If you’ve ever set foot inside a gym, chances are you’ve come across a barbell of some description. Maybe you’ve even used a barbell before during your workout.
Either way, you’ll recognize the standard barbell as a long length of steel, typically around 7ft with revolving collars at either end to support weight plates.
Barbells are one of the single most popular pieces of equipment to help build muscle and strength and their versatility is second to none when it comes to the large variety of exercises they can be used for.
This versatility is extended further with the introduction of several specialty barbells that take the standard barbell design rulebook and throw it out the window!
In this article, we will look at some of the most popular barbell variations as well as some of the most weird and wonderful and outline which exercises they are best suited for!
The Olympic Barbell is perhaps the most common you will find in a commercial gym. They are typically around 7ft in length and the bar itself is in the region of 1inch in diameter, this will vary by a few millimeters depending on quality and manufacturer. They will almost always be 45lbs in weight.
An Olympic Barbell will feature a knurling pattern on the handle, or in simple terms, raised bumps will run along the handle to assist with grip. This knurling will run from the ends of the handle and stop shy of the center of the bar, with this center portion being completely smooth.
The sleeves and collars for which the weights are loaded are connected to the handle via bearings to allow the weights to spin freely, this helps with keeping the bar correctly balanced and ultimately makes lifting with the Olympic Barbell that much easier.
One final feature that can be a key differentiator of an Olympic Barbell is known as the ‘whip’ of the bar. This basically describes how bendy and flexible the bar is, with a bar that is described as having more whip being more flexible.
This can either be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on the lift you are performing and your skill level.
For example, in lifts such as the snatch and clean and jerk (the two Olympic Weightlifting staples), the bar’s whip is exploited to make the lifts easier and more efficient. However, in other lifts, the whip can make things more difficult (a paused bench press for example) and a more rigid bar is preferred.
If you are a newer lifter, chances are you won’t really notice the whip of the bar though, as it only really begins to manifest at higher weights (probably after about 300-400lbs).
Olympic Barbell Exercises
The Olympic Barbell can be used for almost any exercise that requires loaded weight, which is why you’ll usually always find one in a commercial gym.
That said, the clue is in the name. The Olympic Barbell is best suited to the Olympic Weightlifting lifts; the snatch and the clean and jerk due to its whippy characteristics and bearing quality.
The Rogue Olympic Bar is a perfect example of the standard Olympic Barbell design.
The Power Bar is very similar to the Olympic Bar in looks and design and, indeed, many beginners would struggle to tell the difference between the two, with both barbell types being commonplace in most commercial gyms!
Nonetheless, there are a few differences that separate the Power Bar from the Olympic Bar.
The first thing that you will notice about the Power Bar is that it has a section of knurling across the center of the bar. This is to assist with grip during the back squat, with the center portion resting on the lifter’s shoulders or traps. At big weights, this can help prevent the bar from slipping down the lifter’s back.
A Power Bar will typically feature bushings as opposed to bearings, making the sleeves and collars more resistant to rotation than an Olympic Bar.
The bar itself is typically a millimeter or two larger than an Olympic Bar and the knurling is more aggressive, which will aid with grip.
The whip is greatly reduced in the Power Bar as it is manufactured using stiffer grades of steel, making it more suited to slow and controlled lifts rather than dynamic lifts that utilize momentum.
Power Bar Exercises
Like the Olympic Bar, the Power Bar can be used for anything and everything!
It is most widely used for Powerlifting movements, in particular the squat and bench press but also the deadlift.
The Ohio Power Bar is by far the most popular Power Bar on the market and is an ideal choice for those looking for a versatile barbell for their home gym.
The Deadlift Bar, like the name suggests, is a barbell designed specifically with the deadlift in mind.
Key features of the Deadlift Bar are its very aggressive knurling and slightly smaller diameter handle, which is vital for grip during the deadlift. They are also typically longer than Power Bars and Olympic Bars by about 5″.
The combination of the thinner diameter and longer length make the Deadlift Bar more whippy than a standard Power Bar, which is advantageous for pulling the slack out of the bar during the Deadlift as well as putting the lifter in a more mechanically advantageous position at the start of the lift.
Of course, the Deadlift Bar can be very humbling for lifters with poor technique who like to ‘yank’ the bar off the floor, as the whip will just pull them back down again!
Deadlift Bar Exercises
No prizes for guessing what exercise the Deadlift Bar is used for!
That’s not to say you can’t use it for other exercises, but I would always recommend a Power Bar or Olympic Bar over a Deadlift Bar for anything other than the deadlift.
The Capps Welding Texas Deadlift Bar is the quintessential Deadlift Bar, however, they can be extremely hard to come by due to their popularity and lead times.
An alternative is Rogue’s Ohio Deadlift Bar if you are looking for a Deadlift Bar and don’t want to wait.
Trap Bar/Hex Bar
Now we’re moving into the more specialty barbells!
Trap Bars or Hex Bars are the specialty barbell that you are most likely to see in a commercial gym setting. They feature a hexagonal cage design in which the lifter will stand inside with handles placed at either side.
Trap Bars tend to be a little heavier than a standard barbell and are anywhere between 55-65lbs depending on the specific design.
One of the key features of the Trap Bar is that the handles are parallel to the body, as opposed to perpendicular, like with a standard barbell. This can be beneficial in taking the strain off the wrists and can be a more natural position for the arms.
There are also typically two pairs of handles, one in line with the height of the bar and another pair raised above the first. This second pair is beneficial for the lifter as they do not have to reach down as far and are ultimately in a more mechanically advantageous position to lift from, this can be great for those with lower back issues or mobility issues.
The cage design also allows the lifter more room for their legs when picking up the bar. In a deadlift, for example, the barbell can get in the way of the shins, however here this is not the case. again, this results in less back involvement and more legs so can be useful depending on your goals.
Trap Bar Exercises
Trap Bars are great for deadlifts, especially those looking to mix up their training stimulus a bit. The raised handles and overall design is also useful for those recovering from a back strain or tweak but still want to deadlift as their starting position will be less compromised.
Farmer’s Carries are another great exercise where the trap bar can be utilized. The cage design allowing free movement of the legs while the parallel handles offer a safe wrist position.
Shrugs are also a great use for Trap Bars, which is where the name comes from as you are training your traps!
The Rogue TB-2 Trap Bar is a classic example of a typical Trap Bar.
Kabuki Strength Trap Bar HD
An honorable mention also goes to the Kabuki Strength Trap Bar, which is an extremely innovative take on the classic Trap Bar design.
One side of the cage has been removed from this bar, which opens up (no pun intended!) the possibilities much further, allowing for far more creative uses. This open cage design also makes loading and unloading the bar a breeze.
Further to this, the handles are interchangeable allowing for endless training possibilities!
EZ Curl Bar
Another bar that is likely to be found in most gyms, the EZ Curl Bar is perhaps the smallest in this list.
EZ Curl Bars are instantly recognizable by their wavy handle design, which can be used for various grips widths and positions.
The cambered wave design of the handle makes it ideal for taking the strain off your wrists, allowing them to be positioned at a more natural angle. This can make movements such as bicep curls a lot more comfortable.
EZ Curl Bar Exercises
As the name suggests, the EZ Curl Bar is ideal for bicep curls but can also be well utilized for tricep work such as skull crushers.
The Rogue Curl Bar is a classic example of a typical EZ Curl Bar.
Safety Squat Bar (SSB)
The Safety Squat Bar is one of my personal favorite specialist barbells.
Coming in at approximately 65-70lbs, the Safety Squat Bar is heavier than a traditional barbell. It is easily recognizable by the padded neck and shoulder supports and handles at its center.
The weights are also situated at a slight camber, which can change the center of gravity as compared to a standard barbell. In the case of a squat, this can affect the muscles involved, bringing the movement more in line with a front squat with more quad activation, as well as upper back activation.
The Safety Squat Bar is an ideal option to consider for lifters with shoulder issues as they no longer need to pull their arms up to reach the barbell, instead, the handles are situated in a more natural position out in front of the lifter and allow for a more neutral grip position also.
Safety Squat Bar Exercises
The Safety Squat Bar is, of course, best utilized for the back squat and is an excellent variation for lifters looking to shake up their squat training!
Lunges, good mornings, and box squats are some other great exercises in which the Safety Squat Bar is ideal.
The Rogue SB-1 is a good example of a typical Safety Squat Bar.
The Cambered Bar is another specialty barbell that is most often used for squats and squat variations.
A Cambered Bar’s design will typically feature a standard bar at its center, with vertically oriented bars at either side that connect at the bottom to the sleeves for the weights.
What this design does is introduces a pendulum or swinging effect to the lift, making the weight swing backward and forwards as you lift. This can be a real test of your core stability!
Like the Safety Squat Bar, the Cambered Bar also allows the lifter to hold the bar in a less compromised position for their wrists and shoulders, which can be a welcome relief for those who have issues here.
Cambered Bar Exercises
The Cambered Bar is most widely used for back squats but can be utilized well in squat variations such as box squats and lunges.
Check out the Rogue CB-1 to see a typical Cambered Bar design.
If the Safety Squat Bar and the Cambered Bar had a baby, it would be the Spider Bar!
The Spider Bar essentially takes the features of both the SSB and the Cambered Bar and joins them together. You will find a padding shoulder/neck support with handles very similar to the SSB here and also find vertical bars to induce the pendulum effect of the Cambered Bar.
Kabuki Strength Transformer Bar
Another honorable mention which takes all the elements of the SSB, the Cambered Bar, and the Spider Bar among others is the Kabuki Strength Transformer Bar.
The Transformer Bar is unique in that it can be adjusted to suit the specific movement pattern you are targeting. This can allow the lifter to alter it to make the lift feel more like using an SSB vs a barbell front squat for example. An excellent piece of equipment for more advanced lifters!
Kabuki Strength Duffalo Bar (Buffalo Bar)
The Duffalo Bar is quite similar to a typical barbell design, however, a camber or arc is introduced across its length. Basically, it’s a barbell with a sweeping bend in it!
This can be advantageous for squatters without a lot of shoulder mobility or with a shoulder injury that prevents them from reaching up to a standard barbell.
Duffalo Bar Exercises
The Duffalo Bar is another specialty bar centered around the squat but is also great for increased range of motion during the bench press.
An Axle Bar is fundamentally the same as a standard barbell save for one very key difference. The bar is almost double the diameter!
What this does is make the bar a lot more challenging to hold onto and ultimately will improve grip strength dramatically for those that use it.
The Axle Bar is most commonly used in Strongman events as opposed to other strength sports but is still a fun barbell for the casual lifter to try out.
If the added grip requirement wasn’t enough for you, another feature of the Axle Bar is that it features no bearings or bushings, meaning that there is no natural correction for unbalanced weight distribution. This can provide an added challenge when used as the lifter must fight against the weight pulling in unusual or unpredictable directions!
Of course, not everyone has the luxury of having access to an Axle Bar. Maybe your local gym isn’t equipped with one or you don’t want to spend the money. The next best thing is Fat Gripz! These are handles that can be wrapped around a standard barbell, or indeed any piece of equipment, to simulate a wider diameter such as with an Axle Bar.
Axle Bar Exercises
The Axle Bar is most commonly used for deadlifts, shoulder presses, and bench presses, however, any exercise which requires grip and forearm strength is a great option for the Axle Bar.
Check out the Rogue Axle.
Swiss Bar/Football Barbell
The Swiss Bar or Football Barbell, as it is sometimes known, is a barbell most commonly used during the bench press.
The Swiss Bar features a rectangular frame with a series of individual handles along its length, which allow the lifter to experiment with a variety of different grip widths and sometimes angles.
The position of the handles allows the lifter to use a neutral grip when pressing which can be effective at reducing shoulder and wrist pain during lifts such as the bench press, ultimately positioning the arms in a less compromised position.
Swiss Bar Exercises
The Swiss Bar is great for bench pressing, especially for those looking to give their wrists and shoulders a break and focus more on their chest and triceps. A more narrow grip especially will utilize the triceps.
The Swiss Bar can also be an interesting option for hammer curls, just don’t curl in the squat rack!
Kabuki Strength Kadillac Bar
Kabuki Strength yet again fails to disappoint with another unique twist on a specialty bar!
The Kadillac Bar takes the design of the Swiss Bar and adds a further element by introducing a camber to the frame. This can help to increase the range of motion during the bench press as the arms can now move further down before the bar comes into contact with the chest.
Perhaps the heaviest specialty bar in this list, the Log Bar can be anywhere between 50-150lbs depending on the exact specification.
The Log Bar is another that features heavily in the sport of Strongman and gets its name due to its resemblance in size and shape to a log.
It features an outer shell or barrel with two holes which the lifter will place their arms through, here handles can be found to grip onto.
The Log Bar is perhaps the most technically difficult to use for most beginners due to its size and uncompromising shape. Because it is so wide, this places the bar’s center of gravity further away from the lifter, increasing the moment arm with which a lift is completed.
Log Bar Exercises
The most common exercise you will see the Log Bar being used is, of course, the Log Clean and Press. It’s rarely seen used outside of this lift but could be used for other pressing movements such as the bench press.
Check out the Rogue LB-1.
Bandbell Earthquake Bar
Bandbell is a manufacturer of a unique series of barbells that are not made from steel as is typical of most barbells. The Bandbell Barbells are, in fact, made from a composite resin which allows them to exploit their unique characteristics.
These barbells are designed to be loaded via bands with the sole intent to make the bar as unstable as possible! This can be a great tool for working on any instability issues you may have or to improve your overall control during your lifts.
Using these bars, you will find that you have to really concentrate on your positioning and movement patterns to stop the weight from shifting and bouncing around violently. Transferring these newly learned movement patterns back to a traditional barbell can result in massive increases in your power output!
Bandbell Bar Exercises
The Bandbell Bars can be used in almost any exercise a traditional barbell would be used. They are especially useful during the squat and bench press, however, and are great for working on your stability and control during these lifts.
Check out the Bandbell Earthquake Bar.
When it comes to barbell training, the world really is your oyster with dozens of choices for all your lifting needs.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the option to use many of these specialty barbells due to the gym we train at or financial reasons but if ever you get the opportunity to try one of the more out there barbells, I highly recommend it!
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