Did you know that there are dozens of different types of barbells?
From traditional Olympic barbells to niche specialty bars, there’s no shortage of tools to help you reach your fitness goals.
Whether you’re looking to increase your deadlift, rehab an injury, lift more comfortably, or target certain muscles, understanding the types of barbells is an important step in finding the best barbells for you.
Confession: I’m a barbell fanatic.
Some people collect baseball cards. Other people collect coins. Maybe you collect watches, stamps, or books.
I collect barbells.
In fact, I own over 60 barbells, and I’ve used well over 100.
In this article, I’ll detail the primary types of barbells and explain how they may fit into your training.
Let’s dig in.
Types of Barbells – Table of Contents
- Multipurpose Bars
- Powerlifting Bars
- Olympic Weightlifting Bars
- Safety Squat Bars
- Trap Bars
- Multi-Grip Bars
- Curl Bars
- Deadlift Bars
- Buffalo Bars
- Cambered Bars
- Log Bars
- Axle Bars
- Earthquake Bars
- Women’s Bars
- Technique Bars
- Standard Bars
- The Case for Owning Multiple Barbells
- Important Considerations
Best For: General Purpose, CrossFit, Bodybuilding, Functional Fitness | Weight: 20kg or 45lb | Shaft Diameter: 28mm-28.5mm | Knurling: Passive/Moderate | Knurl Rings: Dual | Rotation: Bushing or Bearing
Multipurpose barbells are general-purpose bars that you can use for just about any lift. These bars have dual knurl rings spaced for powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting movements. They’re commonly used in CrossFit and are popular in home gyms because of their versatility and price.
Multipurpose bars typically have 28-28.5mm shaft diameters. If you train with a focus on Olympic weightlifting, I recommend 28mm versions since they provide more whip (responsive flex). Lifters with smaller hands may also find them more comfortable. Otherwise, 28.5mm bars are better because they bridge the gap between weightlifting and powerlifting.
The knurling on multipurpose barbells generally ranges from passive to moderate. You’ll rarely find an aggressive knurl on these bars since they’re designed to accommodate a mix of exercises. Most multipurpose bars don’t include a center knurl, but a few do if you prefer texture on your back.
These bars spin with bushings or bearings, but some will have hybrid systems that include both. If you perform a lot of Olympic weightlifting movements, I recommend bearings or a combination. Otherwise, bushings provide smooth and consistent spin and are typically less expensive.
Best For: Powerlifting (Squat, Bench, Deadlift) | Weight: 20kg or 45lb | Shaft Diameter: 28.5mm-29mm | Knurling: Moderate/Aggressive | Knurl Rings: Single Powerlifting | Rotation: Bushing
Powerlifting barbells are an ideal choice if you’re serious about training the squat, bench, and deadlift. In particular, competitive powerlifters should be training with a power bar since they’re used on the platform.
Power bars are most commonly found with 29mm shaft diameters, but some offer 28.5mm. The well-known Texas Power Bar is an example of a 28.5mm power bar. If you’re a competitive lifter, check your federation’s guidelines before buying a bar. If you compete with a 29mm bar, I recommend training with one too.
Powerlifting bars have moderate to aggressive knurling. You’ll commonly find volcanic and mountainous patterns with a more pronounced texture. Nearly all power bars will include a center knurl. I recommend the Rogue Ohio Power Bar for most since it has a moderately aggressive knurl and is great for everyday training. If you want something more aggressive, check out the REP Power Bar EX.
All power bars spin with a bushing system because of the linear nature of the squat, bench, and deadlift.
Olympic Weightlifting Barbells
Best For: Olympic Weightlifting (Squat, Clean, Jerk, Snatch) | Weight: 20kg or 45lb | Shaft Diameter: 28mm | Knurling: Moderate/Aggressive | Knurl Rings: Single Olympic Weightlifting | Rotation: Bearing or Bushing
Olympic Weightlifting Barbells are an ideal choice if you focus on training Oly movements like the snatch, clean & jerk, etc. Like powerlifting bars, I recommend investing in a proper Oly bar if you’re a competitive weightlifter.
Weightlifting bars have 28mm shaft diameters to produce increased whip. Oly movements are much more dynamic than the slower power lifts, so having more whip is critical. If you’re competing in IWF-sanctioned events, I recommend buying an IWF-certified bar.
Check the technical requirements for the IWF.
Weightlifting bars can range from passive knurling to aggressive knurling. Typically, training bars will have a more passive texture, and competition bars will be more aggressive. Training bars also generally don’t include a center knurl, whereas competitive ones often have one.
Like multipurpose bars, weightlifting bars will spin via bushings, bearings, or a combination of both. Training bars generally use bushings or a hybrid system, but competition bars will almost always use high-quality needle bearings. Having fast and predictable spin helps when you’re quickly turning the bar over during Oly lifts.
Safety Squat Bars
Best For: Squats, Good Mornings, Lunges | Weight: 45lb-65lb | Shaft Diameter: Not Relevant | Knurling: Not Relevant | Knurl Rings: None | Rotation: Fixed
Safety squat bars are among the most popular specialty bars. A safety squat bar has several benefits, including comfort, form, and posterior development. If you love squatting but have pain or discomfort in your shoulders or elbows, a safety squat bar can be a game changer.
A safety squat bar has a padded section called a ‘yoke’ that extends over your shoulders. With handles positioned in front, you can maintain a neutral arm position, making it a much more comfortable barbell.
Another unique feature of a safety squat bar is its cambered sleeve design that actively wants to pitch you forward. While the SSB naturally promotes a more vertical spine position, you have to fight this camber from folding you over. This makes it a fantastic upper back and quad builder.
This is one of the most versatile specialty bars you can buy. You can use safety squat bars for other exercises, including front squats, good mornings, JM presses, lunges, and more.
Best For: Deadlifts, Shrugs, Carries | Weight: 45lb-75lb | Shaft Diameter: 28mm+ | Knurling: Moderate | Knurl Rings: Not Relevant | Rotation: Fixed
Trap bars, also known as hex bars, are a popular and versatile specialty bar with excellent benefits. The biggest selling point of the trap bar is that it positions the load along your center of gravity. On a traditional barbell, the weight is positioned in front of the body, adding additional stress to the lumbar spine. Therefore, a trap bar can create a safer and more comfortable experience.
Trap bars also include neutral handles that reduce shoulder external rotation and improve comfort. Many hex bars will have high and low handles. For example, the high handles are great if you’re working around an injury or training a sticking point.
Depending on your budget and goals, you can buy closed or open trap bars. The open variety allows for additional exercises like walking lunges, sprint outs, and more. Either option may also come in a rackable version, which increases versatility even more by allowing for rack pulls, overhead presses, etc.
Additionally, you can use a trap bar for shrugs, carries, rows, and much more.
Best For: Bench Press, Rows, Hammer Curls | Weight: 45lb-75lb | Shaft Diameter: 30mm+ | Knurling: Moderate or None | Knurl Rings: Not Relevant | Rotation: Bushing or Fixed
Multi-Grip Bars, also known as swiss bars, are great for upper body development. These framed bars include multiple handles at specific widths to provide additional variety and comfort.
One of the best features of multi-grip bars is that they provide neutral and/or supinated/pronated handles. If you lack shoulder mobility or have pain in the elbows or wrists, this bar helps by limiting external rotation.
Most multi-grip bars offer three or more handles ranging from narrow to wide grips. You can pick based on training goals, injuries, or general preference.
Arched or cambered multi-grip bars have become increasingly popular, providing even more benefits. By blending the benefits of traditional multi-grip bars and buffalo bars (see more below), you can increase range of motion and even use the frames as cable attachments.
You can use multi-grip bars for chest presses, back rows, hammer curls, overhead presses, triceps extensions, and more.
Best For: Biceps Curls, Skull Crushers, Upright Rows | Weight: 20lb-35lb | Shaft Diameter: 28mm+ | Knurling: Passive/Moderate | Knurl Rings: Not Relevant | Rotation: Bushing or Bearing
Curls for the girls, right?! If you’re looking for a juicy arm pump, curl bars, also known as EZ Bars, are a great and surprisingly versatile option. While the name “curl bar” implies it’s used for curls, you can use them for skull crushers, overhead presses, upright rows, and even as a front squat bar (seriously).
The biggest benefit of a curl bar is that it’s designed with ergonomic bends to isolate the biceps more effectively while greatly reducing wrist and elbow strain. Curl bars often include narrow and wide grip options so that you can target certain areas.
You can purchase curl bars in rackable and non-rackable versions. Rackable curl bars are longer, but they can be positioned in your squat rack, making them much easier to load. They also open up more exercises and make others more efficient to perform. Non-rackable curl bars are easier to maneuver and are less expensive.
Best For: Deadlifts | Weight: 20kg | Shaft Diameter: 27mm | Knurling: Aggressive | Knurl Rings: Single Powerlifting | Rotation: Bushing
Want to train the deadlift harder than you ever have? A deadlift bar is longer and thinner than a traditional Olympic bar, which creates much more whip. This is beneficial because you can pull the slack out of the bar as you’re pulling from the floor.
You’re effectively reducing the range of motion with a deadlift bar, which almost always translates to lifting more weight than on an Olympic bar. By design, the deadlift bar is an excellent overload training tool.
In terms of specs, deadlift bars can range from ~90″-95″ long vs. ~86.75″ on traditional bars. They also have a 27mm shaft diameter with aggressive knurling.
Deadlifts bars are niche bars used exclusively for building the deadlift. If that’s something you’re looking for, it’s a great addition.
Best For: Squats, Bench Press | Weight: 45lb-65lb | Shaft Diameter: 30mm-38mm | Knurling: Moderate/Aggressive | Knurl Rings: Single | Rotation: Bushing
The Buffalo bar, also known as a bow bar, is a unique curved barbell that reduces stress in the shoulders, elbows, and wrists.
One of the most beneficial aspects of a buffalo bar is that it mimics a competition squat without the upper extremity discomfort some experience on straight bars. By placing your elbows lower, you get better scapular retraction and a more comfortable shoulder position.
In addition to squats, buffalo bars are also excellent for bench press, especially if straight bars aggravate your wrists. I’ve dealt with this on traditional bars, and the buffalo bar helped immediately. Due to the bar’s arc, your wrists are positioned at a shallower angle, reducing stress. The thicker shaft diameter is also helpful in limiting wrist pain, which is one reason dedicated bench press bars are 30mm+.
Furthermore, the increased range of motion can help alleviate shoulder discomfort for some users on bench press.
Best For: Squats, Bench Press | Weight: 45lb-85lb | Shaft Diameter: 28mm-38mm | Knurling: Moderate or None | Knurl Rings: Single Powerlifting or None | Rotation: Bushing or Fixed
Cambered bars can come in a few varieties: cambered squat bars, cambered bench bars, and cambered multi-grip bars (mentioned above).
The main benefit of a cambered squat bar is that the sleeve drop (i.e., how far down the plates hang) creates some instability that you must counteract. In addition to building posterior and lower body strength, it’s outstanding for developing 360-degree core strength. This is a very humbling bar.
On bench press, a cambered bar can also present instability, which forces you to stay tight and lift with proper form. Depending on the cambered bar you’re using, it can also increase range of motion. Both of these can have positive carryover to your traditional bench press.
The cambered bar is more of an advanced specialty bar that you can use to blast through sticking points, enhance core strength, and add exercise variety.
Best For: Overhead Press, Cleans, Jerks | Weight: 50lb+ | Shaft Diameter: 30mm+ | Knurling: Moderate or None | Knurl Rings: None | Rotation: Fixed
A log bar is an essential tool if you’re a strongman (or woman). As the name implies, these bars resemble logs, and they build serious strength.
The main section of the bar has two large openings that provide access to two neutral handles. These handles are thicker than normal shafts, measuring 40mm+, which can improve grip strength. Furthermore, the neutral handles help alleviate shoulder stress.
Most log bars come in 8″, 10″, and 12″ middle diameters. In addition to being heavier, thicker diameters are more challenging to lift because the weight is placed further from the body.
Another unique thing about Log bars is that they can relatively easily be DIY’d.
Log bars are best for overhead presses, cleans, and jerks, but you can also use them for bench press and rows.
Best For: Deadlifts, Rows, Overhead Press, Cleans | Weight: 24lb+ | Shaft Diameter: 48mm+ | Knurling: None | Knurl Rings: None | Rotation: Fixed
Axel Bars are another strongman staple, but you can use them in other training forms, including powerlifting. These bars are known for their ultra-thick shaft diameters, most of which are 48mm+.
Thick diameters can be very effective are building grip strength and increasing arm (especially forearm) size. The axle deadlift is one of the purest feats of strength because of the thicker grip and rigid shaft. This bar has no whip at all. Pulling it from the floor is a great challenge.
Axle bars are also excellent pressing bars. Many lifters find thicker diameters to be more comfortable on the wrists.
You can use axle bars for deadlifts, bench press, overhead presses, cleans, jerks, rows, and more.
Best For: Bench, Overhead Press, Carries | Weight: 6lb+ | Shaft Diameter: 38mm | Knurling: None | Knurl Rings: None | Rotation: Fixed
The earthquake bar is a very different type of barbell. These bars are based on the concept of oscillating kinetic energy. Simply put, this is one of the most humbling bars you can ever use.
Made by BandBell, this style of bar comes in a couple of primary forms. The Earthquake and Bamboo Bars rely on hanging plates from the sleeves. The bar itself only weighs 6lbs unloaded! I mean, how hard can it be?
The answer is ‘extremely hard.’ The oscillating kinetic energy creates absolute chaos. As you lift the bar, the plates begin to sway while the bar flexes, producing a wildly unstable load. Your stabilizer muscles get thrown into overdrive as they help the primary movers do their job. Don’t be deceived by the seemingly low 300lb capacity because odds are you’ll only be able to handle a fraction of it. Still, they sell the E-Maxx Bar with a higher capacity if you’re super strong.
BandBell also sells the RhinoFlex Bar, which is based on the same principle. The difference is that this version is plate-loaded like a traditional bar and has a 600lb capacity. Because the plates don’t hang, it doesn’t create as much chaos, but it’s a humbling bar in its own right.
Earthquake bars are excellent for rehab, prehab, and building general strength. Powerlifters, strongmen/women, performance athletes, CrossFitters, and everyday Joes can benefit from these bars.
Best For: General Purpose, CrossFit, Bodybuilding, Functional Fitness | Weight: 15kg | Shaft Diameter: 25mm | Knurling: Passive/Moderate | Knurl Rings: Dual or Single Weightlifting | Rotation: Bushing/Bearing
Women’s barbells differ from traditional Olympic bars in three ways: they’re lighter, shorter, and have smaller diameters.
Where Olympic bars weigh 45lbs or 20kgs, women’s barbells weigh 15kgs. This is attributed to a smaller 25mm diameter and a shorter length of ~79″ vs. ~86.75″. The 25mm shaft is particularly helpful for smaller hands.
Otherwise, women’s bars are built similarly to larger Olympic bars regarding knurling, spin, etc.
Best For: Technique, Practice | Weight: 5lb-15lb | Shaft Diameter: 25mm-28mm | Knurling: Passive | Knurl Rings: Dual or Single Weightlifting | Rotation: Bushing or Fixed
Technique bars are used to practice lifts in a more controlled way. These bars are made of aluminum and are much lighter than traditional Olympic bars. They’re great for honing your technique, especially on dynamic movements like snatches.
These bars commonly have 28mm shaft diameters and dual knurl marks. They’re essentially smaller and lighter multipurpose bars. Most of them weigh 15lbs, but you can find some as low as 5lbs.
These aren’t meant to be loaded heavy. Use them to get comfortable with a lift before graduating to the real thing.
Best For: Beginners & Ultra-Budget Shoppers | Weight: <20lbs | Shaft Diameter: ~1″ | Knurling: Passive/Moderate | Knurl Rings: Single or None | Rotation: Fixed
Standard barbells differ from Olympic bars in several ways. The most notable difference is that they use smaller sleeve diameters to accommodate 1″ plates (vs. 2″ plates on Olympic bars). Additionally, they have smaller shaft diameters of 1″ (25mm) with passive knurling.
Standard bars are also shorter than Olympic bars, ranging from 5′ to 7′. Because they use less material and are thinner, they have much lower weight capacities. High-quality Olympic bars can dynamically handle 1,000+lbs, and statically even more. Standard barbells, on the other hand, can only handle ~350lbs or less.
Another difference is that standard barbells generally have fixed, non-rotating sleeves, which is a big disadvantage compared to Olympic bars.
I recommend standard barbells only for absolute beginners or for those shopping with a very small budget. Olympic bars are superior in every way, and they can grow with you as your strength grows.
The Case for Multiple Barbells
When people see my gym, I’m often asked, “why do you have so many different types of barbells?”
The answer is that each barbell has its own unique characteristics. They’re all nuanced in some way.
They vary in purpose, knurl aggression, knurl coverage, shaft coating, shaft diameter, tensile strength, yield strength, collar thickness, sleeve coating, sleeve diameter, sleeve length, spin mechanism, end cap design, and more.
With that, there are a few reasons I advocate and encourage people to invest in different types of barbells:
You Can Pick Your Bar Based on Rep Schemes and Volume
Let’s say you’re a powerlifter. Using an aggressively knurled bar may not be comfortable when performing high reps during a hypertrophy block.
5 sets of 10 won’t make your hands feel very good afterward. Therefore, you can use a more moderately knurled bar during those sessions and reserve the aggressive bar for heavy days when you’re training heavy singles and doubles. The extra bite can enhance your grip.
You Can Increase Training Variety
A carefully selected assortment of different barbells can dramatically increase training variety.
I recommend adding some specialty bars to your collection. There are dozens of exercises that you can perform with specialty bars that you can’t with traditional Olympic bars.
Not only will multiple barbells open up more variety in your training, but they’ll keep your training fun and interesting, which can increase motivation.
Other benefits include working around injuries, targeting specific muscle groups, and training sticking points.
You Can Train Multiple Athletes at the Same Time
Having access to multiple barbells can allow you to train multiple athletes simultaneously. This is obvious for commercial gyms, private studios, etc., but it’s also relevant for home gym owners. Whether you’re training with your friends, spouse, or even your kids, you don’t have to worry about sharing bars, which saves you time and energy.
Working out alone? That’s great because having different types of barbells can allow you to set up “stations” in your gym. This is invaluable if you perform supersets. It makes your gym time much more efficient.
Important Barbell Factors
While numerous factors go into selecting the right types of barbells for you, I want to highlight a few important ones.
The finish is one of the most critical things to look at on a barbell. A bar’s finish or coating will affect three things: oxidation resistance, texture, and aesthetics.
On the finish spectrum, bare steel is the least expensive, and stainless steel is generally the most expensive. Both of these finishes are uncoated, meaning you get the best feeling. However, bare steel has the worst oxidation resistance, and stainless steel ranks at the top.
In between these are several other finishes: black oxide, manganese phosphate, hard chrome, zinc, e-coat, nickel, and Cerakote.
Each of these finishes will look and feel different while preventing rust at different rates. For instance, black oxide feels incredible but requires more maintenance to prevent oxidation. Cerakote fills in some of the knurling, which doesn’t feel as good, but it’s amazing at limiting oxidation.
The others fall somewhere in between. That is, they feel decent and provide decent rust-fighting properties.
Consider your training environment, budget, aesthetic preferences, and appetite for maintenance.
Olympic barbells have consistently-sized sleeves that accommodate Olympic plates. Therefore, you can use the same collars from bar to bar.
On the other hand, not all specialty bars are the same. While the market is moving more toward Olympic-sized sleeves on specialty bars, many are still made with thinner sleeves. As a general rule of thumb, if a barbell’s sleeves are powder coated, they’re not Olympic-sized. Therefore, you will need specialized axle collars or collars that can be used on both, such as Proloc Collars.
Check out our article on the best barbell collars for more.
If you’re buying multiple barbells, you need a place to store them. Keeping them on the floor is not a suitable solution because it can decrease the life of your bars. Proper storage in your home gym not only protects your equipment, but it also makes your space more efficient and looks much more professional.
I recommend horizontal wall-mounted storage for Olympic bars. If you have several different types of barbells, including a lot of specialty bars, I recommend vertical floor storage.
How Many Different Types of Barbells are there?
There are over 20 different types of barbells with their own unique purpose. Within each category are other unique variances, so the true number is even higher.
What Type of Barbell Should I Buy First?
I recommend most people start with a traditional Olympic barbell that fits their training style and goals. From there, adding different types of barbells can elevate your training.
Why Should I Buy More than One Barbell?
There are several benefits to owning multiple barbells. You can increase exercise variety, work around injuries, target specific muscles, lift more comfortably, train multiple people at once, and enhance efficiency in your gym.
If you can’t tell, I could talk about the different types of barbells all day.
I’m a huge proponent of barbell training, but that doesn’t mean I recommend all of these bars for everyone.
You should pick the bar(s) that fit your lifting style, training goals, gym space, and budget.
Of course, if you want to collect them all like Pokemon, that’s cool too – no judgment here (obviously)!
The most important thing is to get out there and put them to use. Your mind and body will thank you.