There are a lot of factors that go into weight plate selection for a home gym.
- Weight requirements
- Storage space
- Weight plate material
One of the most important considerations is the final point above and this is – which material weight plate to choose. Coincidently, the material you choose will also influence (or be influenced by) some of the other factors listed above.
For any avid home gym or garage gym owner, the choice of weight plate will typically be bumper plates vs steel plates. These are by far the most popular and common types of weight plate available for domestic use but the difficulty is choosing the best option.
In this article, I’ll compare both types of weight plates and see if one option is clearly the best for a home gym or whether it depends on individual circumstances.
What are Bumper Plates
Bumper plates are a specialist type of weight plate – though they’ve become much more common due to Crossfit and garage/home gyms – and are designed for a very specific purpose which is to be dropped.
Bumper plates are noticeably different from other types of weight plates and have the following dimensions/specifications for a standard 45lb bumper plate:
- Diameter – 450mm
- Collar opening – 50mm
- Width – 82mm
- Material – vulcanized rubber
Bumper plates are thicker than most standard weight plates you find in a commercial gym but when it comes to the actual size of the plate, the outer diameter matches that of
A dense rubber makes up bumper plates. If a bumper plate is dropped, no damage will be caused to itself, you, or the floor you are standing on. Over time, continuously dropping your plates will damage them.
Types of Bumper Plates
Bumper plates come in two different types. These two types are training and competition. The first style of plate is used by people for training purposes.
The second type of plate is used in weightlifting competitions. Each lifting event is required to have a set of standards that everyone always follows.
Plates followed these guidelines to ensure fair competition for all the people involved. This means that these weight plates need to be calibrated so are much more expensive but also more accurate in terms of the weight for each bumper plate.
However, for the majority of people, training plates are great for a home or garage gym and are often the better option. These plates are durable and cheaper than competitive style plates.
All plates are made to the same exact specifications. However, bumper plates vary in both thickness and construction when compared with other types of plates. These are two added benefits of bumper plates which we’ll now cover in a bit more detail.
Bumper Plate Pros
One of the main benefits of a bumper plate is durability.
When you drop a bumper plate, the force of the impact is spread out across a large area. Damage to either the floor or plate is mitigated and this is the key reason why bumper plates are preferred for Crossfit and Olympic weightlifting where dropping the bar after a lift is common practice.
There is a larger selection of exercises that use lighter weights with large diameters. These exercises benefit more from plates with these qualities.
To summarize, the benefits of bumper plates are:
- Durable and long lasting
- Ideal for Crossfit and Olympic weightlifting
- Can be dropped from height
- Easier to maintain as they don’t rust (except the insert)
Bumper Plate Bounce
The uniform diameter of these plates creates another benefit. The bounce rate is reduced when dropping the bar because of the weights’ reduced size. Additionally, the rubber that coats each bumper plate will absorb the impact of each drop. The rubber ensures that there is no bounce-back upwards, which can hurt you.
Bumper Plate Cons
Bumper plates are expensive! If you are only just setting up a home gym then looking at some bumper plates are your weight plate of choice could set you back quite a large chunk of cash. A good quality bumper plate can cost upwards of $3.50 per lb or weight – in comparison, bargain hunters can find a used steel plate for $1 per lb.
I’ve referenced a “good quality” bumper plate specifically because a cheap bumper plate will not last as long as one made from a better quality material. They will probably be replaced in a year due to the purpose of their use so cheap bumper plates are a false benefit. The long-term cost is definitely greater if you buy cheap plates.
These types of plates are also much wider. This means each plate takes up more room on the barbell. Additionally, they will take up more storage space due to their larger size so it can be challenging if you have a smaller home or garage gym.
However, there is a con that has to do with the coating used on each bumper plate. The con is that new rubber can tend to smell, in particular, they have a toxic smell.
This smell can make you feel sick when training, and be incredibly annoying. This is no rubber that lacks a smell when bought new which is why we’ve done a guide on how to get the rubber smell out of weights, but purchasing bumper plates that use virgin rubber ensures that they will be less smelly.
To summarize, the main drawbacks of bumper plates are:
- Have a thicker width so you can fit fewer plates on the barbell
- More difficult to store as they take up more space
- Have a toxic smell that lasts a while when new
What are Steel Plates?
Steel plates are the classic choice for most gyms and were one of the first types of weight plates. Due to their popularity, affordability, and longevity, steel plates are one of the most used types of weight plate in both commercial and home gyms worldwide.
As with any plate, there are different sizes and weights so there is no set specification, and most plates on the market are not calibrated so even if you buy a 45lb iron plate, it might not actually end up weighing 45lbs!
Steel Plate Pros
Arguably the main benefit of using steel plates is the cost. Steel plates are among the cheapest options whilst also providing long-term value. Vinyl and concrete weight plates are cheaper but last nowhere near as long as steel plates so instead of defining steel plates as cheap, it’s best to say they offer the most value for money.
One benefit of steel plates is the fact that they are easier to grab. On the other hand, the other plates are solid and do not have holes to grab through. This is due to the plastic covering on them.
A second benefit of the steel plate is the idea that they are a long-term investment. If you care for them properly, they will last you a long time and this is simply because steel is a solid material which makes it ideal for weightlifting.
To summarize, the main benefits of steel weight plates are:
- Budget-friendly, they are a cheap option ideal for starter gyms
- Very durable and will last for 10 – 20 years or more depending on use
- Thinner so you can fit more weight on the bar
Steel Plate Cons
One of the main drawbacks of iron plates is that while they are a general-purpose weight plate, they are not the most versatile choice. Steel weight plates cannot be dropped for two simple reasons:
- Steel plates can damage your floor very easily as cement can be cracked by the impact
- Steel plates will break when repeatedly dropped
Also, your bar is able to be damaged by steel plates. Due to the lack of rubber coating, steel plates lack the shock absorption that bumper plates have so when it comes to any type of “dropping” exercise like Olympic weightlifting employs, steel plates are not a good option.
For this reason, steel plates are most commonly used for bodybuilding-type training. This is because reps are slow, controlled, and the weight is not intentionally dropped in between reps or sets.
Other cons to using steel plates are that they are hard to maintain due to rusting (they are the type of plate most prone to rust)
To summarize, the main drawbacks of using steel plates are:
- Iron plates are not designed to be dropped and can damage both the floor and the weights themselves when dropped
- Harder to maintain as they rust easily
- Lack the versatility of rubber plates
Other Weight Plate Options
This article is a direct comparison between two types of weight plates but for some further information, there are a few other popular types of weight plates below which also use some variation or rubber or steel.
Urethane Coated Steel Weights
An alternative option is urethane-coated steel weights. This type of weight training is usually found in large commercial gyms. Large gyms typically choose this type of weight because they are quieter, cleaner, and look more professional than other weights that can be used. These weights are also safer and easier to move.
Urethane-coated plates cost closer to bumper plates than steel plates. However, these plates are not made to be dropped over and over again like bumper plates. That means they are unusable for Olympic weightlifting training and Crossfit.
If you are doing Olympic weightlifting or Crossfit, go with the virgin rubber bumper plates or steel plates. Either of those will serve you well and help you with either Crossfit or Olympic weightlifting training.
Technique plates are an option you can use for Olympic weightlifting training. This type of weight is one solid piece made of plastic. These plates are typically found in five and ten-pound plates. They are also the predecessor of bumper plates.
If you’re new to lifting, these will help you safely get the forms correct. Technique plates can be a bit expensive, so if you really feel like it, you can always skip that step and get steel or bumper plates.
These are the perfect budget choice. Use them with floors that have rubber mats on them. If not, they’ll start to break down quicker than other types of bumper plates. Only use these on flat smooth floors.
If you can, you should go with plates that use virgin rubber. However, crumbed rubber plates are good for a tight budget.
Bumper Plates vs Steel Plates: Which is Best For a Home Gym?
You’re probably wondering which is better for a home gym, bumper plates, or steel plates? The truth is, it entirely depends on you and what you are looking for.
Bumper plates ensure that you minimize the damage to yourself and your home. The rubber coating of bumper plates ensures that they do not bounce back up and they absorb impact which is best suited for garage gym flooring.
These should also be a go-to option for anyone that trains Crossfit or does Olympic weightlifting exercises.
However, nothing feels as good as lifting a classic steel plate. It’s gritty, heavy, and fulfilling. They’re a long-term investment that will last a long time if properly looked after. However, they can damage your floor and hurt you, so always be careful.
At the end of the day, the choice is really up to you? What calls to you more, the bumper plate or the steel plate? Are you worried about safety and damage? Then choose the rubber. If not, the steel may be best for you.
You should also keep in mind that there is nothing to stop you from mixing bumper plates with steel plates to get the benefit of both weight plates.
Steel and bumper plates are two of the most popular and commonly owned weight plates on the market. Both have their own unique set of benefits (with some drawbacks to each of course) but when putting them head to head, the best option will depend on personal preference.
If you are training Crossfit or Olympic weightlifting, bumper plates need to be your priority option. They are durable, can withstand being dropped, and are specifically designed for this type of training. They are even useful for powerlifting type training as well. Just keep in mind that bumper plates in general are more expensive.
If you are training for bodybuilding, strength training, or general fitness then iron/steel plates are likely a better option. They are cheaper, hard-wearing, and easier to store so are an ideal option for getting started with a home gym.