9 Key Differences Between Standard & Olympic Barbells

Choosing a barbell is one of those things that can make or break your home gym setup. Choosing between a standard or Olympic barbell is key to getting it right but what are the exact differences and which one is better?

Standard barbells have 25 mm (1″) fixed sleeves while Olympic barbells have 50 mm (2″) spinning sleeves. Olympic barbells are better for almost every application. They’re stronger, higher quality, can handle higher loads, and are future-proof.

In the rest of this article, we’ll go into all the differences between standard and Olympic bars, if those differences matter, and what the best choice for your home or garage gym.

What’s a Standard Barbell?

A standard barbell, also known as a “1-inch barbell,” is a type of weightlifting bar designed to accommodate weight plates with 1-inch diameter holes.

Example of standard (1″) plates for standard bars.

The defining characteristic of a ‘standard’ barbell are the 1″ sleeves which accept standard weight plates.. The label ‘standard’ doesn’t mean it’s the most common or ‘gold standard’ of barbells, it’s just the sleeve diameter that makes the difference. As a result of that, there are some differences between standard and Olympic bars we’ll go into below.

Decades ago, these used to be the most common barbells you would find in commercial and home gyms but, times have changed and you’ll now mostly find Olympic-style bars.

Choosing between a standard and an Olympic barbell isn’t the only choice to make to get a good bar. Here are some other factors you should decide on.

What’s an Olympic Barbell?

Technically a real Olympic barbell is one that’s certified to be used in International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) competitions. In practice, it means any barbell that has 2″/50mm sleeves that can be used with Olympic weight plates.

Example of an Olympic bar with 50 mm sleeves.

This Olympic-style bar has superseded the ‘standard’ bar pretty much everywhere because they’re simply better.

The Olympic bar was created because Olympic-style lifts like the clean and jerk or the snatch require the lifter to spin the bar very quickly. To do that, spinning sleeves are much better. However, spinning sleeves have to be thicker to accommodate the bearings or bushings that allow for the spin. That’s where the thicker 50mm sleeves come from.

The larger diameter of these sleeves means you need different weight plates as well.

At this point in time, everyone recognizes that the Olympic-style bar has some benefits for pretty much every lifter which is why you see them everywhere instead of the standard bar. They’re just better and we’ll go into why that is below.

You can find which Olympic barbells I recommend for a home or garage gym in this article.

Differences Between Standard and Olympic Barbells

TypeStandard BarVSOlympic Barbell
Original PurposeFitness, BodybuildingVSOlympic Lifting
Shaft DiameterAlways 25 mmVS25 – 32 mm
Sleeve Diameter25 mmVS50 mm
Spinning SleevesVS
Weight CapacitySub 300 lbs.VS500 lbs. Minimum
KnurlingLess aggressiveVSMore aggressive
Specialty BarsVS
QualityGenerally LowVSLow to Very High-End

1. Original Purpose

Originally, the standard barbell was used for general fitness and bodybuilding. It makes sense, you’ve got a long stick and put heavy things at the ends.

Over time, the equipment for weightlifting competitions had to be standardized to keep things fair. In the ’40s and ’50s bars with 2″ spinning sleeves started appearing and in the ’60s and ’70s these bars became the standard because of their benefits for Olympic lifters.

  • Standard Barbells: Originally designed for basic strength training and general fitness exercises in home gyms.
  • Olympic Barbells: Specifically engineered for Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting competitions, including movements like the snatch and clean and jerk.

2. Sleeve Diameter & Plate Compatibility

This is the defining factor that makes something a standard or Olympic bar.

That means you have to match your plates to the bar you choose.

Also, if you want to use bumper plates, they are only available in Olympic style. While bare steel and rubber-encased plates are available with both 1″ and 2″ holes, bumper plates only come with 2″ diameter holes, which are only compatible with Olympic barbells.

3. Shaft Diameter

Shaft diameter is a bigger deal than you might think. The grip diameter of a barbell changes how it feels, how easy it is to hold, and how your muscles are engaged during the lift.

People with smaller hands are usually better off using a smaller diameter bar while people with big hands are more comfortable with thicker shafts. That means the variety in barbell diameters of Olympic bars is a good thing.

4. Spinning Sleeves

The thicker sleeves of an Olympic bar are the result of the need for those sleeves to spin. You need a bearing or bushing to allow for rotation and that’s difficult to make strong enough in a 1″ sleeve.

  • Standard Barbells: Have fixed/solid sleeves that don’t allow for spin.
  • Olympic Barbells: Incorporate bearings or bushings that allow sleeve rotation.

Spinning sleeves have some great benefits. They allow the shaft of the bar to spin independently from the plates. This reduces twisting forces on the muscles and joints of the upper body. This means you can; focus more on your technique, put more force into the lift without distractions and it reduces injury risk.

All great things, not only for Olympic lifters but for everyone.

5. Weight Capacity

Standard barbells generally have a lower weight capacity due to their thinner shaft. Thinner tubes are less rigid and can bend more easily. On top of that, standard barbells are generally lower quality, lowering their weight capacity even more. A standard bar is usually good for up to about 300 lbs.

Olympic bars generally have a higher weight capacity, making them suitable for heavier lifting. Even a low-end Olympic bar will have a 500 pound load capacity and most mid-range bars can handle more weight than you can ever dream of lifting.

Even if you don’t lift that much weight, it means an Olympic bar can handle more abuse and will last longer.

6. Knurling

While competition bars have very strict rules on knurling depth and patterns, most standard and Olympic-style bars have different knurling patterns.

As a general rule, standard bars tend to have less aggressive, shallower knurling and Olympic-style barbells have more aggressive knurling. That’s mostly from my personal observations though.

7. Specialty Bars

Pretty much all specialty bars have Olympic sleeves. So if you want to add an EZ curl, hex, safety squat, or another type of specialty bar to your home gym, later on, they’ll take Olympic plates.

To keep your options open, it’s better to start with an Olympic bar and 2″ weight plates. That way you don’t have to think about compatibility anymore.

8. Availability

Because of the popularity and benefits of Olympic barbells, they are more commonly available. Standard bars and plates aren’t hard to get either, especially online but the selection is smaller.

In the future, this difference will only become larger so Olympic bars and plates are more future-proof.

9. Quality

In general, standard bars are lower quality than Olympic bars. Even if you’re comparing bars in the same price class, Olympic bars tend to be a bit better.

And if you want to get a mid-range or high-end barbell, Olympic is the only game in town. There are no high-end standard barbells.

Pros and Cons Of Olympic Barbells

Olympic Barbell Pros

  • Suitable For All Training: Olympic barbells are suitable for all styles of weightlifting.
  • Spinning Sleeves: Olympic bars have spinning sleeves improve lifting technique and stability while reducing injury risk.
  • Quality: Olympic barbells are generally higher quality than standard bars.
  • Availability: There is a larger variety of Olympic barbells so you are more likely to find one that fits your needs.
  • Weight Capacity: Olympic bars can generally handle higher loads. Most standard bars can only handle up to 300 pounds.
  • Shaft Diameter: Olympic barbells are available in diameters from 25-32 mm while standard bars only come as 25 mm.
  • Accessories: Most barbell accessories are made for Olympic bars. Think about clips, collars, storage solutions, landmine press attachments, etc.
  • Bumper Plates: Rubber plates are only compatible with Olympic bars.

Olympic Barbell Cons

  • More Expensive: Olympic bars are more expensive. At the low end, you can get a standard bar for +-$40 while the cheapest Olympic bar is about $50. However, only low-end standard bars exist.
  • Compatibility: Olympic bars need Olympic plates (with a 2″ inner hole). There’s no way to use 1″ plates. A standard bar could take 2″ plates with an adapter sleeve.

As you can see, the standard bar has almost no benefits except price and plate compatibility. And the price difference is really small if you look at all the benefits you’re getting.

Standard or Olympic Bars For a Garage Gym?

Olympic barbells are just better. The only reason to choose a standard bar is the price and the difference is not big enough to warrant dealing with all the downsides.

There is one important point to think about for a home or garage gym and that is; Future-proofing. Maybe you want to just get the cheapest stuff now but this might end up costing you in the future.

Chances are you’ll want to upgrade to an Olympic bar at some point. The problem then is that you have to buy all new weight plates as well. Now suddenly your cost savings in the beginning are negated many times over.

Also, many plate-loaded gym machines you might want to add to your home gym later on are likely taking 2″ plates.

If you’ve already got standard weight plates, you don’t have to change to using Olympic plates and bars but it would be a good upgrade. You can probably sell your old 1″ plates so upgrading wouldn’t cost you the full new price, especially if you buy some second-hand Olympic plates.


Hey, I'm Matt. Welcome to HomeGymResource.com. After working out in many different gyms for almost 20 years and helping people build their own home gyms, i've learned a few things i'd like to share with you.

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