It's getting worse…
…My addiction to safety squat bars, that is.
I simply can't contain myself – I need them in my life – all of them if possible.
With five in my possession and plenty of experience with several others, it's safe to say the SSB is my favorite specialty bar.
For further reading, check out my list of the best safety squat bars, which includes the SS3 from Bells of Steel.
It's a very solid SSB with some interesting and unique features, including swappable handles and rotating sleeves.
It's not a perfect bar, however, and there are things I'm not a huge fan of.
But on the whole, it's a quality safety squat bar at a very solid price.
In this review, we'll take a deep dive into the Bells of Steel SS3 and we'll compare it to some of the other popular SSB options on the market.
Let's dig in.
Bells of Steel SS3
The Bells of Steel SS3 is a very interesting safety squat bar. It's modeled closely after the Elitefts SS Yoke but with a few differentiating factors.
I really appreciate that about this bar – it's not merely a clone.
I actually owned v2 of this bar – the one where they introduced rotating sleeves – but it missed the mark.
That bar didn't include bushings to facilitate the spin, the cambers didn't feel as good, and it generally just wasn't a strong contender.
I'm happy to see Bells of Steel went back to the drawing board because they made several critical changes to this bar that I think make it a contender.
They reduced the weight to 20kg (unique), they added bushings to the sleeves (unique), and they offered three handle options as standard (unique).
As you can tell, it's a pretty unique bar relative to a few other options.
Before we get into all of those details, let's have a look at the specs:
|Shaft Coating||Black Zinc|
|Sleeve Coating||Bright Zinc|
|Internal Yoke Width||8″|
|Total Yoke Width||18″|
|Handle Types||Medium, Long, & Chains|
|Camber Angle||22 Degrees|
The Bells of Steel SS3 is overall a well-made bar. A unique feature of it is that it weighs 20kg (~44lbs) compared to other bars that have odd weights of 61-62lbs. I really appreciate the fact that it creates much easier gym math, but it does feel slightly less imposing. Depending on your preferences, this could actually be a good thing. It's certainly easier to move around, and it may open up possibilities among a broader population of lifters.
Contributing to this lighter weight is a 32mm shaft diameter and a shorter bar length of 86.6″ compared to 90″+. This shortened profile is due to shorter overall sleeves, which I'll get to later in the review. This bar also has a shorter distance from camber to camber even though that doesn't impact the overall bar length. For example, the SS3 is approximately 48″ inside the cambers whereas the Elitefts SS Yoke is ~50″. This means that the SS3 may not fit as well in a wider rack. It fits perfectly in a 47″ rack like I have (Sorinex, REP PR-5000, REP PR-4000, etc…), but in a 49″ rack (Rogue, etc…), it will tend to lean to one side.
The primary reason for this condensed shaft is that Bells of Steel designed these cambers to have a more gradual drop. Compared to some other bars with steeper drops, you can see where it provides more clearance on the rack. As I'll explain more in the following section, I'd like to see this bar include deeper drops with a steeper angle.
The shaft is finished in black zinc, which is a fine finish choice for a safety squat bar. Normally, I'm not a big fan of black zinc because I don't like the way it feels in the hand. Since a safety squat bar requires no direct contact with the shaft, however, it's a non-factor. Black zinc will do a fairly good of fighting oxidation, especially when not met with oils from the skin, chalk, etc…
I'll break down some of the finer details of the bar in the below sections, but in terms of the physical construction of the bar, BoS has done a nice job.
Balance & Camber
One of the most important elements of a safety squat bar is balance. How well it sits on your upper back determines comfort, difficulty, and exercise selection. A well-balanced safety squat bar can oftentimes be used without the handles at all (e.g. Hatfield Squats). Unfortunately, not all safety squat bars offer the balance necessary to accomplish this – comfortably, at least.
The Bells of Steel SS3 offers a good-not-great balance. Many would agree that the Elitefts SS Yoke Bar is one of the most well-balanced SSBs ever made. The same could be said about the Crepinsek SSB, which was the first safety squat bar I ever used. The SS3 does a great job of getting the camber angle right, as you can see in the image below comparing it to the Elitefts and Titan SSB.
Camber angle, mind you, is extremely important when it comes to the design of an SSB. The camber is what creates the unique stimulus that a safety squat bar provides, and it plays a big role in the bar's overall balance. Check out our article on the benefits of the SSB for more information.
The issue with the SS3, at least in comparison to the Elitefts and Titan Bar, is that the camber drop (distance from the top of the bend to the bottom) is 2″ shorter and 1″ shorter, respectively. When actually using the bar, this positions the load slightly more towards the back, which makes the bar want to shift in that direction. So rather than sitting squarely on the shoulders and maintaining an even balance, the SS3 tends to pivot backward to an extent. If you're using the handles, this isn't a concern, but if you're wanting to perform things like Hatfield squats, it's a consideration. By the way, you can still perform Hatfields with the SS3, but you may have to shrug your shoulders up to limit this tilt.
In my experience using this bar, I've also found it to be a bit easier when compared to bars with more significant camber drops. That's because one of the most challenging aspects of an SSB is that it wants to pitch you forward. With the load sitting a little further back on this bar, you don't have to fight that force as much.
Yoke & Padding
The Yoke on the SS3 is very similar to that of other well-known and popular bars. This is a common yoke design that accommodates most lifters with its 8″ interior width. Not only is this plenty of room to sit around the neck, but it creates a comfortable and natural hand/shoulder position to grip the handles.
This yoke is very similar to the Titan SSB yoke in terms of thickness, padding, and vinyl. The neck portion of the yoke has a circumference of ~5″, which is wider than the Elitefts (~4.25″). My theory is that this is also a contributor to a slightly less-balanced bar because it further positions the load backward by 0.375″. This is virtually identical to the Titan Bar, which also has a wider pad.
In terms of the pad itself, it's made of a very dense carpet pad-like material that you commonly see in safety squat bars. Again, it's basically the same as Titan, consisting of a full-piece construction. Compare this to the Elitefts bar which uses a thicker pool noodle-like material and a smaller “carpet pad” over top. Just as with the Titan bar, the SS3 creates an overall comfortable yoke, but one that's definitely firmer than the Elitefts bar.
The vinyl is fairly standard vinyl with a textured surface. I don't find it to be particularly supple, but it serves its purpose just fine. One unfortunate thing I noticed when receiving the bar was that the logo was missing the “Bel” in ‘Bells of Steel', so I have the “ls of steel SS3”.
Overall, the yoke and padding on the SS3 are very similar to other SSBs of this same style. The length is great and, while the thickness could be reduced to help with balance, most users will likely find it to be comfortable.
🚀 Fast Fact
The BoS SS3 includes a long handle, a medium handle, and a chain handle as part of your order. No other SSB offers this as standard.
Where this bar differs from every other safety squat bars out there is that it offers rotating sleeves.
Rotating sleeves? On a safety squat bar?
Yep, Bells of Steel did that.
Firstly, kudos to them for thinking outside of the box. I appreciate this different approach, and I respect their decision to create something unique.
That said, I'm not sure that an SSB needs rotating sleeves. Having rotation is one thing when you're turning the bar over during a lift or otherwise performing lifts with more dynamic motion. A safety squat bar is generally used in a very linear fashion (i.e. squatting up and down). Therefore, rotation doesn't serve as meaningful of a purpose, in my opinion.
On the other hand, however, safety squat bars CAN be used in other ways where rotation may actually prove beneficial. Take the JM press for example. Since the SS3 has removable handles, you can perform JM presses and the rotation feels quite good. The good-morning is another interesting case study where the rotating sleeves I feel contribute a bit more relative to fixed sleeves.
Ultimately, I feel the rotating sleeves come down to preference. I don't think they meaningfully enhance the safety squat bar in the sense of performing squats, but I can see the appeal on some other lifts.
Another thing to consider is that these sleeves measure less than 12″ long, which could be problematic depending on how much weight you lift and/or what type of plates you're using. Consider that other SSBs have 16″ long sleeves and you can see where you may be limited with the SS3. Again, if you're not throwing up a ton of weight and/or you have narrow plates, this could be a non-factor. Otherwise, you may find yourself maxing out the sleeve length.
Lastly, as it relates to the sleeves, they're finished in bright zinc and they're Olympic-sized. Zinc will look much better than powder coat/clear coat over time and the diameter allows you to use any collars – not just ones made for specialty bars. These sleeves are also grooved, and I have to say, they're quite loud when sliding plates on and off. I definitely prefer smooth sleeves, but it's a tradeoff I'm willing to accept for the finish and size.
Now, we get to my favorite feature of the SS3 – the handles. I LOVE what Bells of Steel did here by including 3 different handle options as standard. Handles are very much a preference thing with a safety squat bar. Some people love long handles, some people love short handles, and others prefer no handles or even specialized handles.
To appeal to a broader audience, Bells of Steel includes a long handle, a short handle, and a chain handle with your purchase. Every other company provides only one handle, which you may or may not even like. This is a very smart decision by BoS, and I think it increases the value of the bar.
I prefer the short handles because it feels more natural and comfortable. Long handles feel a bit awkward to me, but that's ok – I just don't use them. For you, the opposite may be true. I also love the chain option because it makes the safety squat bar even more challenging and prevents lifters from “cheating”. Check out my video of this very subject below. Normally, you have to hack this type of handle system, but BoS provides it right out of the box.
Each of the handle options can easily be threaded into the bar and they each include individual finger slots, which are very comfortable.
Bells of Steel SS3 vs. the Elitefts SS Yoke
The Elitefts SS Yoke is widely considered to be one of the best safety squat bars on the market – perhaps even the gold standard. It is a fantastic bar, and it's one I've used with great success since 2016.
So, how does the SS3 stack up? Well, each bar has its pros and cons with respect to one another.
The SS3 is not as balanced as the Elitefts bar, nor do I think it's as challenging or as comfortable. The camber drop and the padding on the SS Yoke Bar both contribute to that bar's qualities. Don't get me wrong, the SS3 is still challenging and it's still comfortable overall – it's just not to the same level as the SS Yoke.
One of the biggest drawbacks of the SS Yoke is that it uses a clear coat throughout that is VERY susceptible to chipping. The SS3, with its black zinc shaft and bright zinc sleeves, will certainly look better over time. The SS3 can also accommodate standard barbell collars, which the SS Yoke bar cannot.
Of course, the SS3 has rotating sleeves, which may or may not be a benefit for some users. The downside of the SS3 compared to the SS Yoke is primarily that it has sleeves that are 4″ shorter. For some, this could meaningfully impact the amount of weight you can load onto the bar.
The SS3 clearly wins in the handle comparison. In fact, the SS3 tops the chart of all safety squat bars in this area. Yes, you can hack the SS Yoke and create some additional handles, but that adds to the already higher cost, which is another difference between these two bars.
The Bells of Steel SS3 ships for $329.99 as of this review. The Elitefts is priced at $445 and it does not include shipping (although Elite does run free-shipping events throughout the year). This could result in savings of up to $200.
Ultimately, I think the SS Yoke Bar is the better bar, but the value of the SS3 is very strong, and the multiple handles make for a very interesting conversation.
Bells of Steel SS3 vs. the Titan Fitness SSB
Some of what I wrote above about the comparison to the SS Yoke Bar will be true for the Titan Bar since it's more of a clone than the SS3 is.
That said, it doesn't have an advantage over the SS3 in the balance or comfort department. Both of these bars are using the same yoke, padding, and vinyl.
The SS3 also doesn't have the advantage over the Titan bar in the finish/sleeve size department since Titan has a chrome finish and Olympic-sized sleeves.
The differences mainly come down to sleeve type, sleeve length, and handles – all of which are the same as above.
The Titan Safety Squat Bar ships for $299.99 as of this review, which is roughly $30 less than the BoS. Consider, though, that you don't get multiple handles with the Titan bar.
I think if you're looking for a traditional safety squat bar at a strong value, the Titan Bar makes a lot of sense. If you like the idea of rotating sleeves and multiple handles, the SS3 from Bells of Steel wins this matchup.
The SS3 is very well-reviewed at bellsofsteel.us. The bar has an average star rating of 4.8/5. The most common complaints are that it doesn't fit as well in wider racks (Rogue, etc…), it's not as well-balanced for hands-free lifts, and the padding was missing letters. Here are some of the things people have said:
- The bar includes three different handle options as standard
- Olympic-sized sleeves accommodate any standard collars
- 20kg bar weight creates easy gym math
- Camber angle of 22 degrees is consistent with other highly-regarded SSBs
- Bar finish will look better over time compared to powder coat and clear coat
- Overall comfortable yoke
- Rotating sleeves are useful on some movements like JM presses and good-mornings
- The shipped price is very attractive and represents great value
- The sleeves are 4″ shorter than top competing bars
- The camber drop is shorter than some bars
- The padding is slightly too thick, which pushes the load backward and affects the balance
- The bar won't fit as well in wider racks over 48″
At the end of the day, the Bells of Steel SS3 is a very intriguing safety squat bar. It has several unique features that I think will appeal to a lot of lifters. While I'm not entirely sold on the rotating sleeves, I absolutely love the multiple handles.
For the money, I think the SS3 is a strong contender in the SSB market. It has pros and cons compared to some of the most popular bars on the market, including the SS Yoke and the Titan SSB.
I've enjoyed using this bar, and it will certainly remain in my collection and rotation…
…Remember, I have a safety squat bar addiction.
If you have any questions about this bar or safety squat bars in general, please leave a comment below. Likewise, if you own the Bells of Steel SS3 and you 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,