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Weight Lifting Basics: Equipment - Bars & Plates

One of the great things about weightlifting is that at its most basic it only requires flat floor space, a suitable bar and bumper plates. There is of course a lot to know about the equipment but having basic knowledge is very helpful if you train in a weightlifting gym. This article is intended to help beginners get to grips with the equipment and lingo common to weightlifting gyms.

The Bar (Barbell)

The barbell used in weightlifting is an Olympic Bar. These are strong but flexible steel barbells.

The sleeves (ends, where the plates go) rotate in order to let the plates spin when doing cleans & snatches to avoid complications of rotational inertia in the turn-over phase of the lift. Empty barbells should not be dropped as the rubber plates (see below) protect the mechanisms that allow rotation.

Women’s 15kg bars have a smaller diameter, in theory, to make the grip easier for smaller hands. Although this may not be necessary for a lot of lifters, 15kg bars will be used in competitions, so women who plan to compete should definitely train with one!

Other bars you may encounter:

  • Competition bars: rougher knurling to enhance grip, and also will be calibrated to be legal for competition (ensuring exact weight). In official competition only certain approved brands can be used, these include Eleiko & Werksan.

  • Technique bars: 5kg full length bars made from aluminium (low max load, just for beginner/practice)

  • Youth bar: 10kg shorter bar, some other alternatives too

  • Broom handles or PVC pipe for technique, great for learning initial technique and movement patterns.

The diagram below shoes the differences between Men's, Women's and an example of a Youth's bar.


The ‘weights’ used in weightlifting are given several names but commonly are called plates, discs or bumpers as the weights used are ‘bumper plates’. These are either rubber or rubber coated metal, made so that they are thick enough to be dropped from overhead repeatedly/frequently, causing less damage to floors and also less damage to the weights and bars.

Often in gyms all plates will be made of black rubber, however in competition the plates are coloured according to a global standard colour code, see the diagram to the right.

Standard plates are 45cm in diameter with a 5cm diameter hole which allows them to fit on the sleeve of the barbell. The ‘thickness’ of the plate depends on its weight, brand, materials, and construction.

Standard 45cm plates come in 25, 20, 15 & 10kg. For training you will most likely also have 5kg bumper plates, however 5kg competition plates are smaller fractional plates.

Fractional plates

In weightlifting competitions the minimum weight increase on each attempted lift is 1kg. This means that smaller plates are also needed. These smaller plates are called ‘fractionals’ (fractional plates), or sometimes change plates, or even biscuits....

To allow for 1kg increases fractionals are available in: 5, 2.5, 2, 1.5, 1 & 0.5kg.

Technique plates

These are full diameter 2.5 and 5kg plates which are intended to be used when learning to make the bar the correct height from the floor for a lift but still light enough for beginners. These tend to be made of plastic and are hollow.

- Team Canterbury Strength


Everett, G. 2016. Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches. 3rd Edn. Catalyst Athletics.

Haff, G. & Triplett, N. T. 2016. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. 4th Edn. Human Kinetics, Leeds.

Lear, J. 1991. Skilful Weight Lifting. 1st Edn. A & C Black, London.

Rippetoe, M. 2011. Starting Strength - Basic Barbell Training. 3rd Edn. The Aasgaard Company, Wichita Falls.

1 comentario

David Mannion
David Mannion
13 ene 2021

Excellent articles on Olympic barbells and the collars used in olympic lifting. Just a quick comment that many bars in ordinary gyms and also powerlifting bars in general are 29 to 33 mm in diameter and are not as easy to perform the olympic lifts as a proper olympic barbell as you describe (25 mm diameter women; 28 mm diameter men). Also, the cost of a proper olympic barbell, can very high £800 to £1000 for competition use and the collars can be £200 on top! The ones used by Canterbury Strength WLC are very good.

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