Anatomy of a Barbell: Part Names, Dimensions, Features, Etc

Barbells come in a wide array of variations, each suitable for different workout needs. While their sizes and shapes may differ, certain aspects remain consistent across all types. In this article, we’ll dive into all the parts that make up a barbell as well as which features they can have, and what’s best for who.

Barbells come in a wide range of sizes, weights, materials, and more. The parts all barbells share are the; shaft, sleeve, collars, and knurling. 90% of barbells are 6′ to 7’2 long, 25 mm to 32 mm thick, and can handle plenty of weight for most lifters.

I’ve done a ton of research into barbells so In this post you can find out what parts a barbell consists of, which features are necessary, which finishing coating is the best, and more.

Barbell DimensionsTotal lengthShaft lengthShaft diameterSleeve diameterSleeve lengthWeight
Men's Olympic Barbell220 cm/ 86.75"1310 mm28 mm50 mm415 mm20 kg
Women's Olympic Barbell201 cm/ 79.13"1310 mm25 mm50 mm320 mm15 kg

Looking for a good barbell? Click here to find my favorite.

Barbell Parts Names

Barbells come in a lot of varieties. Some are longer, some are shorter, some are straight, and some aren’t. However, there are also a lot of things that are the same on every barbell, no matter what shape.

Before we dive in, let’s get familiar with the parts that make up a barbell. Trust me, this will make the rest of this read way more interesting.

Image of a barbell with labels for the different parts.
Anatomy of a barbell

As you can see above, there are quite a few parts to a barbell. Not all of the labels above are parts though. Some are dimensions.

Key Barbell Parts

A barbell comprises four primary components:

  1. Shaft: The central rod, known as the shaft, constitutes the majority of a barbell’s length. When using the barbell, you grip this section.
  2. Sleeves: Positioned at both ends of the shaft, the sleeves serve as attachments for loading weight plates. They are thicker than the shaft and facilitate the placement of plates.
  3. Bearings: While not externally visible, bearings are situated between the shaft and the sleeves. These components enable independent rotation of the sleeves around the shaft, enhancing the barbell’s performance.
  4. Collar: Integrated into the sleeves, the collar prevents weight plates from sliding onto the shaft. Distinguish this from the separate equipment used to secure plates on the sleeves.

Additional Barbell Parts & Features

  • Knurling: The textured cross-hatch pattern on the shaft, known as knurling, is pivotal for maintaining a firm grip on the barbell during various exercises.
  • Knurling Marks: Typically featured with rings, the knurling aids grip consistency during exercises. These marks have a significant role in competitions.
  • Fastener: Most barbells incorporate a fastener, often a nut, securing the sleeves to the shaft’s end.
  • End Cap: The sleeve is closed off with an end cap, either a plastic cover or a metal circle held in place by a snap ring.

Now, don’t sweat it – you don’t need a PhD in barbellology to use one effectively. Barbells are pre-built and ready to rock out of the box, so you can jump into your workout without assembly. But it’s good to know the names of all the parts so communicating about them is easier.

In the following sections, we’ll delve deeper into each barbell component, to show you what it’s for, dimensions, and other facts.

Find which barbells I recommend for a home gym here.

Barbell Dimensions

When it comes to barbells, understanding their dimensions is paramount. While there’s an array of features to consider, starting with dimensions is a smart approach. Among the many facets to explore, three dimensions stand out as crucial:

  1. Length The length of a barbell plays a key role in determining its suitability for your gym and the workouts you want to do. Longer barbells offer versatility, while shorter ones are ideal for specific routines.
  2. Diameter The diameter of a barbell significantly influences your grip and overall comfort during workouts. A comfortable diameter ensures a secure grasp, allowing you to focus on your form and technique.
  3. Sleeve Length and Diameter Sleeve dimensions, both length and diameter, impact the amount of weight the barbell can hold and which weight plates are suitable.
  4. Weight: Different barbells have different weights. Usually, they weigh 20kg/44lbs. or 15/33lbs. but lighter and heavier bars exist as well.

By paying attention to these key dimensions, you’ll be ready to make the right choice when selecting the right barbell for your fitness regimen. Below we’ll go into which dimensions are right for which person.

Barbell DimensionsTotal lengthShaft lengthShaft diameterSleeve diameterSleeve lengthWeight
Men's Olympic Barbell220 cm/ 86.75"1310 mm28 mm50 mm415 mm20 kg
Women's Olympic Barbell201 cm/ 79.13"1310 mm25 mm50 mm320 mm15 kg

Picking the right barbell can be a bit confusing. Here is a guide that walks you through all the important factors in picking a barbell.

Barbell Length

Barbells come in many different lengths. You might be wondering, does size really matter? Well, different lengths serve different purposes and come in handy for different situations.

You can find barbells that range from 4 to 8 feet in length. The one you’ll likely see most often is the 7’2 bar, but other lengths aren’t uncommon either.

When it comes to Olympic barbell standards, the men’s Olympic official barbell is 86.75 inches long, which lines up with the 7’2 standard. For the women’s version, the length is 79.13 inches. These are the popular choices you’ll find in gyms worldwide, including home gyms where they work just fine.

Quick note: “Olympic” can mean it’s up to official standards, but sometimes it just indicates 2-inch spinning sleeves at the ends. We’ll dive into that in a bit.

Most barbells won’t ever be anywhere near an Olympic athlete and certification is expensive. That’s why many cheaper barbells differ slightly from the official standards, they simply don’t have to be that precise. While many barbells are quite close to the official standards, many cheap ones are quite different.

Now, specialty bars – like the ones for deadlifts, EZ curls, or pressing logs – they’re a bit different in length. These are not all-purpose barbells though. They have largely the same parts as normal bars but can look quite different.

Shorter Barbells For Compact Spaces

For those of you with a small home gym, a 6′ barbell might be your jam. Let’s talk about how they can actually be shorter than the Olympic ones. There are two ways to shrink a bar:

  1. Trim the part between the sleeves, which affects your grip width.
  2. Shrink the sleeves themselves. This keeps the space between the collars the same but gives less room for weight plates.

Some bars even combine both tricks for a seriously compact design.

Now, the real deal is having enough space for your hands and weight. If you’re on the petite side with shorter arms and a narrower frame, a shorter bar could be your go-to. If it fits on a power rack, it’s game on for all sorts of exercises.

Most power racks have their hooks around 48 inches apart. So, if you’re rocking a bar on a power rack, you need a minimum of 50 inches of shaft length. Some short 6′ bars are suitable for on racks, while others are not – it all depends on how they did the downsizing.

Do you use your barbell outside a rack? As long as you can grip the bar as wide as necessary, it’s perfectly fine.

Also, read, can I use a 6′ barbell in a home gym?

Barbell Diameter

Let’s dive into another important dimension – the diameter of the bar. Just like length, there’s a whole array of diameters to choose from. So, what’s the deal with these different sizes, and where do they come in handy?

Here’s a breakdown for you:

  • Normal Bar Diameters: 25-32mm
    • Most common sizes: 25mm and 28mm
    • Women’s Olympic Bar: 25mm
    • Men’s Olympic Bar: 28mm
    • Reason? Women tend to have smaller hands, and a chunky bar can be a grip challenge. Thicker bars make certain grips (like the hook grip) trickier. However, a thinner bar ‘cuts’ into your hands with heavier weights so pick the right one for your hand size.
  • Powerlifting Style Bars: 30mm and 32mm
    • If you’re into powerlifting, these are for you.
    • Extra thickness = stiffer bar = less “whip” (that bendy feeling)
    • Helps at the squat’s bottom position
    • Bonus: Thicker bars amp up the bar’s strength and durability
  • Thick ‘n’ Solid: 2″ Axles or Fat Bars
    • You’ve also got “axles” or “Fat bars” – about 2 inches thick!
    • No rotating sleeves, and they’re often solid steel
    • Whip? Nah, not here. They’re sturdy as a rock.
    • Beware: Your forearms will get a workout since these bars are a grip challenge.

Just like picking the perfect avocado, the right bar diameter can make a world of difference in your lifting game. For most people, a 25-28mm thick bar is perfect, pick one in that range depending on your hand size.

Other thicknesses are really only necessary in very specific situations.

Barbell Sleeve Size & Diameter

Time to focus on the sleeves – those end parts of the barbell where all the weight plates slide on. You barely touch these parts but they are essential.

Here’s why sleeve size matters:

  • Weights and Plates: The sleeve size affects…
    • Which weights you can use (Sleeve diameter)
    • How many plates you can load up (Sleeve length)

Most sleeves have a different diameter from the shaft although not always.

  • Olympic and Powerlifting Bars: 50mm (2″) Sleeves
    • 50mm/ 2″ is the norm for most ‘Olympic’ style barbells.
    • Sometimes 25mm/1″ sleeves are possible. These are usually found on very simple bars where they just extend the shaft to become sleeves.
    • This sleeve diameter plays matchmaker with your weight plates.

Now, the whole 1″ versus 2″ barbell dilemma:

1″ vs. 2″ barbells. What’s the difference?

  • Weight Plates: They’ve Got Holes Too
    • Just like sleeves, weight plates have inner holes with specific diameters.
    • The goal? Match the plate hole diameter with the sleeve diameter.
    • Or, you know, the other way around.

Quality bars often have slightly smaller-than-50mm sleeves. Why? Well, official weight plates have exactly 50mm inner holes. That means cheap barbells often don’t work with expensive plates even though they should be the same diameter. With non-competition equipment, this isn’t an issue though.

Last but not least, sleeve length matters:

  • Length and Plates: Load ‘Em Up
    • Sleeve length decides how many plates you can load up.
    • Don’t worry, most folks won’t bump into limits with regular sleeve lengths.
    • But some super-strong individuals might – props to them!

The standard loadable sleeve length on a men’s bar is just over 16″ while for the women’s bars it’s 13″

45 lbs. bumper plates are about 2.5″ thick. That means you can load up 6 of them on each side of the men’s bar for a total weight of 584 lbs. The woman’s bar can handle 5 45s on each side for a total of 494 lbs.

Standard (non-bumper) plates are only about 1.5″ thick so you could load way more than that. It’s safe to say the load capacity of the sleeves is not a concern for 99% of people holding a barbell.

Barbell Weight

Let’s dive into the world of barbell weights – where the right weight can make all the difference.

  • Common Gym Barbells: 20kg/44lbs or 15kg/33lbs.
    • These are the bars you’ll spot in most gyms.
    • 20 kg bars are longer and thicker (7’2 x 28mm) while 15 kg bars are shorter and thinner (6’6 x 25mm).
    • 15kg/33lbs. bars are popular for commercial gyms since most people can use them because they are often the thinner 25mm thick ones.

For children, there are even lighter barbells available. The diameter is the same at 25mm but these bars are shorter. Many of them are shorter because the sleeves are shorter. This means you can still take a wide grip but not load up as much weight. Since these bars are intended for younger athletes, they probably won’t be lifting a lot of weight anyway.

There are also technique bars which are just meant for practicing your form without load. These usually weigh around 15 lbs.

This post doesn’t focus on price. If you’re interested in what a barbell costs, click here.

Barbell Features

There’s more to a barbell than just the dimensions. For something that’s just a rod that holds weight, they’re pretty complicated. Here are some features of barbells you should be aware of;

  • Whip
  • Knurling
  • Markings
  • Sleeve spin

Barbell Knurling

Knurling refers to the crisscross pattern etched into the bar, and it can vary in two distinct ways:

  1. Aggressiveness
  2. Location and markings

The aggressiveness of knurling is determined by the width, depth of grooves, and the sharpness of the edges in the crosshatch pattern. The sharpness of knurling edges can be influenced by the type of finish on the barbell.

When lifting heavier weights, a more aggressive knurling is beneficial. Knurling plays a crucial role in providing an enhanced grip on the bar. As the weight increases, maintaining a solid grip becomes essential for holding onto the bar securely.

Hand size also plays a significant role. Those with smaller hands may struggle to maintain a firm grip on the bar. Consequently, individuals with smaller hands can find greater value in using bars with more aggressive knurling.

However, it’s important to note that opting for more aggressive knurling comes with a trade-off – it can be tougher on your skin. Initially, you might experience slight discomfort or mild discomfort due to the increased texture. Over time, your skin will adapt and develop calluses as a protective measure.

Knurling Location and Markings

Knurling Close Up

The location and markings of the knurling are one of the bigger differences between bars you might not be aware of as a beginner.

Knurling is to keep a good grip on the bar. Different styles of lifting require different grips and therefore the bars for different styles of lifting have knurling in different locations.

The differences to be aware of are between Olympic and powerlifting barbells. Both sports have different federations with different rules.

  • You might have noticed small rings around where your hands usually grip. Powerlifting bars have those rings 32” apart. They’re used to check the maximum hand width on the bench press.
  • Olympic bars have rings 36” apart. On Olympic bars, it’s just used for reference so the lifters can take the same grip every time.
  • Olympic bars for men have a center knurling, the ones for women don’t. Most non-certified Olympic bars don’t have center knurling since there is no use for it.
  • Powerlifting barbells have center knurling to help the bar grip on the back during the squat.

For general fitness use, the markings don’t really matter. For people who aren’t training for a specific competition, the markings don’t really mean anything. Just use them as a reference so you can take the same grip every time. This will help you be consistent in your lifts.

Sleeve spin

We’ve already talked about the dimensions of bar sleeves but that’s not all that can be said about them. The most important aspect of bar sleeves is the rotation.

There are a few bars that just consist of the shaft of the bar but have fixed sleeves. This might serve you for a little while but once you’re not a complete novice anymore, you want to use a bar that has spinning sleeves.

There are two main styles of spinning sleeves;

Olympic bars

Olympic bars have very low friction sleeves. This is because a couple of Olympic lifts like the clean and jerk require the lifter to rotate the bar really quickly in some part of the lift. Some high-level lifters rotate the bar for 180 degrees at around 7000 rpm.

You can imagine that at those speeds any friction will feel like it’s too much.  If the friction is too high the weights themselves have to spin to turn the bar. This puts a lot of torque on your joints and steals strength you could be using to lift the weight.

Powerlifting/General Fitness

Powerlifting bar sleeves generally have more friction than Olympic bars. That’s partly because the standard powerlifting movements don’t require you to turn the bar far and quickly. For the bench press, it’s even beneficial if the bar doesn’t spin too much since this might cause it to feel insecure in your hands.

It’s also a cost-saving measure for general fitness barbells. If you’re not Olympic lifting at a high level, a little more friction isn’t going to matter and makes the bar a lot cheaper.


Barbells are built to have a little bit of flexibility. You can sometimes see it when people lift heavy weights. The part people have their hands on moves before the weights come off the floor. Here’s an example:

Bar whip helps lifters incorporate extra momentum into their lifts. This helps especially in Olympic movements where you have to use this momentum well to lift more weight. To do this properly you have to practice technique a lot. For normal weightlifting, bar whip is not necessary or desirable.

The whip is related to tensile strength, more on that later. Basically, the higher the tensile strength, the stiffer a bar is, and the less whip you have, and vice versa. All barbells will bend a little under heavy load. If it was too stiff, the bar would break.

In general, powerlifters want a bar with little whip while Olympic-style lifters want more whip.

Most people in a home gym will do a mix of powerlifting and bodybuilding movements. If that’s you, a bar with normal or less whip is for you. The barbell you use every day should be something pretty stiff.

If you want to do Olympic lifts like the clean and jerk, you want a bar with more whip BUT, this should be a separate barbell. A ‘normal’ barbell is better for the majority of your lifts.

Favorite Barbell Accessories

Your barbell workouts will be made better by these accessories:

  • Deadlift pads: Dramatically reduce the noise and impact on the floor when deadlifting with these Yes4All pads (Amazon).

Find my favorite barbell and weight plates by clicking here.


Hey, I'm Matt. Welcome to 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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