There are bent barbells in gyms all over the world. Some are bent during lifting, but most of them get bent when they’re dropped or slammed on the floor. A good example of a barbell being bent during lifting is Joe Sullivan bending one while squatting 585 pounds.
Once a barbell is permanently bent, it can be tough to fix and even tougher to train with, so it’s best to know how to avoid bending one.
To better understand why barbells bend and how to prevent them from bending, let’s look at the definition of a barbell, the basic construction of a barbell, and how a barbell’s construction can determine whether or not it’ll bend.
What Is an Olympic Barbell?
In this article, when I mention “Olympic barbells”, I’m referring to any barbell that is based on the 7-foot-long standard Olympic barbell that has 2-inch sleeves and weighs 22 kg or 45 lbs. Olympic barbells were invented in the 1920s after weightlifting became an Olympic sport that requires barbells to have standard weights and lengths. All Olympic barbells can be placed into one of the following categories:
- Standard Olympic barbells: a cheap Olympic bar used for general training
- Olympic weightlifting barbells: used in Olympic weightlifting
- Powerlifting barbells: used in powerlifting
- Multipurpose or all-purpose barbells: used for CrossFit
As a side note, standard Olympic barbells and standard barbells aren’t the same. Standard barbells are non-Olympic barbells with 1-inch sleeves. I wouldn’t recommend purchasing a standard barbell for your home gym.
Basic Construction of an Olympic Barbell
The basic construction of an Olympic barbell is fairly simple because it only has two main parts; the shaft and sleeves:
The shaft is the part of the barbell that you grip when performing an exercise. Most Olympic barbells will have a shaft diameter between 28mm and 32mm. The thinner the shaft, the easier it’ll be to maintain your grip during deadlifts and similar exercises. This is why deadlift bars, which are a type of powerlifting barbell, have thin shafts. Additionally, thinner bar shafts produce more bar flex or “whip”, which we’ll talk more about a little later in this article.
The rough, cross-hatched area on the shaft is called the knurling or knurl. The knurling is meant to help you maintain a solid grip on the bar. Some barbells have more aggressive knurling than others.
A barbell’s knurling includes knurl markings, which are also called knurl marks. These markings are meant to help lifters place their hands in the correct position when performing an exercise. The location of these marks will vary depending on the barbell.
The knurl markings on Olympic weightlifting barbells are spaced wider apart than the marks on powerlifting barbells to accommodate the Olympic lifts, which include the snatch and the clean and jerk. The knurl markings on powerlifting barbells are meant to help a lifter achieve proper hand placement for the bench press, squat, and deadlift, which are the lifts performed in powerlifting competitions. Multipurpose barbells include both Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting knurl markings.
A barbell’s sleeves are the ends of the bar where the weight plates are loaded. The sleeves of Olympic bars are 2 inches in diameter.
Bushing, Bearings, and Bar Spin
Inside the sleeves of an Olympic barbell are bushings or bearings that allow the sleeves to rotate. A term commonly used to refer to the rotation of bar sleeves is “bar spin”.
Whether the bar’s sleeves contain bearings or bushings depends on the type of bar it is. Most Olympic weightlifting barbells have bearings because Olympic exercises, such as the clean and jerk, require the sleeves to be able to spin smoothly but there are some Olympic training bars that contain bushings. Bar spin isn’t as important for powerlifting exercises, so powerlifting barbells have bushings. CrossFit barbells have bushings because even though CrossFit is a hybrid sport that includes Olympic weightlifting exercises, Olympic weightlifting isn’t the focus of the sport.
Barbell whip, also known as bar whip or whip, is the flexion of a barbell that occurs while performing an exercise. Bar whip can be helpful when performing certain lifts. For example, whip can be helpful when performing the clean and jerk because you can use the momentum created by the whip to help you complete the exercise.
Bar whip shouldn’t be mistaken for permanent bending. When a barbell produces whip, it reverts back to its original state afterward, but when a barbell is permanently bent, it stays that way unless it’s repaired. How much whip a barbell can produce depends on the barbell’s steel, shaft diameter, length, and yield strength.
Yield strength is a measurement of how much a barbell can bend and still be able to revert back to its original form. Yield strength is measured in PSI. When barbell manufacturers state their barbells’ product specifications, they rarely mentioned the bars’ yield ratings.
Why Do Barbells Permanently Bend?
When a barbell flexes or produces whip, it won’t permanently bend as long as the amount of force applied to it doesn’t exceed its yield strength rating. If the force exceeds the yield strength rating, there is a good chance that the bar will be permanently bent.
Should You Worry About Putting Too Much Weight on the Bar?
Most people can’t lift enough weight to bend a barbell, and most high-quality barbells are designed to handle over 1,000 pounds.
Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson holds the equipped deadlift world record, lifting over 1,000 pounds. The bar that he used to accomplish this feat wasn’t permanently bent.
Buff Dudes recorded themselves performing a barbell bending experiment where it took over 1,600 pounds to bend a barbell.
It’s extremely difficult to permanently bend a high-quality barbell by loading it with too much weight, so you shouldn’t worry about this being a problem unless you’re a very strong lifter and/or are using a low-quality barbell.
What You Should Worry About
The most common reason for a barbell being permanently bent is that it was dropped. The force of the drop can cause a significant amount of stress to be placed on the barbell. Even dropping the bar from just a few feet in the air can damage it. This is why it’s important to use bumper plates when performing exercises that require you to drop a bar. The rubber bumper plates help to dissipate some of the force being placed on it from the fall.
Rack pulls, also known as rack deadlifts, can also cause a barbell to bend. Rack pulls require you to bang a barbell onto a power rack’s safety rails, which can damage the bar. For this reason, I highly recommend using a less expensive bar for performing rack pulls, and not your best barbell.
How to Tell if a Barbell Is Bent
The easiest way to tell if a barbell is bent is to place it on a power rack’s J-hooks and rotate it. If the barbell wobbles or doesn’t roll straight, it’s most likely bent.
What to Do With a Bent Barbell
Though it’s not ideal, you can still use a slightly bent bar for certain exercises. As long as you don’t use the bar for deadlifts, it’ll probably be okay to use. If you deadlift with it, the bar might rotate when you pull it off the floor, making it harder to grip.
The bend in the barbell will change how the bar’s weight is distributed, which can cause the bar to rotate during an exercise. If the bar rotates during an exercise, it can cause you to injure yourself.
Using a bent barbell can also make it challenging to rack and unrack it. Trying to position an uneven or bent barbell to rack and unrack it can cause you to injure yourself.
Whether it’s dangerous to use a bent barbell depends on the severity of the bend. Never use a bent barbell to perform explosive exercises, such as Olympic lifts.
We recommend replacing a bent barbell, but if you can’t afford a new one, you can try to fix it. It’ll never be the same, but it can be made usable again if you have the time, tools, knowledge, and experience necessary to fix it. You’ll need to use a torch to heat the bar and then hammer it straight.
Tensile Strength & Why Barbells Snap
A barbell will snap if the amount of force applied to it exceeds its tensile strength rating. Tensile strength is a measurement of the amount of force that can be applied to a barbell before it breaks. Similar to yield strength, tensile strength is measured in PSI. Most barbells are between 180k PSI to 230k PSI, with 190k being the standard for high-quality barbells. Typically, the higher a barbell’s tensile strength is, the more it’ll cost.
Even though most barbells can hold over 1,000 pounds, they can be bent if they’re not used properly. If you follow these two rules, you can rest assured that your bar will probably never bend:
- Don’t drop the barbell on the floor if it’s not loaded with bumper plates
- Don’t use the barbell for performing rack pulls
Jay is not just a writer; he’s a seasoned strength enthusiast with two decades of dedicated training under his belt. Whether he’s crafting engaging articles, reviewing cutting-edge equipment, or sharing his personal fitness anecdotes, Jay’s writing resonates with a diverse audience, from seasoned gym enthusiasts to beginners eager to embark on their own transformative fitness paths.