The Strength & Bending of Olympic Weightlifting Bars
What it takes to bend an Olympic bar and how you rate it is not as simple as you may want it to be. This has always been a problem in our industry because a lot of these Olympic bars go in “musclehead” gyms and they haven’t the slightest idea of physics, metallurgy, engineering, or anything of this sort.
First of all, let me explain that there is no such thing as a 400 pound test, 800 pound test, 1,000 pound test, etc. This is all a fantasy created in an attempt to satisfy buyers of limited knowledge to pacify them. You’d be better off believing in the tooth fairy or Santa Claus than believing in a 1,000 pound test anything.
The only 2 things that count when you try to compare one bar against the other is the tensile strength and the yield strength. Unfortunately, this is not something that can be seen so you have to rely on the integrity of the supplier for that number. You can, however, send the bar to a metallurgy lab to test it but they usually have to destroy the bar to give the analysis.
Let me deviate a little……to understand how a bar can be bent you have to understand how it can be straightened.
Straightness is a matter of degree. When steel bars come to us, they do not come to us absolutely straight. This has been done as an extra operation, usually running about $10 extra per bar [the cost for this procedure has increased since this essay was originally written -Ed.] for a special straightness. When dealing with materials, everything has a tolerance. Typically a bar would be considered straight by a steel mill if it were no more than .012″ to .015″ per ft. out of straightness. Now even though this would be considered straight to the steel mill, when we look at this bar and roll it, we would see a slight bend if it was the maximum of this tolerance because 7 feet would equal .084″ to .105″ out of straightness. So at its extreme tolerance it would be about 3/16 of an inch off at 7 feet of length. The steel mill would call it straight – we call it bent. Therefore, we have to spend extra to get it especially straight.
When we make a bar, we make it straight within .002″ per foot. so at the extreme it could be off about .015″ (1/64″) per 7 feet, which would not be noticeable to the eye or in rolling the bar. Now, the way they straighten the bar is to “bump” it. That is to place it on 2 blocks in a press and hit it at the center point with the press. This way it will actually put a small bend in the bar. If you do this enough times over the length of the bar, you can “bend it straight,” if you know what you are doing. Reverse the principle and you make it crooked. That’s why we say “we know that if we can bend it straight, you can bend it crooked”.
When testing a bar for the limits of its strength, there are 2 different types of test you can use – a static test and a dynamic test.
The static test: you support the bar in the center and keep adding weights slowly, without jerking the bar, until the bar bends past the yield point where it will not come back to straightness again (this is called the yield point).
With a bar, the strength of IVANKO’s, you can add about 2,000 pounds on each side of the bar, slowly take it off and the bar will come back to perfect straightness. Even if you left the weights on for a month, that would not matter…as long as you do not jerk the bar.
The dynamic test: this test applies more to the actual use you would find in the gyms. The trouble why we cannot give a simple answer is because there are 3 main factors involved; the amount of weight on the bar, the distance that the bar is dropped, and the size of the area that the bar hits.
To put this in layman’s terms, let me give you some examples….. first of all, consider these comparisons: you can take a 100 pound woman. If she stepped on your back barefoot, it would probably feel good (depending on the woman!). However, if she were wearing spiked high heel shoes, it would probably feel like hell. The reason for this is that at the end of a small area she does not weigh 100 pounds – she might as well weigh 2,000 pounds. This is a very important factor when we talk about how bars bend because when a bar falls and hits a small area, like pins through a power rack, it might only have 400 pounds on the bar but if it drops 3 feet and hits that pin, perhaps the blow is equal to 5,000 or 10,000 pounds. This is the way almost all bars are bent.
You can take any IVANKO bar and use them for power cleans or whatever, and put your 500, 600, 800, or 1,000 pounds on the bar if you drop the bar off your shoulders onto a platform when the plates hit before the bar, you would not have enough force to bend it. However, if you did the same thing on a narrow bench and the bar hit before the plates, you have an excellent chance of bending the bar.
Not just our bar – ANY bar.
In my 40 years of manufacturing plus my 15 years as a weightlifting instructor, the only way I have ever seen a bar bend is on a power rack or on a narrow bench, where the falling bar hits before the plates hit. The bar does not bend when the plates hit first.
IVANKO is the finest and strongest bar made in the United States today. The latest bars we just made went from 196,000 psi to 202,000 psi [Ivanko's bars now are rated at 218,000 psi - ED] – this is much stronger than anything made in the U.S.A. today, believe me!
Eleiko, which is the finest bar in the world, has a tensile strength of 215,000 psi. The average Olympic bar is made and sold as “1,000 pound test” and usually runs about 130,000 to 150,000 psi. Almost all of them are 130,000 psi.
Now, you can give a lifetime guarantee on that bar if you want to, some companies do. To me, I think that is dishonest because I know a bar of 130,000 psi or any bar, if it’s abused, cannot stay straight. In fact, Superior Barbell used to guarantee their bars for a lifetime and recently went Chapter 13. However, before that they sold Icarian 50 bars and every one of them bent. Superior refused to replace those bars – they gave a lifetime guarantee but refused to honor it.
The chief design engineer for Universal Gym Equipment – Jim Sutherland (he’s now with Wynmor) – tested every bar made in the United States as well as several European bars. In this test, IVANKO came in number one. Don’t take my word for it….Call Jim at (205) 745-1535. I’m sure he would be happy to give you an honest, candid evaluation of these bars from a technical as well as experience level.
There is no “clean cut” answer as you might expect. IVANKO’s policy is, and always will be, if we can’t make the sale with an honest answer, we don’t want the sale.
Tom I. Lincir, President
If there is an obvious defect on a new bar or a manufacturing error, those would be replaced without question at the judgment of the informed and qualified dealers. However, we expect the dealer to acquire knowledge of the products by calling us whenever there is a question and be able to take care of minor problems that are better handled at the source rather than just dump everything back to us without any efforts at that end.