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Published Dec. 15, 2021

Once the realm of strongmen and circuses, the barbell is now an integral piece of any weight room. The big four — bench press, deadlift, squat, and overhead press — are fundamental lifts that rely upon this simple and overlooked tool. When I say overlooked, I mean that there is no singularly more versatile piece of equipment that you could add to your gym. Bands and dumbbells are great for isolation and adding variety to your workouts, but the Preacher Curl has not been added to the Olympics for a reason. Strength is found under the bar, something I learned when I began weightlifting.

Using a barbell was the one outlet that helped me beat depression. Something about the ritual of blasting rock, chalking up and then exerting all my energy to lift as much weight as I could was invigorating. The most rewarding feeling was the sense of lightheadedness and ringing of the ears after a lift — it meant that you were at your true maximum. Every day that I went to the gym didn’t just make my muscles stronger, it made my mind stronger. In many ways, the barbell is the ultimate piece of gym equipment that works your mind, body, and spirit. 

For all of these reasons, you need to choose wisely when investing in a barbell. Here are some of our picks for the best barbells that would make a perfect addition to your home gym.

Best Overall

It is impossible to talk about barbells and weightlifting without mentioning Rogue. Founded in 2006 by Bill Henniger, the company has built a reputation for manufacturing incredibly strong gym equipment. Rogue is the official supplier of the Crossfit Games, USA Weightlifting, the Arnold Strongman Classic, and the World’s Strongest Man competitions. At the root of the Rogue equipment is the Ohio Power Bar. It boasts a 205,000 PSI tensile strength capable of withstanding more weight than most humans could ever lift. This strength doesn’t allow the bar to offer much whip, so it’s a great choice for static lifts like the big four.

The 16.25-inch sleeves feature bronze bushings for a smooth rotation. Each side of the bar sports powerlifting patterned knurling, including a powerlifting knurl mark in the center of the bar for reference. Be warned though, the knurling that covers the 29-millimeter bar is coarse and could rip soft hands, so make sure to use chalk when lifting heavy until you get used to it. Rogue does a great job offering four different types of finishes to fight corrosion featuring bare steel, stainless steel, black zinc, and a specialized electrically applied coating on the shaft.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Rogue Fitness
  • Bar weight: 45 pounds
  • Loadable sleeve length: 16.25 inches
PROS

Insane tensile strength

Aggressive knurling

Center knurl mark

Lifetime warranty

CONS

High price point

Not ideal for Olympic lifts or Crossfit

Overall, the length and design of the Everyday Essential Olympic Bar is fairly similar to the Rogue Ohio Power Bar. Sadly, the tensile strength is not listed, but there is a maximum weight of 700 pounds. While that seems low, this makes a great bar for anyone looking to put a home gym together on a budget. You can expect the knurling to be fairly moderate, even with the center knurl mark, over the 30-millimeter thick shaft. To fight corrosion, the bars feature a black zinc-plated finish.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Everyday Essentials
  • Bar weight: 45 pounds
  • Loadable sleeve length: 15.3 inches
PROS

Budget-friendly

Center knurl mark

15.3 inches of loadable sleeve

CONS

Low tensile strength

Moderate to mild knurling

Often referred to as a “Football Bar” or “Swiss Grip Bar,” this multi-grip barbell is a unique tool for the weight lifter. Most versions of a multi-grip barbell sport three varying grip positions that allow you to target specific muscle groups from different angles. Titan Fitness has been making quality gym equipment and sets the bar high with the Multi-Grip V2.

Weighing in the same as a standard barbell, this niche bar is about four inches shorter in length, at only 82.25 inches. Inside the boxed frame are three sets of grips: one set angled at 30 degrees and spaced 10 inches apart for narrow grip, one set of neutral grips at 20 inches apart, and one set of neutral grips at 28.5 inches apart. These grips allow you to train narrow, neutral, and wide on the same piece of equipment. The grips are wider than normal (50 millimeters), but feature knurling for a secure hold. Despite its awkward appearance, this bar is capable of holding 1,900 pounds.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Titan Fitness
  • Bar weight: 45 pounds
  • Loadable sleeve length: 14 inches
PROS

Three grip variations

High tensile strength

Knurled grips

Fits standard power racks

CONS

Bench press specific bar

Not ideal for beginners

Many lifters have experienced shoulder pain while squatting, especially fellow low-bar squatters or lifters with shoulder issues or mobility issues. While you should probably incorporate more mobility work into your training, another solution is the safety squat bar. The cambered bar and front grips allow you to train squats with a centered load. This helps to alleviate the shoulder pain while training. Sorinex makes state-of-the-art equipment that is the Cadillac of weight room supplies, and this safety squat bar is as nice as they come.

Aside from the appearance, the bar weighs in at 50 pounds, which is different from standard bars and could throw off your calculations if you’re not careful. There is thick padding for your shoulders and neck to help reduce that stress during training and is far better than a towel. While the tensile strength isn’t listed, you can rest assured that Sorinex gear will hold up.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Sorinex
  • Bar weight: 50 pounds
  • Loadable sleeve length: 16 inches
PROS

Specialty design is easy on shoulders

No knurling to tear up your neck

CONS

High price point

Squat use only

Best Barbell for Beginners

As Crossfit gained in popularity, so did the idea of a “women’s barbell” that weighed less. I’m not going to dive into the controversial sex/gender argument, but I will point out the benefit is that companies are making barbells of similar dimensions to the standard 45-pound barbell at 35 pounds instead. This lighter base weight is ideal for beginning lifters who need to learn the fundamentals of lifting regardless of sex/gender.

As far as dimensions go, this light bar is only seven inches shorter than an Olympic bar and the grip is 25 millimeters instead of 29. The difference is small enough that the transition to a larger bar won’t be too challenging. Because the bar is smaller, the tensile strength is only 165,000 PSI, but that’s still respectable and strong enough for beginners. Keep in mind that the lower tensile strength results in more whip, which is ideal for dynamic lifts. The sleeves are shorter (13 inches) and feature two needle bearings and a bushing for a smooth rotation. Any lifter who has never held a barbell before would benefit from this bar.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Valor Fitness
  • Bar weight: 33 pounds
  • Loadable sleeve length: 13 inches
PROS

Lighter base weight

Dimensions are comparable to Olympic bars

Fits standard plates

CONS

Pink (if that matters to you)

More whip than standard bars

Best Multifunctional Barbell

Whether you’re frugal or a utilitarian, you probably hate buying specialty equipment with only one use. It can be a waste of space, money, or both, and can just make things complicated. Wouldn’t you rather have something that can do two, three, or more jobs? That’s hard to find with gym equipment, as most products are specialty or niche. This Synergee barbell is pretty versatile for a bar of steel, though.

If you’re a static lifter, you’ll appreciate the 190,000 PSI tensile strength that can withstand 1,500 pounds of weight. If you’re a dynamic (Olympic) lifter, then you’ll appreciate how that tensile strength allows a good whip from the bar. For either style, the 1.2-millimeter diamond knurling will offer excellent security without ripping your hands apart. Sporting a 28-millimeter shaft, there is no center knurl mark, and you may find it a little easier to grip than traditional Olympic bars. Rounding out is the 16.4-inch sleeves that feature five needle bearings each. That means you might need to block the bar so it doesn’t roll away between sets.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Synergee
  • Bar weight: 45 pounds
  • Loadable sleeve length: 16.4 inches
PROS

High tensile strength

Offers good whip

Moderate pricing

CONS

Not ideal for powerlifting

Best Barbell for Curls

We’ve all seen that guy (or gal) who was curling in the squat rack. Don’t be that person. That’s what EZ Curl bars are for. The angles allow you to find a natural grip that keeps your elbows in tight so you can focus on those biceps — just don’t forget leg day. With a 28 millimeter shaft, you’ll find it comfortable to grip, even with the moderate knurling. The shaft sports a black magnesium phosphate finish for corrosion protection and gives it a nice look.

With a maximum load rating of 400 pounds, this bar is more than capable for your bodybuilding needs. The 6.25-inch sleeves are pretty narrow, so you’ll be lucky to get that max weight on the bar in the first place. Each sleeve spins on a brass bushing that boasts no maintenance required. This is a niche bar that exceeds expectations.

Product Specs
  • Brand: XMark
  • Bar weight: 21 pounds
  • Loadable sleeve length: 6.25 inches
PROS

Angled shaft for comfortable grip

Knurled shaft

High tensile strength for size

CONS

Niche bar (bicep/tricep work)

Small sleeves

Hexagon bars, or trap bars, are another specialty barbell. The design creates an inline lift for deadlift and trap work instead of being offset to the front like traditional bars. Many lifters find the inline load easier to handle than the offset load. This is because you’re standing inside of the hexagonal frame and gripping the bar to the side instead of the front. Everyday Essentials even added a raised grip as well as the regular inline grip for variety.

Normally, framed bars like this are made from hollow steel tubing, but this one is constructed from solid steel which makes it capable of lifting more than 1,000 pounds. Like most bars, this one includes knurling on the handle sections for a secure grip, which I expect to be moderate and easy to handle. Unlike standard barbells, this trap bar does not have rotating sleeves. These fixed sleeves measure in just under two inches, so the plates can rotate around the sleeve. Load it up and shrug away. This bar was built to last a lifetime.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Everyday Essentials
  • Bar weight: 45 pounds
  • Loadable sleeve length: 11.42 inches
PROS

Raised and inline handles

Same base weight as a standard bar

Low price point

CONS

Niche bar (deadlift and trap work)

Best Log Barbell

The first time I stepped up to a log bar was at my very first strongman competition in 2017. I had been talking to other lifters before the show to learn what I could, but I had no access to the bar to actually try it. That day, I exerted everything I could as I was learning on the fly. While I didn’t succeed in the lift, I did learn a lot about the log bar. These bars add difficulty by the size of the log and can be made of wood or metal.

Rogue knows the value of having specialty equipment for training and has several variations of the log barbell. This specific bar features a 10-inch diameter metal log body. Its neutral grips are spaced 26 inches, on center, within the body of the log. Unlike traditional Olympic bars, this log bar doesn’t have rotating sleeves. Instead, the 14 inches of loadable sleeve measure under two inches so that the plates rotate around the sleeve. There isn’t much about a log bar that is similar to traditional bars, and that includes the weight. This 10-inch log bar weighs in at 72 pounds without plates, which needs to be considered when calculating loads.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Rogue Fitness
  • Bar weight: 72 pounds
  • Loadable sleeve length: 14 inches
PROS

Essential to Strongman training

Steel body for longevity

High tensile strength

CONS

High price point

Not for beginner lifters

Why you should trust us

I started lifting weights during my junior year in high school at the suggestion of my coach. I got a late start in sports and he told me weight training would help me catch up. He was right. In the weight room, I quickly became a better football player, wrestler, and it was the secret to how I got my personal best at shot put, discus, and javelin. Then, I learned even more about bodybuilding and muscle development during my time in the Marine Corps. 

Then, in 2015, I discovered champion powerlifter Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 workout program. Following that simple plan, I trained religiously for almost two years and competed in multiple Strongman competitions. While deadlifting a car may sound cool, nowadays, I prefer functional workouts, so I can keep up with my wife and kids. Nonetheless, fitness has been a staple in my life. 

Types of barbells

If you’ve only ever been to a box gym then there’s a good chance you’ve only seen a straight barbell, but there are actually many iterations. While you might be able to do the same exercises with bars with different shapes and designs, they’ll challenge your muscles in different ways and give you a more effective workout. In the spirit of simplicity, let’s look at the bar type based on its shape and function.

Straight bars

These are the bars most people typically think of and you’ll see them in any gym. While they are straight, there are subtle differences that determine the use of these bars. Tensile strength and yield strength will vary depending on the material used and the length of the bar. The weight of the bar can vary, as well as the thickness of the grip. 

Most commonly, you’ll find powerlifting bars at most gyms. These bars are designed for static lifts and don’t offer much whip, but have high tensile and yield strengths. If you head over to a Crossfit box or specialty gym, you’re more likely to find Olympic bars. These will offer plenty of whip as they were designed for the dynamic sport of Olympic weightlifting, which makes them a good choice for Crossfit. 

Shaped bars

Probably the most recognizable shaped bar is the EZ curl bar. Made with several bends in the bar, it allows you to find a comfortable grip while curling but can be great for triceps and other exercises as well. The second most recognizable is the trap bar or hex bar. It was designed for the deadlift offering a center-lined lift that would be easier on the lifter’s back. This design makes it great for getting yoked traps. 

A lesser-known shaped bar would be the safety squat bar. This unique design is intentionally easier on the shoulders. The forward grips allow those with limited mobility or shoulder issues to train without the pain of a straight bar. 

Niche bars

A niche bar is designed for a specific function. A simple example is the log bar used in Strongman competitions. It looks like it sounds and can be made of metal or wood. The body of the log will have two grips inside of the log and weight-holding sleeves jutting out the side. Axel bars are another example, as they look like a traditional straight bar, but they have a two-inch-thick grip. 

The Swiss bar (or multi-grip bar) is one of the more stranger-looking niche bars. The square body and various grips might easily confuse a baby lifter. The different angles of grip offered can help alleviate shoulder pain while training, but also come in handy for adding different stressors to your muscle groups. 

Key features of Barbells 

Knurling

Knurling refers to the textured grip section on a barbell. Typically, it’s a raised diamond pattern that both helps wick away sweat and quite literally digs into your hand when you grab the bar to give you spidey-like clinging abilities. Some lifters use chalk to avoid getting their skin torn or ripped by the knurling. However, the sharpness of the knurling varies by manufacturer, but in general, you don’t need aggressive knurling.  

Sleeve 

The sleeve on a barbell is the section where weights are loaded. It’s large in diameter and usually rotates, which makes it easier to handle. However, if your barbell sleeve doesn’t rotate, don’t worry. It doesn’t necessarily mean your bar is broken or defective. The rotating sleeve is important for Olympic-style weightlifting and other dynamic lifts as it allows the weights and bar to rotate separately during the lift. 

The majority of bars feature a bushing-style sleeve that allows the sleeve to spin, but the action isn’t the smoothest or fastest. For that, you’ll want bearing-style sleeves. These sleeves use ball bearings and spin much faster and smoother, which makes them ideal for Olympic weightlifting and Crossfit. 

Power rings

Most newer lifters have probably wondered what the smooth rings in the middle of the knurling are for. The name will vary depending on the region or gym you go to, but most people just call them power rings. These smooth sections sit approximately 36 inches apart and offer a reference point for lifters to gain their form. 

When I was lifting, I would place my thumb on the ring, and that would be my reference point. This consistency allows you to develop proper form and muscle development. If you’re varying your grip every single lift, your body will have a hard time learning how to not hurt itself.  

Benefits of barbells 

Strength

The main purpose of using a barbell is to develop strength. Regardless of the exercise you choose, using the barbell has a greater strength return than any other piece of gym equipment for most people. The ultimate result relies upon your ability to remain committed and disciplined, no matter what form of exercise you choose. Adding a barbell to your workouts will amplify any results you desire to achieve when lifting. 

This is because the barbell allows for customizable loads, which works great for lifting partners with different one-rep maxes. Using a barbell also helps improve symmetry and forces you to use stabilizer muscles not normally used with dumbbells or bands. If you want to get stronger, get a barbell. 

Posture

Form while lifting is vital to avoiding injury, but it also promotes good posture. Posture is the way we stand, sit, or even walk, and plays an important role in our overall health and wellness. Poor posture can cause a misalignment in the musculoskeletal structure of your body, which can then cause a myriad of problems. That’s just with your bodyweight — add an extra 200 to 300  pounds and you could face serious injuries. 

Keeping your chin up isn’t just a cliche saying, it’s a part of posture and something lifters learn as they focus on form. Going into strength training, I struggled with posture and had some shoulder pain as a result. After several months, I noticed my posture improve and the pain in my shoulders went away. 

Confidence

Confidence is a key trait in any successful person, and the lack of confidence has been the downfall of many others. Those of us who have served in the military instinctively understand confidence and the role it plays in life, for good or for bad. This belief in oneself can only be gained through trials. Much like Greek demigods, we must face trials and challenges to develop confidence. Unlike demigods, that doesn’t mean we have to go fight hydras or sirens, but rather we can find confidence under a barbell. Every time you lift a heavier-than-before barbell, you’ll realize how much more you can handle. That is the very essence of confidence. 

Pricing considerations for barbells

Budget

Most inexpensive barbells will have a lower yield and tensile strength than more expensive ones. One common way manufacturers lower the cost is by using less material, so you end up getting a shorter barbell. And, another way is it might have a fixed sleeve. Nonetheless, an inexpensive barbell is good for basic lifting like in a garage gym. 

Mid-range 

Mid-range barbells are typically used by strength trainers, powerlifters, Olympic weightlifters, or serious home gym athletes. They’re typically constructed from quality steel, so they’ll have a larger yield and tensile strength. They’ll also often sport a rotating sleeve and aggressive knurling. 

Premium

Expensive barbells are often seen in commercial gyms or competition settings. In addition to quality steel, they might also have customizable features or a cerakote finish, which drives up the price. 

How we chose our top picks

In an ideal world, I would have used each of these bars to give you a personal review. However, that is impractical. Instead, I used my industry and personal knowledge. Each bar was selected based on the performance criteria and its purpose. While pricing wasn’t restricted during selection, I did consider price and chose bars without unnecessary features (i.e., cerakote finishes or customized sleeve caps). I picked options I would personally use in my home gym.

FAQs on barbells

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q. What does tensile strength mean in barbells?

A: Tensile strength is the amount of pressure the material of the bar can handle before breaking. It’s typically represented in pounds per square inch (PSI) and directly relates to the maximum load the bar is capable of. 

Q. Does whip matter in a barbell?

A: Yes, depending on the type of lifting you’re doing. For most weightlifting and strength training, whip is irrelevant and unnecessary. For Olympic weightlifting or stabilizer training, it is important to have as it can reduce the amount of shock on the body during the exercises. 

Q. How much does a barbell weigh?

A: The weight of the barbell varies depending on design and material. Traditional straight bars weigh 45 pounds but are offered at 25 and 35 pounds as well for beginners. Trap/hex bars can be heavier, while EZ curl bars will be lighter. 

Q. Is tensile strength or yield strength more important?

A: Yield strength is more important unless you can afford to drop several Benjamins every time you work out. Yield strength is the amount of weight the bar can hold before bending and deforming. It’s not recommended to attempt lifts with a deformed bar. 

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Scott Whisler is a Marine Corps veteran and family man. He’s an avid student of philosophy who strives for self-growth and challenge, both found in his outdoor adventures.  As a new Okie, his focus is on exploring the South Central region. His lifetime goal is to have excursions in all of the National Parks.

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