The deadlift is one of the most difficult exercises to master (excluding the more technical Olympic weightlifting exercises), yet it’s also one of the most beneficial in terms of strength and muscle growth, so it’s an exercise most people want to prioritize.
The issue – Deadlifts are hard!
When you combine learning the technique with the huge loading potential that you get with a deadlift, it’s easy for some people to look for hacks to make them easier. One of these “hacks” (or cheats depending on your perspective) that lifters have stumbled on in recent years is the use of bumper plates when deadlifting.
For some reason, people can deadlift more with bumper plates than they can with regular steel plates so why is that? In this article, we’ll answer the question “do bumper plates make deadlift easier” because surprisingly, the answer is yes!
Do Bumper Plates Make Deadlift Easier
Bumper plates can often cause an illusion, particularly if you are new to the gym and see someone with a tonne of bumper plates loaded onto a barbell.
This is because bumper plates are usually the same diameter (regardless of size), yet vary in thickness and are considerably thicker than an iron weight plate or a competition Olympic weight plate. This means that loading up a bar for deadlifts with bumper plates will give the illusion that you are lifting more weight than you actually are.
The reason this is an illusion is that using bumper plates for deadlifting is actually easier than if you were to use any other type of weight plate. This may come as a surprise as I’m sure many people will think that surely a 45lb plate weighs 45lbs, regardless of the material or size.
This is true but there are other factors that affect how heavy a weight feels during a lift – something we’ve covered in more detail before with these two articles:
So, why is it that bumper plates make deadlifts easier?
Why Are Bumper Plates Easier to Deadlift
Bumper plates are easier to deadlift for two reasons:
- The thicker plates create more bar bend
- The plates create more bar bend from reducing the range of motion
Let’s look at each of these factors in more detail individually.
1) Bumper Plates are Thicker Creating more Bar Bend
Firstly, bumper plates are thicker than any other type of weight plate. This means that they take up more space on the barbell with each additional plate you add.
The reason this is important to note is that with each additional bumper plate that you add, the distance from the point of lifting (where you grasp the barbell) increases.
Why is this important?
Well, I can’t pretend to understand the exact science behind it but to simplify it, the further the weight is from the center of mass, the more the bar will bend. As bumper plates are so thick, the more you add the more the bar will bend as you start a lift.
If you were to load steel plates right the way to the end of the bar it would have the same impact but because steel plates are slimmer, the amount of weight on the bar likely wouldn’t be liftable!
With bumper plates, they are much thicker so the more you add to the bar, the more it will bend as you prepare to lift it. The bar bending in itself isn’t the key point here, it’s the impact it has from the floor. As you start to pull a bar loaded with bumper plates, the ones closest to the center of mass will rise from the floor whilst the furthest plate will still remain in contact.
This means that from the initial pull, you’ll lift most of the weight with minimal effort. It’s only once the endplate comes from the floor that you’ll truly be lifting the weight and this is the impact that bar bend and leverage have when deadlifting.
To summarise, the more space bumper plates take upon the barbell sleeves, the more whip/flex/bend you’ll have in the bar when starting a lift. This then makes it easier because you are placed into a mechanically advantageous starting position for the deadlift.
2) Bumper Plates Place You In a Mechanically Advantageous Position
This is linked to the above point for a number of reasons. The bar bend that results from using bumper plates for a deadlift means that you start a deadlift in a mechanically advantageous position.
An example of a mechanically advantageous position is raising heels during a front squat to get a greater range of motion (for muscle activation) or using a sumo deadlift to reduce the range of motion (making the lift technically easier).
With bumper plates on a barbell, you’ll lift the bar from a position higher than mid-shin by the point in which all weight plates are off the floor. Block pulls are “easier” because you are lifting a shorter range of motion so most people can lift more weight than they could with a traditional deadlift from the floor.
The bar bend caused by bumper plates simulates this as the bar will start from a higher position while you get set for the lift – Getting set basically means you’ve grasped the bar to remove slack, compressed your spin, pushed heels into the ground, and done everything except lift all weight off the ground.
From this point, as mentioned earlier, you’ll easily lift a few plates (closest to you) off the floor with relative ease due to bar bend and bar deflection, so by the time you actually take the full weight, you’ll be in a much more upright position and will have reduced the range of motion for the exercise, essentially making it easier.
Are Bumper Plates Necessary for Deadlifts
For the benefits of using bumper plates when deadlifting, it’s not true that they are necessary for deadlifts, though there are a number of benefits to using them.
For powerlifting competitions, there is a standard for using “competition” steel weight plates so this perfectly demonstrates that bumper plates shouldn’t be your first choice when deadlifting as they are not the plates that would be used in a competition format.
Bumper plates also reduce your range of motion and place you into a mechanically advantageous position when performing a deadlift. Lifters with a short torso and long arms will already appreciate the benefit they get when deadlifting due to increased leverage.
Well, with some of the bar bending and some plates coming off the floor before you physically take on the weight/load yourself, a deadlift then resembles more of a block pull or rack pull due to the reduced range of motion you’ll need to go through.
This is beneficial for increasing weight and getting stronger in the top portion of a lift – which is where the real benefit for using bumper plates when deadlifting occurs, but just keep in mind that you won’t improve your lifts from the floor doing this and could become weaker from this position if it’s neglected.
There is also the option to mix bumper plates with iron plates to try and get the benefit of bumper plates whilst still working within a limited budget or storage capacity (we all know how difficult it is to store bumpers at home!).
When deadlifting, there are two schools of thought. One where you want to get stronger with no mechanical advantage so perform a traditional deadlift with steel plates (no sumo deadlift, no deadlift bar, no bumper plates), and then those that perhaps want to ego lift.
Don’t get me wrong, there are obvious advantages to using a deadlift bar, sumo deadlift, or bumper plates to put you into a mechanically advantageous position, however, the people doing this should be more advanced level lifters that are doing it to work on weaknesses or progress the weight for a CNS viewpoint.
If you are a beginner, bumper plates will make deadlifting easier and could easily give you a false sense of how much you are lifting. While it’s true that you might like 400lbs, this won’t necessarily transition over to a deadlift with cast iron plates.
Therefore, there is no right or wrong to using bumper plates for deadlifting. As long as you are aware of the advantage they give and that you track your numbers like for like (bumper deadlifts numbers vs bumper deadlift numbers) then there is no issue.
People can even benefit from this if you have poor deadlift mechanics (long torso with shorter arms), so while deadlifting with bumper plates is technically easier, there is a reason behind it and it’s not necessarily cheating if you do this with intent.