching weight to the other side. To do this properly:

  1. First place the bumper plates next to the sleeve of the barbell.
  2. Use one hand to lift the barbell up at a 45-degree angle.
  3. Using your other hand, guide the heaviest bumper onto the barbell until it is touching the end of the sleeve.
  4. Once the bumper plate is resting against the innermost part of the sleeve, load the rest of the bumpers (heaviest to lightest) onto the sleeve of that same side.
  5. Once you have loaded all of the bumpers on one side, collar the weights to keep them from shifting.
  6. Repeat this process for the next side.
  7. Once all of the weight is completely loaded onto the bar, it should rest evenly on the ground.
  8. At this point, shove the bumper plates on one side all the way in so that the plates are firmly pressed into the edge of the sleeve, and so there are no gaps between any of the plates.
  9. Re-collar the weights in this position, so they are tight.
  10. Repeat this process for the other side before you start weightlifting.

There you have it! Your bumper plates are loaded, and you're ready to start lifting!

Get Out Of The Rack: Bumper Plates Are A Must For Any Fitness Enthusiast

If you're into lifting, then you should really have a set of bumper plates. Bumper plates expand the types of lifting exercise you are able to perform and allow you to use your Olympic barbell vs standard barbell for more than just rack exercises.

The rack is great for building muscle but outside of the rack is where you will start to build strength. The exercises where bumper plates come into play are often full-body lifts that require core stabilization, deep muscle engagement, and high-intensity breath control, all executed with full-body power. 

If you're interested in stepping out of the rack and into the world of full-body lifting, then it's time to get yourself a quality set of Tru Grit bumper plates. Happy lifting!


Sources:

SMAI. Bumper Plates Explained. https://www.smai.com.au/blogs/news/bumper-plates-explained

Fridge Sport. What Is The Point Of Bumper Plates? https://www.fringesport.com/blogs/news/what-is-the-point-of-bumper-plates

Gym Crafter. Are Bumper Plates A Good Choice For A Home Gym? https://gymcrafter.com/what-bumper-plates/

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