While doing research for your home gym, you will come across the term “bumper plate” at some point. If it’s the first time you read that phrase, you probably don’t quite understand what a bumper plate is. Keep reading to find out.
What is a bumper weight plate? Bumper plates are weight plates made from rubber instead of steel. This allows lifters to drop the weights from overhead without damaging the floor, plates and/or bar. They are also quieter when dropped. Bumper plates bounce a little when dropped but not enough to be dangerous.
There are more details about bumper plates and what they’re used for. Keep reading if you’re interested.
What is a bumper weight plate?
Maybe you’ve come across the term “bumper plate” while doing research into buying gym equipment. What does that phrase actually mean?
There are a few key differences between a “normal” weight plate and a “bumper” plate. Normal plates are made from cast iron. Sometimes they are bare steel and sometimes they are covered in rubber or PU. Whatever they look like on the outside, they are still some kind of steel on the inside.
Bumper plates are made from rubber except for the steel or brass bushing around the inner hole. Sometimes the rubber is recycled from old tires or similar but not always. The steel or brass bushing is there so the plate can slide easily on and off the bar.
Rubber bumper plates often look much bigger than steel plates. Even dense rubber is lighter per cubic inch than steel so you need more of it to create a plate that weighs the same. More material means a bigger plate.
Bumper plates are all the same diameter even if they have different weights. Metal plates usually have different diameters for different weights. The International Weightlifting Federation mandates that competition plates have a diameter of 450 millimeter with a max 1 mm tolerance. The vast majority of non-competition plates follow the same standard although they don’t have to.
Since bumper plates are the same diameter for different weights, the thickness has to differ. Which is exactly what you can see when shopping for bumper plates.
What is a bumper plate used for?
Bumper plates are used to be dropped from high overhead to the floor without breaking or damaging the weightlifting platform.
This type of lift is often seen in the Olympic weightlifting disciplines although some other sports like Crossfit also utilize these movements.
Bumper plates can handle the impact from falling since they’re made from rubber. Even though it’s very dense rubber, they have a little bit of ‘give’ to absorb the impact. Bumper plates will bounce a little bit after being dropped but not so much that it becomes dangerous.
Normal steel plates can start cracking or can even shatter with repeated drops from overhead.
Do I need bumper plates in my home gym?
Not everyone needs to get bumper plates for their home gym or even commercial gym. If you do, depends on a few reasons;
- Lifting style
- Dropping weights
- Equipment expectations
Let’s take a more in-depth look at those reasons.
Lifting style. Your lifting style is the biggest factor in if you need bumper plates or not. The only people who really need bumper plates are Olympic lifters. Olympic lifting has you lift the barbell overhead and drop it from there. The way this style of lifting works makes it quite difficult to lower the weights in a controlled manner without using a lot of energy.
Cross fit uses a lot of Olympic style lifts in their programs so bumper plates are very useful for those athletes as well.
Most other styles of lifting don’t have lifters drop the barbell from overhead. On many popular lifts the plates don’t even touch the floor at all. Squats, OHP and bench presses only have the bar touch the rack but the plates never hit the floor except in some cases where you fail a rep.
For most people the lifts where the plates touch the floor are; Deadlifts, Row variations. In other words, pulling exercises from the floor.
Dropping weights. That leads to the next point. Do you drop your weights? Or do you lower them in a controlled manner. Even if you do a lot of deadlifts and rows, that doesn’t mean you need bumper plates.
If you lower them down in a controlled manner there is a little bit of an impact but that impact is easily negated by correct flooring.
Normal plates can easily handle the impact of being lowered in a controlled manner. They can even be dropped from deadlift height although that will shorten their lifespan.
Flooring. It’s all about the impact. If both surfaces are hard, the shock is much bigger than if one has some give. But if both have some give you’ll get the best results. The plates are one side of the equation. They can be steel or rubber. But the floor is the other part. Good gym flooring can absorb a lot of the impact of dropped bars. Thicker flooring absorbs more.
However you need a really thick floor with multiple layers of padding and force absorption before you have the same damping as bumper plates have.
Since bumper plates will still deteriorate over time and are made to be used in conjunction with a weightlifting platform, having bumper plates doesn’t mean you don’t need flooring. It’s still a good idea to have some form of shock absorption even with bumper plates.
Flooring can also help dampen noise from dropping weights. Bumper plates will be quieter than steel plates without a floor.
Equipment expectations. What you’re expecting from your equipment matters as well. In general bumper plates can handle more abuse than steel plates. But this only really comes into play if you actually use their capabilities.
If you’re a person who doesn’t treat their equipment roughly, even normal steel plates can last for decades. You can still drop them but then you can expect them to last a lot shorter. Bumper plates will fail at some point as well, they just last longer with abuse.
Most people in home gyms don’t need bumper plates and normal steel plates will be strong enough for the purpose.
Downsides of bumper plates
The clear benefit to bumper plates is their shock resistance. But are there any downsides?
There are three downsides to bumper plates;
- More expensive
- Since all weights are the same diameter, the lighter weight plates can actually be more vulnerable. So if you’re using less than 45lbs. plates, they can be quite weak, especially the lightest ones.
If you’re using more than at least one 45 lbs. per side for your lifts, you can consider just getting a single pair of 45’s. The bumper plates will be bigger than most steel plates. So if you get a single pair of bumper plates and add steel plates for more weight you can get away with that.
The downside to that however is that the 45’s will have to take an even bigger impact so they can wear quicker.
Can weight plates break? Yes, weight plates can break if not used properly. The biggest factor in damaging or breaking plates is dropping them. Dropping weights from overhead gives them a big shock which can cause metal to fatigue over time and finally break.