With all of the choices available in Olympic bars today, shopping for one can cause more pain than the actual exercises performed with them. Hopefully, this article will give a bit more insight on which choice is right for you or your facility.
The first step is to determine what type of setting in which your bar or bars will be used. At Gtech Fitness® we rate each bar into one of three classes: Home Use, Light Commercial or Commercial. The ratings for each bar can be found on the individual bar's product detail page.
Home Olympic Bars
Home Olympic bars are the most affordable and with good reason. These bars are designed to cut cost and do not have to be built to the extraordinary levels needed for commercial gym use. These bars are typically termed "Economy Bars" using the least expensive chrome or black paint finishes and typically have static tests of around 500 lbs. (Static tests covered in more detail below.) The sleeves are bolted on with the bolt head exposed on the end of each sleeve. These bolts will loosen over time and need to be tightened on a regular basis. Lower pricing typically involves increased maintenance and lower quality overall.
Regarding the chrome and black paint finishes, again, these are designed to offer steel protection, but at the most affordable price possible. The chrome finish for these entry level bars is typically the least expensive available, so quality does suffer. Entry level chrome finishes are much more prone to cracking, peeling and splintering, especially on the sleeves where the plates are continually being loaded and unloaded. The entry level black finishes are just as prone to quality issues, but typically do not have the "splintering" problems associated with economy chrome finishes. Therefore, at Gtech Fitness®, we typically recommend black painted bars over chrome bars at these price levels. Remember, anytime the finish is scratched, peeled or splintered, it exposes the steel bar to the elements, leading to corrosion.
Light Commercial Bars
Light commercial Olympic bars increase in quality overall, giving you higher quality, more durable finishes and much better static test ratings. The static test ratings for light commercial bars is usually around 800 lbs to 1200 lbs, even though some of our full commercial rated bars also have a 1000 lb and 1200 lb static test ratings. Light commercial bars are designed to handle non-membership based fitness facilities, where use averages between 4-6 hours per day. Facilities such as schools, training studios, small corporate gyms, fire and police workout rooms all fall into this category.
Our light commercial bars are offered with hard chrome and black oxide finishes. The finishes are higher in quality and typically do not have the splintering issues associated with economy bars. The sleeve ends do vary, however, with some offering the bolted sleeve design, while others offer "Split-Sleeve" designs which eliminate the bolt and the tightening maintenance that goes along with those bolt designs.
Commercial Olympic Bars
Commercial bars are designed for the toughest gym settings, which in the fitness industry are membership-based gyms, many of which are open 24 hours per day. These bars range from 1000 lb to 1500 lb static tests. They are available in hard chrome, black oxide and black zinc finishes. Our most durable Olympic bars are stainless steel Olympic bars, offering the most corrosion-resistant, chip-free finish available. As you can imagine, they are not the least expensive bars. With higher quality comes less maintenance requirements, higher performance and longevity.
Our least expensive commercial rated bars will offer the hard chrome finish. The chroming process can cause the steel to become more brittle, so these bars are usually are on the lower end in terms of the commercial static test ratings. Plus, the chroming process adds a plating over the steel, adding to the bar dimensions.
When you compare a 30 mm chrome bar diameter to a 30 mm black oxide diameter, the black oxide finish does not add to the bar dimensions, so you are actually getting a touch more steel in that 30 mm diameter, which can lead to added strength. Black oxide finishes also do not make the steel brittle like chroming can, so these bars are usually better suited for heavier use. The downside with black oxide is it is more susceptible to corrosion, so there is more cleaning maintenance and oiling maintenance involved.
Black zinc finishes offer the same benefits as black oxide, but with better rust protection. These finishes are more expensive, but do not require as much maintenance.
Stainless steel Olympic bars are the best, typically offering very high static test ratings and the ultimate in rust prevention. Like all bars, however, Gtech Fitness® still recommends to keep them wiped down and clean. There does not seem to be a man-made material on planet earth that human perspiration will not eventually corrode, and yes, even stainless steel that is designed not to rust. However, the rust protection offered by stainless steel far exceeds any other finish, by far, and the chances of corrosion are greatly diminished with stainless steel bars.
Static Test, PSI Tensile Strength and PSI Yield Strength
Static test ratings are a standard way to give you an idea of overall bar strength, but it is typically misinterpreted by many. If a bar has a 500 lb capacity, that is typically referring to a static load, with no movement. The problem arises when we begin to incorporate movement. Time for a very brief physics lesson, because here at Gtech Fitness®, we are definitely not physicist!
To calculate Force, the formula used is: Mass x Acceleration = Force. Now, we have variables involved that drastically change the amount of stress a weight bar is under during exercise, so static ratings are not the best ratings to use. To keep it extremely brief, for our own exercise-minded sanity, changing the amount of weight and/or the acceleration/deceleration of the movement will dictate how much force the bar is under. Increasing both weight and acceleration (or deceleration) of movement can exponentially increase the amount of force the bar feels. This can exceed a low static rating of 500 lbs very easily. In fact, a 300 lb load on a bar can exceed 1500 lb static tests if enough acceleration or deceleration is applied.
That being said, any bar can be bent. The likelihood of the bar bending is greatly reduced with stronger bars, but all bars can be bent. To get a better idea of bar's ability to handle dynamic movement, we should turn to P.S.I. ratings, such as P.S.I. Tensile Strength and better yet, P.S.I. Yield Strength.
Most manufacturers are turning to P.S.I. Tensile Strength ratings. P.S.I. Tensile Strength is the amount of stress needed to cause the material to fail or break measured in pounds per square inch. A good rated Olympic bars starts around 150,000 p.s.i, while the best bars are around 190,000 p.s.i. to 220,000 p.s.i.
The best rating to use, in our view, is P.S.I. Yield Strength. Yield Strength Rating tells us when the bar will be deformed "plastically". Plastically refers to the bar being deformed permanently. Elastic bar bending means the bar will return to its natural straight shape, which we see every day in the gym. So the best key to finding a commercial rated, strong bar that will withstand more is finding the highest P.S.I. Yield Strength rating. If this cannot be obtained, turn to the P.S.I. Tensile Strength and if that cannot be obtained, use Static Test as the last resort.
When dealing with steel products, the purchasing formula is very easy to understand. The more you invest, the higher quality bar you get, plus, the less likely you are to bend or damage the bar. More expensive bars also handle the elements better. It does not mean the bar will not be bent or cannot be bent. It simply means you greatly reduce the chances of bending or damaging the bar.
The absolute best way to protect your Olympic bar, aside from overloading static weight capacity, is controlling the acceleration and deceleration of the exercise movement. Controlling the speed in which you perform the exercise and most importantly, slowing down the change of direction speed when higher weights are being used.