If you’ve been training in a commercial gym, have a cheap barbell in your home gym, or you’re just freakishly strong and can load the bar up with significant weight, then chances are you’ve come across a bent barbell.
When I first started training and saw the videos of Ronnie Coleman loading up a bar for deadlifts or more recently Eddie Hall or Hafthor Bjornsson putting up world record deadlift numbers, the thing to always catch your eye is the barbell bending under the weight…
When you see the big guys move this weight and bend the bar, it’s motivating. When it comes to using a bent bar though, it’s less impressive and more of an irritation.
A bent barbell makes it difficult to unrack weights, it’s hard on your joints when pressing (due to unwanted rotation of the bar), and also poses a risk of injury – again due to the bar rotating during a lift. In this article, we’re therefore going to consider “can you use a bent barbell” and see if there’s anything you can do to fix a bent barbell.
Why Do Barbells Bend
You might think at first that barbells bend when someone lifts 600 pounds, but that is not necessarily true. Even cheap, low-quality barbells can handle quite a significant load with many basic barbells able to hold 1000 – 1500lbs total weight. So, why do barbells bend?
The most common reason why barbells bend is when they hit the ground or power rack first, instead of the weight plates. Even 200 to 300 pounds could bend a standard Olympic barbell. The risk further increases when one side hits the power rack first.
But the barbell can bend if you throw it on the floor as well. Cheaper barbells tend to bend quite easily, but high-quality barbells can survive drops even with 1000 pounds. Also, the material that the barbell is made of affects the flexibility of the bar.
Some types of barbells, such as powerlifting bars used by professionals, are made to be a bit bouncy and have what is know as barbell whip. This in turn both makes the barbell more resistant to bending. The bounce can also help quite a lot with explosive movements, such as the clean and jerk.
If you have ever watched a video of someone deadlifting 600 pounds or more, you may have noticed that the barbell bends during the lift. This is completely normal and most of the time the bend will be only temporary and the barbell with snap back in place once the barbell is back on the ground. Again, dropping it will make that bend permanent.
Can You Use a Bent Barbell
Using a bent barbell is not the best idea, but if you can’t afford to replace it at the moment, you can continue using it. But the answer changes depending on where the bend is, how severe it is, and what exercises you plan to use it for.
Let’s start by talking about the location of the bend.
If the barbell is bent on one side, using it for even the most basic lifts is extremely dangerous. The weight distribution will be off and it can lead to serious injuries. Of course, you can still use the barbell without any weight plates. The bend can also affect pin rotation and might even lead to the barbell snapping.
But if the bend is not that severe and it is in the middle, the weight distribution should be fine.
You should still avoid any athletic exercises and stick to basic moves like deadlifts, squats, the overhead press, and the bench press. But even those exercises can cause discomfort and lead to injury, so avoid using the barbell overall and do alternative exercises until you find a replacement.
To summarize, you can use a bent barbell providing the bend is only minor and is towards the center of the bar. As a general rule though, you should not use any barbell that is severely bent with an arc or is bent on one side as this will mean that weight is not evenly distributed on the bar and you risk injury.
Can You Fix a Bent Barbell
Fixing a bent barbell is difficult, time-consuming, and very expensive. Changing the bearings is almost impossible, but you can at least clean and lube them along with the barbell sleeves. The real problem is that you must have a press to straighten it.
The barbell needs to be heated up to a certain temperature to make it more pliable and then hammered with a metal press until it’s straightened.
Even after the barbell is “fixed”, it will never be the same because the barbell will be compromised structurally. If you can’t see the bend anymore with your naked eye, it does not mean that the barbell is good to use.
So that means it is a much better idea to sell the barbell to someone willing to fix it themself and replace it with a better, brand-new one. As a side note, look for a high-quality barbell that can hold a weight that is significantly heavier than what you can lift in the first place.
How to Lift With a Bent Barbell
First and foremost, you should grab the barbell at the point where it is bent. This is because the barbell will always rotate back to the bent-side up. When doing exercises like bench press, this can become extremely dangerous because the bar will rotate in your hand. So, keep this in mind at all times.
If the bend is minimal and the barbell does not have rolling pins, you may be able to use it for most exercises like squats, deadlifts, overhead press, and so on. Do not use the barbell to lift anything too heavy. You will be better off by doing a higher number of reps instead to stay on the safe side.
It goes without saying that lifting heavy with a bent barbell is extremely dangerous because the bar can snap or throw the weight distribution off. Avoid explosive movements because those put significant stress on the bar as well.
Weightlifting equipment often gets beat up in the gym. Heavy weights, dropping the weights, and banging and clanging on the rack/pins all contribute to a barbell taking damage over time and while barbells have a solid weight capacity of up to 1500lbs, they can still be prone to bending.
When this happens you have two choices, replace the barbell with a better quality model or try to continue using the bent barbell. As general advice, you should not use damaged equipment due to safety and injury concerns, especially when lifting with heavy weight but this will depend on how bent the bar is.
A slight bend should not be an issue, especially if the bend is central but any excessive bend to the bar should be a clear sign that it shouldn’t be used and will need replacing.