REWRITE 2022 – Revised list of grooved and smooth sleeved bars, and general updates.

Why The Different Styles?

For many years now, manufacturers have added small grooves onto the sleeves of olympic bars. People have also referred to them as ridges or ribbed sleeves. Some manufacturers make the grooves more aggressive than others.

Still a lot of bars are still being made the traditional way with smooth sleeves.

smooth sleeves without ridges on barbell
grooved sleeves on olympic barbell

Rogue and Eleiko were both making a Russian-style bar for a short time, with large grooves that the collars would wind onto, much like threaded sleeves of standard bars. They were not popular. The grooves just made plates hard to load. After a few years they both phased out the style.

With grooved sleeves, the tiny grooves keep plates in place better if you choose not to secure them with collars, and they make collars stay in place by catching them a little better. Frankly, a lot of folks lift that way…

TANGENT – Lifting Without Collars

Since I mentioned it…

Experienced lifters don’t always use collars, for two reasons.

For one thing, they have found that in certain situations there’s little or no need to secure the plates. The rationale is they don’t move much, and if you know there will be no problem at all in getting the weight up smoothly then it’s much like lifting with plates loaded unsecured on a weight machine, which tends to be seen as much more acceptable. But you need to be aware of when it is and isn’t perfectly safe to do this with freeweight barbell lifting.

Doing heavy sets with unsecured plates when you have other people also lifting around you is a bad idea. Do what you like in private, but if you hurt someone else, you, sir, are a bad person.

The second reason experienced lifters may choose to not use collars is as a safety precaution when bench pressing. If they fail a heavy rep and are at risk of crushing themselves, tilting the bar to the side causes the plates to dump off one end, and with that end unloaded the bar flips the other way and the plates slide off that end. It’s a wacky way to do things, but it does work I guess, at the risk of damaging your plates and surrounding walls/equipment. It’s far better to lift in a power rack with safety bars or safety straps.

A few problems with grooved sleeves:

  1. The loud “zzzzzzzzzzziiiiiipp!” sound plates make running over the grooves when you load them.
  2. Depending on the plate design, the extra friction of grooves is annoying, because you often want to be able to slide a plate on with one hand with minimal effort. You have to push a lot harder to get a 45lb plate over the grooves.
  3. The grooves chew off any enamel or other finish on the plate hole, leaving you with flakes to clean over time.

Plates with steel inserts with curved edges such as bumper plates will slide much smoother against the grooves, not having edges to catch on each groove, and are much quieter as well.

The grooved sleeves are used on a lot on weightlifting-specific or general-purpose bars. Lifters doing cleans or snatches get the best use out of the grooved sleeves with all the repeated dropping of the bar from shoulder height or overhead. Decent collars stay in place a lot better, resulting in little or no shifting of plates after several drops.

On power bars you’ll see a lot of smooth sleeves. Powerlifting movements don’t involve such big drops as a matter of routine, and the grooves don’t end up being as useful. While some manufacturers go with uniformly grooved or smooth sleeves across all models of bars, others use smooth sleeves only on their power bars, and that’s the reason why.

Personally, I prefer smooth sleeves.

Brands that Use Each Style Sleeve

I’m trying to include many top brands that I can get definitive info on here. If I made a mistake or omission, let me know and I’ll update the list!

Note that this has changed over time, with manufacturers adding or removing grooves to some bars. This guide is for current models sold in the US.

Smooth Sleeves