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How to choose an Olympic Barbell

How to choose an Olympic Barbell

Bar Education

American Made Olympic Weightlifting Bars Manufactured By American Barbell:

Every bar we offer in this line is designed and built by American Barbell from the beginning in our California facility. All materials are carefully selected from 100% U.S.made material for the correct application and every critical process is strictly adhered to. In our Olympic Weightlifting line you get bars that are serious precision tools with unparalleled quality. These are for the most discerning user requiring the ultimate bar.

American Barbell Affiliate and Functional Training Bars Designed and Manufactured By American Barbell:

Each of these Olympic bars has been designed around function and durability while being affordable without compromising safety. An Olympic bar is not something that just anyone with a machine shop and a lathe can produce – especially when you consider the extreme dangers of an incorrectly designed bar. We have more than 35 years’ experience in commercial fitness manufacturing and design and have a collective group of engineering experts unrivaled in their fields.


There is a reason we are the choice of top athletes, strength and conditioning experts and training centers – we do it better than anyone else.


A bar purchase is not something to be taken lightly, and to assist you in your pursuit of the best bar for your application we offer a wealth of technical information. We are always available to answer any technical questions you may have, and we welcome competitive comparisons.

Shaft Material

For any bar, Olympic or powerlifting the material must be very strong but also ductile. High ductility is the crucial component that ensures a bar will maintain its straightness during repeated heavy lifting, and it should not be brittle which can lead to sudden failure or breaking. Many high-strength steels though strong are not suitable for lifting bars based on their lack of ductility. When you hear the term “tensile strength” this refers to the limit of force per square inch a bar can endure before breaking. “Yield strength” refers to the force a bar can endure before permanently bending or deviating from its original straightness.  Whether using alloy or stainless steel these guidelines must be strictly followed.



Decorative Chrome—although used by many companies in the past and today—is a finish not desirable as its primary purpose is for decoration as its name implies.  It is not suitable for a bar subjected to constant flexing which causes this finish to crack and peel over time which can be extremely dangerous.

Zinc: a plating process with very little corrosion resistance but cosmetically appealing.

Hard Chrome: a plating process pioneered in the late 1990s by American Barbell exclusively on Olympic bars. This method of chrome not only appeals cosmetically but also eliminates the associated dangers of cracking and peeling. Hard Chrome is not very corrosion resistant but is much safer if all related processes are strictly followed. Hard Chrome is a very thin and hard surface treatment used primarily in the aircraft and automotive industry—usually in oil bathed applications.

Stainless Steel: an obvious choice for corrosion resistance but cost prohibitive for most. It is also a difficult material to machine without the correct composition or heat treatment. The advantages if designed and used correctly are better corrosion resistance over hard chrome, Zinc or other similar finishes, and the ability to mechanically or manually clean the bar without impairing the outer surface. It is important to note that stainless steel can rust in extreme humid or salty environments but as discussed may be cleaned by any individual. Expertise is not required.


Understanding Tensile and Yield Strength

With any material, whether high strength or not, tensile and yield strengths fluctuate from manufacturing. Steel mills have targets of minimum tensile and yield strengths that must be met each time a heat or run is produced, meaning that the material must never fall below the stated numbers, but can and will be above after production. Any bar that is above 180,000 PSI tensile strength begins to loose elasticity and becomes very stiff. Olympic lifters prefer a bar with good elasticity (whip) during lifting, whereas a powerlifter prefers a much stiffer bar. Many companies quote strengths above 200,000 PSI tensile which is very stiff and therefore not desirable for Olympic lifts.


Sleeves and Material

The ultimate finish is a sleeve with a heavy hard chrome overlay. With this you get a very hard outer shell for protection as bumper plate hubs can range in hardness and easily damage the sleeves from constant dropping. Decorative chrome is the least desirable choice again because of the danger from cracking and peeling.

Tensile Strength: The force to pull apart material (breaking) Yield Strength: The force to create a permanent bend PSI: Pounds Per Square Inch 190K PSI Tensile: 190,000 lbs per square inch of force required to break or tear apart. Corrosion Resistance: The ability to combat the elements such as salt, air, sweat, etc. Raw Steel: No finish to protect. Very easy to rust. Zinc Plating: Either Black, Silver or Gold color. A very superficial finish providing very little corrosion resistance. Inexpensive. Black Oxide: Black coating that has very little corrosion resistance. Inexpensive. Chrome: Used for cosmetic purposes like car parts, faucets, etc. Very good corrosion resistance but very dangerous for Olympic Bars. Chrome can flake and peel causing severe lacerations to the user. Moderately expensive. Hard Chrome: Moderate corrosion resistance.  Very hard finish, cosmetically appealing and will not peel or cut. Used predominantly in the aircraft industry. Expensive.

Hard Chrome: Moderate corrosion resistance.  Very hard finish, cosmetically appealing and will not peel or cut. Used predominantly in the aircraft industry. Expensive.Stainless Steel: Very good corrosion resistance.  It can always be cleaned or repaired with no damage to the finish. Very expensive for material and machining costs.

Needle Bearings: A bearing with hardened needle shaped pieces in a cage that rotate around the bar.

Bushings: Either Bronze or a type of Nylon. Used inside bar sleeves for smooth rotation.

IPF: International Power Lifting Federation.

IWF: International Weightlifting Federation.

Shaft: The long section in the middle of the bar where the user grips.

Sleeves: The rotating ends on the bar where you load the plates.

28MM, 28.5MM, 29MM, etc.: Refers to the diameter of the bar shaft.

IWF OR IPF Spec.: Precise specifications of the bar dictating hand grip locate points, bar diameter, knurl lengths, sleeve diameters, etc. An IWF bar has wider locating marks for hand gripping and usually a smaller diameter than an IPF bar.

Bar Shaft and Knurling:Required maintenance will vary depending on the application and environment, but no material or finish is 100% corrosion proof. Following these steps, however, will increase performance, appearance and add additional life to your barbell: Using a stiff wire brush (a stainless steel brush is strongly recommended for stainless steel, hard chrome and raw steel bars; a stiff nylon brush is recommended for all other finishes) periodically clean chalk and other residue from the knurling and other areas of the bar shaft. If performed regularly this can be done with the brush alone, although a quality metal lubricant can also be applied first to help remove anything stubborn, such as heavy chalk, corrosion, etc. We find that metal lubricants like LPS 2 or 3-in-1 work very well. If you plan to use your bar shortly after being cleaned with lubricant simply wipe it down with a degreasing agent, such as 409 cleaner/similar.


If chalk is used regularly it can over time get into the bushings and have effects on bar spin. This is an easy fix though and requires no disassembly: the same lubricant can be applied to the bushings on the inner sleeve (standing the bar vertically) and spun while the lubricant is applied. Repeat as necessary. DO NOT use anything with silicone added as this will dry out the existing lubricant and bushing system. Note: this applies only to bars with bushing systems; bearing bars do not require this.


American Barbell offers a variety of top-quality American made bars, ranging from multi-use training bars, Olympic weightlifting bars, power bars, junior bars, technique bars and specialty bars. Learn more about individual specifications and application by selecting an individual bar from our lineup, or contact us with any questions.

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