Quick Guide to Barbells
Today we would like to start off by celebrating barbells! Since they became commercially popular in the early 1920’s (thanks to some German trainers) barbells have evolved into all shapes and sizes. Yet with all the variations one thing about barbells remains true – they are one of the least expensive, safest and most complete pieces of gym equipment that can target virtually every movement system of the body. The hurdle that remains is how to teach new lifters how to use them. Our team at Axle is working to make sure that one day soon, lifting barbells for strength and performance is as commonplace as driving a car.
Some of the most frequent critiques we get from weightlifting purists is that the Axle is like every other barbell. When we created the initial designs the Axle we studied all the different kinds of barbells available on the market (there’s a ton!). But The Axle really behaves more like the two main categories of straight barbells.
Power Bar – this is a style of barbell designed for Power Lifting, ie the three major ‘big’ lifts performed in competitions: squat, bench press, dead lift.
Power Bars (sometimes called standard bars) are built to be racked up high and/or plate loaded from the floor. They typically range from 29-30mm in diameter and commonly feature a bushing which creates less free-spin on the loading sleeve. Bushings are relatively cheap, sturdier rotating solutions and if you’re executing one of the power lifts you don’t need the spin to turn the bar over. The most standout feature of a Power Bar is the rigidity of the long bar itself. It has an incredibly low whip so that when lifters pull or push heavy weight the bar resists bending against external load. Basically, they’re designed not to bend. And they’re made with rigid knurling (the grip pattern etched into the bar) so that lifters pulling heavy weight can obtain the best grip possible. Finally, Power Bars come in the 7-foot(ish) variety like Olympic Bars and feature similar weight around 20kg. Prices truly very depending on quality and Power Bars can range anywhere from $50-1000, not including shipping (which can run you for a 7 foot 20kg’er).
Olympic Bar – this is a style of barbell designed for Olympic Lifting, ie the two major lifts performed and trialed at the Olympics: Clean & Jerk, snatch.
To the untrained eye Olympic Bars look just like Power Bars. But even though the shape and appearance look the same, their construction is quite different. Olympic Bars are built to be pulled from the floor with speed and caught on the shoulder or overhead as is practice in the two main Olympic Lifts. They come standard at 28mmm grip diameter and commonly feature a bearing which creates more free-spin on the loading sleeve. Bearings, specifically needle bearings, are expensive to make and this can drive up the cost of the bar. In addition, Olympic Bars are designed to bend! Imagine pulling 100kg off the ground and catching it on your shoulders after you and the bar moved as quickly as possible. You’re going to want some give on the bar and some spin on the sleeve (and that whip actually helps athletes use the elasticity of the bar to gain momentum through the lift). Finally, Olympic Bar knurling is less aggressive than what you’ll find on Power Bars, but still enough to give lifters a strong grip against the weight load. Like the Power Bar cousin, Olympic Bars come standard at 20kg and a little over 7ft. A good Olympic Bar will run you $275+.
Nowadays you’ll see a huge variety of barbells in gyms including several hybrid bars that feature properties of both lifting styles. Here’s a great link for more information on barbells: https://www.garage-gyms.com/ powerlifting-barbell-vs- olympic/
So what about The Axle? They key frustration when working with Olympic and Power Bars comes when you have someone who cannot physically lift them. This happens A. LOT. Because remember, lifting weights hasn’t become standardized yet even though our health researchers prove it should be! Instead of creating another heavy variation of barbell we went the other direction and created the LIGHTEST possible barbell while maintaining the integrity of its components.
So how does it stack up? The key to The Axle are the wheels. These stand just a hair taller than Olympic Bumper plates so it props up the bar to the right pull height before you even attempt to lift it. That’s majorly important when teaching someone new to lift from the ground.
Next is the weight and here’s where things are very different. With most high-end products, it’s difficult to make things both lightweight AND sturdy. Carbon fiber, alloys and woven plastics are materials that carry a huge cost. The technology behind Axle makes it both super sturdy and super light (only thing you can’t do is drop it!). The fully assembled bar weighs just over 5kg and can load up to 70kg of additional weight. That’s huge for a bar that can collapse and fit inside a shoulder bag!
Then there’s the length. The Axle’s narrow stance brings external load in to a manageable 44”. The reason is that for new lifters the further the weight is away from the body the less control you have. We tightened things up so that weightlifting becomes manageable, especially when learning speed strength (Olympic style) lifts.
Finally there’s the grip. The Axle’s plated-aluminum center bar has friendly knurling. We heard from hundreds of new lifters that heavily-knurled bars irritated their hands. Makes sense. So we designed a pattern that provided a little more comfort. And our 34” diameter bar makes sure that our users develop the necessary grip strength to progress to the larger barbells when they’re ready.
If we had to make a comparison The Axle shares the most in common with the Olympic Bar. The whip is SUPER high (aluminum versus steel), and the bushings give a nice, high-spin. We want people to get comfortable learning how to lift weights safely, properly and when they’re ready, with speed. Let’s first build strength and then lets find performance.