Barbell knurling is something people don’t often pay attention to, that is until you find it’s too rough and leads to calluses when lifting – something most casual lifters hate!
Something even fewer people pay attention to is the position of the knurling on the barbell. Knurling is often strategically placed to provide additional grip during a lift. This is to improve performance but it’s also a very important safety feature to stop the barbell from slipping during a lift.
Center knurling is one of these barbell positions and it’s primarily used for squats, however, do you need center knurling for squats?
Center knurling on a barbell is used for squats and is needed to prevent the barbell from slipping during back squats. The center knurling rests on a weightlifter’s upper traps and is designed to prevent the barbell from slipping and is used primarily as a safety feature when squatting.
For anyone new to weightlifting or considering purchasing a barbell for home use, we’ll cover below what center knurling is used for and whether or not you really need it for squats. It’s not something that is essential but there are definitely certain people who will benefit from it and possibly require it as a certainty!
Why is Knurling Important?
Knurling is vital in securing the bar in place when performing a squat. Thanks to its rough surface pattern, knurling generates more friction. It allows the bar to grip the back and prevent it from rolling and falling out of position, leading to a potential injury.
The same principle applies to your grip. On movements like the bench and deadlift, knurling helps you grip the bar without fear of it slipping out of your hands. This is not only an important safety measure but prevents your grip from becoming a limiting factor, enabling you to lift more weight.
Additionally, center knurling can act as a visual prompt for lifters, allowing them to find the center of the bar and align themselves correctly before performing a squat.
Do You Need Center Knurling for Squats?
For competitive powerlifters or weightlifters, you do need center knurling for squats. This is because you need a stable bar position to perform the lift safely but also to allow you to generate more force and lift more weight. A moving barbell will cause lifters to lose balance and momentum during a lift.
If we are being super analytical, center knurling is a useful addition for squats but not necessarily essential for the average gym-goer. Knurling only increases friction and reduces the chance of a bar slipping or moving during a lift but it doesn’t prevent it.
Even the highest grade knurling will still have the potential to move when placed on an uneven surface (like the upper back when squatting) so it’s difficult to say that you really do need it. What is clear though is that it’s definitely useful and better to have it than to not have it when it comes to a squat.
So, what does center knurling do when squatting? When loading a barbell for a back squat, you’re going to be taking the majority of the weight with your mid/upper traps, rear delts, and other muscles of the upper back.
Any lifter will know that this is not providing a stable surface for the bar to rest. It’s stable enough to support lifting weights in excess of 400lbs and we certainly see some huge squatting numbers in powerlifting or strongman competitions, but something used to make this surface more stable is center knurling on the barbell.
The center knurling grips to your clothing and traps to help minimize bar movement during a lift. It’s efficient, and for most people necessary.
This, however, is only true for certain types of squats so we are not saying that if you are looking to buy or use a barbell that it needs to have center knurling, rather that it’s beneficial to have, especially if you’re going to be back squatting with regularity.
Do You Need Center Knurling for Front Squats?
No, you do not need center knurling for front squats. With front squats, the bar rests on the front of the shoulders with your hands gripping the outer knurling to help hold the bar in place. No center knurling is needed.
In fact, center knurling can cause some discomfort when performing front squats. Because the bar is placed across the shoulders, it often rubs against the neck. The center knurling can add to this discomfort, thanks to its ridged surface.
Do You Need Center Knurling for Back Squats?
Center knurling does provide some benefits for back squatting. It allows the bar to stay firmly in position without fear of rolling. But the benefits of center knurling vary depending on your squat variation.
When performing high bar squats, the bar should be positioned just above the traps. In this position, the traps act as a natural shelf, helping to secure the bar in place.
By using the traps as a natural shelf, center knurling does not play as big of a role in preventing the bar from rolling compared to the low bar squat.
Of all the squat variations, center knurling offers the most benefits for the low bar squat. With low bar squats, the bar should be positioned resting on the rear deltoids. With these muscles not being as raised as the traps, there can be a tendency for the bar to roll when a low bar squat is performed.
This is where center knurling comes into play. The knurling increases friction and allows the bar to stay firmly on the rear deltoids without fear of rolling.
Check out this video for more useful tips to prevent the barbell from rolling during squats:
Why Do Some Barbells Have No Center Knurling?
Bars without center knurling are commonly found in CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting gyms. In such gyms, knurling can be viewed as more of a hindrance than a help.
In sports such as CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting, center knurling can get in the way. During front squats, center knurling can rub against the skin and feel uncomfortable.
Center knurling is also unnecessary in these sports. Movements like the snatch, clean, and their many variations do not require center knurling so it would just be an additional cost to the manufacturer when it’s not needed or even wanted!.
When Should I Use Center Knurling?
While choosing a bar with center knurling is down to personal preference, there are several instances where it is beneficial.
If You’re a Beginner
Other than the added safety of helping the bar stay in place during the squat, center knurling also helps with proper positioning before attempting a squat, acting as a visual indicator for the center, allowing you to set up evenly.
This is particularly important for beginners who may have trouble doing this naturally. Knowing precisely when the center of the bar allows beginners to set up correctly and helps prevent the bar from tipping when it is unracked.
If You Plan on Competing
When it comes to competition day, you want to eliminate as many variables as possible. When going for a PB, the last thing you want is to find center knurling or a lack thereof when squatting. To avoid any unwanted surprises, you should look to replicate a competition environment in your training, right down to the equipment you use.
If you are getting into powerlifting, knurling is non-negotiable. All powerlifting bars have center knurling. For Crossfit and Olympic weightlifting, it can vary. Some federations will use bars with center knurling. Others won’t.
The best plan of action is to find out what spec equipment your federation or gym uses. If your chosen federation uses bars with center knurling, then there is your answer. If not, then feel free to get a bar without knurling.
If You Have a Home Gym
At the end of the day, center knurling is there for an added layer of safety. This is especially important when training alone in a home gym or if you are new to weight training. Center knurling will not only help with proper positioning it will also help prevent any mishaps that may lead to injury.
While not entirely relevant, two things to take into consideration when training solo is how to bail out of a squat and also how to use safety pins.
If you are new to squatting or looking to purchase a barbell, we know that knurling is something people assume they need – but never really know what it’s used for. Center knurling is a prime example of this.
The reason barbells have center knurling is to provide extra grip and to prevent bar roll when back squatting which means that center knurling is essential for squats. This is to make them safer when training alone but also so that you can generate more power by staying balanced during the lift.
It’s true that this is only really necessary if you are a more advanced lifter focusing on maximizing your lifting numbers, however, from a safety perspective, everyone can benefit from center knurling when squatting. For this reason, we’d always say you need center knurling for a squat and should opt for these bars where possible.
The only exception is if you primarily perform CrossFit or Olympic weightlifting. For this kind of exercise, center knurling can actually be a hindrance so it’s best to avoid it completely.