A Beginner's Guide to Buying an Olympic Barbell

A man holding a olympic barbell

You're fired up to conquer the world of Olympic weightlifting – that's awesome! But before you start snatching plates and jerking barbells like a pro, you need one crucial thing: the right barbell. Don't worry, this guide will shed light on everything you need to know to pick the perfect bar for your beginner gains.

What is an Olympic Barbell?

An Olympic barbell is a super strong, standardized weightlifting bar. It's built tough to handle a lot of weight and has a special grip and spinning weights to help you lift safely and effectively. These barbells are used in Olympic weightlifting competitions, like the snatch and clean and jerk. But, they are also great for regular weightlifting exercises, like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses.

Benefits of an Olympic Barbell

An Olympic weightlifting barbell has many advantages over a standard barbell. It is a great choice for serious lifters and even casual gym goers.

Here are some of the key benefits:

  • Durability: Olympic barbells are built to withstand a lot of punishment. They are typically made from high-quality steel and are thicker than standard barbells. This makes them less likely to bend or break under heavy loads.
  • Knurl: The knurl is the raised pattern on the grip area of the barbell. Olympic barbells have a more aggressive knurl than standard barbells, which provides a better grip for lifters. This is important for Olympic lifts, which require a strong grip to control the barbell.
  • Spinners: The sleeves on an Olympic barbell rotate independently of the bar. This allows the weights to spin freely during lifts, which can help to improve technique and reduce stress on the wrists and elbows.
  • Versatility: Olympic barbells can be used for a variety of exercises, not just Olympic lifts. They can be used for squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and rows.

Understanding Olympic Barbell Specifications

Here's a breakdown of Olympic barbell specifications [Standardized Size (by IWF)]


Length (m)

Length (ft)

Weight (kg)

Weight (lb)

Shaft Diameter (mm)














1.70 (Approx)

5.70 (Approx)

10 (Approx)

22 (Approx)

25 (Approx)

Types of Olympic Barbell

There isn't exactly a variety in types of Olympic weightlifting barbells, but there are variations based on who will be using them. These variations consider factors like user size and strength, and are built with safety and performance in mind.

Here's a breakdown of the common variations:

  • Men's Olympic Weightlifting Barbell: This is the standard size and most commonly used barbell in Olympic weightlifting competitions. It measures 2.2 meters (7 ft) long, has a diameter of 28 mm, and weighs 20 kg (44 lbs).
  • Women's Olympic Weightlifting Barbell:Designed for the different physiques of female weightlifters, these barbells are slightly shorter and lighter than the men's version. They measure 2.01 meters (6 ft 3 in) long, have a diameter of 25 mm, and weigh 15 kg (33 lbs).
  • Youth Olympic Weightlifting Barbell:As the name suggests, these are barbells made for younger or beginner lifters. They are the shortest and lightest of the three, measuring 1.7 meters (5 ft 7 in) long, having a diameter of 25 mm, and weighing 10 kg (22 lbs).

Olympic Barbell Technical Terms Explained

  • Tensile Strength: As mentioned earlier, this refers to the maximum weight the bar can hold before breaking.
  • Barbell Whip: This is the slight bend the bar exhibits under load. It can be beneficial in Olympic lifts by helping generate momentum, but powerlifting barbells are designed with minimal whip for stability.
  • Bushings vs. Bearings: Bushings are simpler and quieter, but wear down over time. Bearings offer smoother rotation but require more maintenance. Olympic barbells typically use bearings for better performance, while powerlifting barbells often use bushings for stability.
  • Center Knurl: This is the raised texture in the middle of the barbell where it rests on your shoulders during cleans and jerks. It prevents the knurling from scratching you.
  • Barbell Coatings: Barbells come in various finishes like chrome or black oxide. These mainly affect aesthetics, but chrome offers better rust resistance.
  • Knurl Markings (IPF/IWF): These markings indicate the spacing and depth of the knurling. IPF refers to Powerlifting standards, while IWF refers to Olympic Weightlifting standards. Beginners don't need to worry too much about these markings; focus on a smooth center knurl for Olympic lifts.

Finding the Right Length: Standard or Technique Barbell?

Most Olympic barbells are a standard 7.2 feet long. This length allows for wider grips during lifts like the snatch and clean and jerk. However, you might also come across "technique barbells" which are slightly shorter. These can be a good option if you're a complete beginner focusing on mastering proper form with lighter weights. They offer a bit more control due to the shorter distance between your hands.

How Much Weight Can Your Bar Handle? Understanding Capacity

You'll see two terms thrown around when it comes to barbell weight capacity: yield strength and tensile strength. Yield strength refers to the weight that will cause the bar to bend permanently. Tensile strength is the maximum weight the bar can hold before breaking – yikes! For beginners, prioritize a barbell with a high enough tensile strength to accommodate your current weightlifting goals and allow room for future progress. A good rule of thumb is to choose a bar with a tensile strength of at least 150,0  pounds (68 kg).

Knurling Texture: Smooth vs. Center Knurl

The knurling is that raised texture on the barbell handle that helps you grip it. Olympic weightlifting barbells often have a smooth center knurl where you rest the bar on your shoulders during cleans and jerks. This smooth section prevents the knurling from scratching your skin during these lifts. However, some barbells have knurling throughout the entire grip, which can be beneficial for exercises like squats where you want a more secure hold on your back. As a beginner, a smooth center knurl is perfectly suitable for Olympic lifts.

Men's vs. Women's Barbells: Does Size Matter?

There are slight differences between men's and women's Olympic barbells. Men's barbells are typically a bit heavier and have a slightly larger diameter. However, the difference is minimal, and most beginners can comfortably use a standard men's barbell. Focus on choosing a barbell with the right weight capacity and knurling texture for your needs, and don't sweat the gender label.

Choosing the Right Barbell for You

With all this information, you might feel overwhelmed. But remember, focus on the essentials for beginners:

  • Set a Budget: Prioritize features like weight capacity and standard length over fancy extras.
  • Brand Reputation: Look for reputable brands known for quality Olympic weightlifting barbells.
  • Future-Proofing: Consider a bar with a high enough weight capacity to accommodate your future gains.

The Takeaway

By keeping these factors in mind, you'll be well on your way to selecting the ideal Olympic barbell for your beginner training. Remember, the perfect bar should support your progress, not hinder it. Do some research, prioritize features that fit your needs and budget, and get ready to unleash your inner champion! With the right barbell by your side, you'll be snatching and jerking your way to success in no time. Now go forth and conquer those weights!