Bumper Plates vs. Iron Plates: Differences and How to Use Each

Choosing the right plates:

Are you walking into the weight room for your first time and you’re not sure whether you should use those hard iron plates or the colorful bumper plates?

Maybe you’re switching up your training routine and your new program might be better suited for bumper plates over traditional iron plates.

Let’s take a closer look at bumper plates vs. iron plates to determine the difference and when you should use each one to match your training.

What is a Bumper Plate?

Have you ever stepped into a gym and instead of racks with hard iron plates, there were colorful stacks of rubber-coated weight plates?

Those are bumper plates.

Elite-quality bumper plates or training plates are comprised of a steel core with a thick rubber protective coating. The latter allows you to drop the weights from overhead without having to worry about breaking the weight.

These should not be confused with certain styles of Olympic weight plates that have a very thin rubber coating to protect against scratches. If you try dropping one of these plates, it will instantly crack when it hits the ground.

Benefits of Bumper Plates

Ideal for Power-Focused Exercises: When the bulk of your workout is going to focus on lifting as much as you can and as quickly as you can, bumper plates are a must. Take CrossFit as an example. Exercises like the overhead squat or snatch increase the chance that you’ll have to drop the weight from overhead. Bumper plates allow you to do that with confidence.

Durability: Continuing with the point above, despite the punishment that you’ll dish out on bumper plates, they are incredibly durable. You don’t have to worry about scratches let alone the plates cracking in half.

Long-Term Investment: The durability and usefulness of a bumper plate goes beyond a few months. These things will stay in excellent shape for years to come, provided you do basic maintenance on them. For example, don’t leave them in extreme weather.

When Should You Use Bumper Plates?

We highly recommend bumper plates during any type of workout where you’ll need to lift and move quickly such as CrossFit. But this is a given as the majority of boxes across the world use bumper plates in their workouts.

We also recommend bumper plates for beginners. You might not lift much as a beginner to the weight room, but bumper plates are still recommended just in case one falls.

What are Iron Plates?

The traditional iron plate is what you’ll find in most non-niche gyms. This is the bread and butter of your old school bodybuilding gyms.

Iron plates are made by pouring molten iron into a sand-based shaping tool. The shape, of course, is that of a circular plate. Once the molten iron cools, you have yourself a hardened iron weight plate.

There are different sizes of weight plates, but if you’re buying Olympic – which you always should – then you’ll notice that they are always the same regulated shape.

Benefits of Iron Plates

Classic Grit Feeling: For those of us who grew up surrounded by iron, there really is nothing like that feeling of grabbing an iron weight plate and throwing it on a barbell. This can actually help with motivation. The idea that you’re pressing iron is a lot more motivating than pressing rubber.

Easier to Grab: One of the first differences you’ll notice between a bumper plate and an iron plate is how easy it is to hoist up an iron plate. Most bumper plates are solid without any grab holes due to the plastic coating.

Long-Term Investment: Like bumper plates, traditional iron plates will be around for years to come, provided you care for them properly. Classics never die.

When Should You Use Iron Plates?

Traditional bodybuilding workouts are ideal for cast iron weight plates. Even though you’ll move a lot of weight, you aren’t going to bail out of that exercise like you would in CrossFit.

Bodybuilding is all about perfect form and time under tension, making a weight drop less likely. Besides, that’s what power racks and squat stands are for.

If you have proper padding and protective surfaces, you can also use iron plates in powerlifting workouts. Don’t try repping a new personal best on wooden plates – You’ll regret it.

Bumper Plates vs. Iron Plates:

What if You Can Only Afford One Type?

We’ve covered the ideal situations above when you should choose bumper plates over iron plates. If you’re like most gym rats, you’ll have a combination of these exercises in your workouts. Which means you’ll have a need for both bumper plates and iron plates.

But let’s say you’re on a budget and you can only choose one for your home gym. Which one should you choose? Bumper plates? Or iron plates?

Given their durability, we would say stick with bumper plates. They are designed to be thrown around. Iron plates, on the other hand, always make your heart skip a beat when they accidentally hit the ground.

We’ve seen plenty of CrossFit gyms, for example, with stacks of cracked iron plates. All the bumper plates? Good as new.

Iron Plates vs. Bumper Plates:

Which Do You Prefer?

Do you prefer the hard and gritty feel of an iron plate? Or do you use bumper plates during high-intensity workouts? Have a picture pushing iron plates or bumper plates? Tag us on Instagram so we can share!