May 20, 2024

The Best Barbells for All Your Strength Training Needs

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Heavy lifting requires heavy-duty equipment, after all.

In terms of strength training essentials, the barbell is one of the discipline’s most iconic. Versatile and sturdy. Simple yet intricate. These fitness tools can be the foundation for a number of efficient workout regimens, ranging from the general to the more specialized. Thanks to the surge of budding garage gym enthusiasts over the past few years, there’s a plethora of profiles to choose from when you start to lay the groundwork for your dedicated pain cave.

With so many options, however, finding that ideal barbell to set off your home gym can be more challenging than that bench PR you’ve been eyeing since winter. The varying barbell types, colors, price points and more are enough to leave your head spinning — and that’s not even taking into consideration that barbell buying isn’t the most trial-and-error-friendly endeavor.

Thankfully, though, we’ve done some heavy lifting to mine the best of the best. Think of us as a spotter to your fitness purchasing experience.

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll keep this guide focused on the standard barbell — i.e., what most athletes will reach for when setting up for bar-based strength training. Naturally, there’s room for specialization with bars designed for specific lifts, as well as profiles featuring oblong shapes and unique grip points. These silhouettes are more advanced, though, and become more useful once you’ve gained more experience within the discipline. If you’re looking for one barbell to rule them all, the standard bar is it.

It’s hard to imagine a week where I don’t touch a barbell in training. Over my years in fitness, I’ve had the pleasure of working out with a slew of barbell profiles, each with their own perks and features designed to help me get the most out of my efforts. In curating this roundup, I took into consideration each barbell’s specs and intended use, as well as their real-world performance, when appropriate. While not a dealbreaker for me personally, I also looked at the available colorways and coatings too for each pick, because there is something of note when it comes to owning equipment that looks as good as it performs.

Now, let’s zone in for muscle-bound progress and load up the best barbells available right now.

With a premium build quality and approachable price point, the Evolution Barbell from Again Faster is one that’s sure to please any strength training enthusiast. The 190,000-psi tensile strength gives this pick its brawn, and I appreciate the moderate knurling across the shaft that gives each lift a sense of tackiness without ripping apart your palms. The sleeves are also machined from a singular piece of steel, eliminating a potential failure point that’s present in other welded silhouettes.

I also like the whip this Evolution Barbell showcases — fluid enough for Olympic lifts yet rigid enough for hard-nosed powerlifting sets. That same appreciation is not felt when it comes to this barbell’s spin, however. The needle and ball bearing system is fine for general purposes, but more experienced Olympic weightlifters may experience more torque than desired when catching a snatch or clean and jerk.

The Rep Fitness Colorado Bar is one of the newer barbells on the market, but the specs and attention to detail are right in line with the brand’s reputation for churning out high-quality fitness equipment. This multi-use barbell comes equipped with a 28.5mm shaft that’s comfortable in the hand, and the dual IPF and IWF knurl markings allow for quick setups. I also appreciate Rep Fitness for offering this impressive barbell in a variety of colorways — you can choose from five Cerakote options to give your home gym some personality, or opt for that classic Hard Chrome finish to keep things simple.

The Colorado Bar is suitable for multiple lifts and disciplines, but it is important to point out its shorter sleeve length. Sure, the 16.1-inch sleeve may seem long enough for your needs, but stronger athletes pursuing higher totals may feel cramped for space when it comes to tacking on thicker bumper plates.

This cost-effective option from CAP Barbell is a favorite of mine because it brings worthwhile quality to your rig without stretching your budget too thin. The money you save with this profile can then go into other areas of your home gym, whether that be a new set of plates, an entirely new rack or some accessory items like a good pair of adjustable dumbbells.

Despite the more approachable price tag, the Beast Barbell can live up to its monstrous moniker thanks to a 110,000-psi tensile strength and cold-rolled steel construction. I also like the ribbed sleeve makeup, as this helps keep your plates and barbell collars more secure and in place during training, albeit with some difficulty when it comes to loading and unloading. I do recommend, though, that you add some tape across the knurl markings. On their own, these bands can be difficult to locate when grazing your hand across the bar, so placing a thin slice of tape at these points can make getting into position a more seamless, stress-free endeavor.

When you’re just starting out with barbell training, you don’t want to question the durability of your equipment. Well, there’s no worry in that regard with this impressive barbell from Bells of Steel. This bar easily beefs up your home gym with a whopping 240,000-psi tensile strength and 1,500-pound weight capacity, yet somehow, the brand is able to pack all this ruggedness in a profile that’s sub-$300.

I particularly like this barbell for novice Olympic lifters, since these athletes will likely drop the bar more often as they fine tune their skill set across the snatch and clean and jerk. The Olympic Weightlifting Barbell 2.0 is also suitable for other lifting disciplines, but the more fluid spin and lack of a center knurling patch may deter powerlifting-centric athletes. Additionally, those keeping their barbell in damp conditions may want to develop a more regimented cleaning process. Hardened chrome provides some corrosion resistance, but it’s not the absolute best.

Training with Eleiko equipment signifies two things — you value premium quality and you don’t mind paying for it. Seriously, it’s tough to recommend a four-figure barbell, but there’s a reason the brand is one of the gold standards when it comes to strength training gear. The German needle bearings create spin that’s buttery smooth under load, and I love how tacky the 1.2mm knurling is across the palm and fingers.

The Eleiko IWF Weightlifting Training Bar is also damn tough with a 215,000-psi tensile strength and Swedish steel makeup. While I doubt anyone training with this bar would question its durability, the brand also stands behind its work with a 12-year warranty. Sure, the price tag is a hefty weight that can drag down your enthusiasm, but one session with this barbell can easily change your mind. Catching your first snatch will undoubtedly have you thinking, “Oh, that’s why it’s so expensive.”

As Eleiko is to Olympic weightlifting, the Texas Power Bar is to powerlifting. The “Original” Texas Power Bar from Buddy Capps has been part of many of the world’s greatest lifts, and today’s iteration carries on that hard-nosed tradition with key build components and an unmatched dedication to strength. The aggressive, mountain-like knurling grabs hold with ease, perfect for locking in for PR deadlifts and squats. I also love the 17-inch sleeve length that’s roomy enough for multiple plates yet also serves as a motivating factor when chasing heavy totals.

The Original Texas Power Bar also has a shaft diameter of 28.5mm, which is suitable for small and large hands alike. If you want to bring some color into your gritty powerlifting setup, though, expect to pay a little more. Cerakote options are available, but the price gap between them and the bare steel bar is larger than other barbells in this guide. Oh well, for a barbell as historic and performance-laden as this, I’m okay with the extra cost.

The California Bar is an exceptional option for CrossFit athletes for a number of reasons, none more impressive than the sleek bushings and sleeve construction. This unique makeup helps keep workouts quiet and focused, which is great when your WODs have you performing a heightened amount of reps per circuit. Plus, the recessed welds elevate the craftsmanship of the build overall, which pairs nicely to the vibrant Cerakote colorways that also boost this barbell’s corrosion resistance.

This pick from American Barbell also features a passive knurling that gives some grit to your positioning without digging too much into your skin. Admittedly, I prefer a barbell with more aggressive teeth, but those performing rep after rep through the course of a WOD should appreciate this smoother finish.

For do-it-all barbells, it’s difficult to find a profile more capable than the Ohio Bar from Rogue Fitness. With a sturdy construction and 190,000 PSI tensile strength, this barbell is ready to perform across a multitude of disciplines without fail. I also appreciate how the knurling extends all the way to the collar, which is great for maintaining bar control with a wider stance.

The Rogue Ohio Bar is also one of the more customizable barbells out there with plenty of coating options available to match your strength training personality. Plus, this bar comes with a lifetime warranty from defects in material, functionality and workmanship, so there’s no worry of ditching your barbell-based training regimen if things go awry. While other bars may be better for specialized disciplines like powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting, for athletes that routinely change up their workouts, this is a damn fine pick worth considering.

When looking at a barbell’s tensile strength, you’re essentially looking at its durability under a heavy load. To measure this metric, bars are loaded with a set amount of weight and then dropped from a given height. A higher tensile strength means the barbell is less prone to warping or bending, and in turn, is composed of a higher-quality steel.

For most athletes, a barbell with a tensile strength above 150,000 psi is suitable, although less durable bars are still worthwhile if handled properly. Some of the best barbells typically measure 180,000 psi and above, but that heightened durability can call for a heightened price tag, so be sure to take your fitness goals and budget into consideration.

Your barbell’s knurling refers to the ridged patterns across the shaft that allow for better grip during movement. These patches can vary in terms of aggressiveness and ultimately come down to how comfortable you want your grip to be during training. For athletes that desire a locked in feel, consider a toothier barbell with a more aggressive knurling pattern. For those that want some grip yet don’t want to rip apart their skin with each rep, a more passive makeup can be more desirable.

Additionally, you should consider whether your barbell boasts a center knurling patch or not. This feature is intended to improve your barbell control during back squats as the teeth grab hold of your workout shirt during exercise. This patch can cause some irritation, though, if you’re looking to perform Olympic lifts or other, more general movements.

These two characteristics often accompany your barbell’s specs, and each component can influence your bar’s intended use. Spin refers to how smoothly your barbell’s sleeve rotates along the shaft. Spin is a desirable trait for barbells, especially amongst Olympic lifters, as it allows the weight and barbell to move independently from one another without creating excess torque along the wrist, forearms and elbows. A barbell with more spin can be more comfortable and efficient in the throws of lifting.

Whip, on the other hand, refers to how much the bar bends and bows under load. This can be used advantageously in some movements like deadlifts, but may be a detriment to barbell control in, say, a squat or bench press. Because of this, most power bars are rigid to help athletes control and move the weight without excessive influence. Additionally, whip only comes into play when your weight totals get excessively heavy, so don’t feel bad if your barbell lists a “medium whip” yet you don’t experience any bounce or bow in training.

Your barbell’s finish ultimately comes down to personal preference and how you want your strength training setup to look, but there are some picks worth mentioning that can influence your equipment’s resiliency to wear and tear. Stainless steel and Cerakote barbells are some of the best in terms of corrosion resistance, but are more expensive than others. Cerakote finishes are also available in wider colors than your typical metal picks, which can be great for spicing up your training environment. Bare steel and black oxide are more approachable price-wise, but can be prone to rust issues if exposed to damp environments.

Barbells are typically low-maintenance items, but to keep your equipment in tip top shape for future strength training sessions, it helps to know how to take care of your gear. For example, if you use chalk in your routine, be sure to brush the chalk off the knurling every few weeks. Use a circular motion to free the chalk from the grooves and teeth. Don’t use a wet gym towel to wipe the shaft clean, as this can seat the chalk into the knurling more and make for less tacky grip down the road. A nylon brush should do the job fine, but wire-bristled tools can also be suitable if you’re really looking for a deep clean. Just be sure to mind your barbell’s coating, as wire-bristled brushes can scratch stainless steel, Cerakote and other materials if used improperly.

You should also oil your barbell from time to time, especially if you’re working out in a damp basement or garage. Lightly coat your bar with a simple 3-in-1 oil and brush the substance into the metal. This doesn’t need to be a monthly endeavor, but oiling your barbell twice a year should be a worthwhile enough schedule to keep your gear ready for future lifts ahead.

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