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Creating the right weight plate set isn’t always as simple as just buying a starter pack. Picking the right number of plates of each weight impacts if you can load the bar to exactly the weight you want or if you get big jumps.
To create a set of weight plates that can load the bar with even 5 lbs. increments, you need at least; 2x 45, 2x 25, 4x 10, 2x 5, and 2x 2.5 lbs. plates. That’s a total weight (excluding bar) of 195 lbs. If you need more weight, simply add more 45’s. By adding more 45’s you’ll still be able to load the bar with 5-pound increments all the way.
|Weight (lbs.)||Number Needed||Total Weight (lbs.)|
Let’s dive into why that set is the most efficient place to start off with, if there are any good starters set to get you going and how to create sets that allow you to load the bar with even smaller increments. Or you can just click here to find some great starter plate sets.
What’s The Goal of Plate Selection?
The main way of getting bigger and stronger muscles is by using progressive overload. This is simply lifting more weight (or the same weight for more reps) every workout. By doing a little bit more every time you do an exercise, you’ll get stronger and bigger over time.
A well-structured plate set allows you to load the bar just a little heavier every time without having to jump up in large increments. Your muscles can usually handle small increments in weight but not larger ones. If you can’t lift the heavier weight, it’s pointless.
How big should those increments be? Most people say 5 lbs./2.5 kg. That means the plate set should allow you to load the bar with 5, 10, 15 …..140, 145, 150lbs., etc, until you used all your plates.
In my opinion, 2.5 lbs. increments are actually better but it depends on the situation. As a beginner, doing the main compound lifts, (Squats, deadlifts, rows, bench) 5lbs. increases are fine. But for isolation exercises and intermediate or advanced lifters, 2.5 lbs. increments are more appropriate in my opinion.
However, once you’ve got the set that can make linear 5lbs. increments, it’s quite easy to create a set.
Don’t want to figure this out by yourself? I’ve written a post here that recommends some great weight plate sets.
How Many Weight Plates Do You Need?
Plate Structure for 5 lbs. Increments
This set allows you to load the bar with 5 lbs. increments.
|Weight (lbs.)||Number Needed||Total Weight (lbs.)|
This set gives you a total weight of 195 lbs. (excluding the bar). If you need more weight than that, simply add more 45’s. Adding more 45’s won’t change how the increments work, you’ll still be able to add 5 pounds to the bar up to the max every time.
Plate Structure for 2.5 kg Increments
Prefer metric plates? Here’s how to create a plate set that can make any 2.5 kg increment.
|Weight (kg)||Number Needed||Total Weight (kg)|
This set gives you a total weight of 87.5 lbs. (excluding the bar). If you need more weight than that, simply add more 20 kilo plates. Adding more 20s won’t change how the increments work, you’ll still be able to add 2.5 kg to the bar every time.
Creating a 2.5 lbs. increment plate set
Have you noticed the 5lbs. steps are too large? It’s really easy to make the increments smaller. Simply get a pair of 1.25 lbs. plates, like this set on Amazon. Since they’re so small and light, they don’t cost much but they can help you extend your progress for a good bit longer.
If you look at the bar loading examples above, you can see that with an extra pair of 1.25 lbs. plates, you can fill in all the gaps between the 5 lbs. increments.
Especially if you’re doing a lot of isolation exercises with the barbell, 5-pound steps are often too large, and getting these smaller plates will help a lot. For compound movements, 5 pound steps are usually OK.
What About Starter Sets?
There are starter sets out there that allow you to buy a complete set of weight plates to get started with. Aren’t those fine?
Most starter sets aren’t structured all that well. They just sell a total weight but not much thought has been put into being able to progressively load the bar in even increments. That makes most starter sets next to useless.
The exception I’ve found here is XMark. They structure their starter sets pretty well and because you get a little discount over buying the plates separately, those sets are a good buy in my opinion.
XMark plates are also quite nice, I especially like the Texas Star and Black Diamond models. They are high-quality, rubber-coated, have grip holes, and have metal inserts for smooth bar loading. They aren’t the cheapest option but they are well worth the money.
For example, the XMark Texas Star 205 lbs. starter set contains: 2×45, 4×10, 4×5, and 2x 2.5. That’s really not a bad place to start off and really close to what I recommend above. You get two extra 5 lbs. plates which can come in handy since they always seem to get lost, but maybe that’s just me.
Do You Need Micro Plates?
Microplates are plates that weigh 1 lbs. or less. Common sets contain 2x 0.25, 2x 0.5 and 2x 0.75, and 2x 1. Most people won’t need weights this small. There are a few reasons to get them though:
|When to Consider Microplates|
|Plateau Breaking: Overcoming strength plateaus with small increments.|
|Smoother Progression: Gradual increases for smaller muscle groups or advanced lifters.|
|Injury Recovery: Gradual rebuilding of strength post-injury without strain.|
|Weak Points & Asymmetries: Address imbalances with controlled adjustments.|
|Building Confidence: Slowly acclimate to heavier loads, especially for beginners.|
|Advanced Lifters: Squeeze out last bits of progress in advanced training.|
|Specific Goals: Precise control for powerlifting, weightlifting, etc.|
These things are really only an issue if you’re at the very edge of your capabilities and have to progress really slowly. Or there is a very specific situation you have to deal with. Most people don’t need microplates though.
Why You Don’t Need 35’s
Many starter sets will have 35-pound plates. In my opinion, you don’t need those plates. As you can see above, you can make perfect sets without using them.
They don’t make loading the bar more efficient unless you need 35, 37,5 or 40 pounds. For that little bit of convenience, you now have two extra plates lying around, cluttering up your gym, that are only useful in a few situations.
Having 35s doesn’t allow you to take any other plate out of the sets listed above, they just add cost and mess.
35s also look a lot like 45s and it’s easy to load the bar unevenly without noticing. This can cause imbalanced barbells which is dangerous.
Tips For Efficient Barbell Loading
|Organize Your Weight Plates||Arrange plates systematically by size and weight. Group same-weight plates together for easy access.|
|Start with the Heaviest Plates||Begin with the heaviest plates to minimize lifting the bar multiple times. On a rack this doesn’t really matter.|
|Use the heaviest Plates To Reach Target||-Combine heavy plates to reach the target weight faster without overshooting. This prevents running out of lighter plates for adjustments.|
-If you want 100 lbs. on the bar, using 2×45’s and 2×5’s is much faster to load than 10×10’s if you even have that many.
|Utilize The Small Plates||Opt for smaller plates for small weight increases. Saves time and energy during plate changes.|
|Plan Ahead||Pre-plan weight increments to load the bar efficiently without frequent plate changes.|
|Use Weight Plate Racks||Organize plates on a rack for accessibility and tidiness.|
|Consider Sleeve Sizes||On short barbells, the sleeves might be too short to use many lighter plates. Changing to heavy plates increases the barbell’s load capacity.|
Pound Or Kilogram Plates?
Above I’ve mentioned kilogram plates a few times. Is one better than the other?
Not really, it mostly comes down to what you’re familiar with. Do you think in pounds? Get those plates and do the same if you think in metric. If you live in a place where everyone uses the metric system, those will be the type of plates that are most commonly available and vice versa.
If you want to nitpick, there are two small differences between pound and kilogram plates that don’t matter to most people but might to you;
- Increment Size: When looking at the smallest weights, a 0.5 lbs. plate is slightly lighter (0.226kg) than a 0.25kg plate. So using pound plates would allow you to have slightly smaller increases in weight.
- Alignment with Competitions: Most international competitions will use metric weights. If you’re training for a specific competition that does so, using metric plates will be more like the real competition.
In reality, those are differences 99% of people don’t care about so just choose what you like.