The Ultimate Barbell Guide

Article | TEAM SMAI

Looking to purchase a barbell but not sure where to start? Check out SMAI’s ultimate guide on purchasing barbells.

A common misconception in the fitness community is that one barbell fits all. This isn’t the case as barbells are designed for different purposes. It is important that you consider the different features of a barbell to ensure you are purchasing the correct bar for your personal needs. 


Julia Hannaford SMAI CrossFit Athlete


Olympic Barbells - with bearings

Olympic Barbells with bearings have a smooth rotation, making them best for Olympic style lifts. They are usually more high quality barbells that will provide you with all the support you need to do faster lifts. 

Olympic barbells usually come in different sizes. A standard (male) Olympic barbell is 2.2m long and weighs 20kg. It typically has a grip section diameter of 28mm. The women's Olympic bar resembles the men's bar in structure, but it has some distinct differences. It is slightly shorter and lighter, measuring 2.01m and weighing 15kg. Additionally, it features a reduced grip section diameter of 25mm.

If you’re looking to do fast CrossFit movements or you need a premium all rounder bar, we recommend an Olympic Barbell with bearings

Olympic Barbells - with bushings

Olympic Barbells with bushings have the same dimensions as an Olympic Barbell with bearings but they have more resistance and can withstand heavier lifts. Barbells with bushings are typically used by powerlifters as the rotation of the sleeve is a little more controlled. 

We recommend Olympic Barbells with bushings for athletes planning on doing slower, heavy movements with their bar. 

Competition Barbell 

Competition Barbells (aka shorty bars) are short length competition barbells with full Olympic bar weight capacity, designed for use in functional fitness competitions where lifters are positioned close together to maximise the available space. The bar is just 175cm long but maintains the typical 20kg weight and 28mm grip section diameter of a standard Olympic barbell.

We recommend purchasing a competition bar if you train in a tight space or you’re preparing for a competition where you will be using these specific barbells.

Youth/Technique Barbell

At just under 10kg, this barbell is the perfect option if you are aiming to focus on technique over heavy lifting. The technique barbell is designed to take light weight and is an excellent option for young lifters. It typically has a grip section diameter of 28mm, providing the normal lifting experience without the heavy weight of a standard dumbbell.

We recommend purchasing this barbell if you are a youth lifter. 

Axle Barbell

Axle Barbells, also known as ‘fat’ or ‘thick grip’ bars are thicker than a traditional Olympic bar and are typically used in strongman competitions. They weigh a light 8kg but feature a grip diameter of 48mm. This offers athletes the chance to improve endurance and grip when lifting heavy weights. 

We recommend an axle barbell if you are training for a strongman competition or if you are looking for a challenge!

Whether you’re new to working out or an experienced CrossFit athlete, choosing the right barbell is important. If you’re looking to purchase a new barbell, SMAI can help! Check out our range of barbells today!