Vulcan Strength is perennially underrated in the gym equipment space.
Located in my hometown of Charlotte, NC, they’re a veteran-owned company who has been around since 2009. In that time, they’ve built a reputation for creating high-quality pieces, especially barbells and plates.
Their recent releases of the new Stainless Steel Power Bar and the updated Absolute Power Bar demonstrate their commitment to staying current in the equipment arena.
This bar, the Absolute Power Bar, is seriously impressive. In fact, it’s one of my new favorite power bars.
It has an unbelievable knurl that I would put up against just about any other bar. The black oxide not only looks cool, but it contributes to an amazing feel that you don’t get with applied finish types (zinc, chrome, etc…). The flat-fin, matte chrome sleeves are a nice touch from a visual perspective and they offer better oxidation resistance than the prior version’s bare steel sleeves.
For $339 shipped to your door, this bar packs a nice value. It’s competitively priced with some other popular, high-quality power bars, and it performs just as well, if not better.
If you’re in the market for a new power bar, I definitely encourage you to read this review and consider adding the Vulcan Strength Absolute Power Bar to your barbell arsenal.
Vulcan Strength Absolute Power Bar
Whether you’re a competitive powerlifter or a recreational lifter, when it comes to selecting a power bar, specs are an important consideration. Ideally, you want a bar that has been spec’d to satisfy the rules of the main powerlifting federations. While this bar isn’t IPF-approved (not many are), it’s spec’d with the IPF guidelines in mind. And since the IPF serves as the judge and jury (slightly tongue in cheek), you can rest easy knowing the bar will meet other federations’ rules.
Bar Weight: 20kg
Shaft Diameter: 29mm
Center Knurl: Yes – Medium Knurl
Knurl Marks: Powerlifting
Shaft Coating: Black Oxide
Tensile Strength: 221,000 PSI
Bar Length: 86.6″
Distance Between Collar Faces: 51.5″
Loadable Sleeve Length: 16.25″
Sleeve Coating: Matte Chrome
The knurling on this bar is out of this world awesome. I’m just gonna come right out and say it: It’s better than the Rogue Ohio Power Bar. Now, if you read my review of the Rogue OPB, you may recall me stating that the OPB knurling was my favorite among any power bar I had used.
That is no longer the case.
Of course, this all my opinion, as knurling is a completely subjective measure. But, wow, the knurling on the Absolute Power Bar is incredibly well done.
I would consider the bar to be aggressive for sure. Not so aggressive that it’s uncomfortable, but enough to give you a real bite. I definitely find it more aggressive than my black zinc Ohio Power Bar. If you study the two knurls, you’ll notice that the points on the Absolute Power Bar are true points, whereas the Ohio Power Bar points are more of a volcano. You will also notice that the Absolute power bar has considerably more points per square inch.
The real beauty of the knurl is that it’s not overly sharp, which defies my logical brain given the pointy knurl. When I first place my hands on the bar, I don’t immediately sense the full aggressiveness. As soon as I set my grip; however, the knurl shows its true colors. And boy do I love it. While it may feel a little sharp on the front end, that sensation quickly diminishes as I go through my sets. The black oxide finish does play a role in this, as the black zinc on the OPB is going to detract from its overall feel. The bare steel or stainless steel version of that bar may be a better comparison, but I am still confident this bar is more aggressive (again, my opinion).
The one feature of this bar that isn’t currently mentioned on the Vulcan Strength website is that the center knurl (pictured above) is not aggressive. If you like an aggressive center knurl for low bar back squats, you may be a little disappointed by this. When I first touched the center, I was a bit surprised myself, as I wasn’t expecting it. When I actually used the bar; however, I was pleasantly surprised with how grippy it actually was. I felt very much in control and I wasn’t worried about the bar slipping whatsoever. Considering I will choose this bar over its more aggressive center-knurled counterparts on front and high bar squats, I can now appreciate the fact Vulcan chose to do this. If I want the extra grip on back squats, I’ll stick with the OPB.
All in all, the bar deserves an award for knurling.
The shaft on this bar offers a very rigid 221,000 PSI tensile strength, which is among the highest you will find in this class. To put it in perspective, the Rogue OPB is 205k, the American Barbell Mammoth Bar is 210k, and the Eleiko Powerlifting Bar is 215k. That’s some pretty good company. Perhaps a more important measure is the yield strength, but most companies don’t readily offer that information. You can rest assured this bar will hold a lot of weight though.
The shaft itself measures 29mm, which is right in the wheelhouse for powerlifting bars. This diameter makes for a very stiff bar. Shaft flexion is reserved for high weight loads. Prepare to be humbled if you’ve never lifted on a stiff bar before. The full distance from collar-to-collar is 51.5″ and the center knurl is approximately 4.7″, both of which are consistent with other power bars. Lastly, the knurl termination points are very clean, indicating a precise machining process.
As one might expect from a powerlifting bar, the Absolute Power Bar offers sleeves that spin on a bushing system. This promotes a limited, but smooth spin, ideally suited for the slower lifts (squat, bench, deadlift). In my experience with the bar thus far, I would say it has slightly less spin than the OPB, which is a plus for me. Unlike the majority of bars, the Vulcan bar has a screwed-in end cap that keeps the sleeve affixed to the bar. You can also see that Vulcan applied Loctite to the inner thread by the color around the metal end cap. As the end cap itself states, if you remove the end cap, you will void the warranty.
The sleeves themselves have a 1.96″ diameter, which is consistent with all traditional bars. The loadable sleeve length of 16.25″ leaves plenty of room to load a lot of plates. How many depends on the type of plates used, but I can load over 600 lbs of competition bumpers with enough room for a collar. Go ahead, ask me if I can lift that…
The answer is no.
Moving right along then.
The sleeves, as seen in the picture, are grooved. Heavily grooved in fact – somewhere in between a smooth sleeve and a Russian sleeve. Vulcan actually started employing these types of sleeves in 2013, and since then, others have followed suit. For example, the newer Fringe Sport sleeves also offer these deep ridges. Interestingly enough, the thick grooves do not contribute as much to that annoying zip noise that traditional grooved sleeves normally make. It’s that noise that typically makes me favor smooth sleeves. With this bar, the noise is actually closer to that of a smooth sleeve. I’m no audiophile, so maybe someone can explain it through sound wave tendencies, but I’m thankful nonetheless. For the record, I still favor smooth sleeves.
The last point about the sleeves is that they have very little movement laterally or vertically. This provides for a very smooth bar that performs well and it also promotes a quieter experience.
I’ve been exclusively training with this bar since I received it because I wanted to put it through the motions on all the lifts. The results were resoundingly positive.
- Squats – I really enjoy using this bar on squats. As I alluded to earlier, I was apprehensive about the less aggressive center knurl at first thought. Having used the bar now several times, I quite like that it’s less aggressive. Not only did I have zero concerns about low bar back squats, but I found it to be considerably more comfortable on front squats and high bar back squats. The medium depth, flat knurl pattern is impressively sticky.
- Bench – While I tend to prefer a less aggressive knurl on bench, the Vulcan bar was pretty comfortable. Will it be a bar I use regularly on bench? Probably not, but it could be (if that makes sense). Does it perform well? Absolutely. The bar felt rock solid on bench. I just tend to want to bench with a more mild knurl.
- Deadlift – This is where the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar shines. I can’t put into words how much I enjoy deadlifting with this bar. When it comes to pulling, I definitely lean towards aggression on the knurl. I don’t want it so aggressive that it’s painful, but I want there to be a noticeable bite. That is exactly what this bar provides. As soon as my grip is set, it’s on. Holy smokes does it feel good and locked in. This is 100% going to be my go-to power bar on deadlifts.
The finish on this bar is virtually flawless. I have not found really any areas of concern on the shaft itself. The finish is very consistent throughout, which adds to the overall aesthetic profile of the bar. As I mentioned above, the knurl termination points are very clean. This is purely a cosmetic item that I look at on every bar, and Vulcan definitely passes the test.
The matte chrome sleeves look really nice, but I’m curious to see how they fare over time. I have noticed a couple small areas where plate slide may have marked up the matte to some degree. For the most part though it seems easily wiped off. These markings just make it look like a normal chrome sleeve, so it’s nothing major. Still, I’ll be interested to see how it looks as it continues to get regular use. I will add that I absolutely think this is an upgrade over the old bare steel sleeves.
As far as the end caps are concerned, I’m a bit mixed on them. I like them in the sense that they’re metal as opposed to a sticker, and I can appreciate the simplistic design. What I don’t really like is the “Removal of Cap Voids Warranty” warning. I get that Vulcan Strength, and any other company for that matter, wants to be protected against warranty claims that breach their terms. But to put it on the end cap is a bit tacky to me. On their snap ring bars, you can’t really see it, but on this design with the screwed-in cap, it’s right there in your face. I’m clearly being nitpicky here, and in the end it’s meaningless, but I do think it detracts from an otherwise cool end cap.
Lastly, “Vulcan USA” is etched onto the inner face of the collar. I think this is a really nice touch that not many other manufacturers consider on their bars.
As a black oxide bar, there are some trade-offs to consider. In the simplest terms, a black oxide bar is created when a raw steel bar is dipped into a bath of chemicals to give it its darkened color. As a conversion coating as opposed to a plated coating (zinc, chrome, etc…), black oxide provides a superb feel. It actually feels like a bare steel bar. The downside to this type of coating is that it also acts much like a bare steel bar. That is, it is prone to rust over time. If you train in a humid environment like I do, or if you care about rust in general, you will need to maintain a black oxide bar with relative frequency. I would recommend Bar Shield USA or 3-in-1 oil a couple times a month applied to the shaft to limit the effects of oxidation.
This review would be incomplete if I didn’t mentioned Vulcan’s customer service. To put it simply, it’s very good. They’re friendly, prompt, and they understand the importance of the customer. I have been quite pleased with my interactions with their team, and from everything I’ve heard from other customers, that sentiment is universal.
Vulcan Absolute Power Bar – Pros and Cons
- This bar arguably has the best knurling of any power bar at this price point. The knurl is deep with a tightly stacked pattern that offers tremendous grip. If you’ve never used a bar with this type of knurling, there may be an adjustment period, but otherwise, it’s phenomenal.
- The less aggressive center knurl can either be a pro or a con. From the pro perspective, it’s quite sticky and it’s still very comfortable.
- The black oxide finish is both a pro and a con. From the pro side, it provides an unrivaled feel that only a bare steel or stainless steel bar can top.
- Priced at $339, which includes shipping, the bar represents a very nice value.
- The specs on this bar meet IPF guidelines and the tensile strength is among the strongest in the powerlifting market.
- Aesthetically, I think it’s a very well done bar overall with some nice touches on the inner collar, matte chrome, etc… The oxide coating is flawless.
- I prefer flat sleeves vs. grooved sleeves, but this is purely a personal preference. Many people like the grooved sleeves.
- If you’re a low bar squatter, you may prefer a more aggressive center knurl.
- The bar will absolutely require maintenance due to its black oxide finish.
Overall, I’m thoroughly impressed with the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar. Until something dethrones it, this will be the most used power bar in my collection. I just love the knurling, I love the feel, and I love the performance. When you consider that it’s $339 to your door, it becomes even more attractive. That price point is above the bare steel/black zinc Rogue Ohio Power Bar, but below the Stainless option. It’s also well below some other premium offerings like the American Barbell Mammoth Bar and the Kabuki Strength New Generation Power Bar.
On another note, only American Barbell packages a bar better than Vulcan Strength in my experience so far. It arrived supremely packed with sleeve protection and excellent coverage on the ends.
I don’t think you can go wrong with this bar if you’re looking for a power bar purchase. Check it out at Vulcan Strength’s website and let me know how you like it if you decide to purchase.
If you want to read more about power bars or powerlifting equipment in general, check out my ultimate guide to building a powerlifting home gym.
If you have any questions about this bar or power bars in general, please leave a comment below. Likewise, if you own this bar and want to chime in with your own thoughts, please do so!
As always, I appreciate any feedback.
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The bar is loaded,