Getting a barbell for yourself is a big call, and the first step in a home gym. We often get asked what is ‘the best piece to start with and we always say a barbell and some 10’s, just to put somewhere and to curls (that is our actual advice, not a joke).
The key is to invest in something you will use, keep and add to your life, not become an eye-sore that annoys you because you don’t use it.
TL;DR – get a bar with standardised markings and sleeves – with at least single bushings that can be maintained.
The first considerations for a barbell – ‘standard’ 50mm sleeves
We’re going to assume that if you are on this site, you have some interest in strength training. Any bar that does not take ‘standard’ plates will rattle and annoy you. Some commercial gyms still have those thin bars and old plates with the tiny holes.
Your barbell should be 50mm sleeves. It’s a standard, and any bar that isn’t 50mm really isn’t worth a long term investment.
A ‘high end’ plate is 50.4mm and will fit more snug, an economy collar is 50.8mm region. The change in tolerance means high-end plates must be perfect to pass QC, but economy plates have a little more wiggle room (and a little more slack/noise).
The cost consideration – bushings – single is fine for most, double will feel better and high load
Powerlifting bars using bushings, weightlifting bars use bushings and bearings (it’s why they spin so fast). You do not want to use a weightlifting bar for strength, the spin will break your wrists on a bench and move weird on a dead/squat.
High-end bars use double bushings (normally brass), deadlift bars will often use a bronze bushing due to the weights being on an angle due to whip.
Unless you are putting over 180kgish on the bar, you will never notice the difference between single and double bushings. If you are getting up there, double bushings have no drag and feel way better squatting. If you have ever squatted on a bar that ‘catches’ it’s a single old bushing. A very well maintained single bushing will feel perfect under all weights though.
Our Power Bar runs a single bushing and our Comp bar runs a double in each sleeve. All our barbells are able to be serviced, greased and maintained, so in theory, you could easily maintain a Power Bar to feel good as a Comp bar by tearing down and greasing every two years or so. ‘Galling’ is the effect that every barbell has with a bushing (all bushing have some level of galling’). You should be hesitant to buy a bar that you can’t pull down and inspect the bushings. Some not very mechanical people will spray barbells with WD40 which removes grease (this is way more common than you think in commercial gyms). Bushings need grease. Don’t do that.
Our deadlift bar runs a bronze bushing that deals with the specific whip better.
Bars with fixed sleeves feel horrible, always.
This is a highly personal specification, but we had our Power bars made with an ‘everyone friendly’ knurling, it works and it’s great. We had our comp bars made with ‘this is going to stay in my hand no matter what’ aggression.
Some people do not like that sharp feeling, we personally do. Your knurling is only as good as your care for the knurling. If you leave chalk on it, it will get gross with human bits and pieces over time and make the bar horrible. It takes three seconds to clean up a barbell (we use a cheap toothbrush, but anything similar is fine). The earlier you clean it, the easier it comes off. This is something we are pretty nuts about in our gym setups, clean your bar when you are done.
Every now and then, clean the whole knurling with cleaning alcohol or something similar, and there is a layer of human on there that is kind of gross. A well looked after knurling grips for years.
If you Powerlift, our bars have a standard for knurling marks (you know, those things you line your fingers up with). All our bars have this and should be a standard. Weightlifting bars are different, have no centre knurling and will slide squatting (but are way better for weightlifting).
Deadlift bars have no centre knurling (and should never be used for squats).
Our aggressive Volcano knurling (seen on our Comp Spec Power Bars, Squat Bars and Deadlift Bars) stops short of being a file that just cuts you open. We see no reason to go that far.
We had our Comp bar fitted with micro grooves on the sleeves. This was a personal request of ours and speaks to a convenience of weights not slipping around (even without collars). Yes, you should always use collars but sometimes on warm-ups with multiple people training, it’s a nice addition not to need them on every set.
Obviously, use collars when it gets heavy.
Deadlift and squat bars are made for competitors and to match comp settings. Squat bars are fat, deadlift bars are skinny. Squat bars are beyond stiff and deadlift bars whip.
If you compete in a division with deadlift bars, you have to train on one. It’s almost mandatory, as it’s quite different from a standard bar. On a whippy deadlift bar, the weights ‘release’ off the ground in sequence and you feel the load growing. On a stiff bar, it goes zero to 100 as soon as you break the floor.
If you compete in a division with a squat bar, we wouldn’t say it’s mandatory to train with one, but it does feel really different, especially in the setup. If you are at a higher level, this would be a good investment.
The wrap up – how to use a barbell and home
Moving your deadlift session to a home session is possible, and if you have a few friends, super fun. If you have a globbo gym membership, deadlift sessions at home solo also be epic.
We have had countless pics of people deadlifting in garages with a few mats during the last year (including dimly lit apartment carparks which look epic).
We purposely brought in mats and super low bounce noise plates (those big fat ones you see in cross fit gyms) so people could train in a car park with headphones on.
Deadlifting out in the sun is the dream if possible if you have the setup in your yard.
We have a range of racks for a full PL setup, but as we said at the start, don’t downplay a bar and some 10’s to bang out some curls and military presses when life means you can’t get the gym. In the very office I’m writing this, there is a bar with 10’s that I curl when I’m trying to think through a problem.
We hope this helps, any questions let us know!