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Fitness experts say barbells can be a worthwhile at-home gym investment if you’re looking to amp up your strength training in 2021. “If you have access to one, you can use it for a ton of different exercises to build full body strength,” explained Darren Tomasso, director of training at Session NYC.
SKIP AHEAD Best barbells of 2021
It's a relatively common misconception to associate "strength" with powerlifting, Tomasso said, and that strength training will make you look bulky. Rather, he argued, “strength training is for everybody and has countless benefits — no matter your goals.”
It won’t make sense to buy a generic barbell and load up the plates.
Rhys Athayde, founding trainer, Dogpound
But what exactly is a barbell and what sort of fitness benefits does it offer? The barbell is a metal shaft that typically ranges between three to seven feet and equip weight plates, or free weights, on either end — in contrast to its much shorter cousin, dumbbells. According to celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak, barbells allow you to practice resistance training across various parts of your body, generally in a bilateral fashion, using your left and right side at the same time. People utilize barbells to execute compound exercises, defined as those that engage multiple joints and muscles at the same time — like squats, chest presses and deadlifts, noted Pasternak, who’s trained celebrities ranging from Halle Berry and Kanye West to Robert Downey Jr. and Charlie Puth. .
Keith Hodges, founder of Mind In Muscle Coaching in Los Angeles, added that resistance training can help improve muscle strength, toning, posture, stamina and performance. A barbell can also help you burn calories and build muscle mass, too, which is why Hodges called it “a key piece of equipment when performing multi-joint exercises” like those aforementioned squats and deadlifts, two “key exercises for any gender or training goal.” Barbells also offer a unique fitness value when compared with dumbbells — the latter are considered isolateral, allowing you to use each side individually and have more focus on both balance and coordination, noted Pasternak.
How to shop for barbells
The pros we consulted say the safest way to decide how heavy your barbell and plates should be determining your current fitness level. Rhys Athayde, founding trainer of Dogpound, said it is therefore “extremely important” to understand which type of barbell you’re purchasing and its use case.
There are three types of barbells: Men’s (weighing 45 pounds), Women’s (35 pounds) and Youth (25 pounds). Then you’ll need to decide whether you want an Olympic, Powerlifting or a general use barbell.
- Olympic barbells are usually 7 feet long and the most common type — these iron bars typically weigh around 45 pounds. They’re most beneficial for athletes and crossfitters performing Olympic lifts like power cleans, push jerks and snatches because they include fast-rotating bearings in the sleeves, the end portion of the bar onto which you slide the weights. Anthony Crouchelli, founder master trainer at GRT BXNG, noted Olympic barbells are the only type of barbell that is not available in Youth sizes.
- Powerlifting barbells are more rigid, allowing the lifter to place more weight on the bar before it starts bending, according to Walter Savage, a personal trainer at Dogpound in New York. Since powerlifting essentially lifting as much weight as possible, you’ll need to employ these barbells to safely accommodate heavier plates.
- General use barbells, also called multipurpose barbells, are made for pretty much anyone looking to lift at the gym or home, weighing between 35 and 45 pounds, noted Hodges.
You’ll also need to decide on how much weight you are trying to move as the bar’s load capacity will be a factor, said Athayde. The Los Angeles-based trainer added that you should consider how much space you have in your home and your budget, as well. Hodges added manufacturers create their barbells with different diameters, though 28 millimeters (1.1 inches) is the most common. The higher a barbell’s diameter, the more support or higher weight capacity it offers, he noted.
Best barbells of 2021
Here are four options worth considering, according to trainers, for general use, powerlifting and Olympic trainingat various price points.
Out of the seven trainers we spoke with, Rogue was by far the most namechecked brand. Savage said the brand “hands down [is] the best gym equipment” while Crouchelli said that “Roguecrushes the game in the barbell department” and “provides the best price to quality of product in the market.” Athayde called this model a “great barbell that’s multi-purpose and cost-friendly,” noting its durability and “great quality.” The Echo Bar 2.0 is a general-use style barbell and can support up to 1,000 pounds.
2. American Barbell Elite Power Bar (out of stock)
Athayde also favors this “great barbell” from American Barbell. “The mild knurling is great for your grip, the stainless steel finish looks incredible and it is a fantastic power bar for any gym,” he said. American Barbell claims this 20kg (44 pounds) barbell is durable and offers “very little flex.” The Echo Bar 2.0 is a powerlifting style barbell and can support up to 1,000 pounds.
Hodges is a fan of both Rogue and Sorinex and considers their suites of barbells “extremely durable.” We like this Olympic model because it is available in 10kg (22 pounds), 15kg (33 pounds) and 20kg (44 pounds) models, boasts a light-to-medium knurling and has a static load of 2,000 pounds. It also features Olympic and powerlifting knurl marks for convenience.
4. Titan Fitness Regular Bar (on backorder, shipping Feb. 28)
Beyond Rogue, Tomasso also recommended Titan Fitness due to their roster of “solid options with great access to customer service and help to find the right piece for you.” The multipurpose barbell clocks in at 20kg(44 pounds) and can handle up to 1,000 pounds.
Adjustable barbells, cages and barbell alternatives
On top of the above classic barbell options, you’ve got plenty of alternatives to consider, like adjustable barbells. Further, if you plan to grab a new barbell, you may want to consider pairing it with a cage. Here are some highly-rated options to help get you started.
Kicking off your available alternative is a smart mirror from Tempo that employs 3D mapping and artificial intelligence to keep tabs on your form and offers tips on how to improve your form. The set comes with a few essentials: a barbell, four weight plates, two dumbbells, a workout mat and a foam roller. Its technology is also able to alert you when you’re ready to upgrade to heavier weights.
Adjustable and easy-to-use barbells
Generally speaking, adjustable barbells are a good option if you’re working out at home and don’t have the room for an Olympic bar and bumper plates, Crouchelli said noting that in his experience with various smart barbells, they’re “always off” and not “as smooth as Olympic or power bars.”
The second generation Les Mills SMARTBAR comes equipped with a bar and three sets of weight plates: 1kg (2.2 pounds), 2.5kg (5.5 pounds) and 5kg (11 lb). Loading the weight plates is simple — slide the plate onto the bar until you hear it click. Overall, you can load up to three plates (18.7 pounds total) on each side of the bar. Les Mills says their bar boasts an ergonomic design and an ionized coating offering scratch protection.
This vibrant yellow 2-in-1 dumbbells and barbell is available in five weights: 22 pounds, 33 pounds, 44 pounds, 55 pounds and 66 pounds. Each model comes with a total of eight weight plates, enabling you to adjust the load to best meet your fitness needs. It is also highly-rated with a 4.3-star average rating from nearly 1,600 reviewers on Amazon.
Unlike the smooth, circular plates on the Nice C model, Kiss Gold’s option sports polygonal-shaped plates coated in rubber, which the brand claims prevent scrolling. If you live in a small space, then this highly-rated option from Kiss Gold might be a worthwhile choice because it’s relatively compact. After selecting either the 44 or 66-pound model, use each weight like dumbbells or attach the accompanying rod to transform them into a barbell.
After investing in a new barbell and weight plates, you’ll need to shift your focus to storage and training modules, and that’s where weight cages come into play. Crochelli called weight cages “great” but noted “they take up a ton of space.”
Fitness Reality created this top-rated power cage, which has earned a 4.7-star average rating from more than 7,000 reviewers on Amazon. The nearly seven-foot-tall cage is height adjustable (19 different options) and has a max load weight of 800 pounds. For an additional cost, you can opt for the cage-and-bench combo.
If you need a power cage with a heavier weight capacity, HulkFit’s Elite model offers a 1,000-pound limit. Unlike the brand’s Power Cage, the Elite also comes equipped with a lat pulldown attachment with a 500-pound weight limit. The Elite also includes two dip bars to further train your upper body.
Why are barbells so expensive?
Barbells certainly require a substantial investment — you’re likely going to spend at least $100 on an entry-level model. For example, Rogue, a popular maker of fitness equipment, sells barbells starting in the mid-$100 range, their higher end models running upwards of $780. The experts we consulted agreed the initial startup cost of a barbell is worth it, though, as long as you’re committed to weightlifting.
“If you are looking to lift seriously, it won’t make sense to buy a generic barbell and load up the plates — the bar will bend and can even snap,” noted Athayde, who cautioned against “cheap” barbells. Instead, he advised you to gauge your fitness level and invest accordingly. “If you are looking to move dynamically, look at Olympic bars and for deadlifts, squats and bench pressing, look at Powerlifting bars.”
Before the pandemic, barbell prices were already high, Hodges told us, noting that once demand for at-home gym equipment increased, prices surged. He encouraged Shopping readers to write down their fitness goals and budget.
Although you can score discounts on used barbells by sifting through resellers like eBay or OfferUp, it could inadvertently cause more trouble than it is worth, according to trainer David Watson of Life Time gym in Happy Valley, Arizona. He advised caution on resale sites like Facebook Marketplace because of the lack of quality control. “Buying second hand may be cost-effective, but may not be what you want,” he explained.
How heavy or light should your barbell and plates be?
Barbell plates are essentially designed for a building block format.
"It's always better to start with a solid set of 10s, 25s and maybe a set of 45s, with the intention from there adding more plates to your collection as you’re building strength."
Beyond your experience, fitness level, strength capabilities, fitness goals and commitment, Hodges recommended shoppers to “always” start with lighter weights to focus on technique and assess levels of recovery after each workout. Doing so “decreases the chance of injury, and you can always purchase heavier equipment rather than rehabbing from an injury because of ego or inexperience,” he said. Plus, if you’re lifting lighter weights, then you can complete more reps to help build up experience and until you’re ready to upgrade to heavier plates.