Olympic Barbell vs. Standard Barbell: Weights & Differences

Olympic Barbell vs. Standard Barbell: Weights & Differences

You’re ready to start making gains only to be faced with the first task of lifting weights — deciding which barbell is right for you. Maybe you’re trying out a new exercise, or maybe you're at the start of your fitness journey. Whatever your situation, the first thing to know is that you’ll need to choose between an Olympic barbell and a standard barbell.

This article will explain the nuances of each so you can pick the right one to help you reach your fitness goals.

Modern Barbell Types and Terminology

Before we dive into the differences between Olympic Barbells and standard barbells, it’s important to talk a bit about terminology and what exactly we mean by “standard” and “Olympic.”

In today’s fitness culture, most people think of “standard” barbells as any multi-purpose barbell that doesn’t have a center knurl (a feature that provides a better grip and prevents your barbell from slipping while you lift).

However, that’s not completely accurate, especially as manufacturers have become looser in recent years with whether they include a center knurl or not. What really differentiates a standard barbell from an Olympic barbell is the size and sleeves.

We’ll get into the details later, but basically, you can lift less weight with a standard barbell and more weight with an Olympic barbell. This means you may want to start with a standard barbell if you’re a beginner, while more advanced lifters may want to consider an Olympic barbell.

But because of the increasing popularity of lifting sports, the older standard style isn’t as widely used as it once was — in fact, the term “standard barbell” itself is a bit outdated.

These days, most lifters prefer using Olympic Bars, Power Bars, or Deadlift Bars, and you’ll find Olympic barbells in nearly all commercial gyms. Although the standard barbell isn’t as versatile as some others, it can still serve a purpose for weightlifters just getting started.

What Goes into Building a Barbell?

As we mentioned, most local gyms primarily supply Olympic Barbells, but barbells come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and specialty variations, including:

 

In this section, we’ll focus on the components that go into building a barbell in general. Then, we’ll discuss how those parts differ between an Olympic barbell and a standard barbell.

Barbell characteristics

Length

Barbells come in a variety of lengths depending on who they’re intended for and how they’re meant to be used.

The most common lengths are:

  • 5 feet
  • 6 feet
  • 6 feet 6 inches
  • 7 feet
  • 7 feet 2 inches

 

Keep in mind that both Olympic and standard barbells can come in any length, and manufacturers make some specialty bars that fall below and above the typical range.

Sleeve diameter

The sleeve is the part of the barbell that holds the weight plates (be they bumper plates, iron plates, steel plates, or urethane plates). Sleeves are available in a variety of diameters.

Bar thickness

Barbells are also available in varying degrees of bar thickness. Manufacturers build bars with different thicknesses to accommodate smaller and larger hand size as well as the demands of specific exercises.

Weight

The weight of a barbell varies depending on how long it is and the materials used in its construction.

Barbell strength

Barbell strength is a general term for two distinct variables:

  • Tensile strength
  • Yield strength

 

Tensile strength is the amount of weight a barbell can take before it fractures or breaks, while yield strength is the amount of weight it takes to bend the barbell permanently.

One term you may hear when researching barbells is “whip.” The whip of a barbell is the difference between the yield strength and tensile strength. You’ll want to choose a barbell that has the right amount of whip for the movements you’ll be doing.

More whip allows the bar to bend more before you lift the weight off the floor — this allows you to build more speed before lifting the weight. Less whip means you won’t be able to build as much speed, but you’ll be able to lift the weight off the floor faster.

In general, less whip is better for slower movements, while more whip is better for faster movements.

Knurling

The knurling is the patterning on the surface of the barbell that provides a better grip. The knurling is placed in certain spots and varies based on whether it’s a standard or Olympic barbell.

This knurling can vary in aggressiveness, with the most aggressive knurling providing the strongest grip. Keep in mind that many manufacturers are beginning to accommodate users who prefer not to have this feature whether they’re using a standard or Olympic barbell.

Olympic Barbells vs. Standard Barbells

Now that you know all the components of a barbell, let's get into how each of these applies to the Olympic barbell and the standard barbell, and what situations you might use each barbell for.

Although there may be small differences from manufacturer to manufacturer, we’ll focus on the specs you’ll see most often when it comes to Olympic and standard barbells.

Where You’ll Find and Use Each Type of Barbell

Olympic barbells are commonly used for power and Olympic lifting in commercial gyms, but also at home. These barbells are best for advanced lifters because they’re able to handle more weight.

Standard barbells, on the other hand, are smaller and work well in home gyms. They’re ideal for entry-level lifters as they can be easier to handle, as well as for people who need to save space in their home gym and aren’t concerned with competing.

Olympic Barbell Specs

1) Length

Typical Olympic Barbells come in two lengths:

  • 6 feet 6 inches (women’s bar)
  • 7 feet 2 inches (men’s bar)

 

These are the barbells that are used in competitions. If you’re not concerned about competing, you can use either barbell in your workouts. Just keep in mind that each is a different weight (more on this in the weight section below).

2) Sleeve diameter and rotation

The sleeve diameter of an Olympic bar is anywhere from 48 mm to 50 mm (2 inches), but never over that.

Why?

Because the weight plates you load onto the bar must fit on the sleeve. If the sleeve is bigger than 50 mm, the vast majority of plates (which are bored to 50 mm) won’t fit. In that case, there would be no safe, effective way to add weight to the bar as you get stronger.

Additionally, many Olympic Barbells have ball bearings between the bar and the sleeve to allow the weights to freely rotate. These bearings help you move the bar from the ground to above your head because they provide a better grip and cut down on stress on your wrists and elbows.

3) Bar thickness

Much like the length, the bar thickness also varies for men’s Olympic Barbells and women’s Olympic Barbells.

Those thicknesses are:

  • 25 mm (women’s bar)
  • 28 mm (men’s bar)

 

The 25 mm and 28 mm measurements — both on the thin side of the spectrum when compared to other bars that typically have 30 mm, 32 mm, or higher diameters — make it easier to use the hook grip, which is essential for performing heavy lifts.

In regular workouts at your local or home gym, you can use either the 25 mm bar or the 28 mm bar — whichever fits your grip better.

But, if you’re going to compete in an Olympic lifting, powerlifting, you’ll likely have to use the one selected by the competition itself. If you’ve practiced with a smaller diameter bar, the jump in thickness may be a challenge.

4) Weight

Women’s and men’s Olympic bars come in two standard weights:

  • 33 pounds (women’s bar)
  • 45 pounds (men’s bar)

 

Again, in regular workouts, you can use the bar that best fits your needs, but be sure to take the 12-pound difference into account when adding weight.

For example, if your workout includes five 175-pound squats and you load two 45s and four 10s on a men’s bar, you’ll be lifting 175 pounds. Any more than that and you’ll be over 175 total weight because of the added weight of the bar.

That can make a huge difference in your workout and have a profound effect on the safety of the exercises you do.

Regardless of the barbell you choose, be sure you’ve got the right number of plates and weight on the bar for your ability and experience.

5) Barbell strength

When it comes to Olympic Barbell strength, the higher the PSI, the stronger the bar. Most Olympic Barbells range from below 165,000 PSI to above 190,000 PSI.

For the average fitness enthusiast, 165,000 PSI is a good starting point. If powerlifting is your goal, you may want to choose a bar closer to 200,000 PSI so it can handle more weight.

6) Knurling

Typically, Olympic barbells have center knurling. This is to ensure a good grip when doing back squats. But like we mentioned above, many manufacturers are breaking away from tradition and adding or not adding knurling based on what customers prefer.

With the huge popularity of power lifting, many people prefer their barbells to not have center knurling, as it can scrape their shins and neck during certain movements.

Standard Barbell Specs

1) Length

Standard barbells can be any length but are typically between 3 feet to 7 feet. They can even be the same length as the women’s and men’s Olympic Barbells (6’6” or 7’2” respectively).

But that doesn’t mean they can be used the same way. Read on to find out why.

2) Sleeve diameter

Standard barbells have a sleeve diameter of 25 millimeters (one inch). Unlike Olympic Barbells, standard barbells don’t have a rotating sleeve, and the sleeve diameter and bar diameter (or thickness) are the same from one end to the other.

3) Bar thickness

Standard barbells are typically 25 mm thick throughout their entire length.

If you choose to use a standard barbell, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:

  • You’ll need weight plates with the right size hole in the middle (one inch).
  • These barbells are not intended for extremely heavy lifts.
  • These barbells are not intended for Olympic lifts that require you to reposition your hands during the movement.

 

4) Weight

Unlike an Olympic Barbell that weighs a set amount, a standard barbell can weigh anywhere from 11 pounds to 22 pounds or more and doesn’t have to adhere to any strict guidelines.

5) Barbell strength

Because the bar thickness is significantly less than that of an Olympic barbell, a standard barbell typically has a much lower strength (PSI), so keep this in mind when adding plates to your barbell.

A lower PSI means the bar may only be able to handle a maximum weight of 200 pounds. While that may seem like a lot at first, with a bit of training you may be able to deadlift, squat, or even bench press significantly more than that.

Choose Titan for Your Barbell Needs

The type of barbell that’s right for you depends on how you train, how heavy you intend to go, your budget, and personal preference.

Because there are so many variables involved, buying a barbell isn’t a one-size-fits-all activity. That means it’s more important than ever to do your homework and learn what makes each barbell unique.

Regardless of your needs, Titan Fitness can help you find the barbell, power rack, weight plates, and other equipment that works best for you.

We pride ourselves on offering premium fitness equipment without the premium cost while still using high-grade materials, so our equipment is always tough and long-lasting — without breaking the bank!

That means we’re here to help you crush your goals without the stress of a heavy price tag.

Visit Titan Fitness today for more tips that will help you choose the right equipment to kickstart your fitness journey.