14OCT14: Bar Review


14OCT14: Bar Review

CrossFit Reality - Reality Barbell

BAR REVIEW (Getting Ready for the Bar Exam)

By John Mustafa

In the world of functional fitness, and in regular lifting gyms everywhere, the barbell takes a lot of abuse. For a piece of equipment that is so central to the mission of strength building, and general fitness, it gets so little respect that it would not surprise me if a barbell stood up and smacked the bejeezus out of you after getting thrown unloaded to the ground. “Hey, Sandow!” *SMACK*

What is more shocking, however, is how little so many lifters — and coaches — know about the barbell. What distinguishes an Olympic-lifting bar from a power-lifting bar? What’s with the “women’s” bar versus the “men’s” bar? Why are some bars $45.00 and some $2,000.00 (and why would anyone buy such an expensive bar)? What is the purpose of knurling, why do some bars have center knurling, why do some bars have knurling markers, and why do some bars have double knurling markers? Why are you calling me (yes, you) careless for leaving chalk all over the bar or, worse, chalking the bar instead of your hands? Who gives a flying freak-out anyway, since you just hit a PR snatch without knowing the answers to ANY of these questions?

Just because you don’t know “why” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know. And sometimes (a.k.a. all the time) knowing “why” will help you improve and will save you money and heartache down the road. With that being said, sit tight and learn about that precious piece of equipment with which you show the world that you are a badass. In fact, I’m going to improve your next one-rep max by at least TEN POUNDS with some simple information that no one bothered to tell you.


  • On the Olympic barbell, there are two main components: the shaft, and the sleeves (we will not consider the so-called “standard barbell,” which has sleeves that are the same diameter as the shaft: one inch.


  • On the Olympic bar, shaft thickness varies from 25mm upward to 50mm (the specialty “thick bar”).
    • The most popular thicknesses are 25mm and 28mm. These two thickness varieties describe the so-called “women’s bar” and “men’s bar,” respectively (though neither bar has girl or boy parts!). Those thicknesses are designed to accommodate women’s relatively smaller and men’s relatively larger hands
    • The 25mm and 28mm thicknesses (along with a particular density, a.k.a. “tensile strength”) are ideal in maintaining the linear integrity of the bar (e., discouraging permanent bending) while allowing the bar to bend slightly when loaded with heavy weights. The average barbell has a tensile strength of 130,000 psi (loosely called “1,000 pound test,” though in reality, this is only a pseudonym to which the average consumer can relate: there is no test involving 1,000 pounds; it’s just a way of saying the bar should be able to accommodate 1,000 pounds without permanently bending)
    • Most bars used primarily for Olympic lifts (so-called “1,000 pound test” bars) are built to bend because the bend gives the bar “whip,” which is useful in Olympic lifting. Whip refers to the reflexive bounce produced at certain phases of an Olympic lift: just as the barbell may bend downward as sudden force is exerted upward on the center, the bar will bounce back into a straight line as it rises, thus “whipping” the weight partially upward and slightly decreasing the amount of force the lifter must use during upward movement. Timing the whip is very important for heavy Olympic lifts
    • Many bars used primarily for power lifting (g., deadlifts, front and back squats, bench press) often have thicknesses of greater than 28mm and generally have greater tensile strength (e.g., 196,000 psi, a.k.a. “helluva lot more than 1,000 pound test”). Whip is not necessary (nor desirable, and sometimes not even safe) during a power lift, so a power bar is designed not to bend as easily.


  • The portion of the Olympic barbell on which one loads the plates are separate sleeves that may be nearly any reasonable length (approximately a foot or less) but always 50mm in diameter. Collars are what you put on the sleeves to hold the plates in place (unless you are doing a bench press, in which case you must never use collars! Don’t get me started on that.)

WEIGHT (and length):

  • Barbells come in a variety of weights and lengths dictated by mainly by the primary form of use (Olympic lifting versus power lifting) and sometimes by region (metric versus imperial)
  • The most common weights are 15kg (33lbs) and 20kg (44lbs), though many manufacturers also make 35lb and 45lb barbells. These common barbell weights derive from internationally accepted weight lifting competition standards. Some unloaded barbells used in training may weigh appreciably more (e.g., 60, 70 or more lbs)
  • Barbell lengths — in conjunction with tensile strength — vary in order to distribute the load in different ways. Six feet is probably the most popular length.


KNURLING: this refers to portions of the shaft that have tightly machine-etched criss-cross patterns, generally where you grip the shaft. The purpose of knurling is to increase grip by providing micro channels that dig into the hand and which, to a small degree, allow moisture to wick away. The knurling markers are popular grip width indicators. Center-knurling is an anachronism that goes back to the days when people performed one-handed lifts with the barbell, though some people use it to obtain “neck-grip” during a back squat.

CHALK: is not part of the barbell, but careless people act as if it is. There is nothing cool about leaving chalk on a barbell: chalk serves one purpose, which is to absorb moisture and allow for a better grip. Barbells are generally made of steel. Steel is an alloy (i.e., a combination of other metals and chemical compounds) designed to be far stronger than any of the constituent pure metals. Steel consists primarily of iron and carbon. Iron rusts (i.e., it oxidizes). So when chalk absorbs moisture from your hands, where does that moisture go? It stays in the chalk, which you left on the bar, which also absorbs moisture from the air, all which penetrates the protective coatings on barbells at different rates, causing rust and deterioration of the barbell. Ever wonder why chrome-plated barbells flake? Rust beneath the chrome-plating simply separates the chrome from the steel. The same is true of stainless steel (though it takes longer) and zinc oxide coatings. Wipe the chalk off with a brush or cloth when done!

Review: the barbell consists of a shaft and sleeves, it is moderately heavy, and chalk absorbs moisture and makes it rust, so you should brush off chalk after every use. That wasn’t hard now, was it?

Oh, about that ten-pound PR increase: build up your strength by doing more strength work and I can pretty much guarantee that you will realize at least a ten-pound PR increase when you go for your next one-rep max. That was easy, too, right?



A) Est. 1RM Hang Clean


10 power cleans (135/95)

200m Sprint

***REST 3 MIN***


7 Dead Lifts (185/135),

7 6FT Broad Jumps



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