Raising The Bar
Muscle and Fitness Hers South Africa|May - June 2020
A definitive guide to using every barbell you may find in the gym.
Kevin Gray

Despite what your high school gym led you to believe, there’s more than one type of barbell.

These days, the better gyms feature a range of options—some specific to certain lifts, others more versatile. It’s enough to make your head spin. But with a little knowledge and some quality time handling the bars, you can take your workouts to the next level.

Here, we’ll run through a baker’s dozen of barbells, from tried-and-true bars you’ll find in your standard big-box gyms to some seriously innovative newer options. We’ve also enlisted Brandon Smitley, a competitive powerlifter and co-owner of Thirst gym in Terre Haute, IN, to provide his expert tips on mastering each type of barbell.

THE GUIDE

DEADLIFT BAR

A deadlift bar has more whip—or flex—than a conventional bar. It’s usually a few inches longer and a tad thinner for better grip. It has no knurling in the middle.

USE IT FOR: Deadlifts.

EXPERT TIP: “Be considerate and never rack pull with these bars,” stresses Smitley. “You’ll also never want to squat or benchpress with them. They are specifically for deadlifts only.”

SQUAT BAR

Squat bars are thicker and have less whip than traditional bars.

Use it for: Squats.

Expert tip: “Bench pressing with a squat bar can take some pain away from your elbows and wrists due to the increased surface area in your hand,” Smitley says.

OLYMPIC BAR

The Olympic barbell is a weight room staple. It clocks in at seven feet long, weighs 45 pounds, and features two-inch rotating sleeves.

Use it for: Snatches, cleans, bench presses, squats, deadlifts.

Expert tip: “Be sure to check your bar, especially the endcap,” Smitley says. “This will tell you the bar’s make and model.”

TRAP BAR

Also called a hex bar, this barbell is shaped like a hexagon and allows you to stand inside it while gripping handles positioned to your sides.

Use it for: Deadlifts, shrugs, rows, presses.

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