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I get a questions from folks who read my posts 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 the design 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.
What an Ideal Multi-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 the outer limit of where you can place one of your fingers for bench pressing. On IWF certified bars the marks are a little farther out, to mark 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; more of a nice touch. 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 large guys with a very wide grip on their back squat, and using a narrow rack. 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, bronze is so hard that 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.
Composite bushings are not as good as bronze. They are a little cheaper to manufacture, they hold up very well without wearing down, won’t crack, and overall they work okay. The problem is the friction coefficient of a plastic composite on steel is not as good as bronze on steel, and you’ll see this in the more sensitive spin of a bronze bushing.
Composite bushings can spin as well as bronze if they are properly lubricated with oil. I mean, yeah, if you lubricate any material enough it will slide better. If you want to drip some oil in there and rotate it around to see if you can fully lubricate it well without making a mess, and repeat this process occasionally, go for it. Bronze does not need as much lubrication. It should spin great from the factory and for many years. Composite bushings can be appropriate for power bars, as described in the paragraphs below regarding steel bushings.
Lastly, you’ll sometimes see steel bushings. Stainless steel is normally a good feature, like for the bar shaft, but steel-on-steel does not make for a good friction coefficient, no matter how much you polish them. It has to do with negative ions or something; I don’t know.
One application of steel bushings is for power bars. Powerlifters have a preference for a certain amount of spin. Too much spin just makes the bar harder to grip or balance. In this way, stainless steel bushings are not always a design flaw but are only the most appropriate for pure powerlifting bars.
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.
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 on the Rogue Bar 2.0. I think Rogue was the first one to do 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 drawback there is you’re at a greater risk of slamming plates into the rack while you’re re-racking because the plates are closer in. For this reason I avoid bars like this.
This is the one I’d recommend the most.
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.
At this point they have several variations of the Ohio Bar. They’re getting as much mileage out of the Ohio Bar name as possible! As of writing their finish options are e-coat, black oxide, black zinc, stainless steel, and cerakote. Don’t get too bogged down in the finish options. They all work. Stainless steel is the best but expensive.
I’ve gotten questions on the Rogue Bar 2.0. The short answer is that the Ohio Bar has the slightly better bronze bushings and more finish options. I did a complete comparison of the Ohio Bar and Rogue 2.0 bar here.
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.