Introducing the Universal Barbell Score – A New Review System

Universal Barbell Score - Garage Gym Lab

I’ve been reviewing barbells for a long time now – I have a real passion for it. Of all the products I review, barbells are at the very top.

I am beyond grateful to have met as many people as I have in the strength community through my reviews, social media, etc… I receive messages every day from people telling me they’ve made buying decisions based on these reviews and my recommendations as a whole.

First of all, THANK YOU!

Secondly, I’ve come to realize the absolute importance of creating a uniform platform from which barbells are reviewed.

In looking back and auditing my reviews, I discovered that they weren’t always consistent in terms of the categories that were actually used in each review.

I also didn’t feel that objective measures were being captured as evenly as they could be.

The ‘Universal Barbell Score’ (“UBS”) was created to change that. 

This scoring system sets out to create uniformity in how barbells are reviewed here at Garage Gym Lab.

If you’re worried about this new system, don’t be! Nothing else is changing about my reviews.

  • I will still have a thorough write-up as I always have.
  • I will still strive to deliver the same high-quality images.
  • I will still provide the most honest information possible based on my observations.

The only change is HOW the bars are graded.

How does the Universal Barbell Score Work?

At its core, the UBS a weighted average of 8 total categories. Each category is scored on a scale of 1 through 10 – “1” being the worst, and “10” being the best. The highest possible score is a 10, although I can all but guarantee a perfect 10 will never be seen.

The categories and their respective weights are as follows:

  • Specs (15%)
  • Knurling (15%)
  • Sleeves/Spin (15%)
  • Finish Type – Feel (10%)
  • Finish Type – Oxidation Resistance (5%)
  • Performance (15%)
  • Aesthetics (5%)
  • Value (20%)

The same scoring system is used for power bars, multi-purpose bars, and weightlifting bars. Specialty bars are currently still reviewed on a stand-alone basis given their unique features and varying purposes. Eventually, these may or may not be incorporated into their own uniform system.

The UBS, as is stands, is for traditional barbells.

The goal of this entire system is to inject more objectivity, normalize point adjustments, create binary measures, and still quantify subjective items that you’ve come to expect from my observations, preferences, etc…

With the exception of the two finish type categories and the value category, each category starts with a score of 9.5. From there, adjustments are made, either up or down. These consist of standard adjustments based on set scales as well as my own adjustments based on my experiences. I may also adjust the finish type scores as I will outline below – the main difference is that they do not automatically start at a 9.5. The value score will not directly be adjusted.

In general, higher scores will be more difficult to obtain as compared to the way barbells were previously reviewed at Garage Gym Lab.

This does not mean I think less of the bars. This also means that a score in the 8’s could still mark a high quality, worthy barbell.

I firmly believe this is a more refined, a more consistent, and overall a more comprehensive review system.

Here’s a detailed look at each category.

Specs (15%)

This category consists of three components: tensile strength, weight accuracy, and whether or not it meets generally accepted guidelines (IPF, IWF, etc…).

If you’ve read some of my reviews, you know I don’t think tensile strength is the end all be all. I do, however, think it has merit in the broader discussion of a barbell’s spec profile. I would love to include yield strength in this section, but unfortunately, most barbell manufacturers do not provide this value. So, here we are.

The tensile strength adjustment is made based on a pre-determined sliding scale. 190,000 to 200,000 is considered baseline – no point adjustment. A bar can achieve a maximum upward adjustment of 0.3 and a maximum downward adjustment of 1.0 based on it’s tensile strength.

Weight tolerance is calculated in a similar manner based on the percentage to stated weight and a sliding scale. The baseline is between 0.25% and 0.4%. A bar can achieve a maximum upward adjustment of 0.1 and a maximum downward adjustment of 0.15.

If a bar doesn’t meet generally accepted spec standards, it gets a 0.2 point deduction. This will be rare but it will come into play on certain bars (e.g. a 28.5mm power bar).

Knurling (15%)

For me, this is one of the most important aspects of a bar. As such, it receives one of the highest weights. As with most other categories, the knurling starts with a 9.5 score and it can be adjusted upward or downward depending on some binary measures as well as my own personal observations and preferences.

For the objective measures, if a bar has evidence of double-tracked knurling, over-coated finish, feathering, and/or any other general knurl inconsistency, it will get a deduction of 0.5 points for each. The maximum total deduction is 2.0 points.

In addition to this, I may elect to deduct further or add back some points based on how I personally like the knurl. This is completely subjective, but I have my preferences, as many of you have come to know. Here is where I can express those. For clarity, this is based on knurl design and the overall profile of the knurl itself. The feel is largely determined by the finish, which is its own category.

I generally prefer a more aggressive knurl profile. As an example, a bar like the Vulcan Absolute v2 power bar will receive a higher subjective knurl grade than the Rep Fitness Stainless Steel power bar, despite the latter being stainless (for what it’s worth, I really like both bars). That said, there are diminishing returns. Some bars are offensively aggressive. Those will certainly be dinged.

Sleeves/Spin (15%)

American Barbell Mammoth Bar - Weld Garage Gym Lab

Similar to the knurling, the sleeves are a key element to consider when rating a barbell. This category also starts at a 9.5 and it too can be adjusted up or down.

For the objective measures, if a bar has evidence of sleeve slop (excessive movement in the sleeve laterally or vertically) or inconsistent spin, it will receive a 0.5 point deduction. This is true on each sleeve. So if there is evidence of sleeve slop and spin inconsistencies in both sleeves, it receives a 2.0 point deduction. I also may deduct further if the issues are particularly evident.

Also in the objective category is sleeve length. This is based on a sliding scale. The baseline is considered to be up to 16.25″, where no points are added. If the loadable sleeve length gets higher (due to a smaller collar), points are added, up to 0.2 points.

In addition to this, I may decide to deduct or add based on the sleeve design. Most of y’all know by now that I prefer smooth sleeves over grooved ones. A grooved sleeve will generally receive a small deduction from me. Maybe you like grooved sleeves. That’s fine too – a lot of people do.

Finish Type – Feel (10%)

Fringe Sport Lone Star Power Bar - Shaft 2 - Garage Gym Lab

This is a subjective factor, but it’s based on a predetermined sliding scale for consistency purposes. Stainless steel and bare steel receive the highest “off the shelf” feel ratings (10). From there it goes down based on the actual finish. Zinc and Chrome are at the bottom with a score of 7. The entire list is as follows:

  • Stainless Steel – 10
  • Bare Steel – 10
  • Electroless Nickel – 9.5
  • Black Oxide – 9.5
  • Manganese Phosphate – 9.5
  • Cerakote – 8
  • Black Zinc – 7
  • Bright Zinc – 7
  • Chrome – 7

In addition to these initial values, I may elect to adjust based on my personal observations. For instance, some chrome bars are slicker than others. Others are grippier. A matte chrome, for instance, may provide a better feel. As such, I may add to the base value. If it feels slicker compared to other chrome bars, I may deduct from the base value.

Finish Type – Oxidation Resistance (5%)

Rep Fitness Stainless Steel Power Bar Knurl

Oxidation is a real thing when it comes to barbells, especially if you live in a humid environment or if you train in a garage. While this is an important consideration for many, it’s largely cosmetic. Because of that, I have chosen a smaller, 5% weight, which is in line with the aesthetic category.

The entire list with their respective values is as follows:

  • Stainless Steel – 9.9
  • Cerakote – 9.7
  • Electroless Nickel – 9.7
  • Manganese Phosphate – 6.5
  • Black Zinc – 6.5
  • Bright Zinc – 6.5
  • Chrome – 6
  • Black Oxide – 3
  • Bare Steel – 1

Similar to the feel category above, I may adjust these rankings, but not to the same level as the ‘feel’ group. For the most part, the oxidation is what it is. That said, there are some rare occurrences where a point adjustment is necessary. Take the American Barbell Mammoth Bar for instance. That is a stainless steel bar with a Cerakote finish on top. It wouldn’t be fair to give that bar a 9.7 in the oxidation resistance category. I actually bumped it to a 10 since it includes the best of both worlds. In the ‘feel’ department, however, it would maintain the Cerakote score.

Performance (15%)

Bells of Steel Utility Bar - Loaded - Garage Gym Lab

This is primarily subjective and it’s based on my preferences and observations. The base score is a 9.5 and I may adjust upward or downward.

It’s pretty simple: How well does the bar perform relative to what its intended use is?

For example, in the case of a power bar, how well does it do in the squat, bench, and deadlift? If a bar has a really well-balanced knurl, meets generally accepted specs, etc… it will stand to make a higher grade. If a bar has a particularly mild knurl or a super aggressive knurl, it will get dinged.

Aesthetics (5%)

Kabuki Power Bar - Angle Garage Gym Lab

This is entirely subjective and it receives a small weight. Here I’m looking at everything on the bar to determine an overall look score. How fast am I going to swipe right if this bar was on a dating app?

A few things I’m looking for:

  • End Cap sex appeal
  • Blemishes
  • Knurl termination points
  • Bonus features (e.g. recessed welds on American Barbell bars)
  • The way the light reflects
  • Color application and look (cerakote)
  • etc…

Basically, anything that adds or subtracts from the overall look of the bar is what I’m assessing in this category.

Value (20%)

Rep Fitness Stainless Steel Power Bar End Cap

Value is the largest weight and, in my opinion, a critical factor to assess. In the past, I quantified value largely based on price. Sure, I considered it in relation to the bar’s overall qualities, but it wasn’t totally quantified as such.

In this section, we are looking at three sections that are separately weighted to conclude the overall value:

  • Price (40%)
  • Qualities (55%)
  • Warranty (5%)

Price is calculated based on a sliding scale. The maximum a bar can receive is a 10 (under $200) and the minimum a bar can receive is a 7 ($500+). Price is a completely relative factor. A $500 bar may be a ‘3’ in one person’s eyes and a ‘9’ in another’s. This eliminates that element and simply assigns a value based on a range.

The ‘qualities’ section is simply the weighted average of all the other pieces (knurl, performance, etc…).

The warranty section is also very simple. You get 1 point for every 1 year of warranty. If you’re bad at math, a bar with a 1-year warranty gets 1 point, a bar with a 5-year warranty gets 5 points, etc… A lifetime warranty receives a 10. I chose to weight this at only 5% because warranties can be confusing and different in the fine print. This simplifies it but it’s important to at least factor into the overall equation, in my opinion.

In this system, an expensive bar can still have a relatively high value depending on its overall qualities. On the other hand, a really inexpensive bar can potentially have low value if its overall quality is lacking.

Conclusion

Bells of Steel Utility Bar - Bushing - Garage Gym Lab

To wrap this up, I’m extremely excited to introduce the Universal Barbell Score to all of the barbell reviews here at Garage Gym Lab. I have retroactively re-graded all prior reviews, and I will be implementing this system on every new barbell review going forward.

As the barbell industry continues to grow and evolve, I may make slight changes to the system. I will keep everyone up to date on this and I will always maintain transparency with regards to any alterations.

I truly hope you enjoy the Universal Barbell Score – I think it’s going to offer a much more comprehensive picture of how I rate barbells.

Here is an example of what a score sheet might look like:

Universal Barbell Score Sheet - Garage Gym Lab

If you have any questions or comments on the Universal Barbell Score, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can message me at adam@garagegymlab.com.

Please also check out all of my barbell reviews here.

The bar is loaded,

Adam

9.5

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