There are a lot of factors that go into buying a barbell.
- What type of knurling does it have?
- What type of coating is on the shaft and sleeves?
- Does it use bushings or bearings?
These are just a few questions you have to ask.
Different barbell types have unique purposes, features, and specs.
For example, when it comes to a barbell’s spin, some use bushings, while others use bearings. Some may use a combination of the two, and others won’t spin at all (specialty bars).
I own over 60 barbells in my home gym, and I’ve used more than 100.
I’ve tried every type of rotation system out there.
In this article, I’ll detail everything you need to know about bushing vs. bearing barbells. I’ll explain their different use cases, pros and cons, and which ones are right for your training.
Let’s dig in.
Before getting into the specifics, it’s important to understand why barbells spin in the first place.
On an Olympic barbell, you have a shaft and two sleeves. The sleeves hold your weight plates and freely rotate independently from the shaft.
Spinning sleeves prevent the shaft from spinning in your hands, which would be uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.
For example, Olympic weightlifting movements are fast and dynamic. If you were to perform a snatch with a barbell that doesn’t spin, the inertia would cause the bar to spin in your hands.
If you let that happen, the knurling could damage your skin. If you try to prevent it from happening, the force could put undue pressure on your wrists, jeopardizing positioning and potentially causing injury. In either case, balance and form would be compromised.
Spin, therefore, is a critical component of safe and effective weightlifting.
A barbell spins using bushings or bearings, depending on the type of lifts you’re performing.
Let’s examine each of them.
Best for: Powerlifting & General Training | Spin: Slow | Versatility: High | Price: Most Affordable
Bushings are the most common type of rotation system in barbells. They produce a slower spin rate than bearings and are less expensive.
Inside the sleeve assembly, there is one bushing near the barbell collar and another at the end of the bar. This keeps the sleeve level and allows it to spin steadily without obstruction.
Bushings are standard in powerlifting bars and are common in multipurpose and weightlifting training bars.
For example, the squat, bench, and deadlift are linear movements that don’t require excess spin. Bushings are the perfect application because they spin more slowly. Using a bearing bar on these movements could cause instability. At best, this could be a distraction. At worst, it could compromise form.
There are four main types of barbell bushings:
- Bronze Bushings: Bronze bushings are the most common type of barbell bushing because they’re durable and affordable. Look for oil-impregnated bronze bushings, which means their pores are infused with oil. As the bushings spin over time, they continuously release oil to ensure long-term performance.
- Composite Bushings: Composite bushings were first introduced by American Barbell to increase life expectancy and reduce noise. Because it’s not metal-on-metal, composite bushings are much quieter and tend to last longer. They’re typically more expensive than bronze bushings.
- Stainless Steel Bushings: Stainless bushings aren’t very common. They’re harder than bronze and composite bushings, making them ultra durable. However, their hardness may cause damage to the shaft over time depending on shaft material.
- Brass Bushings: Brass bushings are less common in barbells because brass is a softer metal that can deform over time. I don’t recommend brass bushings under any circumstance.
Best for: Olympic Weightlifting | Spin: Fast | Versatility: Low | Price: Most Expensive
Bearings are less common and more expensive, but they achieve faster loaded spin rates. This rotation system is ideal for Olympic weightlifting movements like the snatch, clean, jerk, etc.
Bearing bars can include anywhere from 2-5 cartridges in each sleeve. A higher number of cartridges can translate to a smoother spin, but quality ultimately determines performance.
A cartridge includes a series of metal needles along the inside edge that rotate around the bar shaft. Higher-quality needle bearings will fit tightly to the shaft, while lower-quality will be looser. You can often tell by spinning an unloaded sleeve. If the sleeve makes a skateboard-like sound and spins excessively, it’s likely not high-quality.
Tighter-fitting bearings spin slower when unloaded, but as soon as you load weight, they spin smoother than loose-fitting bearings. Furthermore, the needles themselves are typically harder than the bar shaft. As you continue to use and drop loaded barbells, these loose-fitting bearings will begin to deform the shaft and create flat spots. Over time, the spin won’t be as smooth.
Companies like American Barbell have taken additional measures to ensure high performance and long life by including hardened inner sleeves. This way, the needles never come in contact with the bar shaft, so deformation is virtually eliminated.
While not always the case, price is a good indication of needle-bearing quality. An inexpensive bearing bar likely isn’t using high-quality materials.
Hybrid barbells use a combination of bushings and bearings and are the least common. You’ll find them in some multipurpose bars, like the REP Excalibur Bar.
The concept is that hybrid systems achieve a blended spin rate to better accommodate slow and fast movements. Additionally, they claim to enhance durability.
It’s an interesting theory, but I’m not sure it has more practical application than bars with a dedicated bushing or bearing design.
Should You Buy a Bushing or a Bearing Barbell?
When deciding between a bushing or bearing barbell, ask yourself what type of lifting you’re doing and at what level. Also, have a good idea of your budget going into your search.
I recommend bushing bars for most people. Unless you’re a high-level Olympic weightlifter, a bushing system will very likely suit your needs.
There’s a reason why even Olympic weightlifting training bars often use bushings. They perform well, cost less, and last a long time.
Don’t get me wrong, bearings are great, but there’s a big difference in performance between high-quality and low-quality needle bearings.
If you’re serious about Olympic weightlifting, I recommend buying high-end, reputable bearing bars from Eleiko, American Barbell, Rogue, Uesaka, etc.
Bushing and Bearing Maintenance
Barbell maintenance is important in extending the life of your bar and protecting your investment.
Maintaining your rotation system doesn’t require the same frequency as maintaining your bar’s coating, but I recommend occasional maintenance.
Most high-quality bushings are oil-impregnated, and most high-quality bearing cartridges are packed with oil. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t oil your sleeves. I recommend applying a small amount of 3-IN-ONE Oil or Tri-Flow Lubricant into your sleeves whenever they feel they aren’t spinning smoothly.
Some bars from American Barbell and Eleiko have dust seals to keep dust, dirt, and debris from entering the sleeve assembly. This is a great feature that helps ensure the sleeves spin optimally over longer periods. You can reduce the risk of getting debris in your bar by keeping them on a proper storage rack.
If you need to inspect the inside of your sleeve assembly because you think debris is inhibiting spin or that there may be material damage, you can disassemble the sleeve. You’ll want to use proper gear, including snap ring pliers, eye protection, lubricant, cloth, etc. The Rogue Tool Kit is a good all-around barbell maintenance option.
Are Bushings or Bearings Better in a Barbell?
Bushings are better for lifts like the squat, bench, and deadlift because they produce a slow and steady spin. Bearings are better for Olympic weightlifting movements like the snatch, clean, and jerk because they generate faster spin rates.
Are Bushings More Durable than Bearings?
Bushings are generally more durable than bearings because there are fewer moving parts and tighter tolerances. Bushing bars also tend to take less abuse because of the types of lifts you perform with them. That said, high-end performance needle bearings are very durable.
What Type of Bushings Should I Buy?
Stick to bronze or composite bushings in barbells. They're both durable and effective. Composite bushings have the additional benefit of reducing noise. I recommend avoiding brass bushings, which are much less durable.
The question of a bushing vs. bearing barbell will always exist, but it’s an easier decision than some other barbell factors.
Bushing barbells are the best for most people because of their affordability, durability, and versatility. You can use bushing bars for every type of lift, including powerlifting, weightlifting, and general strength training.
Bearings are more specialized and best for Olympic weightlifting. They spin faster, but at the expense of higher costs and less versatility.