Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, strongman, CrossFit, bodybuilding and strength training all have a couple things in common. The standard barbell and compound lifts. Many serious lifters swear by it.

Having evolved over time it has become the staple of many strength training routines. A versatile tool that comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and lengths. In this article we’ll cover the history of the standard barbell, what to look for, how to use one and where to get one.

A of guys don't pay too much attention to what they buy when first starting out, but trust when I say that it's worth the time and effort to figure out what makes a good, long lasting barbell. The prices can vary hugely from as low as $100 up to $2000 or more.

Contrary to what you might think, a lot of barbells break quite easily due to cheap manufacturing. Cheap bars can easily bend and warp, they rust more easily and it's fairly common to hear about sleeves falling off. 

The right barbell will become your best friend. It will be used through all of the workouts and exercises featured on this site. Each movement will consist of controlled lifting. Through proper form and technique you will build strength, muscle and power by utilising methods and techniques performed by lifters of old and powerhouses of today.

What Is A Barbell?

According to Webster's online dictionary a barbell is a bar with adjustable weighted disks attached to each end that is used for exercise and in weightlifting. They range in length, diameter and functionality.

Essentially it's just that. A long bar that holds or has a form of a weight on the end used to perform different types of exercises. As simple as it sounds there are some differences that make them a little more complex than that.

Where Did Barbells Come From?

Early barbells had fixed spheres at the end of them that were either filled or hollow. The first were found in Hippolyte Triat’s gym located in Paris. Drawings of his gym at the time showed some of the earliest ever recorded, including a wall entirely covered in them. Triat described the weights as "Barres A Spheres De 6 Kilos," (bars with spheres of six kilos).

triat gym barbell

Triat’s Gymnasium

The barbells were used for group exercise classes, and also featured a decorative barbell as the gym's logo. These spherical barbells could be filled with various materials thus changing the overall weight lifted. Much like today’s modern barbells that have cylindrical plates which slide on and off the bar.

old barbell

What To Look For In A Standard Barbell

Barbells come in a variety of shapes and sizes but the standard barbell is roughly 29mm in diameter with a standard length of 7.2 ft for men and up to 6.5ft for women. The standard barbell for men usually weighs about 45 lbs (20kg) and about 33 pounds (15kg) for women

Made up of a shaft or bar that is machined to proper length. The shaft is etched with knurling or a rough cross-hatched pattern for grip. Different bars have different types of knurling patterns. Some extend all the way to the sleeves, some do not. Some have centre knurling, some are smooth.

A standard barbell will have a dual marked knurling pattern. There will be two knurled areas towards the outer portion of the barbell and the rest will be smooth. You’ll see this in most gyms. It’s a versatile and ideal pattern for a variety of exercises and athletes.

standard barbell knurling
barbell standard knurling pattern

A specialty barbell like an Olympic barbell extends its knurling to the sleeves for exercises that require wider hand placement. Powerlifting barbells have inner knurling patterns for grip and hand placement as well. Unless you’re partaking in a specific type of lifting look for a dual knurled barbell.

At the ends of the barbell are the sleeves or area where you slide on weight plates. Sleeves are made from a type of machining process that creates a strong and straight piece drawn-over mandrel tubing.

What you’ll want to look for in the sleeves is the rotation. A proper barbell will have a set of sleeves that spin. The spin is to allow the weights to rotate in order to reduce the amount of force created by the inertia of the weight plates. This saves the wrists and elbows from injury.

What Is The Difference Between An Olympic and Standard Barbell? 

An olympic bar is designed for two specific lifts used in the olympic sport of weightlifting, namely the clean and jerk and the snatch.

The standard barbell is designed to be used for powerlifting. This is less technical than olympic weightlifting and is used for heavy lifts like the squat, bench press and deadlift

There are two types of spinning mechanisms.

  • Needle Bearing: Provides the barbell with a smooth, consistent, quieter spin.
  • Bushing: Not as smooth as bearings, used for heavy powerlifting moves. 
standard barbell bushing and bearings

Olympic barbells come with the higher quality needle bearing spinning mechanism. This is why the majority of olympic bars are really expensive. 

A standard barbell used for power lifting exercises are equipped with copper-bushing that is optimum for the heavy lifts and does not require needle bearings. 

Unless you’re particular or participating in a specific sport the bearings on a shaft that allow the sleeve to spin will not matter much, just make sure they’re properly rotating. 

Do keep an eye out for how the sleeves are connected to the barbell. They can be held on by bolts or snap rings. My advice is to go for one that uses snap rings as the bolts have a tendency to break after a while.

A barbell can also come in a variety of finishes chrome, zinc, black oxide, unfinished, and even stainless steel. They’re all purely aesthetic. Get what you like.

Standard Barbell Strength

Finally the last thing you’ll want to look for in a barbell is its strength. The strength of the bar is extremely important. Barbell strength is measured in tensile strength, yield strength and test.

Tensile strength is the max load a bar can support. The higher the better. 

Yield strength is the max load a bar can support before bending or deforming. If you get a barbell that’s higher than 150,000 PSI you’re in good shape.

How To Use A Barbell

You can use a barbell in many different ways. But they are best reserved for specific types of exercises. Those exercises are compound exercises. Compound exercises are any exercises that engage two or more different joints to fully stimulate entire muscle groups. Compound exercises allow you to lift heavier weights overtime which will increase overall strength.

Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, strongman, CrossFit, bodybuilding and strength training are built on a foundation of compound exercises. The different sports have specific exercises that they partake in but their training regimens all have the 5 main exercises in them.

What are the 5 basic strength training exercises? They are the squat, deadlift, bench press, barbell row, and overhead press. There are other types of lifts and variations of lifts that are sport specific such as the clean and press, snatch, zercher squats, sumo deadlift, overhead squat or even the floor press. To use a barbell choose the compound exercise that best suits your program or goal. Load the bar with some weight and knock out each rep.

Where To Get A Standard Barbell

A barbell can be purchased online from a variety of different retailers. Checkout our online shop for barbells. Or visit some of the many brands like Rogue, American Barbell, Buddy Caps, Kabuki or FringeSport. You can even find a barbell at several different physical retail outlets and sporting good stores. You can even try Craigslist. There’s always someone selling old weight sets. Just be sure to keep in mind everything that’s already been covered.


A barbell is a great tool for completing a ton of variations on compound lifts and exercises. It can help to build serious strength in athletes of all levels. Trusted by lifters in sports such as Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, strongman, CrossFit, bodybuilding and strength training you can’t go wrong with a barbell.

To summarise the above, a standard barbell should be around 7ft in length, 29mm in diameter, 45 lbs (2-kg). You want to look for one with dual knurling and make sure the sleeves spin without any issues and they’re held on by snap rings not bolts. Lastly, make sure your bar has been thoroughly tested up to at least 150,000 PSI so it can handle a heavy load before it breaks or deforms.

Whether you’re new to lifting or just getting back into the gym a barbell should be at the forefront of any training program. If you’re stuck on what type of training program to use checkout 5x5. It’s a great routine built around using a barbell to complete the 5 basic exercises and burn fat, build strength and gain muscle.

About the author, Steve Hall

Steve is a strength training fanatic who geeks out over the best, most efficient workouts, nutrition and gear to help get you stronger and healthier!