Power Bar vs Olympic Bar – Are They Really That Different?

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When it comes to your training, not all barbells are created equal.

One might think, a bar is a bar, but this is a common misconception.

The right bar can revolutionize your training experience, whether you’re a weightlifting enthusiast or a professional powerlifter.

So, let’s dive into the main differences between power and Olympic bars and what sets these bars apart.

A Brief Overview of Power Bars and Olympic Bars

Before we delve deeper into our power bar vs olympic bar discussion, let’s clear the air on what these bars actually are.

Power bars, as the name suggests, are designed for heavy-duty powerlifting exercises.

They’re characterized by their rigidity, aggressive knurling, and the presence of center knurling, designed to aid with “the big 3” powerlifting lifts.

On the other hand, Olympic bars are crafted with more whip and less aggressive knurling, perfect for the fast, dynamic movements involved in olympic weightlifting, such as the snatch and the clean-and-jerk.

Choosing the right bar for your specific workouts is essential for both optimal performance and safety.

But, what makes these bars so special, and how do they cater to different lifting styles?

Understanding Power Bars

rogue power bar specs

To appreciate the full capabilities of a power bar, let’s explore its key features and how they influence your performance.

Definition and Purpose of Power Bars

Power bars are designed with powerlifting in mind.

If you’re a strength training enthusiast who relishes heavy lifts like the back squat, bench press, and deadlift, a power bar is your reliable partner in crime.

The sturdiness of a power bar helps reduce bending under heavy loads, which is crucial when you’re looking to push the limits on Big 3 powerlifting lifts.

What’s the “Big 3” you might ask?

The “Big 3” Powerlifting Lifts

The three cornerstone exercises of powerlifting are the back squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Each one is a complex movement that engages multiple muscle groups and requires a high degree of stability and control.

To efficiently execute these movements, you need a reliable barbell.

Hence, the power bar, with its inherent strength and stability, is your ally.

But, how do the unique features of a power bar contribute to these exercises?

Let’s break it down.

Features of Power Bars

Power bars come with a set of unique features, each designed to cater to the needs of powerlifters.

  • Stiff Steel – Power bars are constructed from stiff steel with a high tensile strength, often surpassing 180,000 PSI. This rigidity makes them perfect for heavy, slow lifts, as it significantly reduces the bar’s tendency to bend under weight.

  • Center Knurling – The center knurling on a power bar is designed to prevent the bar from slipping off your back during squats. It adds an extra grip that is crucial for safety during such high-intensity lifts.

  • Aggressive/Deep Knurling – A power bar boasts aggressive knurling along its shaft, providing a secure grip, essential for heavy lifts such as the deadlift. This deep knurling helps the lifter maintain a firm hold, even as they challenge their personal bests.

  • 810mm Spaced Ring Markings – The power bar features ring markings spaced 810mm apart. These markings serve as grip guides, helping the lifter to achieve symmetrical hand placement, which is vital for balanced lifts.

  • Thicker 29mm-32mm Shaft – A power bar typically has a diameter between 29mm and 32mm. This thicker shaft increases the bar’s overall stiffness, helping it withstand heavy weights without bending or warping.

  • Steel or Brass Bushings – In a power bar, the sleeves (where the weights are loaded) are often attached with steel or brass bushings. This helps provide a smooth, controlled spin, minimizing any unexpected rotation that could destabilize your lift.

However, as with all equipment, using a power bar for movements it wasn’t designed for, like the Olympic lifts, can be counterproductive.

Issues When Using a Power Bar for Weightlifting Movements

Although power bars are fantastic for their intended purpose, they might pose challenges when used for Olympic lifts.

The rigidity that works so well for powerlifting can limit the bar’s dynamic responsiveness in fast, explosive Olympic movements.

Moreover, the aggressive knurling, while excellent for power lifts, might be too harsh for the high-repetition Olympic workouts.

The center knurling could also scrape the lifter’s chest during clean and jerk movements.

Understanding Olympic Bars

rogue olympic bar

Moving on to the Olympic bars, they offer a different experience compared to power bars, especially due to their flexibility and smoother rotation.

Definition and Purpose of Olympic Bars

Olympic bars are the barbells you’ll find on the weightlifting platform in the Olympics.

They’re engineered for the two Olympic weightlifting lifts: the snatch, and the clean-and-jerk.

These movements require a combination of power, precision, speed, and flexibility, which are characteristics embodied in the design of an Olympic bar.

The Two Olympic Weightlifting Lifts

The snatch and the clean-and-jerk are the two lifts contested in Olympic weightlifting.

Both these lifts involve quickly and smoothly moving a weighted barbell from the floor to an overhead position in one (the snatch) or two movements (the clean-and-jerk).

The flexibility, spin, and whip of an Olympic bar are critical to the successful execution of these lifts.

Features of Olympic Bars

Olympic bars come with features that specifically cater to the needs of Olympic weightlifting.

  • More Flexible Steel – Unlike rigid power bars, Olympic bars are made from more flexible steel. This flexibility allows the bar to “whip” or bounce at the end of a movement, which can be used to the lifter’s advantage during lifts like the clean-and-jerk or snatch.

  • No Center Knurling – Olympic bars typically lack center knurling, preventing unnecessary abrasion on the lifter’s chest during the clean phase of the clean-and-jerk.

  • Soft or Medium Knurling – Compared to the aggressive knurling of a power bar, Olympic bars feature medium knurling. This is more comfortable during high-repetition training and reduces the likelihood of tearing your hands up.

  • 910mm Spaced Ring Markings – Olympic bars have ring markings spaced 910mm apart, slightly wider than those on a power bar. These markings align with international standards for Olympic weightlifting and guide the lifters to position their hands correctly for the snatch and the clean-and-jerk.

  • Thinner 28mm-28.5mm Shaft – Olympic bars typically have a thinner shaft, measuring 28mm for men’s bars and 25mm for women’s. This smaller diameter allows for a better grip, which is crucial during the fast, explosive lifts of Olympic weightlifting.

  • Needle Bearings – One of the key features distinguishing Olympic bars is their use of needle bearings, allowing for faster and smoother sleeve rotation. This aids in performing the quick lifts without putting unnecessary strain on the lifter’s wrists or elbows.

However, just like power bars, Olympic bars have limitations when used for non-intended exercises.

Issues When Using an Olympic Bar for Powerlifting Movements

While the Olympic bar shines in its intended setting, it’s not the best choice for heavy powerlifting.

Its flexibility can cause unwanted bounce during heavy squats or bench presses, and the lack of center knurling might cause the bar to slip during heavy squats.

Plus, the softer knurling may not provide the firm grip required for maximal deadlifts.

Comparing Power Bars And Olympic Bars

Now that we’ve gained a deeper understanding of both power bars and Olympic bars, let’s draw some head-to-head comparisons.

Differences In Sizing

In terms of size, the main difference between the two bars is their diameter or shaft thickness.

Power bars typically have a larger diameter (29mm-32mm), while Olympic bars are slightly thinner (25mm-28mm).

The barbell length usually remains the same across both types, falling in the range of 6-7 feet overall.

Differences In Flex Or Whip

Power bars are rigid and resist bending under heavy weights, making them suitable for slow, heavy lifts.

Conversely, Olympic bars are more flexible and have a “whip”, or bounce, which can be used to the lifter’s advantage in Olympic weightlifting.

Differences In The Strength Of The Bar

The tensile strength of the bar is an important consideration when comparing power bars and Olympic bars.

High tensile strength means a stronger, more durable bar that can handle heavier weights.

Power bars often boast a tensile strength of over 180,000 PSI, compared to Olympic bars, which generally have a slightly lower tensile strength.

Differences In Knurling

Knurling is another crucial aspect where these bars differ. Power bars have a more aggressive knurling and a center knurl for enhanced grip.

On the other hand, Olympic bars feature softer or medium knurling and usually lack a center knurl, making them more comfortable for repetitive, high-speed movements.

Differences In Spin

Finally, the difference in spin is primarily due to the use of bushings in power bars versus bearings in Olympic bars.

Olympic bars, designed for fast lifts, offer a smoother and quicker spin compared to power bars.

This helps protect the lifter’s wrists and elbows from injury during the rapid rotations involved in Olympic lifts.

As we explore the various features and differences of these bars, it becomes apparent that the choice between a power bar and an Olympic bar isn’t just about preference, but more about the specific requirements of your workouts.

However, the question remains, how does one choose the right bar for their training needs?

We’ll explore that in the next section.

Choosing The Right Bar For Your Workouts

Selecting between a power bar and an Olympic bar should be guided by the goals and types of lifts you plan to focus on.

Both bars serve different purposes, and their features are tailor-made for specific workouts.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Bar

  1. Training Focus – If your training focuses on the “big 3” powerlifting movements – squats, bench presses, and deadlifts, a power bar is your best bet. Conversely, if you are more into Olympic lifting involving the snatch and clean-and-jerk, an Olympic bar will serve you better.

  2. Knurling Preference – If you prefer a more aggressive grip, opt for a power bar. For a gentler grip and no center knurling, an Olympic bar is the way to go.

  3. Bar Flexibility – If you rely on the whip of the bar to perform certain movements, an Olympic bar’s flexibility will be beneficial. If you need a stiffer bar for heavy, slow lifts, a power bar is ideal.

  4. Spin Requirement – For fast, explosive movements, Olympic bars provide a quicker and smoother spin due to their needle bearings, while power bars offer a slower spin which is more suited to powerlifting.

  5. Budget and Quality – Factor in the cost and ensure you invest in a bar of good quality that will last. Barbell costs(/barbell-cost/) can vary widely, so it’s important to balance quality and affordability.

Recommendations for Power Bars and Olympic Bars

There are plenty of options on the market, but based on quality, performance, and customer feedback, some recommendations are:

  • Power Bars – The Rogue Ohio Power Bar is widely regarded as one of the best power bars. With its high tensile strength, aggressive knurling, and excellent build quality, it’s a favorite among powerlifters. Check out my best powerlifting barbell guide to learn more.

  • Olympic Bars – The Eleiko IWF Weightlifting Competition Bar is a top pick for Olympic weightlifting. It is an excellent choice if you’re looking for the highest quality whip, spin, and a comfortable grip. I also have my best Olympic Weightlifting barbell guide if you’re interested in other options.

While making your decision, don’t forget to also look into complementary equipment like squat racks, and check the benefits of squat racks.

Also, ensure you have all your garage gym essentials taken care of if setting up a home gym.

Frequently Asked Questions


In summary, the choice between a power bar vs. an Olympic bar hinges on your fitness goals, lifting style, and personal preferences.

Power Bars are stiffer with aggressive knurling and are well-suited for heavy, slower lifts like squats, bench presses, and deadlifts.

Olympic Bars are more flexible with softer knurling, making them ideal for fast, explosive movements like the snatch and clean-and-jerk.

Understanding the differences between these bars is paramount for the effectiveness of your training.

When you invest in the right equipment, you set yourself up for better performance, reduced risk of injury, and, ultimately, achieving your goals.

Before you rush off to make your purchase, don’t forget to consult our barbell buying guide to help you make the best decision.

Also, once you get your bar, learn how to load a barbell properly and ensure you are aware of the barbell maintenance practices to keep your equipment in tip-top shape!

Until next time,


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