An Introduction To The Barbell

By Steve Hall

June 25, 2020

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Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, strongman, CrossFit, bodybuilding and strength training all have a couple things in common. The barbell and compound lifts. Many serious lifters swear by it. Having evolved over time to its modern day counterpart it has become the staple of any strength training routine. A versatile tool that comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and lengths. In this article we’ll cover the history of a barbell, what to look for, how to use one and where to get one.

The 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 utilizing 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). 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.

What To Look For In A Barbell

They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. A common barbell is roughly 29mm in diameter, 7ft in length and weighs 45 lbs. 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 center knurling, some are smooth.

A general purpose 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. A specialty barbell like an Olympic barbell extends it’s 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.

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, so don’t worry too much about them. Just make sure they’re properly rotating. The rotation will be fostered by bushings or bearings. Bushings will suffice and probably be found on a general barbell. While bearings will be found on the more high-end or speciality bars. The average gym goer won’t notice the difference.

Do keep an eye out for how the sleeves are connected to the barbell. They can be held on by bolts or snap rings. Do not get a barbell that uses bolts. Bolts break. Get a barbell that uses snap rings.

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.

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. This is different from tensile strength. And test is the results of testing what the max load is before the bar deforms or bends. If you get a barbell that’s higher than 150,000 PSI you’re in good shape.

So, look for a barbell that’s around 7ft in length, 29mm in diameter, 45 lbs and has dual knurling unless you’re in a specific sport. Make sure the sleeves spin without any issues and they’re held on by snap rings not bolts. Also make sure your bar has been thoroughly tested and can handle a heavy load before it breaks or deforms.

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 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. 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. 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 5×5. It’s a great routine built around using a barbell to complete the 5 basic exercises and burn fat, build strength and gain muscle.

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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!

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