Choosing the right bar at the gym is somewhat akin to selecting the perfect drink at a bar.
Having worked as a bartender, I can tell you that for some, this requires quite a bit of personal deliberation and individual soul searching.
Seriously though, you don’t need to study the menu for half an hour while trying to convince yourself about the health benefits of margaritas. Just have a mojito and chill out.
However, when it comes to weight lifting and the influence of physics on biomechanics, you may want to put a little more forethought into your bar selection.
Here are 10 different types of bars you might encounter at your gym and why you may want to choose one over another.
Stars and Bars
Everyone is familiar with the standard Olympic barbell. 44 pounds (20kilos for you British chaps), 7’2”, knurled crosshatch pattern, standard whip, rotating sleeves, etc. etc. etc.
You know the drill. These are about as common as a Crossfitter wearing Reebok or a meathead who listens to Metallica. Nothing fancy but they get the job done.
Been there, squatted that, got the quads to prove it. Moving on.
1. Safety Squat Bar
Who is it for? Enter the shoulder saving squat solution for overhead athletes, post-operative patients, or aged lifters with chronic wear and tear. By placing the handles in front of the individual, you can effectively limit the need for shoulder external rotation to support the load. Or, in the case of the individual above, it can allow someone to train hard with only one arm.
Also, the padding on the bar may allow individuals with smaller bone structures or less muscle mass to support loads longer. Standard Olympic bars can sometimes place direct pressure on the spinous processes (aka the bony prominences running along the base of your spine) or clavicles (in the case of the front squat).
Thus, this may be a more suitable option for some due to the distribution of load both during the movement and at lockout.
How much does it weigh? Anywhere from 50-65lbs depending upon the manufacturer and specifications. You can safely assume it will most likely always weigh more than a standard Olympic bar but you could always look up the manufacturer or ask your club to weigh it if you’d like to know specifics.
I want my own, how much is it? $389.00 is you go directly through the guys at EliteFTS.
BRO TIP: You can make your own (sort of) with a standard Olympic bar and a couple towels. Wrap the towels around the bar and grasp them in front of your chest in a similar position as the handles of the SSB.
2. Duffalo Bar
Who is it for? The idea is that the bar matches the natural curvature of the upper back and reduces some of stress placed upon the elbows and shoulders during the back squat (low bar specifically). It can be used for bench pressing as well, as the curvature enhances the range of motion while also improving lat and scapular engagement.
How much does it weigh? 55lbs if using an actual Duffalo bar manufactured by Chris Duffin.
I want my own, how much is it? $599.99 if you go directly through Chris Duffin at Kabuki Strength.
3. Trap Bar
Who is it for? Trap bars typically help lifters to maintain a better position during the hinge as they accommodate a neutral grip and shift the load posteriorly to match the individual’s center of gravity.
In other words, the weight is pulling down equally on both sides as opposed to pulling you forward. If you’re having trouble mastering the conventional deadlift, try a trap bar for a change of pace, you just might be surprised…
How much does it weigh? 45-60lbs depending upon the manufacturer.
I want my own, how much is it? $375.00 if you go through the guys at Sorinex.
4. Football Bar
Who is it for? The guy who can’t even brush his teeth after his bench session because his shoulder hurts so much. There’s no need to give up your pec pumpin’ routine, just reconsider your hand positioning and try out a different bar. Whether it’s an elbow, shoulder, or a wrist, a simple technique tweak can make all the difference.
How much does it weigh? 39-50lbs depending upon the manufacturer.
I want my own, how much is it? $275.00 ala the guys at Rogue Fitness.
5. Cambered Bar
Who is it for? If you haven’t noticed the trend yet, folks tend to struggle with elbow, shoulder, or wrist issues while squatting. The camber bar is just one more solution to the problem.
By shifting the grip out wide, you can effectively eliminate some of the upper back contribution and place more overload on the lower body. Not only that, it also adds an element of stability given the weights can rock back and forth; this forces the lifter to brace hard and remain upright.
How much does it weigh? 44-85lbs depending upon the manufacturer.
I want my own, how much is it? $309 from EliteFTS.
6. Bamboo Bar
Who is it for? This bar is designed around the principles of OKE (oscillating kinetic energy). Essentially, weights are suspended from the bar with bands and as the lifter completes each movement, the weights will stretch the bands and oscillate, generating kinetic energy.
The increased instability is supposedly (key word here) designed to improve stabilizer muscle activation. I haven’t seen any studies on it directly, but all the anecdotal reports tend to be immensely positive.
If you’ve got some nagging joint issues in either the upper or lower body, give it a shot. The bar forces you to move slowly and really own the movement; in some cases, this rich kinesthetic environment can help to decrease pain due to the influence on the nervous system.
How much does it weigh? 6lbs.
I want my own, how much is it? $289 if you want it brand spankin’ new from Rogue Fitness.
7. Tsunami Bar
Who is it for? The concept is similar to that of the bamboo bar as the increased whip forces the lifter to move the load under control. In some instances (as shown in the video above), the bar can help to enhance the force-velocity relationship given you can move a heavier load at faster speeds than normal due to the whip.
To explain the concept a little more simply, consider this: you can’t (typically) move maximal loads at high velocities, the two qualities are inversely proportional. However, the whip of the bar actually helps to reverse the momentum of the load during the movement. Thus, during a bench press it would help the lifter get the weight off their chest if timed right.
How much does it weigh? 11-15lbs depending upon which type of Tsunami bar you choose (light, level 1, or level 3).
I want my own, how much is it? $499.95 through the good folks at Perform Better.
8. Shoulder Saver Bar
Who is it for? Technically this isn’t a bar in and of itself, it’s just a bar attachment. None the less, it could save you from some shoulder pain or discomfort while benching.
The concept is simple, rather than have someone hold a board to your chest to limit the range of motion (as is common in powerlifting circles), simply attach a foam pad to the bar. Comfort and practicality all in one.
How much does it weigh? No exact weight is listed but I’d be willing to bet it’s around ~5lbs.
I want my own, how much is it? $40 from EliteFTS. Go through these guys if you’re interested, they’re the ones who originally created it in 2011.
9. Transformer Bar
Who is it for? The transformer bar can act like 3 bars in 1: A safety squat bar, a cambered bar, or just a normal barbell depending upon which settings you prefer. By allowing the lifter to adjust the positioning of the bar bracket, you have an infinite array of options.
You can rotate them forward or backward to change a lifter’s center of gravity or you can simply shift the sleeves closer or further away from the bar to change the relative influence of gravity on the bar’s rotation.
How much does it weigh? 44lbs, just like a standard Olympic barbell.
I want my own, how much is it? $479 from Christ Duffin at Kabuki Strength. They’re the only ones who sell it as far as I know.
10. Self-Racking Bar
Who is it for? Maybe your hands started going numb because your shoulder mobility sucks. Maybe you just got your nails done and you don’t want to risk messing them up (I hear you ladies; those things are expensive). Or maybe you’re hooked on your favorite novel and you can’t seem to put it down.
Whatever the reason, if you’re feeling dangerous (or you just want to get insta-famous on epicgymfails.com), give this one a shot.
How much does it weigh? That depends on how much you put on the bar.
I want my own, how much is it? I hear medical bills are pretty expensive these days, best of luck…
Time to Drop Some Bars My Man
One final word of caution: if you’ve been training for less than 18 months, you don’t need to worry about specialty bars, bands, chains, or microplates.
Provided you don’t have an injury or musculoskeletal deformity which necessitates the use of one of these bars (trap bar excluded as that can be rather beneficial for newer lifters), you simply need to focus on the art of lifting along with lifestyle adherence.
You can use a bamboo bar all day long but it won’t matter if you’re only sleeping 4 hours a night and crushing flamin’ hot Cheetos all day.
Think critically, challenge everything.