When building any form of a home gym, you’ll often see bumper plates listed as something of a necessity.
One key reason is that home gym (or garage gyms) are often designed on Crossfit-Esque setups with a Rogue power rack, air rower, and a solid weight plate collection usually consisting of bumper plates as standard.
The main reason for this is that bumper plates are great for Olympic lifting and heavy complexes were dropping the weight/bar is not only commonplace but is actually necessary for certain circumstances.
In this article, we’ll therefore cover the question of “are bumper plates necessary”, what makes them so popular, and whether or not there are any viable alternatives?
What Is the Purpose of Bumper Plates
The main purpose of bumper plates is to use them for Olympic and CrossFit exercises because bumper plates are made to be dropped. For example, doing a clean and jerk is much easier to execute when you can drop the weight from the overhead position instead of having to worry about lowering it. This should be only done responsibly and on a shock-absorbing platform though.
Bumper plates can help you protect your flooring, but you still need shock-absorbing mats if you want to drop the barbell. You do not need bumper plates for doing basic exercises like the deadlift, squats, and the overhead press, but they can still be quite useful, especially when doing heavy deadlifts.
Since bumper plates are made of rubber, they are more durable and, unlike iron, won’t chip or get damaged in any other way when dropped. Note that you want to buy high-quality bumper plates because cheap bumper plates are horrible and can deform easily.
Another major benefit that bumper plates have over iron and other alternatives is that they do not make as much noise when dropped. They will not damage the platform that you are lifting from either, so they are a great choice overall. The only major drawback of bumper plates is that they are significantly more expensive than iron and you’d be hard-pressed to find used ones at a reasonable price.
Are Bumper Plates Necessary
You do not need bumper plates to perform most exercises. In fact, there are significantly more exercises that are done without bumper plates than there are exercises that call for the use of bumpers.
Having said that, if you don’t have bumper plates you may want to avoid certain Olympic exercises, especially if you do not have an excellent platform to drop your weights on.
If you are considering bumper plates only for deadlifts, it will depend on how much you lift. Bumper plates’ main advantage is that you can drop them from the overhead position as well as from the hips.
If your goal is to break records and you regularly lift 400 pounds or more, getting a bunch of bumper plates is a worthwhile investment. While you can mix bumper plates with iron plates, you want to avoid that as much as possible because bumper plates are only designed to handle their own weight, not more.
It goes without saying that you should never drop any weights on solid concrete or similar, bumper plates or not. Heavier and more expensive bumper plates often have steel in them, which makes them more durable and more accurate, but it also means that they are worse at absorbing shocks and bouncing.
Another reason why you might want to go with bumper plates is the noise.
If your family is bothered by the horrible noise that the iron plates make when you drop them, bumper plates could reduce this noise because they can absorb a lot of the shock. Again, you should only drop the weights on shock-absorbing mats. Pillows, mattresses, and other bedroom “gym” equipment won’t cut it.
There is also the question of whether dropping weights is a good idea in the first place. If you are not lifting close to your 1 rep max, you should be able to slowly lower the weights without having to drop them. In that case, bumper plates are not essential. And it is usually much safer to lower the weights and control them on the descent anyway.
Bumper Plate Alternatives
There are a number of different weight plates out there that you can use as an alternative to bumper plates. Most of them are made of cast iron or steel, but the design can vary a lot. You can get iron plates with grip holes in them. They are much easier to carry around and remove from a barbell compared to others. However, avoid weight plates with huge holes.
Note that weight plates can be made of either steel or cast iron. Steel is much more resistant to rust and looks cool and shiny. Cast iron, on the other hand, is significantly cheaper and has more of an industrial look. However, it is prone to rust as it does not have a lot of chromium. You can solve this issue by getting coated weights.
The most common coatings used on weights are rubber and urethane. If you have ever been to a gym, you must have encountered urethane plates. They are the most popular choice in gyms because they are quieter, easier to carry around the gym, and are more durable. They won’t rust like regular cast iron and they are more resistant to drops, though not nearly as much as bumper plates.
The only disadvantage is that urethane and rubber-coated plates tend to cost much more than uncoated weights. Remember that these are only coated and are still more similar to regular iron and steel. This means that you can’t drop them, especially not from a significant height, such as after a clean and jerk.
An honorable mention goes out to technique plates, which are made of durable plastic. They are used to learn the proper form and that’s why they aren’t very heavy. They do, however, are the standard diameter of 45 lb plates. Technique plates are not very cheap, but you can drop them. They absorb the drop, but not as well as bumper plates do and they are very loud.
Do You Need Bumper Plates to Deadlift
Bumper plates have a few significant advantages when it comes to deadlifting. If you are a beginner, you will appreciate that most bumper plates are the standard diameter of Olympic weights, no matter how heavy. This essentially eliminates the need for technique plates because you can use light bumper plates to learn the technique and form of a proper deadlift.
While bumper plates are by no means necessary to deadlift, they do have some advantages. They are a great investment because they are not very loud when you drop them from hip height, especially with high-quality dropping mats. Both your family and your flooring will appreciate this.
But note that many powerlifters use iron and steel plates instead of bumpers. If it is good enough for them, it will be good enough for your deadlifts. Do not drop either of them on an unprotected floor, though!
Bumper plates are undoubtedly an excellent addition to any strength-based or home gym setup. When it comes to the question of necessity though, it’s very difficult to say that bumper plates are absolutely necessary as it will depend on individual needs and equipment.
If you are going to do any sort of Olympic-style weightlifting or don’t quite have solid floor protection, bumper plates can definitely be considered a necessary addition. If, however, your weight training is basic compound movements (bodybuilding type exercises), bumper plates are not essential and you can use iron or urethane plates as an acceptable alternative.