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How to Buy Barbells

When purchasing free weights for strength training in a home gym, you can’t beat barbells for power lifts like bench pressing and squatting. Plus, barbells add even more variety to your workout than pairs of dumbbells.

Free weights have a high potential for accidents; just ask anyone who has dropped a weight on his foot or gotten pinned under a heavy bar. If you’re new to free-weight training, be sure to take a few sessions with a trainer. And never do any heavy lifting when you’re alone.

If you decide to invest in a barbell system, you'll need the following:

  • Bars that are typically 4 to 7 feet long and come in two sizes: the skinnier Standard (about 25 pounds) and the thicker Olympic (about 45 pounds). Olympic bars are more comfortable to wrap your hands around, and they’re also the standard used in most gyms. You should consider buying a single bar with a number of weight plates, because buying a whole assortment of bars is expensive.

  • Plates (the round weights that you slide onto the bars) and collars (the clips that secure the plates) are designed to fit one bar size or the other, so make sure that you buy plates and collars that match your bar.

  • A rack that you can use to store the plates. Upright racks take up less room than horizontal ones.

  • A sturdy weight bench that can be adjusted to incline or decline so that you can challenge your muscles at different levels.

    Using barbells to perform a bench press. [Credit: Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.]
    Credit: Photograph by Sunstreak Productions, Inc.
    Using barbells to perform a bench press.

As an alternative to traditional barbells, you can buy a series of lighter bars from 9 pounds to 27 pounds covered with comfortable rubber padding. One popular brand is Body Bar. These bars are good for beginners. They allow you to learn to do barbell exercises without having to use the heavier Standard or Olympic bars. The problem is, you can’t clip on weight plates, so you have to buy several bars to accommodate your various muscle groups.

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