Barbell Knurling Marks – What Are The Smooth Rings For?

Quick heads-up: if you use my links to buy something, I may earn a commission (at no extra cost to you, of course). It's one way to support the work I do here. For the full scoop, check out this page.

Every time you step into a gym, it’s the little details that might make all the difference in your workout.

One such feature you might have often overlooked is the knurl marks on barbells.

These subtle rings on the bar have a purpose that extends beyond aesthetics, influencing grip, hand placement, and lifting techniques.

In this guide, we’ll explore the significance of barbell knurling marks, delve into the different types, and understand why they’re more than just a pretty design on your favorite bar.

Let’s get started!

What Are Knurling Marks?

woman holding barbell inside of knurl marks

Knurl marks, often called the rings on a barbell, are part of the broader term “knurling.”

Knurling refers to the patterned, rough texture on a barbell, designed to enhance grip strength.

The knurl marks, on the other hand, are the smooth rings that break this texture at specific intervals.

But why do these rings exist, and what purpose do they serve?

RELATED – The Ultimate Guide To The Anatomy of a Barbell

What Are The Smooth Rings On A Barbell For?

Contrary to popular belief, these rings aren’t just for show. These rings serve as landmarks for hand placement, ensuring a consistent grip every time you lift the bar.

Depending on the type of lift, such as the bench press, deadlift, or snatch, the hand position can make a significant difference in the power and safety of the lift.

It’s essential to know where to place your hands for optimal performance, and these rings provide a visual guide for that.

One Set For Powerlifting

powerlifting knurl marks

In powerlifting, consistency is key. Whether you’re setting up for a deadlift, squat, or bench press, knowing exactly where to place your hands on the bar can be a game-changer.

Most powerlifting bars feature one set of rings. These are used mainly for the bench press.

When you’re on the bench, you’ll want to ensure your hands are on or within these rings for the most efficient and safe lift.

Placing your hands too wide or too narrow might hinder your strength and even lead to potential injuries.

Learn more about the best powerlifting barbells here.

Bench Press Grip Width In Competition

man with a wide grip on the bench press

When it comes to the bench press, a cornerstone lift in powerlifting competitions and gym routines alike, hand placement isn’t just a suggestion; it’s a rule.

This rule isn’t arbitrary. It’s about more than just maximizing the weight you can lift; it’s about ensuring safety and standardization across the board.

Why is hand placement on or within the rings so vital for the bench press, especially in powerlifting?

  1. Safety – Abiding by the rule ensures lifters don’t adopt extreme grips. Placing your hands too wide can put undue strain on the shoulders, increasing the risk of injury. Conversely, a grip that’s too narrow might overwork the triceps and neglect the chest muscles, creating another potential for injury.
  2. Optimal Muscle Engagement – The bench press, by design, is primarily a chest exercise, but it also significantly recruits the shoulders and triceps. Ensuring hand placement on or within the rings guarantees a balanced engagement of all these muscles, optimizing the lift’s efficiency.
  3. Consistency and Standardization – In powerlifting competitions, uniformity is crucial. The rings serve as a definitive reference point, ensuring every lifter has the same hand placement requirements. This consistency is not only pivotal for fair competition but also for tracking progress and ensuring each rep’s effectiveness.

While these rings set the standard in powerlifting, it’s worth noting that the ideal placement might slightly vary based on individual anatomy.

For instance, those with broader shoulders might feel more comfortable with a grip just outside the rings.

Nonetheless, in powerlifting competitions, adhering to the rule of keeping hands on or within the rings is non-negotiable and serves as a testament to the sport’s emphasis on safety and uniformity.

Learn about the different bench press bars and their features.

One Set For Weightlifting

olympic weightlifting barbell knurl marks

In Olympic weightlifting, the emphasis is not just on strength but also on technique.

The bars used for Olympic weightlifting, like the snatch, only have one set of rings.

While they serve as landmarks, there’s no strict legal rule on them.

It’s more about personal preference and what feels most comfortable for the lifter.

Dive into the best Olympic weightlifting barbells here.

Used As Landmarks Only, No Legal Rule On Them

man catching a snatch in an overhead position

While the knurl marks on an Olympic weightlifting barbell serve as handy reference points, there aren’t any strict legal rules tied to them.

In other words, while they provide a guideline, Olympic lifters aren’t mandated to place their hands within these rings for official lifts.

However, using them can help standardize your grip and make your lifting more consistent, which is why many in the gym community value them so highly.

Learn the most important factors to help choose a barbell.

Two Sets For MultiPurpose Bars

multipurpose bar dual knurl marks

As the name suggests, multi-purpose bars are designed for a variety of lifts.

These bars feature two sets of rings, catering to both powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting hand positions.

This dual-ring design can be especially helpful if you want a versatile bar for different types of workouts.

Explore the different types of barbells and their features.

Why Should You Care?

The barbell might look like a simple piece of gym equipment, but the details, like knurling and the rings, can significantly influence your workouts.

Caring about where you place your hands on the bar can help:

  1. Maximize Strength – Proper hand placement can help you generate more power during lifts, especially in exercises like the bench press or squat.
  2. Prevent Injuries – Consistent grip can reduce the risk of uneven lifting, which might lead to strains or other injuries.
  3. Optimize Technique – Especially in Olympic weightlifting, the grip is crucial for exercises like the snatch. The rings can guide lifters to find their best hand placement.

For anyone serious about their strength training, understanding the purpose of these rings and using them effectively can elevate your lifting game.

Discover the best barbells for every type of lifter.


Barbell knurl marks, or those smooth rings you see on your bar, play a pivotal role in the world of weightlifting.

Beyond just aesthetics, they guide lifters, ensuring safety, consistency, and optimal performance during workouts.

Whether you’re a seasoned powerlifter or someone just starting out in the gym, paying attention to these rings might just be the game-changer you didn’t know you needed.

So, next time you pick up a barbell, where will you place your hands?

Until next time,


Leave a Comment