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  • Writer's pictureVulcan Strength

Olympic Barbells - Thus Spoke the Barbell

Updated: Mar 2

Vulcan Olympic Barbells

A Definitive Guide and Review of Vulcan Olympic Barbells, Barbell Care, Manufacturing Methods, and Recommendations for Use.

Whip...Is it all just hype?

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The IWF (International Weightlifting Federation) has a long established and specific rule that forbids intentionally oscillating the barbell to create advantage: Incorrect movements for the Jerk: Any deliberate oscillation of the barbell to gain advantage. The athlete must become motionless before starting the Jerk." The fact that this maneuver is against the rules indicates that whip does have a great impact on lifting.  It can be hypothesized that there were very deliberate and successful attempts to take advantage of barbell oscillation before the IWF implemented this rule.

The potential to create barbell whip is definitely worth considering when selecting a bar.  Whether bar whip is more hyped than necessary is dependent on a number of things.  The amount of weight loaded on the bar, the lifter’s speed, timing, and proprioception are all key factors that come in to play with creating bar whip.  Many lifters are not capable of lifting enough weight where the potential whip will have any impact on the overall result of their lift.  

Perhaps many lifters simply lack the training required to anticipate the whip and use it to their advantage.  To create bar whip in such a way that benefits the lifter’s successful execution of a lift is a skill that has to be developed over time.  

The amount of whip a bar displays will be majorly influenced by the following factors

1.  The amount of load on the barbell. Generally speaking, relatively light loads will not illicit a great deal of whip from most bars, although we have seen some noticeable whip with the Elite Bushing bar loaded with 230 lbs.  Slow motion video here

2.  Materials.  Some materials will exhibit more elastic qualities than others.  Molybdenum alloys will have the most whip depending upon their content of chromolybdenum. Carbon steels and non heat treated steels will have less.

3.  Diameter.  Thicker diameter bars will have less whip, i.e a 29 mm bar will have less whip than a 28 mm bar, or a 25 mm bar and a 28.5 mm bar will have a moderate amount of whip if all bars are made for from the same material.

4.  Steel processing methods; Heat treating, cold rolling, and other ways of manipulating steel properties.    

How can whip help you lift?

For  the clean and jerk, whip can be used in two phases:  

1.  Once the lifter drops or pulls themselves under the bar, they will drop into a deep squat.  When the lifter hits the bottom of the squat, gravity continues to bring the force of the weight downward.  The bar flexes around the points of contact between the lifter and the barbell.  The lifter attempts to make their accent as the plates and bar rebound upward, essentially capitalizing on the moment the potential energy created in the barbell becomes kinetic energy as the lifter applies force against it.  

2.  During the dip phase while executing the jerk.  The downward drop will once again create a slight flex in the bar that the lifter can synchronize their movement with to give the weight a slight boost upward.

For the Deadlift:

If the lifter can create a great amount of barbell flexion in the first phase of lifting the weight, it will allow the lifter to essentially pull a gradually heavier load from the floor.  The flex will enable the lifter to place him or herself in a higher pulling position before actually lifting the full load of the weight from the floor.  This can increase the amount of weight lifted. Specialized barbells have been manufactured to allow lifters to capitalize on this barbell property in a competition setting when allowed.  

For the Olympic Style Squat:

The Olympic Style squat is executed with a narrow foot stance and a very fast drop into an explosive rebound out of the bottom position of the movement.   The ballistic dynamic of the movement is similar to the clean phase of the clean and jerk lift.  A skilled lifter can use the whip of the barbell to their advantage provided timing and other factors are in accord. 

No Whip on Mine Please

weight lifting Mine

Whip can be detrimental for those who are practicing heavy squats, especially when walking the weight out from the squat rack themselves without the aid of a Monolift.  The same problem may arise with super heavy bench press weights used in powerlifting.  The 29 mm barbell may be desired for this type of lifting to minimize barbell flexion and oscillation. Even thicker barbells such as a 32 mm could be considerably stiffer than a 29 mm bar if tensile strength and material are the same.  This type of bar would more likely be a "squat only" barbell.  The thickness of the 32 mm diameter changes the dynamics of  how the barbell is held as well as puts pressure on the nerves in the hands and wrists in way that can be problematic.  For this type of lifting the 29 mm Powerlifting Bar would be the best choice.

Knurling and Knurling Preferences


Much of how a lifter classifies knurling seems to depend on what bars he/she has used and his/her barbell sport background.  Perhaps someone who has a powerlifting background and lifted with a specialized powerlifting bar for years can have a different opinion of what aggressive knurling is.  The best knurl grade for you will be what you are accustomed to in most instances.  At Vulcan Strength, we classify our bar knurling based on our own barbell line.  

A point of marketing that has surfaced recently is the notion that clean, defined borders of knurling is somewhat indicative of higher quality.  The reality of these prominent lines is that this effect can be created in such a way that compromises the steel strength of the barbell.  Knurling is cut into the barbell with a CNC Lathe. Some lathes will require more manual handling than others.  The borders of the knurling are created where the machine stops and is restarted again.  A fully robotic machine can make exact adjustments during this process, whereas a barbell that is hand-crafted by a man must be reset manually.  What some barbell manufacturers will do, (even with some IWF certified bars), is they’ll cut the lines after the knurling is done to create a nice, super neat border.  This looks great, and internet bloggers will certainly say this “high quality” feature is a positive attribute of the barbell.  The main issue is that any physical cut in to steel is an opportunity to weaken it because it creates stress points.  Multiple, unnecessary stress points along the barbell shaft are detrimental to steel strength and the higher the tensile strength of the material, the greater the problem this creates.

Many lifters will like the traditional centre knurling featured on many barbells.  Some consider the extra grip they feel on the back of their t-shirt ideal because it makes the bar feel more secure when squatting.  The actual purpose of the centre knurling on barbells dates back to when one-armed “odd” lifts were part of competitive weightlifting and even included in the inaugural Olympic games in the late 1800's.  The one-armed snatch and the one-armed clean and jerk are only a few examples of lifts that required such knurling.  You’ll notice that 15 kg barbells don’t feature a centre knurling because women were not included in weightlifting competitions until well after the one-armed lifts were phased out.  For most Olympic weightlifters, the centre knurling will be an annoyance so many higher end weightlifting bars will have a recessed centre knurling for this reason.  The IWF specifies the centre knurling is still a requirement for 20 kg barbells, so manufacturers produce their bars to meet this requirement.

Barbell Finishes and Their Properties

Here is a list of many barbell finishes and their pros and cons

Black Oxide:  Has a matte black appearance.  Black oxide is not so much a coating as it is a chemical process of turning steel black.  It has very little anti-corrosive properties which means it will rust quickly if not cared for properly.  It will scratch, but it does not flake off.  The scratches are just a lighter or a different shade of black so they show more.  Black oxide does leave the barbell with a raw steel feel without being purely raw steel.

Bright Zinc:  Looks great and classic.  It can vary from very shiny, almost chrome-like in appearance to a more matte finish.  Exhibits a higher resistance to corrosion than black zinc.  Bright Zinc will tarnish and turn grey over time.  It is considered a sacrificial coating as it oxides itself rather than the steel underneath it.  It will eventually develop a patina which makes each bar have its own unique look depending on its use.

Black Zinc:  Black zinc is simply bright zinc that is covered with a black chromate conversion coating.  The black coating is purely aesthetic and wears quickly,  Within a few uses of the barbell you will notice the black coating will begin to flake off.  Any metal to metal contact will remove it.  The black coatings are also very slippery which can be an issue when the palms are sweaty.  

Nickel Chrome:  Looks great and classic.  Chrome will scratch or chip if mistreated, but it typically lasts a lifetime.  All higher end weightlifting bars are nickel chrome or hard chrome plated.

Hard Chrome:  Hard chrome is actually an industrial finish.  Although it can be polished to high lustre , it will not have the aesthetics of nickel chrome.  Hard Chrome has a couple of advantages over Nickel Chrome.  It does actually fortify the bar and increases the overall tensile strength.  It will easily last 20 years or more.  The disadvantage of Hard Chrome is that it can have slight marks in it where the components are suspended by a thin wire during the electroplating.  Due to Hard Chrome being so thick, even a small imperfection can be made more noticeable where the material accumulates.

Thin Dense Chrome:  It has a matte dark grey appearance that is very unique looking.  It has the feel of raw steel without the rust problems of bare steel or some of the other coatings.  It adds tensile strength to the barbell just like Hard Chrome does.

Bare/Raw Steel.  It looks really great and feels great... for about a week, then it will start to oxidize and rust.  If you don't like oiling barbells and meticulously caring for them, or don't mind lifting a rusty bar, a raw piece of steel is ideal for you. With routine oiling, wiping perspiration from the bar after each use, and storing it in a climate controlled environment, the steel will develop a nice bronze/grey coloured patina.

Bronze Bushings, Composite Bushings, Needle Bearings, and Other Rotation Systems

Vulcan Strength barbells use the Oilite Bronze Bushings, which is a trademarked product made only in the USA.  It is made of a porous bronze material that holds oil.  This is the benefit of the Oilite because as the bushing spins, it oils itself.  A plain bronze bushing is not a bad choice, but the Oilite is definitely better for long-term durability, performance, and low maintenance by comparison

Composite Bushings are made from hard plastic compounds.  They are actually harder than bronze and will not break down after extensive use.   Over time, the spin of the bar won’t improve (like with the Oilite Bushing), it will remain consistent

Needle bearings provide the smoothest and quickest bar rotation.  There are a number of barbell varieties with either 10 or 8 needle bearings being the most common variety. We have found the quality, grade,  and fit of the bearings as well of type of lubricant used has more impact on spin than total number of bearings.   

Eight (8) bearings can actually take up as much space as  Ten (10) bearings, depending on size of the bearings.  Bearings are available in different load ratings and widths.  Higher load bearings may not spin as easily unloaded and lighter load bearings usually spin much quicker  without load, such as spinning with the hand. Once the bar is loaded, there will be no discernible difference in speed of rotation. The higher load rating bearings will last longer and can absorb more impact shock.  The reality of weightlifting is that the bar only turns over 180 degrees during a proper lift, and although weightlifting is fast, it's relatively slow as far as revolutions per minute (rpm).  Needle bearings are really designed for super high speed applications, meaning thousands of rpm's per minute.  Although weightlifting doesn’t push needle bearings to the full capacity of what they are designed to do, utilizing these bearings can still contribute to a successful lift. 

Ball Bearings are without a doubt the absolute worst method of rotation for any barbell. If used in a powerlifting barbell, the load of the heavy weight over a short period of time will deform the ball bearings.  Once the bearings are deformed the rotation will either be inhibited or completely cease. Ball Bearings or BB's (as in BB gun) within a barbell used for Olympic weightlifting will suffer the same fate, only quicker due to the the dropping of the weights and bar.  

IWF and IPF Barbell Specifications

These federations have websites and if so inclined you can view for more information about their policies and history.  Below are the posted Barbell specifications for both of these organizations.  There are several powerlifting and weightlifting federations within the world.


3.1.3 The tolerance on the nominal weight of each component weighing more than 5 kg must be + 0.1% and - 0.05%. On parts weighing 5 kg or less, the tolerance must be +10 grams and - 0 grams per part.

3.1.1 Only barbells meeting IWF specifications and approval may be used in weightlifting competitions under its jurisdiction. i) The bar:  The men's bar weighs 20 kg and the women’s bar weighs 15 kg and must meet the specifications on the diagrams in the Annex

3.1.5 Markings on the bars: Weightlifting bars must have coloured identification markings to facilitate their recognition. The men's bar must have blue markings and the women's bar yellow markings. These colours correspond to those of the 20 kg and 15 kg discs.

Men's bar


(a) The bar shall be straight and well knurled and grooved and shall conform to the following dimensions: 1. Total overall length not to exceed 2.2 m. 2. Distance between the collar faces is not to exceed 1.32 m or be less than 1.31 m. 3. Diameter of the bar is not to exceed 29 mm or be less than 28 mm. 4. Weight of the bar and collars are to be 25 kg. 5. Diameter of the sleeve not to exceed 52 mm or be less than 50 mm. 6. There shall be a diameter machined marking or the bar taped so as to measure 81 cm between marking or tape.

Barbell Storage, Care, and Maintenance


The ideal position to store a barbell is in the horizontal position in a rack.  Storing or leaving barbells on the floor can lead to premature rusting as moisture will condense on the floor and if in a basement or garage moisture can possibly seep up through the concrete slab.  Storing bars in vertical bar holders does save more space.  Trouble begins when the barbell is dropped or slammed into the vertical bar holder repeatedly.  Barbells are not designed to absorb shock from vertical impact.  Even what some may consider a short drop on the end, repeated at each training session or by several people within a gym can lead to irreparable issues such as stuck or jammed bushings or one sleeve failing to rotate as well as the other.  If you are going to store a barbell in a vertical position cut some foam or impact absorbent type material and place it in the "socket" of the bar holder.  This will cushion any impact and prolong the life of a barbell substantially.


1. Clean your barbell. Pieces of skin, blood, body hair, chalk, sweat, body oils, can all become trapped inside the knurling of a barbell.   Coatings tend to wear quicker from exposure to perspiration and body oils more than than anything. Simply using disposable disinfectant wipes on the barbell after your training session will help considerably to maintain the barbells appearance and sanitation.

2. Oiling a Bar.  It is not necessary to take a Vulcan barbell apart to oil it.  You can simply wipe the shaft of the bar down with WD-40, let it penetrate and wipe off until dry. Vulcan bushing bars are hand assembled using a high viscosity grease that will maintain it's viscosity for many years.  Keep chalk away from the opening of the barbell between the shaft and the boss of the barbell.  If large deposits of chalk get inside the barbell,  it will combine with the grease and create a gritty paste that will cause some issues.  Our bearing bars use a lighter proprietary lubricant that will bond to the bearings permanently.  There shouldn't be a reason to add additional oil to the internal mechanisms of these bars for many years if ever. 

Note: dismantling bearing bars that have press fit bearings is not advised and can result in damage to the bearings to remove the sleeve.

3.  Metal to metal friction causes wear.  If you use metal change plates, cast iron plates, steel plates, or competition bumper plates that have a gap in the inner ring (two piece disc design), the sleeves of the bar will have indentations and scratches.  This is par for the course in gyms or training centers where bars are seeing high use but this appearance may not be desirable to some in other training environments.

Vulcan Olympic Bar Guide

We've listed our current barbell line below as well as specifications and our recommendations for use based on our own experience as well as customer feedback.

The Vulcan Absolute Stainless Steel Bearing Bar.

Specifications: Totally stainless steel shaft and sleeve.Olympic bearing bar.  

4 German needle bearings per sleeve.  Over 240 k verified tensile strength.

Heat treated, aged and straightened stainless steel.  Sharp outer knurling and shallow center knurl.  IWF specification and markings.  Highly reflexive steel (high whip).  Very smooth and quick rotation.  Lifetime warranty.  

  • The Vulcan Absolute Bearing Bar is made totally from  high grade stainless steel. Recommended for high level weight lifting and athletic training facilities.

The Vulcan Standard Barbell  28.5 mm and 25 mm diameters.  20 kg Barbell and 15 kg weights. Made in USA.  196 k PSI Steel, Bright Zinc plated shaft and sleeve, moderate knurling, dual markings, no center knurl, Oilite bronze bushings, double snap ring construction.  Red end cap. Whip on this barbell is "medium - high" .   Lifetime warranty

  • Multi-use barbell.  Can be used for a mix of Powerlifting, Olympic Lifting, and conventional barbell training.  These barbells are the favorites of high school and college gyms, CrossFit gyms, as well as Police, Fire and Military units, home gyms and personal training studios.  

The Vulcan Standard Weightlifting Training Barbell.  28 mm diameter.  20 kg weight.  Made in USA.  196 k Psi Steel, Nickel Chrome Plated Shaft and Bright Zinc Sleeves. Single IWF Marking, No Center Knurl, oil lite bronze bushings.  This bar has a slightly more aggressive knurling than the 28.5 mm bar

  • Olympic Weightlifting Training Barbell.  This is a  weightlifting specific bar; as with any barbell, squats, deadlifts and all other movements can be accomplished with this barbell.  The knurl is slightly more aggressive so may not be the best choice for high repetition lifting

Vulcan V3.0 Elite Training Barbell.  28 mm diameter. 20 kg weight. 221 k psi steel. Interlocking bronze bushings. Recessed center knurling.  IWF Spec and Markings.  Thin Dense Chrome Plated shaft. Chrome Plated Grooved Sleeves. Knurling is moderately aggressive.  

  • This a true weightlifting bar.  It can be used for any assistance lifts or even high repetition lifting as the knurling is very tactile but not overly sharp.  Many have also reported the bar is great for heavy deadlifts due to the great amount of flex/whip of the chromoly steel shaft.  Even with moderate loads this bar will flex.  It spins as well loaded as some bearing bars will spin under load.  

Vulcan Pro Bearing Olympic Barbells  28 mm and 25 mm diameters.  20 kg and 15 kg weights.   241 k psi steel. 8 needle bearings.   Hard Chrome plated sleeves and shaft.  Aggressive-Sharp knurling.  Recessed center knurling.  IWF Markings and Specs.

  • This bar has a high amount of whip at heavier loads.  the whip is deep and very spring like Around 140 kg. It will surprise a lifter if they are not ready for it.   At lower weights the bar has the same amount of whip as the 28 mm standard bar.  The spin is the same as the 28 mm Standard Bearing Bar. This is a competition bearing bar.

The Vulcan Standard Olympic Bearing Barbell  Made in USA.  28 mm diameter.  20 kg weight.  10 needle bearings, Oilite bronze bushing, 196 k Psi Steel, Nickel Chrome Plated Shaft and bright zinc grooved sleeves.  Single IWF Marking.

  • This a competition level Olympic barbell.  The knurling is fine and sharp.  These bars are knurled in small runs so the "blades" are always new and sharp when the knurl is cut.  With large production barbells there is more of a variance in the knurling as the tools wear and must be replaced.  The whip on the Standard bearing 28 mm bar is classified as "very high". Note: As of this posting, the 25 mm 15 kg Women's version of this barbell is in the final stage of production.

Elite Powerlifting Barbell.  Made in USA.  29 mm diameter.  20 kg weight. Oilite Bushings.  196 k psi Steel.Very Aggressive knurling.  Dual Markings.  4 Inch Center knurling - Very aggressive. Bright zinc shaft and sleeves

  • This a true powerlifting barbell.  It has no whip and barely flexes even with 1200 lb loads.  The bright zinc coating is ultimately better for this type of bar to prevent rust 

  • and protect the strength of the steel.

The Vulcan Absolute Powerlifting Barbell.  29 mm diameter. 221k PSI tensile strength, black oxide-bare steel.  4" center knurl.  Dual marks.  Sharp to very sharp knurling. 

  • Vulcan Powerlifting barbells have been tested in actual competition with weights in excess of 1000 lbs. These powerlifting bars have no whip and are highly recommended for powerlifting competition or high level training.

One Basic Bushing Bars & Bearing Training Barbells  28 mm and 25 mm diameters.  20 kg and 15 kg weights.  190 k psi steel.  Bronze bushings or 8 needle bearings. Hard Chrome Plated.  Dual markings. Moderate knurling

  • The bushing versions of these bars are great for home/ garage gym and for those looking for a good bar but can't justify the investment of higher end bar. It's basic and reliable. They are good for a mix of Olympic weightlifting, CrossFit workouts and moderate powerlifting.  The bearing versions are great for Beginner Olympic weightlifting.  The knurling is great for banging out a lot of repetitions and characterized as light to medium.  The spin on these bars is really good and the whip is decent.  These bars were available in black zinc but we found that most who were buying these bars were using them in garages, basements, or just not spending a lot of time on maintaining them.  The black zinc was not very good and came off quickly.  The hard chrome on these bars is a much more durable coating.  

QC, Assembly, and Shipping

We take a great amount of care into the products we ship to our customers.  All of our barbells are assembled by hand.  Even the import barbells are completely inspected, dismantled as possible, re-greased, resealed, cleaned and packed in super heavy wall tubes that we have custom made here in North Carolina.  

Let us know if you have any questions about barbells!

Cyrus Peterson

Product Development

Vulcan Strength Training Systems

1-877-986-4313 x711

*About the Author:  Cyrus is a coach and veteran of the US Air Force.  He is a USAW Olympic weightlifting coach, kettlebell lifting coach and holds several certifications as a personal trainer and strength & conditioning coach. In his over 20 years of experience in strength and conditioning, he has competed as an athlete, coached athletes to international level competition as well as coaching every day people to a healthier and more fit lifestyle. He is a member of Vulcan Team as the lead of our Product Development Team.


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