Cheap barbell vs Expensive: My $60 bar lasted 7 years.

A barbell is definitly one of the most basic strength training equipment and every garage gym is ought to have a barbell for the compound lifts. 

Problem is, there is a wide variety of barbells available in the market, the range of barbells starts from $50 USD and can cost up to $1000. The availability of a wide range of barbells makes the decision making even more difficult. 

No matter how many times we deny it, money is surely a key factor for the majority of the population. 

Most of the bloggers and fitness experts are recommending heavy duty barbell for better performance, while there are cheap barbells that are providing decent performance. I started my garage gym in 2011 and started with a basic set of bench, dumbells, barbells and weight plates. 

Back in 2011, I bought a cheap barbell that lasted longer than my expectation, that barbell made me realize, all the cheap barbells are not bad. 

This article is going to focus on the difference between a cheap barbell and an expensive barbell. We are also going to talk about the myths about the cheap barbells, let’s get our discussion started.


Cheap barbells vs expensive barbells

Cheap and expensive barbells differ in every aspect, let’s start the comparison. 

Tensile strength

The tensile strength of the barbell defines its load capacity. Expensive Olympic grade barbells come with the tensile strength of 220k PSI which is definitly 8-10 times better than a cheap barbell. 

But do you really need a bar with so much tensile strength? Not really, cheap barbells manufactured by the reputed company will be able to withstand your 180kg deadlifts or squats. 

In short, expensive Olympic bars are built to deliver best performance, if you are not an avid heavy lifter than a cheap barbell will do the work for you. 


Knurling

Although, barbell knurling is one of the least discussed topics at the gym, it can be a game-changer for your lifting game.

Knurling is that texture on the barbell that is present to provide superior grip, expensive barbells definitly have a far more superior knurl that lasts for a long time. 

On the other hand, cheap barbells are not equipped with aggressive knurling to support a strong grip. It’s common to have moderate knurling on cheap barbells. 

Cheap barbells are not suitable for commercial gyms because they lose their knurl because of low-quality material. But they work well at the home gym since they are not being used by dozens or hundreds of lifters on a daily basis. 

Even I retired by barbell after years because of the loss of knurling marks. 


Dimensions and weight

Cheap and expensive barbells differ widely in dimension and weight. While the expensive barbells are manufactured with uniform weight and size, cheap bars differ in dimensions. 

An expensive Olympic bar will weighs 44lbs and 2.2 meters (7.2 ft) long

oly bar dimensions
Dimension of Certified Olympic Barbell

No standard is followed for the manufacturing of cheap barbells and their weight may vary from 30lbs to 44lbs.  

Do the standard size and weight really matter? Uniform dimension and weight matter most when you are preparing for professional lifting. Standard dimensions and markings help the lifter to practice with exact same barbell that they are going to use in competition.

Serious lifters have specific hand placement that suits them best. Standard dimensions are also highly recommended if you train at different gyms.

Training for personal fitness at garage gyms is totally different scenario, you are already aware of the dimension of barbell you own and there is no confusion over your hand placement. 


Whip

Do you see a bend in barbell? Its known as whip.

A whip is the barbell’s quality to bend. Whip also creates kinetic energy that helps the lifter while heavy lifts. 

Expensive barbells come with a whip that gives the barbell elasticity to withstand more tension. Whip of barbell also saves the barbell from breakdown while Olympic or CrossFit training. 

Olympic and CrossFit training include many movements (clean and jerk, power snatch, etc) when lifter throws the barbell from above shoulder height. 

Cheap barbells are made with a minimum whip and if the bar is bending that means it’s reaching its maximum load capacity. Cheap barbells not made to withstand Olympic or Crossfit training. 

Do you require a barbell with a whip? If you are going super heavy (More than 600 pounds) while deadlifts or squats then you should be looking for a high quality barbell with a whip. Moderate workouts do not require a whip.

Bend in the cheap barbell.

I found a cheap barbell at a local gym, it has got a bend due to heavy lifting by some folks. This “Bend” should not be confused with “Whip”, as you can see, its a permanent bend.


Sleeve rotation

Cheap barbells come with poor quality sleeve rotation and that’s the reason they are never recommended for CrossFit and Olympic lifting.

But why do you exactly require high quality sleeve rotation?

Rotating sleeves play a very important role in injury prevention and improving the quality of lifts. 

When a lifter practice Olympic lifts (C&J and Snatch) or other CrossFit lifts, this sleeve rotation can help in reducing the amount torque created by the weight plates. 

If you are not into Olympic lifts and looking to lift moderate weight at your garage gym then a cheap barbell can be as good as an expensive one. 

Want to understand the importance of sleeve rotation? Read more: How spinning sleeves impact lifter’s performance.


Durability

Some of the expensive barbells are made to last forever, that’s the reason they cost more. 

Cheap barbell won’t last forever but will surely last for a decent amount of time. 

Regular maintenance can help in ensuring the long life of the cheap barbell as well. 


Coating

Most of the people aren’t even aware of the types of coating on the barbell. Expensive barbells come with a wide variety of coating to achieve enhanced performance. 

Expensive barbells come with a different coating such as black oxide, zinc, chrome, stainless steel and many more. 

Most of the cheap barbells are coated with either “decorative chrome” or “stainless steel”, that is not the best performing but will still serve the purpose. 


Who should NOT choose cheap barbell

If you are training for professional powerlifting, Olympic lifting or CrossFit training then cheap barbells are not for you. 

Cheap barbells are not made with the high tensile strength steel to withstand heavy load, and they are not sturdy enough to be thrown from hight while Olympic lifts (clean and press). 

A cheap barbell doesn’t have high quality knurling for these high-intensity sports.  


When its okay to buy a cheap barbell? 

Are you a seasonal lifter who likes to lift in moderation? Then you can consider buying these cost-effective barbells. 

Cost-effective barbells are for every regular fitness enthusiast who is looking to buy a barbell for shoulder press, bench press, deadlifts and squats. 

These barbells don’t have a tensile strength to withstand super heavyweights but can withhold your 300-400 lbs deadlifts and squats. If you can squat or deadlift heavier than 400lbs then you can not a regular guy with regular strength and you should definitly think about choosing high-end barbells. 

In my early days, even I used to get nightmares of the barbell being breaking down in the middle of my lift, but it never happened.

In short, cheap barbells are not designed to withstand heavy use, but they can last long if you are looking for moderate-intensity workout sessions. 

How much weight can a cheap lifting bar handle?