Barbells… something that seems like they should be fairly simple, right? It’s just a rod of steel with a couple of sleeves on the end. But, even on our website, we have over 20 different options for barbells accompanied by weird words like “knurl,” “whip,” and “spin,” and it’s undoubtedly overwhelming for a first-time bar buyer.
We’re here to help. We’ve got 3 things to look for when buying your first barbell to make the entire process easier for you.
It's a tale as old as time... and applies to your barbell, too.
We recommend that you spend a little bit more money than you might think you need to on a barbell, especially your first. The reason behind this is that you can get yourself a cheap barbell for $100 to $150, but a cheap barbell, while it lifts the same amount of weight as any other barbell, it won’t be as much of a joy for you to lift with (trust us).
PK and our team at Fringe Sport have spent over a decade obsessing over things like the knurl, how much the shaft bends when you’re lifting, and how fast the bar spins as you use it. These details are where the price difference comes from, and skimping on price means skimping on quality.
If you get some cheap barbell for your first iron excalibur, you’re likely going to get a barbell with technology that was developed in the 1950s or 1960s and built by the lowest bidder to produce some cheap piece of you know what, without extensive thought and development in it’s details.
If you spend a little bit more, if you bump your price range up to somewhere between $200 and $300, you’ll get a barbell that someone has thought intensely about and worked to make the details as great as possible to make your lifting experience amazing (ahem… us and our Wonder Bar!) You can’t necessarily say the same with a lower end barbell, because it’s unable to grow with you and withstand use and abuse against iron. Stepping into the “higher-end” range for a barbell also supplies you with a lifetime warranty for your barbell… which means that if you take good care of your bar, even your kids (and grandkids and their kids too) could get the chance to use it in their future with the same great quality.
If your barbell is awesome and feels amazing in your hands, every time you get a chance to wrap your hands around the bar will be motivating to do some violence against the iron on your bar. You’re going to want to lift.
What does “general purpose” mean in terms of a barbell? Well, there are specific bars for some specific movements, like deadlift bars, squat bars, powerlifting bars, bars to hit this muscle and that muscle, but when searching for the perfect first barbell, block out that noise and steer clear of the special purpose bars (for now).
For your first barbell, you’re going to want a general purpose barbell that does everything that can be done with a barbell pretty darn well, and do it well.
We’re sure that you’ve heard the phrase, “jack of all trades, master of none.” A special purpose barbell is the jack of one trade, and does other things poorly, if at all. A general purpose barbell is the jack of all trades, and it does all of those trades very well.
As your lifting journey continues and progresses, it becomes much easier to add specialty purpose barbells to your arsenal because you’ll have a better understanding of what you need and want out of a barbell, and those bars will be amazing, too. When you’re just starting out, though, a general purpose barbell is the way to go. It’ll serve you well for a long time.
If you are going to be training like a powerlifter, a bodybuilder, for professional football, or as a CrossFit competitor, each style is going to have different needs for equipment. While you can get a general purpose barbell to cover all the bases, there will be some trade-offs experienced for each style of training with a general purpose bar if your training is specific to one area of movement over another.
A powerlifter and a CrossFitter are going to desire different things for their barbells, and one of those differences has to do with the knurling. The knurling is the cross-hatching on the bar that increases grip.
A CrossFitter is going to want a mild to moderate grip knurling on their barbell because they’re going to be doing a lot of high-rep exercises.
A powerlifter is going to want a very aggressive, even cheese-grater knurling on their barbell, because a powerlifter is after absolute strength and power, and they don’t ever want the bar to slip from their grasp. A powerlifter is definitely going to want a barbell like our Power Bar. If a CrossFitter is presented with a barbell designed for a powerlifter, they’ll easily tear their hands up.
Additionally, a CrossFitter typically does not want the knurl in the center of their bar because CrossFitters often workout with their shirts off, and one can imagine what a cheese-grater knurling might do to bare skin (OUCH).
Powerlifters are the exact opposite. In competition, they never lift without their shirts on and they add chalk to their back for even more tack. A powerlifter would prefer the knurling in the center of the bar so their barbell doesn’t slide off, and stays put.
Not only does knurling matter when comparing barbells for training like a powerlifter versus a CrossFitter, but the diameter of the shaft on the barbell matters as well. Typically, a powerlifter will prefer a wider shaft diameter, and a CrossFitter might prefer a smaller diameter. The reason for this is that with a smaller diameter, it’s easier to wrap your hands all the way around the barbell and get a nice, firm grip for high-rep CrossFit movements. The smaller diameter also means that it’s easier to do a hook grip (wrapping first with your thumb and overlapping with your fingers for better grip). Powerlifters are not known to hook grip their barbells, and prefer a thicker diameter that doesn’t have very much flex and has a larger contact area for their hands on the bar because they’re more interested in absolute strength.
Another difference between barbells for CrossFitters and for powerlifters is the spin on the collars of the bar. A powerlifter will want a slow or moderate spinning barbell because a ton of spin on the bar when you load up your plates is not wanted. If you’re a powerlifter and you’ve got a bar with a really fast spin and you’re bench pressing, it might actually mess with your bench because as you bench, the plates on the end might make the collars rotate and those little rotations can throw off your stability or movement pattern, and that’s a no-go.
However, a CrossFitter or Olympic weightlifter will want a smooth, buttery, fast spin on their collars because they’re often taking the bar from floor to shoulder or floor to overhead, and a nice, smooth spin helps with those.
It might seem like there’s a lot to consider here with these three tips, but trust us… barbells can get a lot more in depth than what we’ve covered here. We promise that if you stick to these things, you’ll likely pick the perfect barbell for you, your training style, and your goals.
If you’ve got questions about your first barbell, we’re here to help! Send us an email at email@example.com, send us a message on our site via the chat feature, or give us a call. If you’re ready to dive into the Garage Gym Revolution and surround yourself with a community of like-minded, strength-oriented people, join our private Facebook group for all things positivity and garage-gym talk.
As always, lift heavy, lift happy :)