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Dear Dr. Bell, what is the difference between a Standard Weight Lifting Bar and an Olympic Bar? Which is better to use?
Standard Weights are typically found in home gyms. Standard Weight Lifting bars are one inch (25mm) in diameter on the end and the middle shaft. Standard Weight-Lifting bars are cheaper and will start flexing badly around 200 pounds. They are likely to bend permanently with heavier loads.
Olympic Bars are made better. Even cheaper Olympic Bars are made to handle much greater loads. Even if you load an Olympic Bar with very heavy weights, they are made to flex under load, but will return to the straight position. It is the quality of the steel used in the bar that determines how well a bar maintains its shape.
Olympic Bars are one and 31/32 inches (50mm) in diameter and only take Olympic Weight Plates, made with 2-inch diameter holes. The ends of an Olympic Bar are 2 inches in diameter (50 mm). The center portion of an Olympic Bar can range from 28mm to 32mm or one and a quarter inches. There are also specially made one inch (25mm) bars, made for women.
Olympic Bars come in a variety of options for Power Lifters, Olympic Lifting, Weight Lifting and even different knurling patterns for different exercises. For example, Olympic Bars made for the Bench Press, are smooth in the middle so the knurling pattern does not grab your shirt, which could easily take you out of your “Bench Press Arc” and defeat your lift. Olympic Bars made for the Squat have knurling in the middle of the bar, this knurling will “grab” your shirt to help prevent the bar from sliding down your back while squatting.
Olympic Weights are made with a far greater degree of accuracy than Standard Weights. While it may seem silly to worry about small inaccuracies in plates, unbalanced loading of a bar can not only throw-off the accuracy of your record keeping, but can also throw-off your max or near max lifts, due to uneven loading of the bar (not to mention potential injury due to heavy, un-balanced lifts).
Olympic plates now come in a wide variety of options, for example rubber or urethane coated plates can prevent rust, noise and chipping. Olympic Bumper Plates are made with solid rubber, all the same diameter, so they can be dropped from considerable height, without causing damage to flooring. Grip plates are made with built-in handles for easier and safer movement.
Olympic Bars are made with revolving ends or what is refer to as “Sleeves,” to diminish or eliminate “the torque” on the bar. This is very important on fast, explosive movements such as the Power Clean, Clean & Jerks, Snatches, etc., where you need the bar to rotate quickly. It is also helpful on exercises where your grip needs to rotate slightly like the Squat or Deadlift.
Olympic Bars are made to be used with other Olympic Type equipment, for example, Olympic width benches, power racks, etc. Olympic Bars are 7 feet long, made with shafts of “52” inches in length. These dimensions are critical to fit perfectly on weight training equipment. Standard Bars are only 5 or 6 feet long and will not fit.
Olympic bars are heavier and thicker on the ends, which makes them far more stable than Standard Bars. Olympic Bars make it far more difficult to tip over when the bar is racked and you are loading heavy plates, particularly one-side at a time, a necessity when lifting alone. You can easily add one or even two Olympic Plates/side without the bar tipping. This cannot be done with standard plates/bars without the bar tipping over (one plate/side, added evenly is highly recommended, even with Olympic Weights just to be extra safe).
While I will readily admit Standard Plates are cheaper and women and children can benefit from lower starting weight of a Standard Bar, for long-term use, the Olympic Bar is better. Olympic Bars are made to be 45 pounds whereas Standard Bars are half that or less. Note of warning: Weights manufactured in China are coming in to the USA marked as Standard, when in fact they are designed in Olympic specifications. I cannot attest to the accuracy or quality of China made equipment. While they may be cheaper, they may be inferior to USA/European made equipment in terms of quality and accuracy.
For the “real” Weight Lifting experience, I recommend the use of Olympic Weights and Bars. You can easily and effectively use Olympic Weights with all professional/commercial grade weight lifting equipment.
Thank you for your question and good luck in your training.
Dr. Jim Bell