Barbell Basics: Some details for beginners

Brothers and Sisters of Iron, we gather here today to give you the knitty-gritty details on the basics of barbells.

Welcome to Barbell 101. 

First of all, we promise we aren’t selling you barbells from the 80s from some random guy in Ohio. Pinky swear! Our Fringe Sport barbells are extremely thought out and well-tested to give you the barbell experience you’re looking for, and we might argue… are good enough for Arnold (yeah, you heard us!!).  

You can browse our complete barbell collection here.

Let’s get down to the basics, shall we

There are some basics you need to know, and then there are some you need to know about barbells, and we’ve got the scoop. We’d hate for you to get a bar that doesn’t fit what you’re looking for or do what you need it to, so read on!

Shaft vs Sleeve: What the heck does that mean? 

The shaft is the part of the barbell that you grab and hold onto for dear life, and the sleeve part of the barbell that plates are loaded onto. 

There’s a few different kinds of barbells (well, quite a few actually, but we won’t get into that here), and there’s some things you need to know before you make your most important iron decision for your personal pain cave. 

There's an Olympic barbell - the diameter of the sleeve is 50mm, or put more simply, 2in for us American iron-lifters, but this can be confusing, because there’s another barbell called the standard barbell with a smaller diameter sleeve. These standard barbells are generally lower quality than an olympic barbell, and less fun to lift on because of that quality, but the real kicker here is that they typically cannot hold as much weight as the olympic barbell can… wah! Trust us… stick with the olympic barbell.

Almost all olympic barbells share the same length from collar to collar, and this allows them to be racked on a squat rack, so they can be used for a multitude of things like benching, squatting, pressing, and so much more. 

Here’s where you might see some variation on an olympic barbell: the loadable length on the sleeves. Some have thicker and some have thinner collars, which affects the loadable length. Barbells with thicker collars might constrain the amount of weight you can sufficiently load on the bar, but if you’re new to the barbell world, don’t worry too much about this

The other difference in these barbells is the diameter of the shaft, and this can range from 25mm to 32mm in diameter. Now, if you’ve got average-sized hands, the 25mm diameter shaft is going to feel small. The 32mm might feel a ‘lil chonky in average-sized hands. The shaft can go even higher in diameter for Strongman-type barbells, if you’re into that sort of thing. 

An average-sized male is going to have a diameter-sweet-spot between 28-30mm. An average-sized female or teen might want to opt for a 15kg bar, and that has a 25mm shaft diameter.

What’s with the difference in weights? 

Even though the plates for most American lifters are in pounds, however, many (if not most), barbells are dominated in kilograms. You just might have to pull up the ‘old Google machine and do a little conversion (but that's basically 2.2lb to 1kg)!

A “men’s” bar is typically 20kg or 44lbs. Most “female” bars are typically 15kg or 33lbs. For easy math… these bars are rounded up to 45 and 35 pounds, respectively.

Nobody’s saying you should use one or the other - we want you to use the bar that makes you happy!

Traditionally, the 15kg women’s bar is called such because the International Weightlifting Federation specifies it as a women’s weight, that’s all. But, we know you, Fringe Fam. You’re gonna use the bar you want to use, and we fully support you. You do YOU.

Knurling: Uh… what?

Next up, we’ve got knurling. That’s right, K-N-U-R-L-I-N-G. Some of you might be scratching your heads right now, and that’s okay. We’ll fill you in. This is also sometimes called “crosshatches”. For a beginner, there’s only really two crucial things to know about knurling:

1. Is it aggressive? Is it mild? Is it somewhere in between?

Powerlifters tend to use aggressive knurling. So aggressive, in fact, that they call it cheese grater knurling. No, really! This is because powerlifters want to grab a hold of that bar, and be glued to it until they decide it’s time to put it down. This works because they’re typically trying to pick it up just once.

Crossfitters typically go for many reps with their barbell, so they tend to like medium-to-mild knurling. They don’t need such aggressive knurling to hang onto because an aggressive knurling is going to create unwanted calluses and tear up their hands. (How many times can we say aggressive knurling?)

2. Where is the knurling, and what are the rings for?

Typically, the knurling covers the majority of the shaft, except sometimes, there's a smooth gap (or even two, with a small section of knurl in between) in the middle, which is explained a bit below. There are often rings in the bar to see where to set up your hands and get set for every movement you perform with your barbell. Powerlifters typically prefer one set of rings, olympic lifters prefer two sets, and Crossfitters prefer a combination of the two. 

3. Is there knurling around the middle of the bar? (not so crucial as the two before, but it just might save your lats and shoulders if you workout shirtless!)

Crossfitters and “wodder-types” typically avoid bars with knurling in the middle because they workout with their shirts off. They need to avoid chewing up and tearing those beautiful back muscles they’ve sculpted. 

Powerlifters usually like aggressive knurling in the middle of the bar because they’ll wear their shirts and chalk it up, so they can really lock that bar in place when going for their big-as-heck lifts. 

Bearing vs bushing: how does your barbell spin?

Another thing that can be important is the spin around the collars. If you’re a beginner, and you pick up the bar and it feels just fine, run with it! We can’t stress this enough. This goes for all of our details we’ve described today. If it feels good, go with it

If you want to get technical on your spin, if you think you’ll be doing mostly slow lifts: bench, squat, and deadlift, you’re going to want a bushing barbell that has relatively slow spin. If you’re doing the slow lifts, you’re not going to need very much rotation in that bar.

If you’re an olympic lifter, a crossfitter, or someone who’s doing reps from the ground to the shoulder, shoulder to overhead, or ground to overhead, you’ll want a  bearing bar with a faster spin around the collar. Often, the bar starts at the ground, and you’re getting around it, so you want it to rotate quickly, predictably, and cleanly.

Truth be told, if you buy any of the main-line bars we sell at Fringe Sport, you’re gonna be A-OK no matter what you’re doing with your bar.

Why might you want to spend more on your barbell?

A more expensive bar tends to be created with more thought in the design, produced with more quality control and attention to detail, and sold by a company that understands the iron game and what you’re doing (Ahem ahem… Fringe Sport has your back).

A higher priced, higher quality bar is so much more of a joy to lift in your pain cave, your man cave, your garage gym, or wherever you put in the dirty work. Your barbell is your own personal excalibur against that gravity monster. 

We’re not gonna sit here and tell you that a more expensive bar makes the weight move better, faster, easier… but we promise that your Fringe Sport bar is going to make even your heaviest sessions that much more enjoyable

If you’re someone who chooses to get into the iron game and work with your barbell against your own monsters, you’re our kind of people (especially PK’s). 

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