How to Choose the Right Bumper Plates
Ready to throw some weight around your home or garage gym and confused about bumper plates? Maybe you don’t know if steel plates, rubber bumper plates or Olympic plates are best? We’ve got the lowdown for you right here. The first thing to figure out is what type of training you’ll be doing: powerlifting, weightlifting or Olympic lifting. This will help determine what type of plates you use.
Steel plates are commonly used for general strength training. Powerlifting or regular barbell training, employing presses, deadlifts and squats don’t require bumper plates. Although, many strength trainers tend to prefer bumpers, at least for deadlifts, as they don’t sound and feel like a rickety tank. For anything that isn’t an Olympic lift, cast-iron plates will suffice. Steel plates also cost less per pound than their counterparts.
Steel Weights Coated with Rubber/Urethane
Urethane-coated steel plates are also a go-to for strength training needs. Commercial gyms frequently use these because they’re better looking than raw iron, safer, easier to lug around the gym and are quieter.
Coated plates price closer to bumper plates, despite lacking distinct features of bumpers. They can’t be dropped from overhead, thus come up lame for Olympic weightlifting. If they’re in your price range, enjoy the cleaner look than raw iron, and like the lack of clanging and banging, these might be for you. However, by investing a little more in bumper plates, you’ll get more bang for your buck.
“Bumpers” for short, are a type of weight plate for Olympic bars that is made almost entirely of dense rubber (with a steel or brass collar in the middle that accepts an Olympic bar).
Bumper Plate Characteristics: The plates are Olympic-sized, come in both pounds and kilos and offer the same weight spectrum as regular cast-iron weightlifting/strength training plates. The bumpers usually come in black, but colored variations are readily available. Competition bumpers tend to strictly employ colored varieties.
Over the years, bumper plates have improved. Olympic weightlifting birthed bumpers, and further pushed their evolution. Initially, Olympic weightlifters used cast-iron plates, until lifting (and carefully lowering and dropping) them became a safety risk and impractical. The earliest versions limited the amount of weight that could be added to the bar, due to their thick, bulkiness. Now, many bumpers feature a steel disc in the center which increases the weight without compromising its thickness. Weightlifters can now add more weight to the bar without bulky rubber weights or cast-iron.
Bumper plates are commonly sold in pairs, and in a wide variety of colors and finishes. However, there are much more important details to consider. Recognize these four traits of quality bumper plates when selecting the best for you.
- SLIDING: The bumper’s inner, steel ring should fit the bar’s sleeve well. If not, the weights can slide if the rings are too wide.
- BEND: Ten-pound weights are notoriously thin and fragile. A combination of poor rubber quality and excess slimness will bend the plates, resulting in an imbalanced load, that makes for a shaky pull off the ground.
- Durability: Cracking poses the #1 threat to bumpers. Bumper plates get dropped constantly, becoming gluttons for punishment. Inferior quality plates will crack around the inner ring, which imbalances the bar while floor resting.
- Bounce: They must bounce just right, more like a bunny hop than a Jack-in-the-box popping in your face.
Bumper Plate Advantages
- Safer: Since, the "end state" of the Olympic lift is overhead or at the shoulder, the rubber construction allows a loaded bar to be dropped safely with no risk of damage to the floor, platform, bar, plates, bystanders or lifters themselves. Doing Olympic lifts, when weights are dropped from overhead, rack position or hips, requires bumpers. For this reason, bumpers are ideal for garage gym use. Simply put, they’re safer. You won’t be stressed out about what’ll happen to your foundation, or if they’ll chip or crack on impact, whether by accident or not.
- Workout Flexibility: Bumper plates also provide future flexibility. Lots of athletes are returning to Olympic lifting again. Even if you don’t find yourself at a fitness level or doing workouts that require them, you may want to invest in them now, so you have the option down the road.
- Quieter: If you’ve ever worked out with steel, you know how quickly gyms can sound like a construction site. No matter how smooth or gentle you are, steel plates can sound like nightmarish church bells. Bumper plates don’t crash together like cymbals in a marching band.
Don’t feel you only have to stock your home gym with bumpers. Some garage gym owners mix ‘n’ match steel plates and bumpers, as each has its place. If you’re certain bumper plates are the best fit for you, continue and read about the various bumper plate types.
Rather self-explanatory, technique plates function as light, practice plates to help you perfect your form and technique for Olympic training. They commonly come in 2.5, 3.75 and 5-kilogram plates, as well as 5 and 10-pound versions. If you’re learning Olympic lifting, the technique plates hone your form, with a light load on the bar, while still feeling plates on the bar. Usually, a pair will suffice, two at most. The solid, one-piece plates hold up well to the abuse.
Black Training Bumpers (in pounds)
Black training bumper plates serve as the go-to for most training types. They’re made of a high-density rubber, that gives them sturdiness and resilience that would make the Michelin Man blush. Black bumpers equate to your favorite knife in the kitchen; lots of use, not task specific and great for generally anything. With no bells or whistles, this is your “git ‘er done” plate. You’ll find an endless supply of black training bumpers out there. Do keep in mind that their quality can be a crapshoot. Dozens of factories pump out bumpers, and the quality ranges from shoddy to impeccable. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t love a bumper for looks alone, as this isn’t a good indicator of craftsmanship when it comes to rubber quality, processing methods and testing methods (if they’re even used). Don’t fall for its beauty, but get seduced by its durability.
Color Training Bumpers (in pounds and kilograms)
Color bumper plates follow the color coding schemes laid out by the International Weightlifting Federation and the International Powerlifting Federation. They are as follows:
- Red= 25 kg or 55 lb
- Blue= 20 kg or 45 lb
- Yellow= 15 kg or 35 lb
- Green= 10 kg or 25 lb
Some less than desirable brands will mix up the color coding, using red or yellow for 45 lb and use green for 25 lb, while dropping an entire plate from the lineup.
The color coding system helps coaches and trainers pick out the right weights with ease. The basic color system ensures that athletes and coaches easily identify weight poundages in what can be a chaotic, or draining, training environment. Coaches can also easily figure out the total weight an athlete is lifting with a quick scan around the gym. Color bumper plates tend to be softer than black bumpers, so the noise they produce is a bit less too.
Competition Bumper plates (in pounds and kilograms)
- Steel disc under rubber surface eliminates metal to metal contact
- Creates large noise reduction, lowers vibration and keeps bolts tight
- Accuracy of the claimed weight, usually to within 10 grams or less
- Unbeatable durability
These pro-level plates will cost you a pretty penny and primarily serve as a must-have for high-end gyms. If you are willing to spend the money on them, besides the benefits listed above, the main advantage would be training with identical equipment used to compete with. If you’re only working out at home, you probably don’t need these. In a garage setting, the added reliability and durability of competition plates compared to standard bumpers, won’t do you any good, especially when you factor in the price.
A number of brands also have training versions available of their competition plates. The plates are virtually the same, except that the training plates aren’t calibrated for weight accuracy, thus aren’t certified.
Fist Bump to Conclusions
A whole bunch of people, including some of your very own, get confused with this dizzying swirl of information about which bumpers are the good, the bad and the ugly. Here’s the simplest and most straightforward approach to bumper plates, in two parts.
- Steel insert: The brass isn’t greener on the other side. Years ago, many manufacturers used brass for the bumper plate insert. Brass sucks because it’s weak and soft, leading to bending and breaking. Nowadays, thankfully most producers use stainless steel, but some still try and pass some brass. That’s inconsiderate to say the least.
- Rubber composition: Two rubber types dominate bumper plate production, which are soft and hard. The soft type employs crumb rubber for example, that dramatically improves durability and lifespan. Crumb rubber bumpers bounce high, offer decent bend, and usually have a rough look. These are ideal for lifting outside or when there’s no mat or platform under the athlete. The other type employs a hard rubber, which doesn’t bounce, as much as make a thud when dropped. The hard rubber bumpers have a nicer finish, but will inevitably scuff with repeated use, and their durability pales in comparison to recycled rubber bumpers.
How can I choose the right bumper plate weights for me?
Bumper plates come in a few standard sizes, and are generally sold in pounds or kilograms. Fringe Sport manufactures bumpers in pound weights. Here is a chart with rough pound and kilogram weights:
Best Weight For:
10 lbs ~ 5 kg
Great for teaching or learning Olympic lifts.
15 lbs ~ 7 kg
Same uses as the 10s, but this offers greater durability at only a slightly heavier weight.
25 lbs ~ 11 kg
A very popular weight as they are very durable and throwing these on an Oly bar gives you 95 pounds (Fran Rx).
35 lbs ~ 16 kg
A great size for adding more weight on the bar.
45 lbs ~ 20 kg
The most popular size for gyms - 45's really let you load up your bar and make some serious strength gains.
55 lbs ~ 25 kg
When the 45s just don't cut it, we have 55lb bumpers to add some serious weight to the bar.
Ultimately, determining the best bumper plate for you comes down to three factors: shipping price, product price and warranty. If you’re fortunate to live near a supplier, you can do a pickup and save some loot. Don’t overlook the vital importance of the warranty when bumper buying. Weaker warranties only last a few months and don’t go beyond six. Other warranty plans may cover 25s, 35s and 45s for a year, while only doing 90 days on fragile 10s and 15s. The warranty is your friend. You want a dependable and reliable one, and not have to worry about being weighed down by questionable quality.
What exercises can I do with bumper plates?
For the most part bumper plates are used with a barbell, but you can also do exercises with a single bumper plate for an effective workout.
- Clean and Jerk
- Overhead lunge
- And even more!
View our blog for 5 Ways to Utilize Your Bumper Plates for additional exercises.