How Heavy Are Barbells? Which Weight Barbell Do You Need?


Wondering how much that barbell at your gym weighs and if it makes a difference? Here’s what you want to know.

In general, barbells you find in commercial or home gyms weigh either 15 kg or 20 kg (33 or 44 lbs.) This is because the vast majority of barbells is modeled after the standards set for the Olympic and other weightlifting competitions. Women’s Olympic bars weigh 15 kg while men’s bars weigh 20 kg.

Below you can find out about more types of barbells, what they weigh and what’s best for you.

Types of barbells and weights

Not all barbells are the same. There are quite a few different types and they all have different standard weights. Here are some of the most common types of barbells you’ll find.

  • Men’s Olympic barbell
  • Women’s Olympic barbell
  • Standard (1”) barbell
  • Short barbell
  • Specialty barbells

The first four types on that list are all simple straight barbells that are used for general weightlifting. Specialty barbells come in different shapes and sizes and can look very different from each other.

The most common barbells are the men’s and women’s Olympic barbells. They are called this because these are the types of barbells that are used for the respective weightlifting category in the Olympic games and the same standards are used for most official weightlifting competitions.

Men’s and Women’s barbells are slightly different in length, diameter sleeve length but also; weight. The men’s bar weighs 20 kg/44 lbs. while the women’s bar weighs 15 kg/33 lbs. Most barbells in gyms are not certified to be used in official competitions but the vast majority of barbells that is not certified are still modeled closely after one or the other. That means most barbells weigh either 15 or 20 kg.

Read more about the differences between the types of barbells here.

Standard barbells are the ones with 1” thick sleeves (part you slide the plates on). There is no organization that uses these bars for competition so there is no standard. That means that some of these bars are much shorter and lighter than the Olympic barbells. The biggest difference with these bars is that the sleeves are the same diameter as the shaft so they’re quite easy to identify. Olympic barbells have 2” sleeves so they are much thicker than the shaft. Standard barbells can weigh as little as 12 lbs. and go up from there. Since there are no standards for these bars, the only way to be sure is to put it on a scale.

The men’s and women’s bars are 2200 mm and 2010 mm (86.75”/79.13”) long respectively. Some barbells have 2” thick sleeves but are shorter than that. If that’s the case, these bars aren’t following any standards but will usually weigh between 12 kg and 15 kg. Find out more about shorter barbells here.

Specialty bars are things like;

  • Safety squat bars
  • Ez curl bars
  • Trap deadlift bars

These can weigh anything. Even two bars of the same type can be of very different weights.

Using different types of barbells in your gym and need some storage solutions to keep everything tidy? Click here to find the best options

How heavy is the barbell at the gym?

Most commercial gyms will use barbells that comply with either the men’s or women’s Olympic standards for barbells. That means they either weigh 15 or 20 kg. (33 or 44 lbs.)  Often gyms will have both types of barbells. Of course barbells that aren’t actually certified to be used in official IWF weightlifting competitions don’t necessarily have to comply with the official standards so their sizes and weights can differ a little. However, most average and better quality barbells will be close enough where the differences don’t matter.

So in most gyms, the standard barbells will weigh either 15 kg or 20 kg (44/33 lbs.). Which of the two is it? That’s a little hard to figure out without a measuring tape or scale. While there are definite differences, they can be a bit hard to spot with the naked eye.

Most gyms will have scales so you can ask if they mind you weighing the barbell. In large, busy gyms they won’t be very happy about you dragging the barbell across their gym though. In small gyms this is usually OK. In good gyms, the owners/managers will likely know but in cheaper gyms the staff often barely knows what equipment they have let alone what the barbell weighs.

The easiest way to find out is to put the barbell next to you vertically. You know how tall you are and you can probably figure out from there how much the barbell sticks out above you.

If you’re 6’ tall and the barbell sticks out more than a foot above you, it’s likely a men’s/20 kg. barbell. If it sticks out only a few inches, it’s more likely to be a women’s/15 kg. bar. If it’s the same height as you, all bets are off because it’s something outside of regular form factors. In that case it probably weighs anywhere from 12 to 15 kg.

Of course any barbell that isn’t perfectly straight is going to be different and can have very different weights.

It’s a good idea to have a mirror in your home gym to see your exercise form with barbells.

Does empty barbell weight matter?

In the end, the weight of the empty barbell only matters if you do exercises where you don’t load the bar at all. Barbells are meant to be loaded with weight plates and for the vast majority of exercises you will put at least some weight on the bar.

How many weight plates do you need? Find out here.

There might be a few people that have trouble with a completely empty 20 kg. bar on some exercises when getting started working out. However, after a few weeks, you’ll be loading at least some weight on the bar so the empty weight doesn’t really matter anymore.

The difference between the Olympic standards for men’s and women’s bars is there for a reason (hand size and upper body strength). So in general, women will be more comfortable with a 15 kg barbell while men are better off with a 20 kg. bar.

If this is still too heavy on some exercises, consider building up strength with a set of dumbbells , bodyweight exercises or resistance bands first. Reducing repetitions per set and increasing rest time between sets can also help lifting that heavier weight.

To figure out how much weight you’re actually lifting it’s good to know how much the bar weighs. But even that only really matters if it’s in some kind of competitive setting. If you’re not competing against other people, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s heavy enough for you. If you’re putting more weight on the same barbell, it’s still more which means you’re progressing.

If you’re competing in official meetings, it’s of course a good idea to get the barbell for training that’s as close as possible to the thing you’re going to use during that competition.

Which weight barbell is best for you?

As you can read above, the weight of the actual barbell isn’t all that important. After the first two weeks of working out you’ll probably load the barbell with weight plates on all exercises anyways. Good barbells last for decades so making a decision based on the first two weeks of training is not the right way to go.

Other differences in barbells are much more important in deciding which one to get;

  • Shaft diameter: Most barbells have a shaft (part you grip) that’s either 25 or 28 mm thick. Women’s barbells are 25 mm thick and men’s are 28 mm. The diameter is a tradeoff between grip and comfort. Thicker shafts spread out the weight over a larger area and therefore cut into your hands less. The thicker shafts can be hard to grip for smaller hands. So this decision is mostly based on hand size.
  • Overall length: Women’s barbells are a bit shorter which is usually more practical in home gyms. They still fit perfectly fine on power racks and other equipment. Bars shorter than 79” are even easier to handle but usually don’t fit on power racks or benches because the shaft is too short.
  • Load capacity: Women’s bars have shorter sleeves and therefore a lower total load capacity than men’s barbells. This is only a problem if you want to lift more than about 550 lbs. though.
  • Quality: Overall quality of a barbell is more important than the empty weight in my opinion. A good barbell can last for decades so picking the right one when you get started is well worth it. There’s no need to spend $1000 for an official certified barbell but spending +-$250 to $400 will get you a great bar that is much better than one that costs $120.

The other characteristics listed above are what you should base your decision for a men’s or women’s style barbell on first. Both will work very well for general fitness. So you can’t go wrong with either a 15 or 20 kg barbell. It’s just that one of those might fit your needs a bit better.

In general I wouldn’t recommend a barbell that has a different weight than that because that usually means the bar gets very far away from the standards which can cause fitment issues or is of low quality. However, if you’re only using the barbell for exercises where it doesn’t rest on other equipment like deadlifts and rows, it doesn’t really matter as long as it’s long enough for you to grip it comfortably.

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