One of the best bang-for-the-buck pieces of equipment you can have is a barbell with weights. Although simple, its versatility enables it to be utilized for full body workouts without requiring much space—making it the ideal tool for home fitness training. However, since they are seemingly so simple, it can be easy to overlook the factors that will make any particular bar the best barbell for you.
Below we’ll take a look at 5 good choices on the market, I’ll make a suggestion for the best general purpose barbell out there, and help you understand the different aspects to be considering when evaluating barbells.
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A barbell is a long metal bar, usually between 47 and 72 inches in length, which is used for resistance training exercises. It has a long history—with many considering it first being adopted by the Ancient Greeks.
Usually, circular weights with center holes are attached by sliding them on at each end of the barbell. They are then secured with a variety of retaining clips, collars or bands. These bars are distinctive by bearing a cross-hatched knurling pattern along part of their length—allowing for a more secure grip.
The term barbell usually refers to the standard version, which is the type explored in this article. Yet ironically, despite its name, there isn’t a “standard” length or weight—they can weigh between 13 and 45 pounds and take loads of around 200-500 pounds.
This is what separates standard barbells from Olympic barbells, which have an industry standard of 45 pounds in weight, are 72 inches in length, a capacity over 1000 pounds and include rotating sleeves (allowing the weights to spin when lifted).
Although looking extremely similar—after all, they are just long shafts of metal—all barbells are not created equal. Not only do they differ in quality, weight, and length, but they also have more refined characteristics that can either help or hinder your fitness progress.
Additionally, it’s not just about considering your initial requirements. The best barbells are long-lasting and will follow you through your fitness journey. Therefore, take time to think about what you will be using the bar for in the future.
To make the process easier, I have put together the key elements to consider when selecting the ideal barbell.
It may sound obvious, but in purchasing barbells the old saying, “You get what you pay for,” usually holds true.
Generally speaking, the higher the price, the higher the quality—often meaning greater overall bar strength, more durable weight-retaining clips and a coated material that prevents the bar rusting when in your garage.
Remember, you will often be raising several pounds of weight above your head—you don’t want to take the risk of the barbell or its components failing.
This is one of the most important aspects to consider. Firstly, it is foolhardy paying for a capacity that you know you’ll never use. Equally, if the bar doesn’t have the ability to take sufficient weight, your training results are going to be disappointing.
Numbers can sometimes be a little ambiguous, so think of it like this: the average man’s body weight is around 185 pounds – consider bench pressing, squatting, deadlifting, or overhead pressing a grown man. For some exercises this won’t be hard, like deadlift, whereas others would signify quite an athletic accomplishment, like the military press.
Also, consider your future goals. If you’re looking to really pile on both strength and muscle, it’s worth considering a barbell that will accommodate the loads you’re planning on lifting as you progress.
A quick note. Sometimes, barbell manufacturers may not use the word capacity; instead, they call it either yield or tensile strength. Yield refers to the weight a barbell can carry before it bends, tensile strength indicates the maximum load before the bar breaks.
Once you’ve slipped your weights onto the barbell, they have to be restrained, otherwise, when you lift, they’re going to fall to the floor.
Different manufacturers use varying methods of retaining weights. The simplest type is spring-loaded clips—you squeeze them and push tight against the weight, then release—in theory, restraining the weight into position.
The strongest type is a screw collar. These fit onto barbells with threaded ends, allowing you to tighten the weight into position—similar to fixing a nut onto a bolt.
For light use, clips are fine, but if you are looking to really pile on the heavy plates, you will need threaded or clip-lock collars.
Often referred to as “knurling,” this is the engraved pattern on the barbell shaft which allows the hands to grip the bar safely and without slippage.
You may see the knurling referred to as light, heavy or aggressive. These indicate the levels of “roughness” in regard to grip—with aggressive having the heaviest embossed cross-hatchings.
People with smaller hands, those who are looking at lifting serious weight, or find palm perspiration an issue, should consider a more aggressive knurl and vice versa.
Also, consider where on the bar the knurling is located. Nowadays, many have this pattern extending down the full length. However, if you are using the bar shirtless, or resting on the shoulders, this can begin to aggravate the skin.
In these circumstances, just a few textured areas in both the narrow and wide grip positions may be more beneficial.
A separate note about grip is the grip of your feet. If you’ll be using this bar for anything with your feet planted on ground (squats and deadlifts, as opposed to bench press) taking the grip of your feet into consideration is useful too. I’ve put together guides for men’s and women’s shoes to help with this.
Some barbells are sold “naked”, that is, with no coating. These bars have quite a loyal following due to their gritty and industrial appearance. The issue is—they can rust. With many people doubling-up their garage as a gym, chances are the barbell will come into contact with water or other oxidizing compounds.
However, if the naked look isn’t for you, go for a coated bar. These can be protected by zinc, carbon or chrome—giving them a “cleaner” appearance and preventing damage.
Once you’ve purchased your barbell, you should maintain it regularly to ensure any chance of oxidation is minimized. Here’s a short video explaining this process.
Here are my pick of the five best barbells available today, ideal for use at home.
An attractive chrome-coated barbell with a 60-inch length. Attention to detail is clear, as the strong threaded retaining collars are also preserved by this protective layer. A novel “star” shape allows for easy tightening—even for those who lack hand strength.
With a weight capacity of 250 pounds it is ideal for men and women looking to take their home workouts to slightly more intense levels. Yet its lightweight construction of just 13 pounds means that it can easily be lifted and stored when not in use.
It takes 1-inch diameter weights, the standard size for home barbells and dumbbells.
With a massive 500-pound capacity, this is the ideal barbell for those who are taking—or planning on taking—lifting to the limit.
Accommodating 2-inch sized plates, the bar ends have rotating sleeves, allowing the weights to spin. This is a nice feature for people wanting to complete fast and explosive lifts, reducing resistance and alleviating hand fatigue.
The chrome-finished bar is lightly knurled in the wide grip position—the rest of the bar is bare. Weights are secured with clips (not included).
An excellent, budget, 60-inch barbell that doesn’t scrimp on quality—coming from one of the most well-known brands in the barbell market.
The black powdered coating prevents oxidation and offers something a little different for people not desiring the “new” look that chrome offers. Weights are retained by spring clips (included), making loading of the plates quick and efficient—perfect for the more impatient types.
Two-thirds of the bar is textured, with a small center area left bare. This allows for an extensive handgrip area on the lightly knurled barbell.
Available in both 72 and 84-inch versions, these are long bars, allowing for a greater range of muscle-specific exercises.
A 250-pound capacity, together with lengthy weight placement areas, allows for generous loading.
It includes a wide knurling-free area in the center of the bar, making it suitable for those with a larger chest. The textured gripping area is quite aggressive, an appealing feature if you are lifting the heavier plates.
Having an entire diameter of two inches (usually they are 1–1.1 inches), this is the ideal bar for those looking to improve handgrip while working on other muscle groups.
This 45 pound bar is heavy duty and with its girth plus weight can be very useful for CrossFit and other HIIT style exercise.
With no knurling at all, it’s easy on the hands, chest, and shoulders. A black, powder-coated finish will prevent against corrosion. The length is 84 inches and fits 2-inch plates.
For me, the stand-out item is the Sunny Chrome Barbell. With its 1-inch diameter, it means that standard weights can be used, instead of the more expensive Olympic 2-inch size.
With extra-secure threaded collars, 250-pound capacity, knurling only where needed, and a convenient weight of just 13 pounds—it’s the ideal bar both for beginners and those planning on taking their lifting to greater levels in the future.