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Barbell Illustration

The Complete Barbell Guide

We’ve got a full guide on building a barbell home gym, but I got way too deep into researching barbells, so I decided to make a whole separate post about it. This is that separate post.

The reason I fell so far into barbell research is because barbells are totally rad. They’re our connection to all of the weight we’ll be lifting. And if we didn’t have so many calluses and deadened nerves, we might even be able to enjoy how they feel in your hands.

Each barbell is designed for a particular purpose. One barbell might be flexible so that it bends when you pull a deadlift. Another barbell might be springy so that you can launch it into the air and then catch it on your shoulders without all of the force crashing into your joints. Yet another barbell might be designed to be sturdy so that you can bench press without the weight bouncing around.

By the end of this article you’ll understand every feature of every barbell, you’ll be able to lift more weight more comfortably, and you’ll know how to buy a barbell that’s perfect for you.

No disclaimer: In case you’re interested in buying a barbell, I’m going to link out to various barbell retailers. None of these are affiliate links, and I have no connection to any of these companies. Rogue did send me a free barbell, but that was a mistake. There’s no conflict of interest.

Illustrations: I drew all of the illustrations myself. However, many of them are based on the diagrams that other companies have made. For example, many of the barbell anatomy illustrations are based on Rogue’s diagrams.

Table of Contents:

If you already know the barbell basics and want to jump straight to your preferred kind of lifting, here’s the table of contents:

  • An Introduction to Barbells (Sleeves, Knurl, Durability, Coating)
  • Deadlift Barbells
  • Olympic Weightlifting Barbells
  • General, Multipurpose Barbells
  • Powerlifting / Strength Training Barbells
  • Women’s Barbells
  • Summary

If you want to start at the beginning, let’s walk through the barbell learning curve, starting with the basics and moving to the more advanced features.

An Introduction to Barbells

My very first barbell was a standard old barbell that I found on the side of the road. It weighed around thirteen pounds, and it was rusty and hard to grip. The weight plates fit poorly and rattled around, and if I moved the barbell too quickly, the weight plates would try to spin.

A standard 13-pound barbell with a thin sleeve, roughly 1″ in diameter

The simple 1″ sleeve on a standard barbell doesn’t rotate around the barbell, which meant that any movement of the plates would knock me off balance. This made even the light weights I was lifting feel unwieldy. Still, it was the only barbell I had, and it wound up doing it’s job—I gained twenty pounds over the course of four months while losing a bit of fat. If that sounds crazy, it was, but keep in mind that I was underweight (130 pounds at 6’2) and that this was my first time successfully gaining weight. (Here’s our article explaining newbie gain science.)

After gaining those twenty pounds, I decided to take the rest of the year off, maintaining my gains with the occasional bodyweight workout. Around eight months later, though, I decided that I wanted to gain even more weight, and I decided to start lifting at a commercial gym. The barbells there were a good foot longer, they weighed a full 45 pounds (20 kilos), and the sleeves allowed the weight plates to rotate smoothly around the bar.

A 45-pound Olympic barbell with a 2″ spinning sleeve

My goal was still to gain muscle size, so I chose the type of lifting designed to stimulate muscle growth: weight training focused on the big compound lifts, and done in the mythical hypertrophy rep range (6–20 reps per set).

Now that I had access to a proper barbell and power cage, I also decided to set some general strength goals: a 225-pound bench press, a 315-pound squat, a 405-pound deadlift, and a chin-up with 100 pounds around my waist. It seemed like that’s where the health, fitness and general performance benefits of weight training capped out, and since muscle size and muscle strength are so closely related, I knew that it would help me reach my size goals.

As my deadlifts got heavier, my grip started to slip, and I started paying more attention to the knurling—the crosshatch pattern engraved into the bar.

This gym only had just one type of barbell—a general purpose barbell that was designed to be halfway decent for every type of lifting. However, some of them had mild knurling that made them slip right out of my hands, whereas others had a stronger knurling that dug into my hands, enhancing my grip and toughening up my calluses.

A couple years later I was up to 185 pounds—55 pounds heavier than when I started (at 11% body fat)—and I had accomplished all of my strength goals. After years failing to gain any weight, I had somehow accomplished my lifetime goal in just three years. I was thrilled with my accomplishments, proud of how strong I had become, and excited by how much bigger I looked. I wasn’t skinny anymore. Simple bodyweight workouts weren’t quite enough to maintain my physique anymore, so I kept lifting 1–3 times per week, sometimes taking a few weeks off to travel. Maintaining my physique was easy, but it wasn’t exciting.

Over the next few years, I met the woman of my dreams, got married, had a son, and we moved from Toronto to Cancun. Our home in Cancun is a big sturdy thing made entirely out of concrete. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to build a home gym.

I decided to set some new goals: a 500-pound deadlift, a 400-pound squat, a 300-pound bench press. This is overkill in terms of improving my day-to-day strength, health, and fitness, but I want the thrill of fighting for progress again. In fact, that’s one of the reasons we decided to make this Outlift website—so that we could write about bulking for guys who have already vanquished their skinniness. I carefully did my research over the course of a couple weeks, trying to find the perfect barbell for strength training.

I learned that there’s something called “volcano knurling” where they trim off the pointed tips of the “mountains.” This increases friction by adding more points for your grip to hold onto, and it also makes the knurling gentler because the points aren’t digging into your palms. Perfect for deadlifting.

Then I started looking into barbell durability. Chris Duffin over at Kabuki Strength uses a volcano knurl and is known for making the most durable barbells on the market. He uses a special manufacturing process that brings the tensile strength to over 250k PSI and the Rockwell hardness to 51 RC. That means that it if you bump your barbell into anything, your barbell will win. Duffin even has a video of his barbell’s knurling grinding through other barbells.

However, most good barbells are built to be durable. The main thing that will bend a bad barbell out of shape is dropping it from overhead with light weights on it—more on that later. I’m not an Olympic lifter, and I wasn’t planning on getting a poorly made barbell anyway. I was willing to spend a little more if it meant getting a barbell that would last.

The next issue was corrosion. Knowing how humid the ocean breeze is here in Cancun, I started to worry about my barbell quickly turning into a pile of rust. As it turns out, this is a common concern. Most high-end barbells will come with either a protective finish (such as black oxide) or a protective plating (such as chrome).

I loved the idea of getting a black oxide finish because that’s how knights used to protect their armour from rust back in medieval times. I loved how cool “blued” armour looked, and I thought it would make for a badass barbell. Unfortunately, medieval rust-protection isn’t nearly as good as the more modern solutions.

There’s also a cadre of hardcore lifters, including Mark Rippetoe (author of Starting Strength), who believe that bare steel is superior. They don’t want the coating or plating to interfere with the knurling. Yes, their barbells begin to rust within days, but they find that rusty patina beautiful. The only downside is that they have to scrape all the rust away every month to maintain the bar, but what hardcore lifter doesn’t like a little quiet time with their barbell?

The problem with that approach is that although the knurling on the barbell will be pure at first, every time they scrape the rust away, they’re going to be scraping away some of the knurling. This is how you wind up with the terrible “hill” knurling that’s so common in commercial gyms—it’s been scraped away to nothing.

Perhaps with a damn-near-indestructible Kabuki Strength barbell, the knurling would hold out a little longer, but Kabuki refuses to sell bare steel because they believe in crafting barbells that will maintain their knurl for an entire lifetime. I prefer that approach.

I decided to go with a zinc-plated barbell from Rogue, who also have a great reputation for making high-quality barbells that last. Their barbells aren’t as hard as Kabuki’s, but their knurling is slightly better, and their barbells are half the price. I chose the zinc plating because conventional wisdom says that metal plating is creates a better knurl than the thick cerakote coating.

Then I accidentally bought the wrong type of barbell.

Rogue manufactures their barbells in the United States, and shipping it to Cancun nearly doubled the price of the barbell. After struggling to get the barbell (and the rest of my home gym) cleared through customs, everything finally arrived at my door. I opened up the cardboard barbell tube and was amazed at how beautiful the matte black finish was.

Zinc-plated barbells are shiny. What was this thing?

I finished opening up all the other packages and the mystery was solved. I found my zinc-plated barbell in another cardboard tube. They had sent me an extra barbell by mistake. I called Rogue and told them about the extra barbell. They calculated the shipping costs and customs fees and realized it would be easier to let me keep it. Awesome.

I set up my home gym and did my first workout. Both barbells were far, far better than anything I’d ever used before. The volcano knurling exceeded the hype. It felt incredible. This barbell was way nicer than anything I’d ever used before, even at fancy commercial gyms.

After my workout, I looked up this mysterious bonus barbell. A custom-made Ohio Bar with cerakote coating. An even more expensive barbell than the one I’d ordered. I also realized that the conventional wisdom is wrong. Cerakote coating seems to enhance the knurling. The matte finish makes it less slippery than the zinc-plated barbell.

The wrong barbell. I started looking at the other features of the barbell, and that’s when I discovered that I’m a fool. I had ordered the wrong type of barbell. And Rogue had sent me an extra one. I had two of the wrong barbells. Oh no. Rogue has a full refund policy, but it’s not like I could exchange it—shipping it back and then shipping a new one would cost well more than the price of the barbell itself.

I had carefully done my research. I knew that I needed a powerlifting barbell, or “power bar,” and I knew that Rogue had a reputation for making the world’s best power bars. So I went to Rogue’s website and ordered their signature barbell: the Ohio Bar. Perfect.

I didn’t realize that the Ohio Bar and the Ohio Power Bar were different barbells. I had assumed that all Ohio Bars were power bars. But no, Rogue is most famous for making CrossFit equipment, so their powerlifting barbells were hidden away in another section. I had bought a multipurpose barbell designed for CrossFit.

There are a few different types of barbells, each designed for a different style of lifting, and that’s not even counting the specialty bars—curl bars, safety squat bars, trap bars, etc. And then there’s also a 33-pound women’s version of everything (which we’ll discuss as well).

Introduction done. Now that we’ve gone over sleeves, knurling, durability, and coatings, let’s go over the different types of barbells, starting as any good ectomorph would: thin and working our way thicker.

Deadlift Barbells

The deadlift barbell is as specialized as they come, designed for just a single lift. I don’t want to spend too much time on it, but I think it’s important to cover because it’s almost the exact opposite of a powerlifting barbell. This can make it seem like if you’re interested in strength training, you’d benefit from having two separate barbells: a powerlifting barbell for your squats, bench presses, rows and overhead presses, and then a whole separate barbell for your deadlifts.

That’s not quite true. A deadlift bar is designed for the sport of powerlifting, where the winner is the person who can lift the most weight for a single repetition. This means that powerlifters are always trying to improve their leverage, often by reducing their range of motion.

This may sound weird, but the range of motion doesn’t actually matter. This is because a powerlifter will fail at the hardest part of the lift. The rest of the range of motion isn’t a problem. However, with the deadlift, the hardest part of the lift is often the very first part—getting the barbell up to the knees.

Illustration of a powerlifter doing a sumo stance barbell deadlift

If the barbell bends before the weight leaves the floor, that allows them to open up their hip angle, improving their leverage, before they need to lift all of the weight. If they’re pulling 500 pounds, they might only need to pull 300 pounds for the first couple inches, 400 pounds for the next couple inches, and then the barbell leaves the ground, loading them up with all 500 pounds. This is similar to using chains or bands, where the weight gets heavier the further you lift it. This aligns your “strength curve” with the weight you’re lifting: as your leverage gets better, more resistance is added. This is why the deadlift barbell is so great for deadlifting.

However, if your goal is to get bigger and stronger, you don’t necessarily need to make the lifts easier. After all, you’ll need to develop quite a lot of strength in order to break a rigid barbell off the ground. Furthermore, if you’re interested in gaining muscle size, you probably shouldn’t be deadlifting in very low rep ranges anyway. If you’re deadlifting for muscle mass, you should let the barbell settle on the ground so that you can pick up the “dead” weight, but you should also lift in moderate rep ranges. (We cover the research on this here).

Anyway, as soon as you’re deadlifting for more than one repetition in a row, a bending barbell becomes a liability. It’s much harder to keep consistent form when your barbell is flexing and bouncing. It’s not designed for that.

Furthermore, it takes a fairly advanced lifter to be doing deadlift reps with a few hundred pounds on the bar. Until you get to that level, the barbell won’t be bending anyway, so there’s no real benefit to getting a dedicated deadlift bar. If you want to gain better leverage at the beginning of the pull, you’d be better served doing raised deadlifts or rack pulls with a powerlifting barbell.

Recent research is showing that pulling from a dead stop will recruit more muscle fibres at once, which is great for gaining strength, so once you’ve gained a good amount of muscle size in your hips and back, and you’re getting serious about improving your deadlift strength, it’s best to let the bar fully settle, reset your form, and then pull the barbell from a dead stop—a true deadlift. If you’re deadlifting a series of singles like that, and there are a few hundred pounds on the bar, that’s when a deadlift bar truly shines. Of course, you could also get many of those same benefits from using chains or bands.

Murderous knurl. The other crucial benefit of a dedicated deadlift bar is that it has a truly monstrous knurl—more aggressive than any other barbell. However, a powerlifting barbell will also have very aggressive knurling. Not quite as deadly, but almost. It will be enough.

The durability paradox. This deadlift barbell is designed to bear the heaviest loads you’ll ever lift… but it’s also the thinnest of all barbells, allowing it to bend more than the others, but also making it the most fragile. And to make matters worse, the barbell is often dropped to the ground.

This can make it seem like there would be a durability issue—that the barbell would quickly get bent out of shape. This can happen, but it’s actually not as much of an issue as you’d think.

First of all, the weight is dropped from below the hips. It can make quite a lot of noise, but it’s not a great enough distance to damage the bar.

Second, the weight is evenly distributed throughout the entire bar. Even when the barbell bends, there’s a nice smooth curve to it. There’s no single point that needs to bear all of the stress.

This is actually the same principle that keeps your spine safe while deadlifting. With proper back positioning, the load will be shared between the many vertebrae in your spine, minimizing the stress on any one joint. It’s only if you lift with a kink in your back that one vertebrae will be forced to bear the brunt of the load, which can cause it to slip out of place. This allows your spine to bear incredibly heavy loads, and even to benefit from them.

Anyway, a deadlift barbell can get away with being so thin and flexible because deadlifting is actually fairly easy on barbells.

Olympic Weightlifting Barbells

Olympic weightlifting involves lifting the barbell with such incredible explosive force that it launches the barbell up into the air, at which point the athlete catches it on their shoulders or above their head.

Olympic weightlifting is an official Olympic sport, which is where it got its name. However, it’s not just a sport, it’s also a great tool for developing general athleticism, which is why you see it in programs like Starting Strength and CrossFit.

Olympic weightlifting isn’t good for gaining muscle size or strength, which has made it unpopular with bodybuilders, powerlifters, strongmen, and most casual lifters. However, once you’re already big and strong, the olympic lifts can train you to generate force more quickly—to explode into action. This makes it great for sprinters, football players, and, of course, CrossFitters. In fact, CrossFit is largely responsible for Olympic weightlifting’s recent surge in popularity.

As you can imagine, even though they’re both barbell sports, Olympic weightlifting is incredibly different from powerlifting. This means that the barbells have a number of different features that are designed specifically to make the Olympic lifts easier… even if it comes at the expense of making strength training harder.

  • With an Olympic barbell, the knurling is often mild so that if the barbell spins in your hands, it doesn’t tear up your skin. This makes it great for the Olympic lifts but poor for deadlifting—it will slip out of your fingers.
  • The centre of the barbell is kept smooth so that you don’t scrape your collarbones when you catch the weight on your shoulders. Again, this makes it great for the Olympic lifts but poor for squatting—it will slip down your back.
  • Instead of having standard bench press rings, it has snatch rings. This makes it easier to line up your grip for a snatch but harder to line up your grip for a bench press.
  • Olympic barbells use high-end bearings, such as needle bearings, to help the weight plates spin smoothly as they throw the barbell around. This makes Olympic barbells quite a bit more expensive. This is necessary for a serious Olympic weightlifting but total overkill for strength training.

All of those features are important, but they come stock on most Olympic barbells. The most interesting feature of a dedicated Olympic barbell is its “whip,” and what really separates a good Olympic barbell from a bad one is its durability.

Great “whip.” The first Olympic lift is the snatch, where you launch the bar up into the air and then catch it overhead. This favours a thin, springy barbell that absorbs some of the shock when you catch it, saving your joints from a harsh impact.

The second Olympic lift is the clean and jerk, where you “clean” the barbell onto your shoulders and then use momentum to lift it overhead. This favours a bar that will bounce when you catch it on your shoulders, giving you some momentum to jerk the weight overhead.

For both of these lifts, the barbell needs to be thin and flexible, but also firm enough to give it a strong bounce. A 28mm diameter will give it this perfect amount of “whip.”

It’s just a single millimetre thicker than a deadlift bar, but with a material as hard as steel, that millimetre makes a difference.

Myth-whipping. Whip has nothing to do with the hardness of the steel, just the diameter of the barbell. If two barbells both have the same 28mm diameter, you can rest assured that they’ll both have ideal whip.

Mind you, the hardness of the steel is important, but maybe not in the way that you’d expect. That brings us to torque.

The trouble of torque. Being a little bit thicker than a deadlift bar makes Olympic bars more durable, but they’re also going to be subjected to far greater stress than a deadlift bar, which is going to make them more likely to warp over time.

This is especially true with CrossFit, which tends to prescribe higher repetitions with lighter weights. The less weight that’s on the bar, the more torque there is when it lands on the ground:

If you you forgot to apply cerakote to your physics skills, just imagine a wrench cranking the barbell. The lighter the load, the longer the wrench, and the greater the torque. This is why a deadlift bar will tend to hold up better than an Olympic bar.

The durability problem. Perhaps the most obvious way to make a barbell more durable is to simply make it harder. However, as a substance gets harder, it also becomes more brittle. A hard bar is okay for strength training, where you have a sturdy barbell that you lift methodically, but with Olympic weightlifting the risk of the bar shattering would be too great.

This is why Rogue, who specialize in CrossFit equipment, developed something they call Rogue Work Hardening (RWH™), which is a hardening treatment designed to make their barbells more durable without making them more brittle. Their Olympic barbells have a great tensile strength of 215k, which is flexible enough that it won’t shatter, but it also has this RWH treatment that makes it tough enough that it won’t bend.

How well does RWH work? It’s hard to say. But Rogue has a reputation for making barbells that hold up for many years even at CrossFit boxes, so I’d guess that it works quite well.

A traditional Olympic weightlifter might be able to get away with a traditional Olympic weightlifting bar, such as an Eleiko IWF weightlifting barbell, but with a program as brutal as CrossFit, it probably pays to get a tougher barbell.

Is chrome the gold standard? Chrome plating is the traditional “gold standard” for Olympic weightlifting barbells. Unfortunately, like gold, chrome bends quite easily, making the barbell more likely to warp when dropped from overhead.

General Multipurpose Barbells

These bars are designed to be good for a wide variety of lifting goals

They aren’t great at anything, but they aren’t bad at anything either. A Rogue Ohio Bar, for example, is a good all-around bar with no real weaknesses, making it a good choice for general programs like Starting Strength and CrossFit, which use a mix of strength training and Olympic lifting.

It’s a good type of barbell, but we can do much better.

Powerlifting Barbells

  • The Bench Press
  • The Squat
  • The Deadlift
  • The Barbell Row
  • The Overhead Press
  • The Chin-Up
  • The Curl

Strength training (1–5 rep sets) is notoriously bad for stimulating muscle growth, as we covered in our previous article, but the lifts themselves are absolutely brilliant for gaining size. They stimulate the greatest amount of muscle mass with each lift, and they allow us to lift very heavy weights. All we need to do is bump the rep range up above 6 reps per set, keeping the general strength benefits but improving their ability to stimulate muscle growth.

So even though we aren’t technically doing strength training, and even though we aren’t powerlifters, we still want a barbell that’s designed for those specific lifts. This means that we technically still want a powerlifting barbell, also known as a “power bar.” The best examples of this are the Rogue Ohio Power Bar and the Kabuki New Generations Power Bar.

Powerlifting barbells are designed to be perfect for the big three lifts: the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift.

These barbells look fairly standard to the untrained eye (aside from often being black), but they actually have a number of unique features that make them far better for building muscle than the barbells you’d find at the average commercial gym.

Aggressive knurling. The first feature of this barbell is the knurling. Knurling is the textured part of the bar that enhances your grip, and there are a few different types. At one end of the spectrum there’s passive knurling. Passive knurling is gentle on your hands, but it’s harder to grip the bar, and your grip will slip when doing heavy deadlifts, rows, and shrugs. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s aggressive knurling. With an aggressive knurl, your grip might fail due to a lack of strength, but you won’t have the problem of the barbell always slipping out of your hands.

If you’ve lifted in commercial gyms with standard barbells, you’ve been using a passive knurl. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to hold onto a proper powerlifting barbell. You’ll be able to grip the bar better than ever before, you’ll instantly be able to deadlift more weight, and your hands will feel raw for a couple weeks as they adjust to it. 

Centre knurling. These barbells also have knurling in the middle so that the barbell doesn’t slide down your back while squatting. This is one of the main features that sets this type of barbell apart from the others. Standard barbells, weightlifting barbells, and deadlift barbells won’t have this centre knurling.

The centre knurling isn’t necessary for beginners or casual lifters doing regular back squats (a high-bar squat). The barbell sits on top of your traps and will be pretty sturdy there with or without knurling to hold it in place. However, if you ever get more serious about strength training, you might start shifting the barbell further down your back (a low-bar squat), and you’ll be loading up ever heavier weights, at which point there’s a greater risk of it sliding down your back. This centre knurling will prevent that from happening. It’s a great feature that you won’t need right away, but you’ll grow into over time.

Bench press rings. The rings in the knurling mark the maximum bench press width that’s allowed at powerlifting meets. If you’re a powerlifter, you aren’t allowed to bench with your index finger beyond those rings, making this feature essential for competitive powerlifters.

Those bench press markers are equally important for guys trying to build muscle. When you set up for your bench press, you need to make sure that your grip is consistent and symmetrical. The rings are great for that. If you put your pinky fingers on the rings when benching, that’s a good default bench press position. You can then experiment with going a littler narrower or wider until you find the perfect spot. You can then use a “wide” or “narrow” grip by moving your grip one hand-width in or out from your preferred grip. These bench press markers will serve as your anchor.

A sturdy bar. Olympic weightlifting barbells are narrow (28mm), making them more flexible. This gives them more “whip,” which reduces the impact on your joints as you throw and catch heavy weights.

Powerlifting barbells are thick (29mm). This makes them sturdy, allowing you to steadily plough through your bench, row, squat, and deadlift sets without the barbell bouncing around. This is a big deal for advanced lifters, but you won’t notice it much until there’s a few hundred pounds on the bar. Again, though, you want a barbell that you can grow with.

Unremarkable bushing. When Olympic weightlifters are throwing weights around, it’s important for those weights to be able to spin freely. This prevents the momentum of the lift from throwing the lifter off balance. Powerlifters don’t care about this feature, so instead of having fancy ball bearings, these barbells usually have pretty unremarkable bushing. That’s fine. 

Okay, so that covers what type of barbell you should get. But that’s only the beginning. Even when it comes to powerlifting barbells, there are dozens of brands to choose from. And even once you pick a brand, there are dozens of options to choose from: bare steel, black oxide, black zinc, nickel, cerakote, stainless steel, etc. That’s why I wanted to write this article. This stuff can quickly become overwhelming unless you really know what you’re doing.

Now let’s talk about durability. Cheap barbells will sometimes get bent out of shape. This prevents the sleeves from spinning and ruins the barbell. However, that’s something you’re more likely to see in a CrossFit gym because they use thinner barbells and they drop them from overhead for high-rep sets with barely any weight on the bar. This produces a tremendous amount of wear and tear on a barbell that’s designed to be more fragile to begin with.

Powerlifting barbells are thicker and aren’t usually dropped from more than deadlift height. If you choose a good barbell, you won’t ever need to worry about it warping. Like we’ve said, this is a barbell that you can grow old with.

However, even with a high-quality powerlifting barbell, you will need to worry about corrosion. Humid climates, sweat, dead skin cells, and chalk will all trap moisture in the knurling of the barbell, making the steel rust. As a result, most barbells have a protective coating: zinc, chrome, nickel, cerakote, etc. The problem is that these coatings are applied on top of the knurling, so the thicker the coating, the worse the knurling becomes. This is why some people prefer “bare steel” barbells. Mark Rippetoe, the author of Starting Strength is notorious for this.

However, if you get a bare steel barbell, it will rust. When it rusts, it will begin to tear up your hands, and the rust will get into those tears. That’s no good. So you’ll need to scrape away the rust and oil your barbell. But when you scrape away the rust, you’re also scraping away some of the knurling. The knurling will be great at first, but your barbell will age poorly. I prefer the idea of getting a barbell that will keep a strong knurling for its entire lifespan.

I would recommend that you either get a coated barbell or you upgrade the entire barbell to stainless steel. Fortunately, some companies have gotten very good at making coated barbells with great knurling. In fact, Rogue is known for using heavy coating while still having the best knurl in the industry.

Which coating is best?

Which barbell coating finish is the best at resisting rust? Bare steel, black oxide, chrome, nickel, zinc, cerakote, stainless steel

Chrome, nickel and zinc are all great options. They resist rust well enough that you shouldn’t run into any issues.

Cerakote is a high-end coating that’s traditionally used to protect guns from corrosion. It has far better corrosion resistance than most other options, but what really sets it apart is that it has a matte finish and can be done in any colour. The only downside is that it can chip with enough metal-on-metal contact.

Stainless steel doesn’t have the same stylistic flare as the cerakote, but you get a bare steel barbell that won’t rust or chip. The only downside to stainless steel is that it will cost you roughly $100 extra. This is the highest end option.

Okay, whew. I think that about does it. Now you know everything.

Here are the barbells that we recommend. All of them are made in the US and ship internationally:

  • Rogue Ohio Power Bar—265+: The perfect default option. 100% ideal for building muscle. Should last at least a lifetime. Very competitively priced—better and cheaper than most other options on the market. This is the barbell I was trying to order. (And I wound up getting one in the end.)
  • Rogue Ohio Power Bar, Cerakote—$325: Same benefits as above, but with the new cerakote coating. It comes in different colours. Absolutely beautiful. This is the barbell I’m going to buy next.
  • Kabuki Strength New Generations Power Bar—$599: You can get this with the hard nickel finish, and Kabuki is known for making the most durable bars on the market. It also has great knurling, second only to the Rogue’s.

Shane Duquette is the co-founder and creative lead of Outlift. He has a degree in Design Theory (BDes) from York University and Sheridan College. He also founded Bony to Beastly and Bony to Bombshell, where he's spent the past eight years helping naturally skinny people bulk up.

How to build 20 to 30 pounds of muscle in 30 days. Even if you have failed before


  1. Chris S on May 21, 2019 at 9:47 am

    Wow, that was an incredibly thorough write up, I love it. I’m currently saving up for a Rogue Ohio Bar. All my equipment is mid-tier stuff, nothing special. And my current bar is fine, but I want to own one really nice thing and it’s going to be the bar.

    • Shane Duquette on September 1, 2019 at 2:19 pm

      I’ve got both the Ohio Bar and the Ohio Power Bar now. I love both. I think you’re going to love yours, too. Definitely worth it 🙂

    • Shane Duquette on September 1, 2019 at 2:20 pm

      Well, to be more precise, my wife encouraged me to get the Power Bar and then claimed the Ohio Bar as her own 😛

  2. […] aggressive knurling, and it feels amazing. (If you want to go down the rabbit-hole on barbells, check out Shane’s barbell guide here.) I got brightly coloured bumper plates, and the bench I have (Thompson Fat Pad with the shorty […]

  3. Jan Kuzel on November 8, 2019 at 9:00 pm

    Soo, since you have all three Ohio Bar, Ohio Power Bar and Ohio Cerakote Bar … which gives the best grip? I am really liking the Cerakote Bar as my endgame bar. But it says it only has “standard knurl” and has no center knurl. They don’t have Cerakote Power Bar darn it :D.

    Can you go more in-depth on the differences between Ohio Power Bar and Ohio Cerakote Bar? I mean the Cerakote is only slightly more expensive, isn’t the extra durability (and looks hehe) worth the weaker knurl and lack of center knurl? How much difference there is?

    • Shane Duquette on November 14, 2019 at 12:21 pm

      Jan! Always good to hear from you, man.

      You can indeed get a Rogue Ohio Power Bar in cerakote. However, the cerakote bar isn’t my favourite for grip. On the plus side, the matte cerakote coating isn’t as slippery as uncoated metal. But on the downside, it does muddy up the knurl a bit.

      The nickel coating seems to do a better job of preserving the knurl. It’s nice and crisp. Feels great.

      For aesthetics, I don’t know. The matte cerakote looks great from a distance, but up close it’s not quite perfect. I’m leaning towards the black nickel / black oxide for aesthetics. The cerakote does look awesome, though. I think you’d be happy with any of them. And obviously if you want colour, you’ve got to go cerakote.

      For the cerakote, imagine that someone took a regular barbell and did a really nice job of spray painting it with durable matte spraypaint. Does that look better than nickel or steel? I don’t know.

      I’ve had my barbells for about a year now and all of them are still in perfect condition. I haven’t had to do any maintenance on them whatsoever. And we live near the ocean in Cancun, so I was worried heat and humidity might pose a problem. I can’t compare the durability until one of them starts to show signs of wear and tear.

      One other thing I’ll say is that even the regular Ohio Bar has absolutely phenomenal knurling. If you’re used to the barbells at commercial gyms, you’ll be absolutely wowed any of Rogue’s barbells. They’re so far beyond anything you will have used in the past. You can’t make a bad choice.

      Of my barbells, I prefer my black nickel Ohio Power Bar. It’s rough on my hands, but I don’t mind, and I love how secure the grip is. My wife prefers the Ohio Bar. She has no problem gripping it and the knurling doesn’t tear into her hands as much.

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