Here’s how you determine what length of barbell you need.
Table of Contents
Quick Chart of Olympic Barbell Lengths
|7 ft bar||6-6.5 ft bar||5 ft bar|
|inside shaft length||51-52″||46-52″||33-35″|
|weight||44 lb (20kg) or 45 lb||28-35 lb||25 lb|
|power rack compatible||yes||some bars||no|
Best Overall Choice: 7 Foot Barbell
A 7 foot barbell is usually around 51-52″ long between the shoulders / inside collars. Each of the sleeves is about 16-17″. Add another couple inches for the shoulders (the thick parts that stop the weights you slide on) and you have about 86″ or 7ft.
This is generally the length of barbell you should get to do most barbell exercises, including squats, deadlifts, bench presses, curls, and several other accessory movements.
Your height does not matter much. A 5ft tall user can use a 7ft barbell the same as anyone else.
The Best Barbell Length for Bench Pressing
If you are using a bench with attached barbell holders like in the image above, measure the width of the rack to the outside edges of the steel tubing as shown. This will determine what size barbell you need.
The shoulders of the barbell (that you slide weight plates up against on the sleeve) need to be farther apart than this measurement, so that the collars are sitting on the outside of both posts. This makes it so there is no interference when you rack the barbell and when you load and unload weight plates.
For any olympic-width benches, which is the case for most high-profile or chain gyms in the US, the above measurement is going to be about 47-49″ wide on all of them. To fit it, you generally need a 7ft barbell, which has about 51-52″ of shaft, leaving a couple inches of slop in either direction for safety when re-racking the bar slightly off-center.
The same goes for power racks, in the section further below.
Back in the day, bench press units were made like the above, where the barbell holders were only wide enough to get your head between, and would grip the barbell outside the holders instead of between them. In the pic he’s using a 7ft bar. You could use a 5ft or 6ft bar also, which would actually be easier because it wouldn’t be in as much danger of getting off balance. Any serious bench press units today are not made that narrow. You can still find somewhat narrow ones like this, but they are the cheap variety in sporting goods stores that you should not be buying. The major disadvantage of a narrow rack is it makes for a horribly unstable barbell when you’re loading each plate on one side at a time.
Barbell Length for a Power Rack or Squat Rack
Virtually all power racks and squat racks (half racks) made in the last 20 years are 47-49″ wide to fit a 7ft barbell, as above.
A few 6ft barbells like the Rogue C-70S will also fit on a power rack, referred to as “rackable” 6ft bars. As you can see from the pic, it’s much like a 7ft barbell but with each sleeve cut short by 6″. It won’t hold as many plates, and of course due to being shorter it is a bit lighter.
For Independent Squat Stands
Independent squat stands are 2-piece semi-portable designs that you adjust to whatever distance apart you want. They are a different matter. The best way to use these is set them to olympic width just like a squat rack and use a 7ft barbell. You’ll have to measure the distance and put markers on the floor.
You can set these to any distance apart you want. Be careful that they don’t get in the way of your feet if you’re squatting off them. As you can see in the pic above, they can get in the way pretty easily, even with a 7ft bar. For that reason these kinds of stands are not recommended, and even less so with a short bar that would force you to bring the stands closer.
Barbell Length for Women
There are a lot of women’s bars made nowadays. These bars are around 6ft long, rackable as described above, and most notably they have a thin 25mm shaft, which is easier for women and anyone with smaller hands to get a good grip on compared to a 28-30mm shaft that most 7ft bars have.
Technically these 25mm bars are women’s olympic weightlifting bars. Olympic weightlifting refers to the snatch and the clean-and-jerk, both done by lifting off the floor and not a rack.
Women who are not doing olympic weightlifting can simply use any 7ft bar. They can opt for a shorter bar if the starting weight of 45 lb is too much. For pressing movements like bench pressing or squatting, the 25mm shaft offers no advantage and is generally less comfortable.
Short Barbells for Accessory Work
Occasionally lifters like to have an extra 5ft barbell for lighter accessory work away from the power rack. These accessory movements might be things like curls, tricep extensions, or rows. These 5ft bars are less awkward to move around and serve the purpose fine.
I’ve excluded standard barbells from this article, because they’re generally just used in cheap home gym setups or for lightweight (5-40 lbs) barbell group training classes. Like olympic barbells, the length of a standard barbell is anywhere from 5ft to 7ft.