I don’t believe any coach or trainer would argue that weightlifting bars are the foundation of a quality strength program, and should receive priority when outfitting a strength training facility. Yet with dozens of bar manufacturers, types, and finishes available at the click of a mouse, navigating the sea of options can be an overwhelming task. Today I’m proposing to answer the question, “If you could only pick five weightlifting bars in your quest to build athleticism and transferable strength in your athletes, which would you choose?”. The following are the top five weight room essentials I would urge you to consider in decreasing order.
1) 45lb (20kg) Olympic Bar
A high quality Olympic Bar is the single, most versatile training tool in your arsenal. You’d be hard-pressed to find an effective strength program (depending on training age) that doesn’t require the use of a dependable, high-quality weightlifting bar. There tends to be three overarching categories of Olympic bars: Hybrid, weightlifting, and power bars. Although within these three categories there are high degrees of variance depending on the specific intent of use, there are some common threads:
Effective for weightlifting and powerlifting
5 mm diameter, the genesis of the term “hybrid bar” stems from the fact that these bars are the midpoint between a 28mm competition weightlifting bar, and a 29mm competition powerlifting bar
Bronze bushings-allows for sufficient sleeve rotation to be used for the Olympic lifts
Olympic and powerlifting marks
2200mm (86.6 inches) in length-IWF standard
50 mm sleeve diameter that accepts all Olympic plates
Crafted to specifically train the Olympic lifts (Snatch, Clean & Jerk)
28mm diameter-IWF spec
Needle Bearings provide superior sleeve rotation for the Olympic lifts
2200mm (86.6in) in length-IWF standard
50mm sleeve diameter that accepts all Olympic Plates
Typically carry thicker diameters than weightlifting bars, often in excess of 29mm
Provide greater rigidity as a result of their thickness. Reduces oscillation and whip for greater control during squats and bench presses, and easier break from the ground during deadlifts
Often carry a bronze bushing, sleeve rotation isn’t as crucial in the powerlifts
2) Hex or Trap Bar
Hex Bars or trap bars have been around for a long time and remain an excellent option for coaches and athletes looking to develop strength and power without directly loading the axial spine. Although they come in a variety of sizes, they’re characterized by:
A hexagonal-shaped cockpit in which the athlete stands to perform a variety of exercises
Handles that allow the user to utilize a neutral grip directly at their sides
There are few primary benefits to a hex bar that make them an ideal solution for working with a variety of athletes. Among them are the following:
Indirect loading of the axial spine-provides an excellent training stimulus for gains in strength and power without the added stress on the central nervous system accompanied by traditional barbell lifts like squats, good mornings, etc.
A neutral grip which allows the athlete to exhibit a much more upright torso angle in the beginning of the lift and reduces stress on the shoulders
A more balanced center of gravity in comparison to traditional barbell deadlifts. The cockpit design removes the necessary “fight” around the knees characteristic of barbell deadlifts, and allows users to more easily maintain a neutral spine throughout the lift.
If you’re working with younger athletes or beginning users, these are an absolute must as they allow for effective performance gains without the technical proficiency necessary with barbells in deadlifts and shrugs. They also allow for variety in accessory work. Farmer’s carries, rows, and lunges are all possible with a hex bar.
3) Safety Squat Bar
Safety squat bars are gaining popularity for their distinctive, cambered design that changes the ergonomics of traditional back squats. Again, safety squat bars come in a variety of sizes and finishes but they all have the following features:
A cambered bar design that pushes the weight forward in the squat stance, forcing the user to fight to maintain an upright posture
Neutral handles that reduce stress on the shoulders and upper back
These bars are obviously very squat-specific, but are fantastic for athletes recovering from shoulder injuries or have tight shoulders in general. Here’s looking at you football coaches. Keep in mind that the ergonomics of a safety squat are vastly different than that of a high or low-bar back squat. They’re a fantastic alternative to back squats or front squats if the goal is training for strength and power. Yet keep in mind they are not a replacement for traditional barbells if your goal is to improve your barbell back squat.
4) Multi-Grip/Swiss Bar
Multi-grip bars, swiss bars, football bars…there are several names for this specialty bar that can be used for a variety of exercises from benching, hammer curls, rows, and more. The primary benefit to these bars is the accommodation of a neutral grip which significantly reduces the stress on the shoulder common in pronated pressing grips. In addition to being easy on the shoulders, pressing with a multi-grip bar recruits the triceps to a greater degree. Often they feature multiple grip widths for additional variety. If you’re working with football players, throwers, basketball players, etc., these bars are a must-have.
5) Multipurpose Short Bar
The multi-purpose short bar is exactly that, a bar that can be used for a variety of accessory exercises like presses, lunges, and rows in small spaces. How many coaches and traineras are handcuffed by space limitations? The vast majority I’d contend. There’s not necessarily a unified standard with these bars, but they often carry similar characteristics to traditional Olympic bars in every facet but length and weight. They’ll have similar shaft and sleeve diameters, but shorter lengths in the 50-60”. Carrying these bars in your facility enables athletes to perform supersets, compound sets, and other auxiliary movements in spaces that are typically unsafe to perform the same exercises with traditional weightlifting bars. Additionally, their compact size makes the bars easier to control during dynamic movements like lunges and rack carries.