A year ago, adding the best barbell to your home gym setup might have felt like an over-the-top decision. Not anymore! With gyms around the world closed for months by now, avid gym-goers have to find a way to workout at home and retain at least some of the muscle mass they had before everyone was ordered to stay away from gyms.
Barbells are extremely versatile: you can perform a full body workout using a simple Olympic bar (and some bumper plates), even without adding a weights bench to the setup. Admittedly, even the best barbells are more hassle to store and workout with than the best dumbbells or even the best kettlebells; barbells are comparatively massive, especially the Olympic bar variety. Nonetheless, they are essential pieces of kit you should include in your best home gym setup.
Wearing the best gym gloves during heavy barbell lifts can help you avoid blisters while the best workouts shoes can provide some stability, especially on hard floors. You don't want to slip when trying to deadlift one and a half times your bodyweight, ideally.
Talking about heavy lifts: as well as getting a decent barbell, you might want to peruse the best weight plates guide too. The two go together like coffee and cream. Or, barbells and weight plates.
How to choose the right barbell for you?
Before you run to the nearest fitness store to buy the cheapest barbell, there are a few things you should consider.
A standard Olympic barbell is 7-feet long and weighs 20 kilos. A proper barbell should also have bearings, so when you lift it, the sleeves rotate and the knurled handles won't sand away your skin.
Another thing to keep an eye out is the maximum weight capacity and tensile strength. A barbell with a tensile strength of 130,000 psi won't be able to handle more than 200 kg of added weight without bending. Those videos on the internet you can see with bars bending on people's shoulders as they squat, they are all sub-par quality (not the people, the bars).
It is also worth noting that both the grip and collar size can vary between barbells, meaning not all weight plates will fit all barbells. Most Olympic plates and barbells use a 2-inch (50mm) diameter, while standard – or home gym – bars often feature a smaller, 1-inch (25 mm) diameter. This is typically because the disc itself is more compact.
The best barbells, in order of preference
Deadlifts are the heaviest lifts that anyone can do using a barbell: that's a fact. The current deadlift world record is 1,104.52 lbs (501 kg), set by none other than The Mountain himself, Hafthor Bjornsson. It's unlikely that this number will go up significantly or anytime soon.
With all this in mind, let's appreciate that the Mirafit M3 Hybrid 20kg Olympic Barbell has a tensile strength of 218,000 psi and is SGS tested to 1,500 lbs (680 kg). No one will lift that much, so the Mirafit M3 will probably be the first and the last barbell you'll ever buy.
This beautiful Olympic barbell is ideal for general gym work as well as both Olympic lifts and powerlifting. The M3 features a sprung steel bar, zinc coat finish, bronze bushings, eight-piece needle bearings, hybrid grip pattern featuring dual knurl marks and no centre knurling.
Not to mention, the Mirafit M3 just looks the part: it's sleek, sexy and reeks of quality. This barbell will be the centerpiece of any home gym and it knows it. And best of all, it's a bargain for this price. Due to the extremely high demand, the M3 tends to go out of stock pretty quickly, so don't ponder around for too long if you see one in stock.
The Jordan Ultimate Olympic Bar has a tensile strength of 200,000 psi and was load-tested to 1,500 lbs (750 kg). Not like anyone is ever going to lift that much, but even if you stack 200 kg-worth of plates on it, it most definitely won't bend.
The Ultimate Olympic Bar is made to official weightlifting competition standards, weighs 20 kilos and has a standard Olympic bar length of 7-feet (220 cm). The un-knurled centre area makes the Ultimate Bar ideal for squats: when resting on the upper back, it won't rub the skin away at the back of the neck. This barbell has an 8-needle bearing for smooth rotation.
Wolverson Fitness supplies some of the biggest gyms in the country, as well as kitting out professional athletes from all over the world. Its barbells are tested for competition and this number is no different.
At £299, it might seem steep to those just starting out, but it represents excellent value for money when you consider some of the competition out there charge up to the £1k mark for a bar.
With tough knurling (for added grip) and four needle bearings for smooth whipping action when carrying out presses and curls. It's a solid bar for perfecting technique and improving traditional lifting manoeuvres.
Working your way up the weight scale shouldn't be rushed. In fact, it can take years to perfect proper lifting technique but this bar aims to speed up that process by replicating the larger bars Eleiko offers but reducing the overall weight and reducing the aggressiveness of the knurling to be kinder on the hands.
Available in either 5kg or 10kg weights, the bar is great for those just starting out, as it performs like the professional units found in commercial gyms but it's much easier to lift and handle. Great for gradually increasing the weight over time.
Best curl bars
You won't be ashamed getting those guns out after you've been exercising with the Bodymax Pro OIympic E-Z curl bar. Perfect for working out your biceps and triceps, this bar's maximum load is 150 kg.
If I ever see anyone curling 150 kg with an E-Z bar, I will surely be impressed. But if you are anything like a normal human being, you will most likely be doing this exercise with anything between 30-60 kg and that amount can be easily handled by the Bodymax Pro OIympic E-Z curl bar.
It weighs around 8 kg and has a standard E-Z bar length of 47" (120 cm). To make the deal even sweeter, the Bodymax Pro OIympic E-Z curl bar comes with a pair of T-screw collars too, so you don't have to purchase them separately.
Not to mention Bodymax's great customer service, so even if you have an issue with the bar, they will sort it out ASAP.
You must appreciate the versatility of the Bowflex SelectTech 2080 Barbell. Sure, it has a smaller weight range than the Selecttech 1090i dumbbell but at least for the price, you get two different handles: a straight bar and the curl bar. With these, you can perform a variety of mainly upper body (delts, triceps and biceps) exercises and attack the muscles from a lot of different angles.
Just like other Selecttech models, such as the Bowflex Selecttech 1090 Dumbbell and Bowflex Selecttech 840 Kettlebell, choosing the right weight on the 2080 Barbell is as easy as turning the dial at the end of the bar. The weight range can be adjusted in 10 lbs (4.5 kg) increments, from 20 to 80 lbs (9-36 kg). You won't be deadlifting with the Selecttech 2080, but it really wasn't designed for Olympic lifts, more like toning the arms and the upper back.
The Bowflex SelectTech ST2080 Curl Bar Upgrade adds an extra 40 lbs (18 kg) to the Bowflex Selecttech 2080 Barbell: this will cost you around a $150/£150 extra. There is also a stand for $200/£200, if you can't be bothered to lean down to pick the weight up.
Best shrug bars
Trap bars are famous for being huge and mysterious, them leaning against the wall in the gym most of the time. Then you see someone in the gym doing deadlifts with them and you go: 'Of course!'
You can use a trap bar for a lot of different exercises. They are probably not as versatile as a pair of dumbbells, but still, you can perform shoulder exercises and leg exercises with them, like shrugs and deadlifts.
The Mirafit Olympic shrug bar is made out of solid steel and weighs 27 kg as is. You can also load 300 kgs of plates on it which is plenty, even for deadlifts.
The handles are knurled and will provide a better grip, especially working with bigger weights. The Mirafit Olympic shrug bar uses standard Olympic weights (to be purchased separately) so if you already have a standard Olympic barbell, you can use the same weights with the Mirafit shrug bar.
It might look like a piece of farm machinery, but this heavy duty bar is actually designed to make the classic deadlift easier, taking the strain off the lower back by offering a neutral grip.
With both high and low barbell handles, as well as an open rear for easy enter and exit, it is supremely versatile, with users able to lunge walk, press and even curl the contraption.
The only downside is the bar itself weighs 35kg without a single weight plate added, making it quite heavy for upper body workouts and beginners. That said, if you've only got room for one bar, this is the one to plump for. It's possible to work almost every muscle in your body if you know your onions.