Are you shopping for a barbell and are a bit confused by all the words they’re using for the different parts? Don’t worry, I’ll explain below which parts there are and what they’re called. You can also find the exact dimensions of Olympic barbells.
Parts of an Olympic barbell
Talking about barbells can get confusing. Even though it’s a single piece, there are actually a few parts with names you should know if you’re interested in barbells or are shopping for one. Here are the parts of a barbell and what they are;
- Shaft: This is the part of a barbell you grip with your hands. The middle part where it’s impossible to get weight plates on.
- Sleeves: The sleeves are the two ends of a barbell you can slide the weight plates on. They are usually chromed and can rotate separately from the shaft on Olympic barbells.
- Collar: This is the little ledge on the inside of the sleeves that keeps the weight plates from sliding onto the shaft. Confusingly it can also refer to the clamps you put on the sleeve to keep the plates from sliding off the other side.
- Knurling: The knurling is the cross-hatched pattern you can see in the shaft of the barbells. This provides extra grip for your hands.
- Bearing: Since the sleeves on an Olympic barbell can rotate, there is a bearing that sits between the shaft and the sleeve to facilitate this. The type of bearing depends on the quality of the barbell.
- End cap: This is the plastic or rubber cap that sits on the edge of the sleeves. This covers up the bearing inside and makes the ends look nicer.
You might have noticed I mentioned the words “Olympic barbell” a few times already. What makes a barbell Olympic? There are two types of barbells;
Olympic obviously refers to the Olympic games and the equipment used there. However, most barbells that call themselves Olympic will never be used there because they are just not good enough to be certified. In practice, the difference is mainly in the sleeves. A barbell with non-rotating 1” diameter sleeves is called a standard barbell. One with rotating 2” sleeves is called an Olympic barbell.
The barbells used for the male and female weightlifting competitions are slightly different. Males generally have bigger hands and have a wider upper body which is why the male competition bars are slightly thicker and longer but let’s take a look at the exact dimensions.
Male Olympic Barbell Dimensions
Here are the dimensions of Olympic barbells for male Olympic barbells. All the measurements have to be from +0.1% to -0.05% for the bar to be certified by the IWF. You can find the exact IWF rules and certification regulations by clicking here.
As said above, most barbells without certification are still called Olympic barbells. However, the measurements could be slightly different. Most barbells will be close to the measurements below but the tolerances can be larger.
Male Olympic Barbell Dimensions;
|Men's Olympic bar Dimensions||Millimeter||Inch|
|Center knurl width||120||4.72|
|Total Weight||20 kg||44.09 lbs.|
Female Olympic Barbell Dimensions
Here are the dimensions of Olympic barbells for female Olympic barbells. All the measurements have to be from +0.1% to -0.05% for the bar to be certified by the IWF. Non certified bars can have bigger tolerances.
Female Olympic Barbell Dimensions;
|Women's Olympic bar Dimensions||Millimeter||Inch|
|Center knurl width||None||None|
|Total Weight||15 kg||33.07 lbs.|
Other Barbell Sizes
Not all barbells are official Olympic barbells. Most of them aren’t. An official Olympic barbell has to be certified by the IWF (International Weightlifting Federation). The bars that are certified comply to the sizes above with very small tolerances. Producing a bar to those small tolerances and getting it certified costs quite a bit of money. That means certified bars are very expensive.
For most gyms (home or otherwise) certified barbells are unnecessary. The money they cost isn’t really bringing any benefits for most people. You can get a good barbell that is virtually the same but is lacking the certification for much less money. If you’re just training to build muscle or look better, the exact measurements of your barbell don’t matter that much as long as it fits on your rack and the weight plates go on the sleeves.
The problem with not being certified; manufacturers can do whatever they want and slap ‘Olympic’ on it. The only thing ‘Olympic barbell’ really means it has rotating 2” sleeves. All the other measurements can be different. So you can find a 6’ long ‘Olympic’ barbell or even an ‘Olympic’ EZ curl bar.
So can’t you expect anything from a barbell that isn’t certified? Not really but in practice it’s not that bad. Any barbell of decent quality will be very close to the official measurements. The tolerances might be slightly larger but as said, for outside of competition use, this doesn’t matter all that much. Do you really care about 0.5 mm?
It’s only at the bottom of the price range where things get a bit more hit or miss. The cheaper bars are often some in between size or just 7’ or 6’ long. Often the total length and length of the sleeves will be listed so you can figure out the most important measurements.
How long does a barbell have to be?
For a home gym, a barbell that fits whatever you want to do with it is fine. But how long is that? There are a few lengths that are important to make sure it works for your home gym;
- Shaft length
- Sleeve length
The shaft length is important because your bar should fit on the power rack or whatever equipment you’re using. A full sized power rack can fit both a men’s and women’s barbell easily. Slightly shorter barbells will also fit but 6’/72” are hit or miss if they will fit on a power rack. Because you’ll have to either cut the shaft or the sleeves quite short to get to 6’ either the shaft is too short to fit on the rack or the sleeves are too short to handle a lot of weight. However, there are a few bars that will fit but it really depends on the specific barbell and the equipment you put it on.
Most power racks are about 49” wide. So a barbell that has more than +-50” of shaft length will fit on common gym equipment. If you have separate squat stands they are often closer together so you can use a shorter (6’) barbell.
The sleeve length is a little less important but matters for the maximum load of the bar. The shorter the sleeves are, the fewer weight plates fit on there. Keep in mind you want to keep some length of the bar free for a collar. You could load the sleeves to the edges but the plates would fall off really easily.
That said, for most people this isn’t going to be a limiting factor to how much weight they can lift. A 45 lbs. Urethane covered weight plate is about 1.5” thick. That means on a 12.6”/320 mm long sleeve (women’s bar) you can easily fit 6 plates on each side and still have enough room for a collar. 12 45 pound plates, a barbell and collars is about 575 lbs. If you need more than that, go for a men’s bar.
How thick should a barbell be?
The thickness of several parts is also important. Just like with the length, the thickness of the shaft and the sleeves are the important bits.
The sleeve diameter is important simply because your weight plates should fit on the bar. If your weight plates have a 1” diameter inside hole, there is no point in getting an Olympic barbell. Since the sleeves of an Olympic bar are 50mm in diameter, that’s never going to fit. You’ll need Olympic style weight plates to fit on the bar.
The thickness of the shaft is personal preference. The diameter is a tradeoff between grip and comfort. A thicker bar is more comfortable to hold because the weight is spread out over a bigger area and therefore cuts into your hands less. But if you have small hands, a thinner bar is easier to grip.
25 and 28mm are by far the most common choices of barbell shaft thickness. You can see above that the official men’s barbell is 28 mm thick and the women’s is 25 mm thick. So simply look at your hands to see which will fit you better. Got hands the size of the average woman? 25 mm is better. Got bear claws? 28 mm will suit you.
Keep in mind that the thicker barbell will be a bit heavier than the thinner one. 28 mm thick bars usually weigh 20 kg/44 lbs. while thinner 25 mm barbells usually weigh 15 kg/33 lbs. If you want less weight, a thinner barbell might be better.
There are a few thicker barbells that are up to 32 mm thick. This is not a great choice for an all-round barbell you want to use for every exercise. 25 or 28 mm is versatile enough to use for everything you want to do in a home gym.