In the world of strength training, the Olympic barbell is a staple piece of equipment. But did you know that there are different diameters for various types of bars?
In this guide, we’ll dive into the details of Olympic barbell diameters, including the standard Olympic bar, women’s Olympic bar, powerlifting bar, and specialty bars.
We’ll also discuss the different rules for lifting federations and answer some frequently asked questions.
So, let’s get started!
Table Of Contents
- 1 Typical Shaft & Sleeve Diameters
- 2 Different Rules For Lifting Federations
- 3 Barbell Shaft Diameters Summary
- 4 Frequently Asked Questions
- 5 Conclusion
Typical Shaft & Sleeve Diameters
When it comes to barbells, size matters.
The most important specifications of any barbell are the shaft diameter – the thickness of the main lifting portion – and the sleeve diameter into which weight plates slide.
Olympic barbells have some generally standard sizing for these measurements, but there is still variation across different bars to suit different lifters and strength sports.
The standard Olympic bar diameter is 28mm (1 1/16″) for men and 25mm (0.98″) for women.
This size provides the best grip for pulling movements like the deadlift and clean-and-jerk, and it lets the bar flex or “whip” somewhat during heavy lifts to help facilitate dynamic movements.
The sleeves diameter, where the weight plates are loaded, is 49.8mm-50mm (1.97″) thick.
For more information on barbell sizes, check out our barbell sizes guide.
Women’s Olympic Bar
As mentioned earlier, the women’s Olympic bar diameter is 25mm (0.98″).
This size is specifically designed for women, as they typically have smaller hands that can’t do a hook grip on a 28mm bar as easily.
The 25mm diameter takes this into consideration, making it more comfortable and easier to grip for women.
For more information on the differences between men’s and women’s bars, see our Women’s Olympic Bar vs Men’s Barbell guide.
Men’s And Women’s Multipurpose Bar
The standard diameter for a men’s multipurpose bar is 28.5mm. This hits the sweet spot that is suitable for heavy cleans and snatches but has minimal whip for pressing and squatting stability.
For women, a 25mm diameter multipurpose bar allows the use of Olympic plates but with a thinner shaft better suited for smaller female hands. The knurl is often less aggressive as well.
Many fitness enthusiasts find that having both a dedicated powerlifting bar and an Olympic bar is optimal, but not necessary. A good middle-ground multipurpose bar can give you the best of both worlds far cheaper.
Powerlifting bars have a diameter of 29mm (1 1/8″), making them slightly thicker than standard Olympic bars.
This extra thickness is more comfortable for pressing and squatting, as the bar doesn’t dig into your palms or upper back as much.
Plus, it’s a little stiffer to prevent whip. It’s still small enough that you can get a good grip on it for deadlifts, however.
Specialty Powerlifting Bars
While the standard powerlifting barbell diameter is 29mm, there are a variety of specialty bars used for specific power lifts.
- Deadlift Bars – The smaller diameter and grippy knurling make deadlift bars ideal for heavy pulling. They have a thinner shaft diameter of 27mm for better grip and starting positions.
- Squat Bars – Used for maximizing back squats, squat bars are very rigid with diameters of 30mm or more. The thick bar minimizes whip.
- Bench Bars – Bench bars are around 30mm which feels even better in the hands compared to a standard power bar.
- Swiss Bars – Swiss bars allow a neutral grip due to their unique shape and multi-grip handles. Diameters vary based on handle width.
- Safety Squat Bars – Safety squat bars sit on the shoulders and allow a more upright squat. Diameters are thicker for rigidity.
The variety of specialty powerlifting bars all aim to boost specific lifts through shape, diameter, and other features that minimize whip and increase comfort and leverage.
Standard 1″ Barbells
In contrast to Olympic barbells, standard barbells have a shaft diameter of just 1″ or 25mm. These are not designed for heavy weightlifting, but instead for general fitness work and lighter loads.
The main difference between standard and Olympic bars is the sleeve size though. Standard bars have sleeves of 1″ to match the shaft, while Olympic bars have thicker 1.97″ 50mm sleeves.
Plus, large Olympic sleeves allow plates to slide on and spin for dynamic lifting. Standard 1″ sleeves don’t rotate and are meant only for moderate weights like what you’d find in home gyms or commercial fitness centers.
For heavy strength training, Olympic bars are mandatory. But standard 1″ bars serve a purpose for new lifters and lighter general fitness workouts when you don’t require high rigidity and rotation.
Specialty Bar Diameters
There are also specialty bars with varying diameters, such as fat bars and technique bars.
Fat bars, also known as axle bars, are 1.5″ or 2″ thick and are used in strongman competitions. They are often made of solid steel and can weigh between 80-100 lbs.
Technique bars are lightweight, usually aluminum, and are designed for learning proper lifting form before progressing to heavier weights.
They typically have a diameter of 22mm-38mm and can handle up to 100 lbs. For more information on specialty bars, see our types of barbells guide.
Different Rules For Lifting Federations
The major international federations for the strength sports of weightlifting and powerlifting each have their own specifications and rules when it comes to acceptable barbell diameters for competition.
The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) governs the sport of Olympic weightlifting including the snatch and clean and jerk. The IWF mandates a 28mm men’s bar and 25mm women’s bar diameter.
The International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) regulates powerlifting competitions including the squat, bench press, and deadlift. The IPF permits a bar diameter range of 28-29mm.
Other federations like USA Powerlifting and the United States Powerlifting Association have branched off from the IPF and tend to allow the use of specialty powerlifting bars up to 32mm diameter for deadlift and squat leverage.
So the accepted barbell diameter can vary significantly based on whether you are training for an official competition or just improving fitness.
Knowing federation guidelines helps ensure you select an appropriate bar if competing.
International Weightlifting Federation (IWF)
The IWF regulates the sport of Olympic weightlifting, which consists of the competition lifts: the snatch and the clean-and-jerk.
The IWF specifies a 28mm diameter for the men’s bar and a 25mm diameter for the women’s bar.
For more information, check out our best Olympic weightlifting barbell guide.
International Powerlifting Federation (IPF)
The IPF regulates the sport of powerlifting, which consists of the competition lifts: the back squat, deadlift, and bench press.
The IPF gives a range of 28mm to 29mm for bar shaft diameter. Unlike the IWF, the IPF doesn’t specify a women’s bar, so women use the men’s bars in competition.
For more information, check out our best Powerlifting barbells guide.
Barbell Shaft Diameters Summary
Here’s a list of the most important barbell shaft diameters and what types of barbells use them.
- 22mm (0.86″) – Light technique training bars for beginners
- 25mm (1″) – Women’s Olympic/multipurpose bars, standard 1″ bars
- 27mm (1.06″)– Specialty Deadlift bars
- 28mm (1.1″) – Men’s Olympic bars for weightlifting
- 28.5 (1.12″ ) – Multipurpose bars for general training
- 29mm (1.14″) – Standard powerlifting bars
- 30mm (1.8″) – Specialty bench press bars
- 30-32mm (1.18″-1.25″) – Extra rigid squat bars
- 50mm+ (1.97″) – Extremely thick strongman logs for maximal challenge
The thinner diameters like 25mm and 28mm are best suited for dynamic Olympic lifts where some whip is acceptable or even desired.
The mid-range diameters around 28.5-29mm make good general training bars with a blend of whip and rigidity.
The thickest diameters provide absolute rigidity for big powerlifts but are extremely challenging for Olympic lifts requiring flex and spin.
Selecting the right barbell diameter for your training goals and strength level allows you to lift safely and with maximum effectiveness.
Frequently Asked Questions
Understanding the different diameters of Olympic barbells is essential for choosing the right bar for your training needs.
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned lifter, knowing the differences between standard Olympic bars, women’s bars, powerlifting bars, and specialty bars can help you make an informed decision and improve your lifting experience.
So, the next time you’re in the market for a new barbell, keep this guide in mind and choose the diameter that best suits your needs.
Until next time,