This guide is specifically for powerlifting bars for doing deadlift, squats and presses, not olympic weightlifting bars for doing the clean-and-jerk or snatch. They look similar but have many subtle differences.
Table of Contents
Powerlifting Barbell Specs
Power bars are the main type of barbell used in commercial gyms, schools, training studios, firehouse gyms, and many other places. These are good choices for bodybuilding, powerlifting or general weight training.
A power bar used for all the “big 3” exercises (squat, deadlift, bench press) has these specs:
- Stiff, High Tensile Strength Steel to facilitate slow, controlled movements with minimal whip action
- Center Knurling to keep friction on your back for squats
- Aggressive/Deep Knurling for a no-slip grip
- 810mm IPF Spaced Ring Markings for consistent placement of your hands, or dual IPF and IWF marks.
- 28-29mm Shaft for the best balance of grip strength for both pressing and pulling movements
- Steel or Brass Bushings for decent but limited spin
Quick Comparison Chart
|Texas Power Bar||Troy AOB-2000T||Fringe Power Bar|
|Finish||Bare Steel or
Black Zinc or
|Bare Steel or
|Price||$250 – $375||$308.00||$361.00||$299|
The Specs Explained
Finish – The finish applied to a bar makes a difference in the durability of a bar and how tacky/grippy it feels.
Chrome – Chrome plating looks nice and wears well from repeated banging on a rack. And it can take a while for chrome to start rusting. But there are downsides. The smoothness of chrome makes it kind of slippery when your hands get sweaty, even over good knurling. Chrome can sort of get a bad rep because most of the economy 300lb weight sets include a cheap chrome bar, and on really cheap bars the chrome plating can start chipping off, but that won’t happen with the good chrome plated bars listed here.
Black Oxide – This is a thin coating that feels almost like bare steel. It’s thin enough that it doesn’t fill in any of the depth of the knurling like chrome or zinc plating does. It also gives a better grip than chrome. And it helps prevent rust (anti-corrosion), but the anti-corrosion properties of black oxide are activated by oil, so you have to oil it once in a while. It scratches more easily than other finishes, so a bar used in a rack will immediately show signs of use from the metal-on-metal contact. It can also wear off simply from the abrasion of your hands against it.
Bright or Black Zinc – Like black oxide, it provides a good grip and is anti-corrosion. Zinc plating has a certain thickness to it, so it does fill in the knurling slightly, the way chrome does.
Stainless – Not a finish, but a type of steel. Stainless steel is easily the most resistant to rust, and you get a good grip on the steel bar even with sweaty hands. Same feel as non-stainless bare steel, below.
Bare Steel – A feel much like stainless, but cheaper to make. Bare steel gives you a great, solid grip. The downside is it will rust quickly if you don’t oil it. A desirable patina can develop on it over time, which is a thin layer of inactive rust that inhibits active rust from forming and doesn’t rub off on your hands.
All finishes can eventually start rusting with exposure to enough moisture (sweat) that you don’t wipe off, and if you don’t apply oil to the surface to protect it, but it can take a while.
The coating of the sleeves (as opposed to the shaft) doesn’t matter as much, functionally speaking. Black oxide and black zinc will get the most noticeably scratched up from sliding plates over it. Chrome is a good choice. Bare steel sleeves also work well, being not as susceptible to corrosion because they don’t get very exposed to your skin and sweat.
Shaft Diameter – Not to be confused with the size of the sleeve where the weights go, which is always about 50mm (2″) on a high quality bar. We’re talking about the shaft that you grip. A shaft diameter of 28-28.5mm (1 1/16”) is perfect for pulling motions like deadlifts. 29mm (1 1/8”) or thicker is good for bench presses, and 30-32mm ( 1 1/4”) for squats. A larger diameter also means it’s going to be stiffer, so very strong lifters like a thick squat bar so it doesn’t wobble around on them during heavy squats that they need to stay in complete control of. However, a bar with a stiff (high carbon) steel alloy will also serve that purpose. I’ve listed only 28-29mm bars here that are good as all-around powerlifting bars.
PSI / Tensile Strength – The strength of the steel, measured in PSI, pounds per square inch. With a given bar diameter, this serves as a comparison of how much force can be applied before a bar breaks or bends permanently. The higher the number, the stronger it is.
Static Test – The static test strength is what you see sometimes advertised as the “capacity” or “weight limit” or “test” of a bar, such as 1200lb, 1500lb, etc. What, you don’t see this in the chart above? That’s right, we removed them. They don’t mean anything. The numbers are determined different ways by different manufacturers. It doesn’t mean it will hold up to anyone loading 1500lbs on it and dropping it badly (if they were theoretically even able to lift such a weight). It’s a static rating. The manufacturer determines it by perhaps loading the bar to 1500 lbs and seeing if it has a permanent bend in a few hours, or using a machine to press on the center of the bar with 1500 lbs of force, or who knows. They all may do it differently. Remember that the dynamic force is much greater during heavy squats due to the high torque from momentum reversal. And when a bar is dropped on a rack or the floor it can incur quite a shock load that is very difficult to estimate, depending on how evenly it ws dropped. So even though I know you’re looking for this number to compare the strength of bars, don’t fall for it. It’s a number used by companies who are trying to mislead you. If you want to know the strength of the bar, take a look at the PSI and the diameter. The thicker it is and the denser it is, the stronger it is.
But how much weight can it take? – This is what you really want to know. We understand that. Think of it this way. Virtually any bar is likely to bend if you load it up for heavy squats and drop it violently on the safety bars of a power rack. A really high-end bar might take such a crash without bending, but most likely you got lucky, and I wouldn’t put my money on it holding up to repeated drops this way. On the other hand, if you drop a high quality bar (with bumper plates) on the floor, or only set it down only sort of hard on a rack, it should not bend.
Knurling – All bars have knurling over most of the length of the shaft. Some bars have a section of about six to nine inches of knurling in the center of the bar, while others are smooth in that area. Center knurling is primarily for heavy squats, to keep the bar from slipping down your back, but it’s also useful for some other exercises where you grip the middle. There’s also the issue of how deep the knurling is. Deep knurling is better for deadlifts due to the superior grip. It can also help keep it secure on your back for heavy squats. For presses it really doesn’t matter that much. All in all, a single bar used for all these exercises should have pretty aggressive knurling.
Ring Markings – Every bar has a 1/4″ wide smooth mark in the knurling where you place your hands. IWF spaced markings are spaced for olympic weightlifting and are 910mm apart, while IPF markings for powerlifting are 810mm apart. Not a big deal for non-competitors, but it’s good to know where you’re placing your hands if you’re used to a certain spacing. A lot of bars nowadays have both sets of ring markings, making consistent hand placement that much easier.
The Texas Power Bar has been a favorite since 1980 when it was first introduced. It’s withstood the test of time, is used in competitions all over the place, and is the official bar in 54 countries with the Global Powerlifting Alliance for raw powerlifting and the International Powerlifting Organization for equipped powerlifting.
If you’re one of those people who are crazy about deep knurling and want to see how far you can go, the USA-made Troy AOB-2000T has the sharpest feeling knurling and will give you the absolute best grip. It’s even a little sharper than the world-renowned Texas Power Bar.
However, the Rogue Ohio Power Bar, which is the most popular one here, has an option for no finish at all, ie: bare steel, which gives you an excellent grip because of the texture of the steel and because the knurling is not filled in at all with a coating.
If you’re doing a lot of heavy deadlifting and you want to get the absolute best specialty bar for it, you might consider a specialty 7.5ft deadlifting bar that has more flex than a typical power bar and a smaller 27mm shaft for an even better pulling grip.
Jordan Feigenbaum’s article on improving your deadlift grip is just as useful as getting the right bar.