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Crossfitters have different requirements than old-school lifters focused on the more narrow sports of olympic weightlifting, bodybuilding, powerlifting, or strength training.
The thing is, Crossfitters need a good quality bar that’s good for high-rep olympic lifting AND versatile enough for presses, deadlifts, and varying grip widths.
It’s tough to get a perfect bar that’s good for all types of exercises. There are little trade-offs everywhere that are suited for specific exercises and can make a difference between your making the next PR or getting held back because there’s something not ideal about the bar.
When money is no object and you’re willing to pay $500 for a high end bar, you have tons of choices. Under $350 it’s trickier.
Updated 2021 – In an older guide I wrote about Crossfit bars under $300. Prices have since gone up. I’ve replaced it with this rewrite, raising the limit to $350, featuring a different set of bars that look the best today, with my updated thoughts on various features and details.
First, here are the top 5 bars under $350 I’ve narrowed it down to.
(scroll right to see see them all)
|BoS Weightlifting Bar 2.0||Rep Excalibur||Rogue Ohio||Wright Next Gen Bearing||FringeSport|
Bomba Bar v3
|FINISH||Hard Chrome||Hard Chrome||Black Zinc or|
|ROTATION||Bearings & Bushings||Bearings & Bushings||Bronze Bushings||Bearings||Bearings|
Why These Bars Made the List
These 5 bars all work great for Crossfit, better than so many others out there. Here’s why.
Let’s start with the shaft diameter. A general-purpose bar needs to have a 28mm-29mm shaft. Anything thicker than 29mm gets extraordinarily hard to hold onto for heavy pulling movements like deadlifts, cleans and snatches. Even better, keep it down to 28.5mm. It doesn’t sound like much, does it? Does half a millimeter actually make a difference? To beginners who have yet to push themselves for long enough to establish their personal bests, no. To the discerning lifter who is struggling at the top of his game, yes, it will make a difference, like any of the rest of these specs.
And just to make it clear, any of these bars need to be made well, with snap rings to secure the sleeves onto the bar. This is to ensure the sleeves don’t break loose and fall off the bar after enough drops with bumper plates. Dropping a bar is tough on it, even on 3/4″ rubber flooring. Good bars can hold up fine. On the cheapest bars, usually sold for around $100-$115 or included in a 300 lb weight set, you’ll find an allen bolt, which you need an allen key (hex key) to tighten. And tighten it you will. These are notorious for coming loose over time, bending, or even breaking.
Center knurling is the approximately 8″ section of knurling directly in the middle of the bar shaft. Normally you don’t grip that area. Its main advantage is when you’re doing back squats it creates friction to keep it in place on your upper back. Back in the day it was originally put there for the “one handed snatch”, an exercise that has fallen out of favor (but is still often done as a kettlebell exercise). The bummer with center knurling is that’s the part of the bar that touches the front of your neck when you catch a clean in the “front rack” position. Not comfy, especially for the high reps in a Crossfit workout. For this reason, no center knurling is absolutely the best move here.
As far as the rest of the shaft’s knurling, you need knurling to get any kind of decent grip, with the consideration that it should also be easy on your hands. There are bars out there like the famous Texas Power Bar that is disqualified as a Crossfit bar for the sole reason that its knurling is one step away from being a cheese grater. Crossfitters tear up their hands enough from high-rep cleans, gymnastics rings work, kipping/butterly pull ups, and kettlebell work that they need to find ways to minimize the damage. So you need soft to medium knurling.
About mid-way between the center of the shaft and the edges are some 1/2″ wide non-knurled ring marks in the bar. The position of these is actually precisely specified in the IWF and IPF barbell regulations as 810mm and 910mm apart, respectively. Because Crossfit involves a variety of exercises, double ring marks give you the most visual and tactile guides to precisely place your hands each time. I’ve heard it called several things: double knurl marks, dual knurl marks, or dual IPF/IWF ring marks, or whatever. You get the idea. These aren’t essential, but now that we have a choice and it’s not a unique thing that only one bar in existence has (the York B&R bar was the only one for a while), it’s nice to have. Yeah, we’re pampered. The kids today don’t know how rough we had it!
And lastly, all these bars have 180,000 PSI or greater. 150,000 PSI bars were acceptable in the past, but people have found them to occasionally bend on the platform or rack from bad drops.
Now for some unique things about a few of these bars that make them stand out…
Hard chrome is the toughest coating, but its surface is so smooth that it gets slippery with sweaty hands, even with the knurling. The chrome plating process also fills in the knurling a little bit, decreasing the knurling’s effectiveness.
Black oxide is some super thin stuff. That’s why it feels so much like bare steel. It’s a coating that’s created by applying a chemical to the steel that causes it to oxidize (rust) into the inert black oxide rather than the brown ferrous oxide we fear. This layer of oxidation is extremely thin, more so than any other coating or plating method out there. However, black oxide also doesn’t do a lot for you unless you oil your bar, which activates the black oxide’s corrosion resistance. And black oxide always rubs off over time, not only from power rack abrasion but just from your hands, which is the main gripe about it from lifters.
Zinc can be bright colored or coated over with a layer of black. Both feel good and aren’t slippery. A lot of tools and hardware (bolts, nails, etc) are zinc plated.
Cerakote, while not new itself, is one of the latest coatings that bar manufacturers have started using. Cerakote is a brand name of a hard and durable ceramic coating, touting a long track record in its use on firearms. The reason it got introduced to bars is it can easily be colored and can even be applied in detailed patterns. Aside from style, colors are nice for identifying a bar among others in a gym.
Sleeve Spin – Bushings and Bearings
Now for the spin of the sleeves. Spin is a very good thing, I dare say one of the main features of an olympic bar that makes them so much better than tree branches or any spare length of cold rolled steel lying around.
Of course, with sleeve spin in practice we’re actually talking about the spin of the shaft while the sleeves stay pretty much oriented the same. It’s what facilitates the hand transitions in a clean-and-jerk or a snatch. You want the shaft to rotate from the smallest nudge mid-air so you don’t tweak your wrists, which would lead you to tweak your shoulders, back, and everything else in an attempt to save it.
Bronze bushings are great. In this application the bronze will never bend or break. It’s hard and doesn’t get roughened up over time. It rubs against steel with low friction for a good smooth spin.
As a matter of note, the original “Crossfit bar”, if there ever was one, would be the original Rogue Bar. I believe it had bronze bushings, and it was used for a few years in the Crossfit Games. In 2014 they began using one of Rogue’s bars with bearings instead. The Rogue Bar 2.0 has the newer, cheaper composite bushings. Composite bushings hold up really well, but their extra friction against the steel sleeve and shaft makes them compare poorly against the rest of the bars here.
Bearings have the ultimate spin. Ball bearings, which are spherical, is the old way of doing it. The problem with them is a bearing could get dented from a particularly hard uneven drop, or being slammed into a vertical bar holder (one end up). All the modern bars use needle bearings instead, which are like pins instead of balls. These are much more tolerant to really bad drops onto one end, and just as sensitive a spin.
Also, regarding another aspect of the sleeve – Some sleeves have small grooves on the surface, which creates extra friction to stop plates and collars sliding. I won’t get into that here, as the grooved sleeves are covered in another article.
The Verdict: Here’s the One I Recommend
In my opinion the Wright Next Gen Bearing Bar is the best choice right now for a reasonably priced bar for Crossfit type workouts.
I’ve picked this one for several reasons:
- Good color choice selection
- Durable Cerakote shaft that is more grippy than chrome
- Needle bearings
- USA made
- Good price
At the moment, Wright lists this bar as two different products:
- Black Cerakote with a choice of bright zinc or black zinc sleeves
- 13 Cerakote color/design choices with black Cerakote sleeves only
It appears they did this because they’re offering the zinc sleeves for only the black Cerakote, and I guess their website software is unable to restrict the shaft/sleeve choice combinations. The prices for both listings are about the same. The zinc or Cerakote sleeves are both durable and well-suited for standing up to the abrasion and banging of plates.