It’s easy to take the humble weight plate for granted. After all, it’s just a disc (sometimes called bumper plate) that you slide onto a barbell during strength training or weights-based cardio sessions. But these versatile weight plates can be a superb addition to your home gym.
"But all weight plates and disc are all essentially the same, right?" Wrong, because they differ in size, weight, colour, shape and materials, all of which have a fairly substantial effect on how they can be used. There’s nothing more frustrating than buying an Olympic weight disc when your barbell or dumbbell sleeve is only large enough to fit those with a 1-inch diameter. Returning those heavy puppies can be physically and financially draining. Trust me.
It’s equally annoying when you invest in solid steel discs that mark a wooden floor and make a hell of a racket, when you are, in fact, looking for something more stealthy. Similarly, the smooth surface of an Olympic disc is not particularly conducive to curling or pressing. If you fancy a bit of that, there are particular discs that come with rubber handles exactly for that purpose. After all, what is the point of having the best weights, and the best barbells, if you add crappy plates to them? EXACTLY.
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How to choose the right weight plates
First things first. It’s worth researching what kind of barbell (or dumbbell, if opting for smaller plates) you own or plan to buy. The larger Olympic standard bars, which you’ll often find in the gym, pack a 2-inch sleeve diameter, so won’t be able to house the smaller standard or studio discs, which come with a 1-inch diameter hole in the centre.
We will break down the different type of weight plates below, but the main considerations should be sleeve diameter (as mentioned above), the material they are made from, the weight and the general shape or design.
Rubber weight plates are typically covered in a urethane coating, and although they don’t smell particularly pleasant when new, they do protect floors a bit when dropping them and, on the whole, prove easier to handle.
Plus, there are rubber plates that come with grips or cutouts for use away from the barbell, meaning targeted bicep curls and shoulder-strengthening raises can be performed. That said, those rubber plates without handles can be very slippery and actually end up being a hassle to handle. You might want to chalk up beforehand.
Solid steel powerlifting plates tend to pack more weight into a smaller surface area, so are particularly good if you’re planning on loading the bar up to its maximum rating but they are noisy and are prone to rusting if left outside.
Finally, make sure you take not of whether the weight plate you are buying comes in a pair or single item. A single bumper disc tends to be pretty useless when it comes to barbell training!
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The different types of weight plates available
Studio, Home or Standard Discs
These typically come with a one-inch diameter, so are only suitable for those smaller barbells with a corresponding sleeve. Found in all manner of shapes, sizes, materials and colours, they are generally good for lower weight/higher rep exercises or for compact workout zones, as they don’t take up as much space.
The most common in commercial gyms, Olympic Plates feature the larger 2-inch diameter that corresponds with the standard 5 or 7ft weight lifting barbells. Modern variants are often made from rubber, to help limit damage to floors when dropped, but can still be found in old-school steel or metal.
Competition variants often have a metal ring around the hole, to help the the disc keep shape and rotate around the bar sleeve when performing classic compound lifts ,like snatches or the clean and press. On the other hand, technique plates lack this metal ring and are, on the whole, more basic and often come in much lighter variants.
The colour of an Olympic plate is also significant and not just for show, as they generally correspond to a recognised code that denotes the weight.
These are often the most expensive, as official IWF Competition rules stipulate that the plate needs to be accurate to +0.1% and -0.05%. The precise construction makes them perfect for competition but perhaps a bit OTT for the home workout.
These are extremely useful for someone looking to get stronger and make gradual progress, as they come in half kilogram steps, typically starting with 0.5kg and ending somewhere around the 5kg mark. It means a bar can be loaded up with a mere 1kg of additional weight, which could be the difference of beating a PB or not.
The best weight plates to buy, in order
Manufactured from a high tensile rubber, these training discs are built to withstand a beating, yet come with competition-level features, such as the raised coloured numbers and markings for easy weight identification.
Eleiko makes some of the highest level fitness equipment out there but it tends to come at a price. On the upside, it’s of the highest quality and these discs are no exception. Just bear in mind they are sold individually.
These affordable yet massively durable plates should be the first thing on the shopping list ion you are thinking of setting up a powerful home strength training area. Suitable for Olympic barbells, they come with tough galvanised steel inners, which are designed to take the punishment of everyday use.
Although not quite as expertly finished as the aforementioned Eleiko units, these plates come in pairs and are a brilliant (and affordable) way of training hard at home.
Suitable for smaller home or studio barbells, these trip grip variants on the standard weight plate proves a versatile workout partner, with the ability to easily hold during workouts. Russian twists, lunges and even curls can be made harder by holding one or two of these.
Cleverly, there’s also a flat bottom, meaning the weights won’t roll away when placed on a barbell on the floor. The hardcore vinyl coating is scratch and impact resistant, designed to soak up impact and emit fewer neighbour-bothering decibels when dropped.
Mirafit’s Competition Olympic Bumper plates adhere to IWF standards, which means they are accurate within +/- 10g of the stated amount. This is likely useless to most readers, but it does mean the quality of craftsmanship is excellent.
On top of this, each plate is deliberately narrow, meaning you can load more on to a standard barbell, while the large chrome plated steel insert ensures the weight retains its shape after numerous drops and bangs. Perfect for the serious platform and powerlifters out there.
It might the the sort of weight plate you find in a car boot sale, but that’s testament to the longevity of a good old fashioned cast iron disc. These beefy units from York are suitable for most home, studio or standard barbells and dumbbells and offer a no-frills workout experience.
They can cause a fair amount of damage if dropped and make a hell of a racket when in use, but they are an affordable option that’s built to withstand the test if time. Also, there’s something quite Schwarzenegger about pumping iron with cast iron.