Olympic Barbells vs Standard Barbells

Olympic Barbells vs Standard Barbells: Which is Right for You?

Discover the critical differences between Olympic and standard barbells in our comprehensive guide. From dimensions and weight to construction and compatibility, unlock the secrets to elevating your workout routine. Whether you're a seasoned lifter or just starting, make an informed choice for maximum gains.

To the uninitiated, weightlifting bars are pretty generic pieces of equipment; so long as you’ve got a bar to hold the weights, you’re good to go. Strength training enthusiasts, however, know differently. Choosing the right type of bar is essential to workout success. The most fundamental decision is whether to opt for an Olympic or a standard barbell. 

In this article, we’ll explore the nuances of Olympic and standard barbells, exploring their dimensions, construction, intended usage, and compatibility with weight plates. Whether you're a seasoned lifter seeking precision or a novice embarking on your fitness journey, understanding the differences between Olympic and standard barbells is vital to unlocking your full potential in the gym.

Olympic vs Standard Barbells: Dimensions and Weight

Olympic and standard barbells differ significantly in length, diameter, and weight. Here’s a breakdown:

Shaft Diameter:

  • Standard Barbell: Standard barbells typically have a shaft diameter of one inch (25 mm). This is designed to accommodate weight plates with a one-inch center hole diameter.
  • Olympic Barbell: Olympic barbells have a larger shaft diameter of two inches (50 mm). This thicker diameter provides a more secure grip, especially during heavy lifts, and is favored by serious lifters and competitive athletes. It accommodates Olympic weight plates, which also have a two-inch diameter. 

Weight Range:

  • Standard Barbell: Standard barbells are generally lighter in weight than Olympic barbells. A standard 7-foot barbell typically weighs 15 to 25 pounds (7 to 11 kg). 
  • Olympic Barbell: Olympic barbells are heavier and more robust, designed to withstand heavier loads and intense training sessions. The standard Olympic barbell weight for a 7-Foot barbell typically ranges from 33 to 45 pounds (15 to 20 kg). 

Because the weight of your bar is so essential to your workout, let’s examine this aspect in more detail. 

An Olympic men’s barbell typically weighs 44.1 pounds or 20 kg, while a women’s Olympic barbell weighs 33 pounds or 15 kg. The main distinction is the women’s bar being thinner for improved grip. 

Olympic bars offer more flex and spin due to their 2-inch diameter cuffs, accommodating Olympic barbell plates. This design also provides greater 'whip,' referring to the bar's flex without permanent bending. When choosing an Olympic barbell, options include various shaft diameters, knurling types, and the choice between bearings and bushings.

Squat Barbell

The Texas Power Bar, weighing 44.1 pounds or 20 kg, is sturdier and has deeper knurling than a standard Olympic bar. Another option is the Safety Squat Bar, which is equipped with handle grips to alleviate strain on the rotator cuff during squats. This addition increases the bar's weight to 70 lbs or 32 kg.

EZ Curl Bar

Unlike standard barbells, EZ Curl Bars don't have a fixed weight since they aren't used in competitions. They typically range between 11 and 22 pounds (5 and 10 kg). Olympic EZ Curl Bars, designed for Olympic barbell plates, usually weigh between 15 and 30 pounds.

Standard Barbell

Standard barbells commonly found in home gyms typically weigh around 20 pounds, but this may vary depending on the length of the bar. They have a one-inch diameter to accommodate standard weight plates.

Youth Weightlifting Bar

Youth Weightlifting Bars, tailored for teenagers and preteens, weigh approximately 11 pounds (5 kg) and provide a stepping stone to adult bars.

Smith Machine Bar

Smith Machine bars usually weigh 22 pounds (10 kg), although some variants weigh only 11 pounds (5 kg).

[Related: Smith Machine vs Squat Rack: Which is Better and Safer?]

Olympic vs. Standard Barbells: Construction and Design

Olympic Bars

An Olympic bar's durability and performance depend on the strength and ductility of the materials used in its construction. Ductility determines the bar’s ability to maintain straightness under the stress of a heavy load while avoiding the brittleness that could cause failure.

Many high-strength steels exist, but their lack of ductility makes them unsuitable for lifting bars. That’s because they lack the resilience and elasticity required to handle the stresses involved in heavy lifting. 

The strength of a bar is measured in terms of either ‘tensile strength’ or ‘yield strength.’ They indicate the maximum force a bar can handle per square inch without breaking or permanently bending. The tensile strength is the maximum amount of pressure the bar can handle before being permanently damaged, while the yield strength measures the amount of pressure it can withstand before it begins to bend.

The strength of a barbell is measured in PSI, which stands for pounds per square inch. If you are a serious lifter, you should look for a bar with a PSI of at least 165,000, with the ideal being around 180,000 PSI.

You might think that the higher the tensile strength, the better. But that is not the case. 

A workout bar with a tensile strength surpassing 180,000 PSI tends to lose elasticity, becoming overly stiff. This stiffness is not what you want in an Olympic lifting bar. Olympic lifters need a degree of elasticity, or ‘whip,’ during lifts. In contrast, powerlifters favor stiffer bars. Some manufacturers produce bars with tensile strengths exceeding 200,000 PSI, resulting in bars that are too stiff for Olympic lifts.

Olympic Bar Sleeves

The sleeve is the part of the bar where you load plates. It should have a heavy chrome overlay that provides a protective outer shell to offset the constant dropping of bumper plate loaded bars. 

Olympic bar sleeves are fitted with bearings between the shaft and sleeve, allowing it to spin smoothly and quickly. Two types of bearings are used:

  1. Ball Bearings
  2. Needle Bearings

Needle bearings provide more spin so that there is less strain on your wrists. Needle-bearing fitted bars are better suited for fast Olympic lifts, such as thrusters, snatches, and cleans. They are also ideal for CrossFit barbell exercises, typically done at speed.

If you use a bar that lacks a good amount of spin, you cannot naturally transfer rotational momentum and torque between your body and the bar and vice versa. This can result in serious injury and poor form. 

Ball-bearing fitted bars are better for slower lifts like the bench press and deadlift.

You can also find bars that use bushings to facilitate sleeve spin. These provide the slowest amount of spin and are the cheapest of the three options. If you buy a bar with bushings, I recommend choosing one with bronze bushings, which are essentially self-lubricating.

There are several Olympic bar shaft finishes that are available. Here’s an overview of the benefits of each:

  • Decorative Chrome: Primarily for decoration, this finish is unsuitable for workout bars subject to constant flexing, as it tends to crack and peel.
  • Hard Chrome: Introduced exclusively on Olympic bars, this plating process provides both cosmetic appeal and durability without the risk of cracking and peeling.
  • Stainless Steel: Although costly, stainless steel provides superior corrosion resistance compared to other finishes. It requires careful composition and heat treatment for optimal performance.
  • Cerakote: Known for unrivaled corrosion resistance, Cerakote is susceptible to damage from contact with metal objects and requires careful handling to maintain its integrity. 
  • Black Oxide: The bar is coated with a light coating of black oxide to provide extra protection against wear and corrosion. However, it may be prone to chipping.
  • Zinc: Offers greater corrosion resistance than black oxide but can wear over time. It is also more expensive than a black oxide-coated bar. 

Standard Bars

Standard barbell shafts are typically made from a high-strength steel alloy. Cheaper bars may have a hollow center. This reduces the weight and strength of the bar and is only suitable for light home use. 

The PSI of a standard barbell is much lower than that of an Olympic bar, averaging around 120,000 PSI. Thus, a standard barbell can only handle a maximum weight of about 250 pounds. 

Standard bars have virtually no elasticity or ‘whip’, making them wholly unsuitable for Olympic lifting exercises.

Standard barbells do not have a separate revolving sleeve. Instead, the entire bar is one piece, with the sleeve area separated by a stopper that prevents the weight from sliding in toward the part of the bar you are holding. 

Some standard bars will have a spinlock end bar featuring a threaded pattern that takes a spinlock end cap. This allows you to put the collar on very quickly. Others will have smooth ends that take an end clip or a nut and screw arrangement. 

A standard weightlifting bar has a shaft diameter of one inch and a length of 60 inches, though they are available in various sizes. 

Standard bars can take standard plates with a one-inch hole diameter. While you can slide a two-inch diameter Olympic plate onto a standard bar, it will not be practical as it will sit too loosely. This will result in unsafe and unevenly weighted exercise performance.

Standard bars are usually not as long as Olympic bars, so they may not fit on some power racks. They also have a significantly lower maximum weight capacity than an Olympic bar, so they are prone to bending or snapping if overloaded.

Standard bars do not have a standard weight. They can be as light as five pounds or as heavy as 25 pounds, which makes it difficult to know precisely how much weight you’re lifting. 

Olympic Bar vs Powerlifting Bar

Olympic bars and powerlifting bars look very much the same. One way to tell which is which is to hit the bar with your fist in its center. With the powerlifting bar, you will notice a small amount of vibration, whereas when you hit the Olympic bar, there will be a lot more vibration. 

When it comes to strength training, your training goal should dictate the type of bar you’re using. The choice comes down to either an Olympic weightlifting bar or a traditional powerlifting bar. 

The Olympic bar has more elasticity than a power bar. The sleeves of these bars also revolve faster. As a result, the Olympic bar is better suited to such fast lifts as the snatch and clean and jerk. 

The traditional power bar is better for slower lifts like squats, bench presses, and deadlifts. That’s because the power bar doesn’t have as much elasticity as an Olympic bar. 

If you try performing moves like the snatch or clean with a power bar, the slower revolving sleeve and lack of elasticity may result in some joint pain, especially in the wrists, when you get in the catch position. 

Olympic vs. Standard Barbells: Knurling

The knurling on a barbell is the machine grooves in the gripping area of the bar. It is designed to make maintaining your hold on the bar easier. Three main knurling pattern variations are colloquially known as ‘hill,’ ‘volcano,’ and ‘mountain.’

Hill knurling is the smoothest of the three, with the mountain being the most aggressive. The deeper the knurling grooves, the more grip support it will provide. However, some may find a more aggressively knurled bar too uncomfortable on the palms. 

Volcano knurling provides a happy medium between being too smooth and too aggressive. It delivers more hand contact points to enhance grip without requiring overly sharp grooves. 

Competition Olympic bars are required to have a center knurling. This is designed for squatting comfort but may irritate if the bar directly contacts your skin. Most serious lifters I know are not fans of a center-knurled bar. Some of them even put tape over the center knurling to prevent irritation across the back of the neck when squatting. 

Most standard barbells also have knurling. However, it is not as aggressive as that found on Olympic bars, generally falling into the ‘hill’ category. You also won’t find any center knurling on a standard barbell. 

Compatibility with Weight Plates

Olympic and standard barbells have different weight plate compatibility. This is due to their different shaft diameters. Standard barbells have a one-inch diameter to take weight plates with the same diameter center hole.

The two-inch diameter of Olympic bars is designed to accommodate Olympic plates. These plates have two-inch center holes. There are several advantages to stocking your gym with Olympic rather than standard plates. These include:

  • Durability: Olympic plates are often rubber-covered, providing more significant wear and tear resistance than standard plates. 
  • Standardization: Olympic plates come in standard dimensions, including thickness. This is very different from standard plates. Some 20-pound plastic-coated standard plates are twice as thick as cast iron versions of the same poundage. This can make it impossible to load enough weight on the bar.
  • Versatility: Olympic plates can be purchased in a more extensive range of weight increments than standard plates. This allows you to increase your weight more accurately in line with your strength potential.
  • Stability: Olympic plates typically have a larger diameter than standard plates. This increases stability, making the plate less likely to slip or cause imbalance. 

Olympic Barbell Advantages

  • High-Quality Construction: Olympic barbells are typically constructed from durable materials like high-strength steel, ensuring long-lasting performance.
  • Standardized Design: It is designed to Olympic specifications, including a 2-inch diameter sleeve, which allows it to be compatible with Olympic plates and accessories.
  • Greater Load Capacity: Olympic barbells are designed to handle heavier loads, making them suitable for advanced weightlifting and powerlifting.
  • Rotating Sleeves: Many Olympic barbells feature rotating sleeves with bearings or bushings, allowing for smoother rotation during exercises like Olympic lifts.
  • Versatility: Olympic barbells are versatile and suitable for various exercises, including squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and Olympic lifts.
  • Enhanced Grip: Olympic barbells often feature knurling patterns that provide a secure grip during lifting, reducing the risk of slippage.

Standard Barbell Advantages

  • Simplicity: Standard barbells are straightforward in design, making them easy for beginners and casual lifters to use and handle.
  • Cost-Effective: Standard barbells are often more affordable than Olympic barbells, making them a budget-friendly option for home gyms and light commercial settings.
  • Compatibility: Standard barbells have sleeves with a 1-inch diameter, compatible with standard weight plates commonly found in home gym setups.
  • Compactness: Standard barbells are generally lighter and more compact than Olympic barbells, making them easier to store and transport.
  • Beginner-Friendly: With lighter weight options and more straightforward design, standard barbells are ideal for beginners or those focusing on general fitness rather than advanced weightlifting or powerlifting goals.
  • Home Gym Convenience: Standard barbells are well-suited for home gym setups where space may be limited and heavy lifting or Olympic-style lifts may not be the primary focus.


Q: Are all Olympic bars 45 pounds?

A: No, not all Olympic bars are 45 pounds. The standard barbell weight of a men’s Olympic bar is 20 kg or 44.1 pounds. However, the standard barbell weight of a woman’s Olympic bar is 15 kg or 33 pounds. There are other non-standard versions of an Olympic bar with varying weights.

Q: How do I know if my barbell is 45 or 33 pounds?

You can tell the difference between a 45-pound and a 33-pound Olympic bar weight by looking at the diameter of the bar. A 33-pound bar, which is designed for use by women, has a significantly thinner diameter. You can also check on the end of the sleeve, where most manufacturers stamp the weight of the Olympic bar.

Q: Are Olympic barbells worth it?

A: If you are serious, rather than a casual weightlifter, investing in an Olympic bar is well worth the investment. An Olympic bar gives you much better balance, elasticity, and strength, allowing you to perform a range of exercises with better form and greater safety. Olympic bars also allow you to use Olympic weight plates, which are more standardized, are available in more significant increments and are more durable than standard weight plates. Finally, Olympic bars are more compatible with power and squat racks than standard bars.

Q: Can you use an Olympic bar for bench press?

A: Yes, you can use an Olympic bar for the bench press. Olympic bars are ideal for bench pressing due to their sturdy design, standardized dimensions, and compatibility with Olympic bench press benches. 

Wrap Up

The success of your workout depends on the quality of the equipment you are working with. When it comes to barbells (specifically olympic barbells vs standard barbells), Olympic bars are a better overall choice than standard bars. Their standardized design, higher construction quality, greater load capacity, rotating sleeves, elasticity, and durability put them a category above the humble standard bar. 

When it comes to buying an Olympic bar, pay particular attention to the PSI. If you plan to do a lot of Olympic-style lifting, choose a bar with a PSI of around 180,000. Anything higher than that will compromise elasticity, which is ok for slower exercises like the bench or deadlift but not for snatches, cleans, and CrossFit training. 

Check out the extensive Iron Bull strength range of weightlifting and powerlifting barbells.