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 failing, or even injuring yourself trying.
When money is no object and you’ll pay $500 for a high end bar, you have tons of choices. Under $300 it’s trickier.
Under $200 it’s kind of possible, but we recommend bumping up your budget to $300 and you’ll be better off for the abuse that a bar can take in Crossfit workouts.
Table of Contents
First, here are the top 5 bars under $300 I’ve narrowed it down to.
|Rep Gladiator MX||Rogue Ohio||Vulcan One Basic||XMark|
|FINISH||Hard Chrome||Black Zinc or|
|ROTATION||Needle Bearings||Bronze Bushings||Bronze Bushings||Bronze Bushings|
|Snap Ring||Snap Ring||Double Snap Ring||Snap Ring|
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 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. Even if you apply Loctite to it, it will probably just break on you.
Center knurling is the approximate 8″ section of knurling directly in the middle of the bar shaft. Normally you don’t ever 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. It’s also a throwback to the “one handed snatch”, a silly old exercise that has been completely forgotten for everyone but lifters who have lost an arm. 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. Not comfy, especially for high reps. 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, but it needs to 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 we 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. We call it double 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 190,000 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.
Now for some unique things about a few of these bars that make them stand out…
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 but can wear off with enough use. This is just an accepted fact that a lot of coatings will rub off and you’re left with a bare steel bar that will develop a patina (another inert oxidation) if its exposure to moisture is kept to a minimum.
Stainless steel is a great choice, the only drawback really being that it’s expensive. There is a single stainless steel bar that made the $300 cut of this list, the Rep Gladiator. Stainless steel doesn’t rust, has no coating to wear off, and feels almost as grippy as regular steel.
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 fills in the knurling a little bit so it doesn’t feel as sharp as it would, which isn’t a bad thing for WODs.
Manganese phosphate is really strong stuff, like chrome or ceramic. Unlike black oxide or black zinc, it won’t wear off easily.
Snap Rings – Why Double Them Up?
Snap rings, or retaining rings, are the gold standard for securing sleeves from flying off the shaft of the bar. They have broken at times.
MuscleDriver, before they shut down in 2016, was putting 2 snap rings on the ends of their bars because one would occasionally break from the shock of the bar being dropped with bumper plates. Out of the ones one this list, Vulcan is the only one that doubles up the snap rings on each end. Is it necessary? I doubt it, because Rogue isn’t doing it, and the idea has been around plenty long enough that I feel like Rogue and others would all be doing it if snap rings breaking were an issue. Maybe they’re using strong ones so that doubling up isn’t necessary.
In the pic below you can see Vulcan’s steel snap ring, with the two eyelets on the bottom left, and the eyelets of another snap ring on the top right.
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 that don’t spin as well. 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). Almost all the modern bars use needle bearings instead, which are like pins instead of balls. 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.
With all this in mind, in my opinion the Rep Gladiator MX Bar is the best choice right now.
Rep Fitness has been in business in Denver, Colorado (10 miles from Rage Fitness) since 2012, and they have earned the respect of the Crossfit crowd with their high quality equipment.
This is one of the newest bars they make, specifically tailored towards Crossfit workouts.
One drawback is it does not have the dual knurl marks, only a single set of IWF marks.
You could get an even nicer Rogue needle bearing bar (with more bearings per sleeve) for $550 or so. For the sub-$300 price point, you’re going to love this bar for WODs, and you’ll have no regrets.
For a second choice, consider XMark’s Voodoo Bar. It isn’t quite as strong as the Rep Gladiator Bar. Still, 185,000 PSI is considered good nowadays. There used to be a lot of bars around 150,000 PSI before a lot of people started getting stronger, bending them, and the demand for stronger bars went up. The knurling on this bar is a bit more aggressive than Rep’s bar.