Barbell sleeves - grooved, smooth, and Russian

Intro

UPDATED 2021 – I updated the list of grooved and smooth sleeved bars further below.

In recent years some manufacturers have added small grooves onto the sleeves of olympic bars, as shown in the pic to the left. People have also referred to them as ridges or ribbed sleeves. All the same thing. There have been questions from time to time on what that’s all about.

To complicate things, Rogue unveiled their Russian Bar in 2016, which has huge grooves, a totally different animal than the little grooves we’ve seen for years. I’m going to call them Russian grooves here for the sake of simplicity.

The Russians developed them decades ago, in the dark Soviet years (hey, something good came out of the Soviet Union!).

Why The Different Styles?

Because there weren’t enough complexities in the design of olympic bars already, right?

Each of these sleeve styles does have arguable advantages.

Smooth sleeves are the classic design. Easy, relatively quiet plate loading. Not much to say about it! They’re my favorite, personally.

With grooved sleeves, the tiny grooves keep plates in place better if you choose not to secure them with collars. 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.

When you do use collars on grooved sleeves, the grooves can significantly help keep some types of collars from slipping, notably any collars that can tend to catch on the grooves (such as the cheapo spring clips) or anything with a rubber padding that the grooves sink into.

A few problems with grooved sleeves. One, a “zzzzzzzzzzziiiiiipp!” or similar sound plates make running over the grooves when you load them. Second, with iron plates the extra friction is annoying, because you often want to be able to slide a plate on with one hand or minimal effort with two hands, and it takes some extra pushing to get a 45lb plate on grooved sleeves. Third, the grooves chew off any enamel or powder coat finish on the plate hole, leaving you with a mess to clean over time.

Plates with steel inserts such as bumper plates will slide smoother against them and won’t bring up these issues.

The last style of sleeve is the old Russian design. Rogue decided it didn’t just look cool but has a notable functional advantage – that of securing your plates way better than any other design when you’re dropping the bar for multiple reps.

Here’s how the Russian style sleeves work. You need their special collars (which Rogue includes with the bar). Load your plates. Slide the collar on, locking them down into the last groove you can get to, which by design will be some distance from the plates. Then spin the inner part of the collar to move it snug against the plates. This is guaranteed to keep the collar from slipping when you drop cleans, because the pressure of one portion of the collar against the plates is backed up by the other portion of the collar being secured into that huge groove in the bar sleeve. It aint getting knocked loose. The collar would have to break first. 

The Russian style sleeve didn’t catch on when Rogue and Eleiko brought it back. Users are generally not fans of it, given how it makes loading plates harder.

The situation now is 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 dropping of the bar from shoulder height or overhead. Decent collars stay in place a lot better, resulting in little or not 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.

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.

Smooth Sleeves

Grooved Sleeves

Russian Sleeves