Weight Plate Comparison
Buying Weight Plates? Arm yourself with the latest comparisons, specs and info first!
When I began weight training in the mid-1980s, we didn’t have nearly as many choices in any facet of life. We all listened to the same FM radio stations, watched the same network television programs, and shopped at the same stores.
Those of us who lifted as a hobby or for sports performance even used the same Olympic weight plates. With perhaps a few obscure exceptions, you could opt for the cheaper Standard barbell plates imported from China, or you could go with the more prestigious, USA-made weight plates by York Barbell.
Either option proved functional, though the Standard barbell plates didn’t look as nice and might weigh light or heavy by as much as a staggering two pounds each. Loading four or more per side on an Olympic barbell for heavy squats could result in a pretty significant ten-pound (or more) misload.
Ah, the good ole days. Though I remember the clang of my first mismatched plates nostalgically, the advent of the internet in the 1990s brought with it a plethora of choices and improvements for today’s demanding consumers.
If you know where to look, you can now find almost any product made to your specifications and preferences. If you don’t know where to look, or exactly what you’re looking for, the choices available may seem confusing and overwhelming.
This is certainly true when it comes to weight plates for barbells and strength equipment. Not only are traditional Olympic weight plates manufactured with different options today that weren’t commonly available years ago, but several styles of bumper plates have also been added to the mix.
The easiest way to clear up the confusion is to expand upon the distinction I just made, dividing weight plates into two categories—Olympic weight plates and bumper plates—and taking a closer look at options available within each.
Olympic Weight Plates - Iron and Urethane
If you’re an old-school aficionado who craves the unmistakable clang of iron rattling against iron, look no further than the beautiful deep dish Olympic weight plates with a wide flange that not only look cool, but are easier to carry and load on your equipment. Choose between oil-baked, which gives each plate a unique patina finish, or a powder coated matte black finish, and are proudly USA-made from recycled cast iron in a carbon-neutral foundry.
If, on the other hand, you train in a location where protecting your floors is a concern or you need to minimize noise so as not to disturb other household members or neighbors, urethane Olympic plates with grips are your better choice. Their high-quality German urethane covering has no rubber smell and won’t rust, and the ergonomic grips make loading and unloading easier and safer than cast iron weight plates. These mid-to-high-end priced plates feature stainless steel hubs and can be custom laser-engraved for commercial applications.
Bumper Plates - Rubber, Urethane and Competition
If you’re planning to purposely drop plates from mid-shin or higher, mainly through practicing Olympic weightlifting’s snatch and clean and jerk and related variations, you’ll need to invest in bumper plates, both to protect the plates and your lifting platform. While the diameter of traditional Olympic weight plates varies by weight, bumpers are made in a standard diameter of right around 17.72” regardless of weight so that your pulling height off the platform is consistent no matter the weight you load on the bar. Keep this fact in mind when selecting storage solutions for bumper plates, as you’ll need trees with evenly spaced pegs about 18.5” apart on center.
IRON COMPANY offers three great bumper plate choices to accommodate a variety of training needs. Their rubber bumper plates are perfectly suited for garage gyms and small weightlifting clubs. These plates are accurate to +/- 1% of the stated weight, have large numbers for easy size identification, feature stainless steel inserts that won’t rust, and offer a quiet dead bounce that protects floors and excel in tight spaces if needed.
Large commercial facilities may be wise to upgrade to urethane bumper plates to get more mileage out of them under heavy use. These mid-to-upper-priced plates offer all of the same benefits as rubber, but the German urethane is more compact, won’t crack or split, has no rubber smell, and is longer-lasting. The heavy-duty, solid steel inserts are chrome plated, and the plates are color-coded by size. Custom logo options will be particularly appealing to schools and sports teams.
Finally, for serious strength athletes, IRON COMPANY’s competition rubber bumper plates offer tight tolerances within +/- 10 grams of their stated weight. These top-end plates are made of the highest quality virgin rubber and are very compact compared to other bumper plates. Consequently, they’re one of the most expensive choices and are best utilized in competition and for competition preparation.
Now that you’ve sorted through the different weight plates, you’ll also want to consider the type of bar to purchase. Perhaps we’ll take a deep dive in a future article, but for now note that a power bar is likely your best choice for general strength training, powerlifting, and bodybuilding and should be paired with deep-dish Olympic plates or urethane Olympic plates with grips. If you’re planning to practice Olympic weightlifting, you’ll pair an Olympic-style bar—one that features a little more whip than a power bar and eliminates the center knurling—with any of the three bumper plate options outlined above.
Now that you’re armed with knowledge, you should be feeling much better about your ability to select the right Olympic weight plates or bumper plates for your training needs. If you have additional questions, contact an IRON COMPANY sales rep today. Unlike most free weight manufacturers, we are passionate about fitness and make a habit of using the equipment we sell to meet our own fitness goals. We will help educate you on the performance and feel of each product from both a user and trainers perspective so that you can make the best educated purchase possible.
Chuck Miller has been immersed in the pursuit of strength and the art and science of physical transformation as a coach, athlete, and writer for over thirty years. He is the author of Inside the Mind of an Iron Icon: on strength training and bodybuilding and is a monthly columnist for HARDGAINER 2.0 Visit CORE Strength and Conditioning to learn more about his background or to book a consultation.