Olympic Barbell Vs Standard Barbell – What are the Standards and Key Differences?

Olympic vs standard barbell

How to choose my weightlifting bar? Why is this Olympic bar more expensive than another one? What are the differences between these two bars?

Every person who wants to buy an Olympic bar has already asked himself one of these questions. More generally, all weightlifting equipment has technical characteristics that can be difficult to understand for the uninitiated.

Throughout this article, we will give you all the information you need to choose the weightlifting bar that will meet your expectations.

What are the key differences between an Olympic Barbell and a Standard Barbell?

Olympic barbell Specs

An Olympic Barbell must meet certain specifications in order to be considered an authentic one. These specifications include but are not limited to:

  • It’s 7.2 ft (2.2 meters) long
  • Its shaft is between 28 to 32mm (1.1-1.25″)
  • it weighs 44lbs (20kg)
  • Its sleeves are 50-cm long (exceptional bars may be up to 52.4-cm long), and each sleeve weighs a minimum of 28-pounds when loaded with discs
  • They have two bearings which allow for smooth rotation
  • It has a loadable sleeve length that ranges from 16-inches to 27-inches
  • Its maximum load capacity is 740-pounds for men and 567-pounds for women
  • It must have no center knurling whatsoever, in order to allow lifters room to grip the bar when receiving it in a low squat position.

Standard barbell Specs

Standard barbells do not have to meet any specific measurements or specifications in order to be considered one. The only requirement is that it must include knurling on the shaft towards the center. 

  • It’s usually 5-6 ft long (1.2-1.8m)
  • It weighs 15-25lbs (6.8-11.3kgs)
  • It’s diameter is 25.4mm (1″).

What are the differences between an Olympic and a powerlifting (standard) Barbell?

Olympic weightlifting barbell

they are used for the two weightlifting movements: the snatch and the clean and jerk. As mentioned above, their diameter is 28 millimeters. The ratio of strength to elasticity (usually measured by PSI) is different for each bar. It allows them to have a “whip” that athletes use to their advantage when performing movements. The markings are further from the center than for a powerlifting bar and are called “single olympic knurl mark”. They allow the athletes to find their way to grab their bar.

Powerlifting – or standard – barbell

they are designed to practice the deadlift, the bench press and the squats. They generally support very heavy loads. These bars are stiffer than the others to limit the rebound effect that can be found on the weightlifting bars. They also have a larger diameter to allow them to lift heavy loads. Their marking is different from a weightlifting bar, it is called powerlifting knurl mark (or powerlifting hash mark).

Olympic barbell with double marking (or dual-marked)

This last type of bar is more and more used. These bars are the most versatile since they show both the Olympic bars mark and the powerlifting bars mark. They are therefore suitable for people who want to have a multipurpose bar that allows them to perform all movements. These bars are also the ones most frequently found in affiliated boxes. 

What are the different types of bearings on a weightlifting bar?

The bearings allow the sleeves to rotate more or less smoothly. This rotation is necessary for your bar to follow your movements during the execution of the movement. The fluidity of your bearings determines the responsiveness of your bar. More importantly, the strength of the bearings will have a real impact on the life and use of your bar. Indeed, poor quality bearings will not withstand daily drops. They will lose their smoothness and may even break, rendering the bar unusable. Bearings are one of the most important parts of a weightlifting bar. Below are the two main types of bearings:

Needle bearings

Needle bearings are also called “needle bearings”. These bearings generally have a better rotation than ring bearings but are more expensive. The number of needles per bearing varies from one weightlifting bar to another. These are high-tech, high-precision parts. However, needle bearings are not the guarantee of a top of the line bearing either. Other parameters to consider are the number of needles, the design material and the quality of the needles. Good quality needle bearings provide quieter rotation and a more reliable bearing for lifting heavy loads.

Bushing Bearings

Bushing bearings are also known as “bushings”. Generally cheaper but also less efficient, these bearings are used on entry-level or mid-range bars. They are suitable for medium intensity use. Many parameters affect the quality of your bearing. As with needles, you will need to consider all the elements to evaluate the quality. 

We could also add other types of bearings such as ball bearings. However, these are of lower quality and are rarer on Olympic bars. It is possible to find on some bars several bearings. The needles being expensive some suppliers can combine needles and rings for example.

What is knurling on a barbell?

To start, knurling is the pattern of grooves cut into barbells to aid you in maintaining grip on it. There are two different styles: powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting (or crossfit if you prefer). For a more detailed explanation, continue reading below.

Powerlifting Knurling

The knurling on a powerlifting barbell is referred to as “IPF” knurling. It is the sharpest of all three, because it’s meant for comfort when high-power moves are being executed. This means that deadlifts, squats, etc., are done with an IPF barbell exclusively.

Olympic Weightlifting, or Crossfit, Knurling

The knurling on an Olympic weightlifting or Crossfit barbell is known as “CE” knurling. It borrows the style of IPF, but not the sharpness because it’s used for moves such as the snatch and clean and jerk. These moves require a more delicate handling of weight, which is why you’ll see Oly bars with knurling that’s not near as sharp as IPF.

What are the different Barbell finishes

As a general rule, most powerlifting bars are made from steel, though some of the more expensive ones have high-tech material such as chromed carbon steel or stainless steel with a matte chrome finish. The latter look fantastic and many people prefer them to our old friend plain old ‘ole steel, but they come at a much higher price.

Here are some of the more common materials you will find in bars:


Most powerlifting bars are made from a special high-strength variant known as chromed steel, but a few companies have developed stainless steel bars that offer the same feel and whip for a fraction of the cost. Be aware that a good number of cheap, no-name bars on the market are made from very low-quality steel that bends easily. They also tend to have a sticky knurling and use bushings instead of bearings in the sleeves. These should all be avoided.


Many cheaper multi-purpose bars are made from aluminum, because it is both strong and lightweight. While this is true, aluminum is also more elastic than steel, which is the main reason why these bars are not good for powerlifting. They bend under heavy loads, especially near the sleeves where they are unsupported.

Carbon Steel

This is the same steel used in baseball bats and golf clubs, and the same material that your car’s chassis probably consists of. It is extremely strong, very springy and has a nice grip. Unfortunately carbon steel rusts quite easily if you don’t take care of it properly, so some models have either chrome or nickel plating to protect them. Even with the plating, they require regular maintenance by wiping oil on them after each use – especially the bare steel ones which will rust as soon as you expose them to air.

Stainless Steel

This is the same material used in high-end kitchen knives and surgical equipment. It has no spring whatsoever, but it feels smoother than carbon steel and is somewhat less likely to rust since there is no bare metal on the bar. It can still rust, though – especially if you have a bar that is solely stainless but has black zinc sleeves that may chip off over time.


This is probably the most popular coating for bars due to its durability and shiny looks. Chrome bars will not rust under any circumstances, though eventually you will see small ‘flakes’ of chrome coming off which can lead to dangerous situations if you don’t keep it clean. This coating does scrape more easily than other options, so there is a good chance of dings and knicks along the sleeves even if you are being careful with them.


Nickel is similar to chrome but it doesn’t flake off as much. It looks fantastic on a bar and is a bit less slippery than chrome. It requires the same amount of maintenance as chrome, though.


This is a coating used to prevent rust, and it does its job pretty well. It will not flake but it feels really rough on your hands compared to other options. Some people like this feeling, others do not. It is a popular coating around gyms simply because it costs a lot less than chrome or nickel.

Black Oxide

This is a coating used on sockets to prevent them from rusting. Since the coating only sticks to the steel and not onto the bearings, you can expect this bar to last forever with no maintenance at all. The grip can be a little uncomfortable at first but it is not very noticeable. There are currently no bars in this category.


Yes, you can actually get a gold-plated barbell if you really want to spend the extra cash on it. Gold plating does help prevent rust since it doesn’t flake off like chrome or nickel, but it does require some maintenance to keep the gold plating intact. This is not a very popular option due to its cost and unnecessary bling effect, but you can still order it if that’s your thing.

What is the resistance to tension or PSI?

This is another very important element that can reveal the quality of your bar. The tensile strength allows you to know the ratio between the strength of the steel and its flexibility. It is generally expressed in PSI (Pound-force per Square Inch) which is a unit of measurement of stress and pressure. The PSI indicates the tensile strength that your Olympic bar will withstand. The variation in PSI from one bar to another depends on the quality of the steel used to produce your weightlifting bar.

PSI generally has a significant correlation to the maximum load your bar will support. It is an important factor in determining the quality of the bar in general. Several recommendations can be given:

The system for measuring the PSI of a bar is a process that remains unknown to the general public. Some Olympic bar suppliers intentionally overestimate the PSI of their bar to give an impression of quality. Some weightlifting bars are sold as being of very good quality when the reality is quite different. You must therefore compare the PSI, the description, the bearings and the price of the bar to have a general opinion. Do not hesitate to compare several suppliers. 

Depending on your practice, we advise you to avoid Olympic bars with a rating of 160,000 PSI or less (or 160K PSI) which will have a very low tensile strength. We recommend that you opt for indexes equal to or greater than 180,000 PSI (or 180K PSI). 

Obviously the above argument does not apply to the 10kg and 5kg technical bars. These bars are used to work on technique and do not need to have a very high PSI since the athlete will be working on light loads.

We can add a second test of resistance that is performed by the producers of Olympic bars, the torsion test. It is generally never indicated by the suppliers in the product sheets. Olympic bars are subjected to different torsion powers. This allows to measure how far the bar axis deforms and realigns.

What’s the main Barbell Function?

The main barbell function is transferring the force generated by your muscles to the implement you are lifting.

For example, when squatting, your quadriceps generate force which is transferred up through your knees into your hips, then down through your ankle into the foot of the shoe that you are wearing, up through your toes into the floor, then is transferred to the barbell which you are holding in front of you.

Once it has been transferred to the barbell, it’s now being used to move your body up off of the floor with each repetition. This same process occurs for every type of lift that you do with a barbell.

How to care for your weightlifting barbell?

To keep your weightlifting bar in good condition, you need to maintain it regularly. Here are some tips we can give you:

Clean your Olympic bar after each use: Sweat, magnesia, moisture can damage your bar, to avoid the appearance of rust spots, it is necessary to clean your bar after each use with a soft plastic bristle brush and a cloth. In the case of an affiliated box we advise you to do this brushing at least once a week. Insist on the knurling. Note that weightlifting bars with a zinc finish require less maintenance than other types of finish because they are the most resistant to oxidation.

Store your bars horizontally: For maximum maintenance and longevity, it is preferable to store your bars horizontally. This remains a detail for perfectionists. 

Apply oil to your bearings: It is necessary to add oil so that the bearings keep their perfect fluidity. Prefer liquid oils that keep fewer micro-particles in your bearings. Thicker oils can clog the bearing and make it less efficient. The frequency of application depends on your use and your bearings. However, we recommend that you apply oil at least twice a year.

Use engineered flooring: Weightlifting pads are designed to absorb shock when you drop your bar. Your bumpers plates and your bar will be protected. Depending on your budget, we recommend that you choose a floor with a thickness of 15 to 25 millimeters. Thicker floors can provide more rebound depending on the type of bumper used. Thicker floors will be useful when you want to practice weightlifting on fragile floors or on floors in a building.

Why is a fast spinning barbell important?

When you’re performing a barbell exercise, such as the, squat or clean & jerk or snatch, maximal force is transferred from your legs to your hips and then through an efficient transmission system of the spine to the barbell. The faster you can spin the barbell during these lifts the more effective this transmission system becomes. More force is transferred to the barbell, leading to more force being transferred into your body.

Although it might seem that the speed of the lift is entirely under your control during a weightlifting competition or training session, there are many actions taking place in order for you to spin the barbell as fast as possible. All of these little actions have to take place in milliseconds, yet without these little actions you could not achieve maximal speed.

What is a Barbell Whip?

A barbell whip is the ability of a bar to flex at both the beginning and end of a repetition. It’s more commonly called “bar bend,” but some coaches don’t like that term because it implies that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the bar itself when indeed, any high-tensile-strength bar can whip.

Why is this important? If the load is too heavy and the movement takes longer than about one second (1) to complete, then there’s a high likelihood that the spine will be flexed into an uncomfortable position throughout the set. This can not only result in missed reps but also potential injury. For example, a squat to full depth with too heavy of a load can produce enough spinal flexion to damage the disks.

Although the barbell whip has been discussed in great detail in powerlifting circles by elite lifters such as Ed Coan and Kirk Karwoski , it hasn’t been adequately addressed in bodybuilding/fitness circles.

One issue that hasn’t been addressed is how much whip actually affects performance. Another issue that I’ve yet to see covered in any great depth is the effect of bar stiffness on muscle-growth stimulation and aesthetics — particularly in the upper body where we rely heavily on lighter loads than in powerlifting circles.

What is a barbell stiffness?

In short, stiffness is the ability of a material to resist deformation from an applied force. In this case, we are interested in the barbell’s deflection when loaded with enough weight for you to squat or bench press. With this definition of barbell stiffness complete let us dig into what actually affects your barbell’s stiffness and how this matters in your training.

Barbell stiffness is created by the force transfer of material throughout the bar. This is influenced by our old friends Young’s modulus (E) and shear modulus (G). The equation for barbell stiffness (K) combines these two properties into one number that looks like this:

K = E x G

These two properties are important to understand as they relate to the force transfer of your barbell. Let’s start with Young’s modulus, otherwise known as tensile modulus or elastic modulus which is essentially how much a material will stretch before it breaks under an applied load.

When you take this elasticity into consideration in relation to the barbell, imagine the load moving throughout the bar because of this elasticity. This will affect how much force is transferred into your body and ultimately where this force is going to be felt in your body when you lift a certain weight or attempt a new personal record (PR).