I get a lot of feedback from folks who read my articles but still have trouble picking a bar that is going to be good for everything they plan on doing. Bars differ in their features, and for a 7ft bar that looks much like any others, there are a surprising number of tradeoffs built into it that are suited for different types of exercises.
So with that in mind, let’s explore what a really good pick for most people would be today for an all-around barbell that is suitable enough for all exercises.
Note that these are all olympic barbells, not standard barbells.
Table of Contents
What an Ideal All-Purpose Bar Will Have
IPF and IWF Dual Knurl Marks
Halfway between the center of the bar and the ends are 1/4″ gaps in the knurling. Their only purpose is to help you consistently place your hands.
On IPF bars the marks are placed at about where you would place one of your fingers for bench pressing, more or less, all depending on your size and preference. On IWF certified bars the marks are a little farther out, to accommodate a typical grip width for snatches.
When you’re doing a variety of exercises, it’s nice to have both marks so you can make sure your hands are at the right spot no matter what you’re doing and you aren’t left with several inches of distance that you’re forced to eyeball. Particularly at max attempts or in competitions it’s important to have a symmetrical grip so only a minimum amount of your strength goes towards stabilizing the bar.
At least a little whip is important for cleans, but you really don’t want it for back squats, bench presses, or overhead presses. This rules out the stiffest of the popular bars like the Texas Power Bar and Rogue Power Bar.
The knurling will need to be on the soft side if you expect to crank out a lot of reps for a WOD or just regular high rep training on cleans. Your hands rotating over and over on a deeply-knurled bar like some power bars will leave you incapacitated for weeks as you recover from torn hands, or at least taping your hands up carefully and trying to work around the pain and injury.
Any good bar will have a good PSI rating of 160,000 or above, and lately a lot of bars have been engineered to have over 180,000 and still maintain some whip because of the composition of the steel.
The bar needs to last through heavy drops from cleans and snatches and also hold up to being dropped on a rack. Racks can damage bars, and if the force is severe enough there’s nothing you can do, but a good strong bar will take a certain amount of punishment.
28 to 28.5mm Shaft Diameter
Your grip is usually the first thing to go when you do heavy deadlifts. A thicker shaft will make it a lot harder to keep your grip, forcing you to use chalk or straps on lighter weight.
To accommodate both pulling and pressing exercises, it’s best to have a 28mm or 28.5mm shaft.
Knurling All the Way to the Collars
Heck yeah. We all love this. Not because we actually use it. The thing is, it’s not mandatory for most of us, but you know, it’s a nice touch, an extra detail, and enough bars have this nowadays that the bar has been raised (sorry, last time I use that pun).
Functionally this is important for that extra-wide snatch grip for really tall guys. Or anyone wanting to do a ridiculously wide grip. Like super-wide grip presses for variety’s sake. Or wide grip squats, just to be able to grip it a certain way. This detail is sure sign that the manufacturer has put effort into keeping up with the times and producing a high quality bar meeting today’s standards.
Why bronze? I don’t know, it’s just the best. That’s what the cool kids have. No, but seriously, when properly lubricated it doesn’t wear down, stays really smooth, and provides a low-friction spin against the steel sleeve. You can always spot the bronze bushing. You can see it in the pic below, which I stole from the Ohio Bar description further below.
Reasonable Price Tag
If you have a thousand bucks to blow, you would probably be buying multiple bars. If you’re in the “I just need one” mindset, you probably have somewhat of a budget.
With that in mind, let’s keep the price under $300. That range will include a lot of really nice bars, without giving undue attention to the most expensive ones that are usually bought as dedicated bars that are engineered to be perfect for a certain type of lifting or even just a specific exercise such as special squat or deadlift bars.
Here we, ranking them from the worst of the best, to the best of the best.
I tried ordering these accurately, based on my own perception. Even the “worst” one listed here first is still an excellent bar and merely suffers from being a prodigy in a roomful of wonders.
A number of people who were working at MuscleDriver USA in Fort Mill, SC when they shut down in early 2016 migrated right up the road to Vulcan Strength in Charlotte, NC. But they actually started in 2009.
One thing that makes this bar stand out among others is, like Rogue’s, it’s made in the USA!
Also like Rogue, Vulcan offers a lifetime warranty against bending, with the condition that the bending doesn’t result from improper use such as if it’s dropped hard on bar catches / safety spotters. There’s only so much a bar can take, folks.
This is another strong bar, at 194,000 PSI. The entire bar, shaft and sleeves, has a bright zinc finish. That’s one of the most popular finishes. it looks kind of like chrome, but more textured, so not so much of a mirror finish.
You can get it directly from Vulcan Strength.
Yes, that shaft is red. Unique, huh? What they did was mix a black oxide finish with copper, for some ungodly reason, and this is the result. Nobody else is doing it, so props to them for trying something new and not just copying everything Rogue does (like seems to be the trend). In a commercial gym, lifters will spot it from across the floor with a “What in the red hell is that?” and feel obligated to check it out to see if it’s a gimmick on a cheap product or a proud signature of a well-made bar.
And it’s not a bad bar. Double snap rings, check. Double knurl marks, double check. Everything in our checklist above. Add in bronze bushings, and there’s nothing at all wrong with this one.
The weird thing is they give a 270,000 PSI rating. That’s insanely high, higher than anything any other company has on the market. I double checked with Troy, and they’re standing behind that number. I don’t get it. Maybe it’s true, and they just have the steel formulated in a way to still have some whip at high weights. But my understanding is that there’s a limit to PSI ratings much over 200,000 or so because the tools used to cut the bars can no longer handle it and wear out quickly. I’m not an expert on fabricating – in fact I know next to nothing about it – so take that for what it’s worth.
Fringe Sport makes some great products and, maybe as importantly, stands behind their bars. They guarantee this one with a lifetime warranty against bending. Cool! They don’t say, but I’m not sure they’ll replace it if you bend it by dropping it on a rack.
And they have a 365-day return policy, which I think is the most generous in the whole industry right now. You get free shipping to begin with, and then you can send it back within a year, on a whim, and get all your money back. Evidently they don’t get many returns, or they wouldn’t be able to do this.
The “Bomba Gear” band they have on the collars/shoulders of the bar can be swapped out, just like Rogue does. I assume Rogue was the first one to do that (with their Rogue 2.0 bar), but I’ll have to look into that.
The tensile strength is particularly high on this one at 206,000 PSI. That was one improvement over the Bomba v1. The other change is thinner inside collars so you can possibly load that extra bumper plate that you couldn’t quite fit on the sleeve before.
The Ohio Bar was the first bar that Rogue manufactured at their facility in Columbus, OH. They kind of have to keep it around for nostalgia purposes. Even so, it’s arguably still the best of their all-purpose bars.
You get a choice of three finishes. You choose from a black oxide or black zinc shaft, and a sleeve finish of black zinc or bright zinc. Black oxide isn’t a sleeve finish option because I believe it wears off quicker than the others when subjected to the constant sliding of plates on it.
To further explain why this bar kicks ass, I’ll mention a couple other Rogue bars here and why I’m not including them.
Don’t confuse this one with the Ohio Power Bar, which is made totally differently to be ideal for powerlifting exercises only, and bad for olympic lifting.
I know the Rogue 2.0 is popular too, so I need to go over it and explain why the Ohio Bar is better.
First, the Rogue only comes in black zinc. No other choices like the Ohio.
The most visible difference, but nothing to do with functionality, is the Rogue 2.0 has larger inside collar (aka shoulder) with a notch in it where they put a colored silicone band (your choice of color) to easily identify the bar among other bars in a gym. They can sell you a pair of bands for $5.50, or you can get them elsewhere. This upgrade was a good idea by Rogue. Trainers tell their athletes in the gym, “Go grab the Rogue 2.0 over there”. Huh? Every one of those bars looks the same. What kind of test is this? So this is Rogue’s solution. The bands don’t interfere with the function of the bar in the slightest, and you can swap them out for another color as desired.
That being said, there is a major difference in functionality between the two bars. The Rogue 2.0 uses cheaper composite bushings instead of the bronze bushings that the Ohio uses. This results in significantly less spin on the Rogue 2.0. See the pics below and the video showing the difference in spin.
That’s what you want to see! The shiny bronze poking out from under the collar is always a welcome sight.
And this is why I didn’t include the Rogue 2.0 in this list separately. I’ve got high standards, and the Rogue 2.0’s higher-friction composite bushings means it doesn’t qualify for this list.
Mike Dolittle at Styrka Gym (Tulsa, OK) shot this excellent video comparing the Rogue 2.0 and Ohio.
You can get the Ohio Bar directly from Rogue Fitness.
Also, if you’re ok with some cosmetic blemishes from production, Rogue sometimes has “Boneyard” bars in their closeouts. The 28.5mm one is the Ohio Bar.
Did I miss any bar that should be included here? Leave a comment!
Also, if you’re looking for a cheaper bar, see our article on the best olympic bar under $200.