Barbells are long. Longer than fits in some home gyms. Is it OK to get a shorter than usual barbell in your home gym? Here are the answers you’re looking for.
A 6’/72” barbell can work in a home gym. It’ll (just) fit in your rack and handle plenty of weight while saving considerable space. With barbells shorter than 6’ you start making big sacrifices in usability where a 6’ barbell still has almost all the usability of a full length one.
What are you missing out on with a shorter bar and what is the same? Below I’ll go into what the differences are between full length and shorter barbells.
Can you use a short barbell in a home gym?
Yes, it’s absolutely possible to use a shorter than usual barbell in your home gym. There are a few pros and cons to using a shorter barbell we will go into below. But first let’s see what shorter actually means.
An official Olympic sized barbell is 220cm (7’2) long. That’s the standard in many weightlifting competitions but also commercial gyms. Almost all barbells in a decent gym will be the full sized versions, although some gyms have different sized ones.
So when we’re talking about a ‘shorter’ barbell, that means a barbell shorter than 220 cm. The most common shorter length is 6′ or 72″
How is the bar made shorter you might wonder. The length of a barbell is made up of two portions; the shaft and the sleeve. The shaft is the part in the middle you grab with your hands. The sleeves are the parts you put the weight plates on.
So if you want to make a shorter barbell, there are three options;
- Make the shaft shorter
- Make the sleeves shorter
- Make both the shaft and sleeves shorter.
When making a barbell that’s just a little bit shorter, you can choose one but to get considerable length savings, you’ll have to do both to make it work. So what’s the actual difference?
Here’s a chart with the lengths of different barbells. Keep in mind, any barbell shorter than 220cm is not used by any official competition. That means that sizes can differ slightly between different models and brands.
|Total Length (inch)||Total Length (cm)||Sleeve length (inch)||Sleeve length (cm)||Shaft length (inch)|
Pros of short barbells
- You need less space. The biggest reason to go for a shorter barbell is that a full length one wouldn’t fit. Or possible if it just fits but not comfortably. You want more than 2” on each side of the bar since; A. You want to be able to move around with the bar without hitting the wall. B. You need some space to put on and take off weight plates.
- Easier to store. It’s easier to store a shorter barbell since it takes up less space.
- Lighter. This can be a pro or con but it’s much easier to make a barbell heavier than lighter. To make it heavier just put it on an extra plate. Starting lighter can make things easier for beginners.
Cons of short barbells
- If the shaft is too short, it won’t be rackable on your power rack. For a barbell to fit on the power rack you need at least 49” of shaft length (length between the sleeves). That’s because the hooks to rack the bar are 47-49” apart on most normal racks. So as you can see in the chart above, you’re fine with a full length bar you’re fine. If a 6′ bar works depends on the bar and the rack since there is some variability in both. Not all combinations will work so do some research. A 5’ barbell won’t work in a power rack. It can still work for other exercises that don’t require you to rack it though.
- If the sleeves are shorter you can’t fit as many weight plates on them. That means you can lift less weight in total. For 99% of the gym population this is not a problem since you can still put 4 or 5 45 lbs. plates on these shorter sleeves. 5*45= 225 lbs. per side. 225*2= 450 lbs. That even with short sleeves you can still load 450 lbs. on the bar.
- Less choice. There are just fewer options you can pick from. Not as many brands produce them as the full sized bars. That means you might not be able to find one from your favorite brand.
- Often they’re not up to the same quality standards as officially certified barbells. The rated load limit is often much lower on the short barbells.
Want to know more about barbells in general? Here’s a guide that covers everything you want to know about barbells.
This post is not about so called specialty bars. This post is about ‘normal’ straight barbells without any extra bells and whistles. Specialty bars often have a different length than other barbells. Since these types aren’t used in any official competition, there is no set of rules and measurements they have to conform to. That means that specialty bars can vary wildly. Even bars with the same name can have different dimensions if they’re made by different manufacturers.
Specialty bars definitely have their purpose. They allow for different grips and positions that a normal barbell doesn’t. As their name suggests, specialty bars are often made for a very specific purpose where normal barbells are much more versatile.
What could you use the extra bar length for?
What can you do with the extra length of shaft (Except make immature jokes) and sleeve of a full sized bar versus a shorter bar?
A longer shaft means you can put your hands in wider grip positions. Unless you’ve got very long arms, most people don’t actually need a shaft that’s longer than about 50” That’s the width of the vast majority of power racks. Have you ever gripped a barbell wider than that? I certainly haven’t.
The only exercise where you might need a bit of extra shaft length is if you’ve got very long legs and you want to do sumo deadlifts. Sumo deadlifts require you to spread your legs really wide and it’s possible you hit the weights with your toes. However, I’m 6’1 and have relatively long legs and have no problem doing sumo deadlifts with a 6’ barbell.
Extra sleeve length serves one purpose: the ability to put on more weight plates. Let’s do some math what the actual difference is. There might be small differences in sleeve length of bars of the same length but it’s at most 0.5”.
- Full length= 16.25
- 6’= 11.5”
- 5’= 10”
Of course not every weight plate is the same thickness. Even looking at 45 lbs. plates there is quite a lot of difference.
Rogue Olympic steel plates are 1.3” thick. Bumper plates can be a bit thicker than that at 2.37” while competition plates are only 0.87” thick. So there are wide differences in how thick 45 lbs. plates are.
The Rep Fitness bumper plates I recommended here for home gym use, are 2.83” inch thick. You can certainly get thinner ones but that’s only necessary if you really run out of sleeve length. Let’s see how many of those you can fit on these bars.
How many Rep Fitness 45lbs. plates fit on the barbells?
- 16.25/2.83= 5.74 = 5 plates
- 11.5/2.83= 4.06 = 4 plates
- 10/2.83= 3.53 = 3 plates
And you’ll still have some space left over for some bar clips to prevent the plates from falling off.
How much weight is that?
- 5 plates = 5*45*2 = 450 lbs. for both sides
- 4 plates = 4*45*2 = 360 lbs. for both sides
- 3 plates = 3*45*2 = 270 lbs. for both sides
That’s excluding the weight of the barbell itself. For the vast majority of people the 360 lbs. load capacity of a 6’ barbell is plenty. And if it isn’t, you can get plates that are less than half the width of these Rep Fitness ones. That would double your load capacity.
Need a full length barbell? Check out my favorite barbell here.
Don’t forget to check out my eBook!
What’s an EZ curl bar good for? An EZ curl bar is bent back and forth several times instead of straight. The different angles allow you to put your wrist in a position. This will allow you to train your biceps slightly differently and it’s less likely that your wrist starts hurting like it can with a straight bar. Some people are also able to feel a better mind-muscle connections with an easy bar.
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