The Problem: Normal olympic bars weigh 45 lbs / 20 kg. This is too high of a starting weight for many exercises for women, non-athletic men, seniors, kids, and even somewhat trained athletes learning complex movements like the clean or snatch.
Luckily, it’s easy to get all kinds of lighter bars!
Here’s how to pick the best type/model of a light weight bar. These bars are all around 5-6 ft long, compared to a full-size 7 ft long, 45 lb bar.
These solid steel shortie bars come in two types that are important to distinguish: Rackable and non-rackable.
These and the non-rackable solid steel bars (below) are among the heaviest of the bars here, around 30 lbs. Keep moving on down this page if that’s still to heavy for your purposes.
This means they’ll fit on a full sized power rack or squat rack, because they have the same long 52″ or so between the inside collars as 7ft bars do, with shortened sleeves on the ends. With shorter sleeves you can’t fit as much weight, but that isn’t really an issue here because the whole point is you want it light.
This also makes them the right size for practicing snatches, for tall or long-armed athletes who need the full width, or close to it. Bars with shorter shafts would present an issue with getting a wide enough grip.
Best for: Cheap bar for training olympic lifts & general training with a slightly lower starting weight
These are a lot like the above but with a thin 25mm shaft compared to 28mm+. They are all exactly 15kg / 33 lb.
They’re specifically used for women’s olympic lifting competitions, which call for the thinner bar that fits a woman’s hands better. They are also stronger, made for dropping with bumpers, so more expensive.
Best For: Women’s olympic lifting
A lot like the rackable solid steel bars above, but a shorter shaft. Still around 30 lbs. These can come in 5ft-6ft overall lengths.
The main thing to keep in mind is these have a short shaft, as short as a 39″ (a little over 3ft) shaft, and won’t fit a full sized power rack or squat rack and won’t work for practicing snatches or wide grip presses.
Also, the construction quality is low. These are total “budget” bars. The steel has a low tensile strength, and the ends are secured with an allen bolt that often comes loose (it takes a while to twist all the way out so it’s not a safety issue as much as an annoyance), or the bolt will even snap if you try dropping this bar, even with bumper plates. Better bars have the sleeves secured with snap rings on the ends or a pin near the ends that goes through the width of the sleeve (York does this).
Best for: Very tight spaces or doing accessory exercises
Now we start to get to the really light ones. Aluminum is super light, about 40% the weight of steel, making for a light 15 lb bar.
They can be used on a rack if you’re careful not to drop it, and these have the same dimensions as the “rackable” steel bars mentioned above, full 52″ shaft length. Just don’t put much weight on it.
Some of these come in a 5 lb “junior” version, and so far that’s an extreme specialty item. See the OSO Mini Bar, a 4ft long version with a thin 22mm shaft, made for young kids’ small hands and small frame.
Best For: Training olympic lifts or for young kids
Standard bars are a whole different animal, totally incompatible with olympic weights.
Standard bars with 1″ diameter ends are becoming less and less common all the time, as everyone switches to olympic bars with 2″ diameter ends. Olympic is by far the best, with the variety, quality and versatility of the bars and plates.
If you’ve got a setup with standard weights, these bars can be pretty light, around 15-20 lbs. They’re 1″ from end to end and therefore don’t carry the extra weight of the rotating sleeves. Also, they tend to be exactly 1″ (25mm) diameter, which is thinner than 28mm+ olympic bars.
Best For: Home gyms using standard weights
Like the above, these have only 1″ diameter ends and won’t take olympic weights. They’re used in group cardio classes like BodyPump, and each person adds what ever amount of weight to the 5 lb bar that’s appropriate for them. These are only made to take about 40 lbs and aren’t meant to be used on a rack because the thin steel pipes can get dented.
Best For: Group cardio classes
That’s about it! Let me know if I can clarify the above choices or if there’s something I missed!