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Anatomy of a Barbell – Everything YOU Need to Know About an Olympic Barbell

Anatomy Of A Barbell

It forms the basis of weight lifting, the #1 piece of equipment you’ll find in any and every gym around the world – the barbell…

Chances are if you’re following one of my recommend routines (or any strength training/bodybuilding routine for that matter!) you’ll be pressing, lifting or pushing a barbell almost every day.

But how much do you know about the anatomy of a barbell?

This post will delve into the details of the barbell.

The Anatomy Of An Olympic Barbell (The Numbers)

The standard Olympic barbell you perform your squats, deadlift, bench and military press with is 2.2m in length (or 7 2”).

Officially an Olympic barbell weighs 20kg (or 44lbs).


The portion of the barbell suitable for grip placement is known as the shaft and is 131cm in length (just north of 31”).

The diameter of the barbell’s shaft is 28mm when we’re talking about an official competition Olympic barbell, however the run of the mill training barbell could be slightly north of 28mm (anywhere up to around 32mm).

Although it may not sound like much of a noticeable difference at all, the slight variance in diameter does come into play when we’re lifting…

  1. The 28mm bar will rotate significantly quicker than the 32mm bar – if you’re only hitting deadlifts, squats, bench and overhead press this won’t make a different to you, but if you’re performing Olympic lifts that involve spinning and catching the bar you’ll soon see why the competition bar is regulated at 28mm.
  2. Grip strength is tested when we’re training with a thicker bar (i.e. 32mm) as well, and unless you’re used to using one you’ll find that hitting your usual weight for the same number of reps because a hell of a lot harder (if you’re performed pull-ups on a thick bar you’ll know what this frustration is like).
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Why do these variations exist? There’s a couple of reasons…

  1. Some guys prefer training with a thicker bar to further develop grip and forearm strength (accessories like FatGripz were created to replicate these benefits on a standard bar).
  2. Manufacturers can get away with using lesser quality (weaker) materials, increasing the thickness of the bar to make up for the quality.


The ends of the bar are known as the sleeve, this is where you’re sliding your 45lb plates onto!
The standard Olympic barbell sleeve is bang on in length with a 5cm diameter.

Some sleeves will have knurling on them to better grip the plates, this makes a slight difference, but if you’re putting collars on the barbell the plates aren’t going to be sliding anywhere anyway (at which point the knurling can just make it harder to slide your plates on and off).

When we’re talking about sleeves though you’ll quickly find the spin of the sleeve to indicate the quality of the barbell.

Quick, smooth spin = a quality barbell that’s going to be easy on the wrists.

Performing exercise such as the clean with a cheap barbell and any significant weight on the bar can quickly become a nightmare for your wrists, as slow inconsistent rotation will leave your wrists bearing the weight in a compromised position.

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Lower quality bars have bushings inside the sleeves (cheap).

High quality bars have needle bearings inside the sleeves (expensive!).


Collars hold your weight plates onto the barbell’s sleeves.

The two most common styles of collar used are the lockjaw slide on collars and the tension spring style of collar (the lockjaw collars are sturdier, faster and high quality from my experience).


Knurling also known as ‘knurl’ are the crisscrossed rough areas of the barbell designed for gripping.
The traditional barbell will have 3 sections of knurling.

  1. A section in the middle to assist with bearing the barbell on your back for exercises such as the barbell back squat.
  2. A wide section on the left side of the barbell extending to the left sleeve.
  3. A wide section on the right side of the barbell extending to the right sleeve.

You might think that knurling all the way to the edge of the bar is unnecessary (who would use that and why?!) but for those Olympic lifters performing the snatch this is a staple.

This leaves two (15cm~) sections of the barbell free of knurling in-front of your shins (so you don’t rip up your legs while performing deadlifts etc.)

If you’ve lifted with a powerlifting barbell you’d know straight away that there are different levels when it comes to the aggressiveness and roughness of knurling… as powerlifting pull big numbers without any straps or gloves the extreme gnarling on some of these bars is easily justified.

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The Finish

The vast majority of barbells are coated once they’ve been manufactured, with a few of the popular options including…

Black zinc

Zinc plated barbells offer moderate corrosion resistance; however, they do tend to wear quicker than other finishes (and thus lose that nice black-plated look).

Chrome plating

Chrome plated barbells are officially used for competition.

Decorative chrome

Decorative chrome barbells are not recommended for heavy lifting as the wear and tear from flexing, bending and impact over time will cause the decorative finish to crack and peel off the barbell.

Bare steel

Bare steel bars are uncoated and as such require a decent amount of upkeep to maintain.

Training & Competition Barbells

The terms ‘training barbell’ and ‘competition barbell’ are thrown around quite a bit, these are both referring to an Olympic barbell (20kg) however the competition barbell comes with a hefty price tag as its weight has been certified as exact for competition use (and comes with said certification).

As mentioned the training barbell *should* weigh 20kg but this is not measured precisely, the grip *should* be 28mm however once again you’re not guaranteed.

The competition barbell *is* spot on 20kg and is exactly 28mm in diameter (a certification is shipped with every competition barbell to prove this).

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Here's The Barbell I Use & Recommend...

I've been using one of these 'The Beast" 7 foot olympic barbells in my home garage gym for the last 6 years, it's affordable, high quality and gets the job done regardless of how many 45lb plates are loaded on it.
Check it out and invest in a high quality "The Beast" barbell here.

What’s Your Take On The Anatomy Of A Barbell? Let Me Know Below!

Scott J.
Scott J.
I’m SJ. I’m a fitness enthusiast and published author. I transformed my body from a skinny fat 135lbs with 18% body fat to a solid 192lbs at 8% body fat. I became qualified in a field I was passionate about. I founded several online businesses that allow me to pursue ideas and projects in my life that I am passionate about without having to constantly worry about money. I published several eBooks explaining the training and dieting techniques I used to achieve the body I have today. I learnt a plethora of new information on dieting and fitness by reading and applying what I read, to find out what does work and what doesn’t work, because as I’m sure you’ve noticed the health and fitness industry is full of non-sense claims and BS. I found out what was true and what worked for me and applied that knowledge. And you bet I had fun during the whole process.

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