Something you may (or may not) have noticed when training is that there are different-sized barbells.
Have you ever used a bar in the gym for an exercise and found it easy, only to then do the same exercise another day using the same weight – yet found it to feel heavier?
A likely reason is that there are different-sized barbells that have different weights. I’ve personally been caught out by this before using one bar, only to find that it was thinner and lighter than the bar I was used to, meaning I wasn’t actually getting stronger as I thought!
So, does barbell length matter?
In this article, we’ll cover all the different size barbells that you can use and explain what purpose they actually serve. It’s easy to just look at a barbell on its own and assume it’s a standard barbell but there are some slight differences depending on the gym you are using.
This is especially important when buying your own barbell for a home gym. Choose the wrong one and it could be too short for your power rack or too long for your space!
Does Barbell Length Matter?
Barbell length does, in fact, matter and can have a significant impact on how you workout!
Typically, you can find barbells in three common sizes; 5ft, 6ft, and 7ft, with the 7ft being the most popular choice. Modern rack machines are almost all Olympic width, which requires a minimum of 51inches of shaft between the shoulders of the barbell, which requires a 7ft barbell.
If you are using a power rack, squat rack, or bench press for your lifting workout, the 7ft barbell is considered the standard, with 52inches of shaft between the collars to provide plenty of grip space and typically 16inches of loadable sleeve space on either end.
Of the three pieces of equipment, the smallest in-cage clearance between safety catchers is 44inches for the squat rack.
A 7ft barbell will have some excess slop or extra clearance to rack the bar on narrower setups such as squat racks. However, it will fit perfectly on a power rack or bench press with the roughly 2inch slop that is considered a standard for safe weight lifting.
A few “rackable” 6ft barbells are available that provide the same shaft width as the 7ft barbell but have 6inches less loadable sleeve space per side.
These are popular amongst female weightlifters in particular. However, if you are lifting without the use of a rack, a 5ft or 6ft barbell is appropriate for lightweight floor-based workouts such as curls.
Is A Longer Barbell Better?
Barbell length determines the length of the shaft, as well as how many plates you can fit on each sleeve.
Barbell length also determines how wide of a grip you can use while lifting, which makes a massive difference in workout potential for larger stature weight lifters who need the extra space to square their shoulders while lifting.
The best barbell length for your specific workout needs depends on what exercises you are performing and what other equipment you have available. Generally speaking; however, a 7ft barbell is better than either a 6ft barbell or a 5ft barbell because it allows you to do more.
The versatility of a 7ft Olympic barbell means that you can do every exercise needed with a barbell. It will fit all racks, it’s regulation size and weight for Olympic lifts, and it can hold the most weight without bending.
These bars will also hold more weight on either side before they will tip, meaning it’s easier to load and unload the barbell while it’s on the rack.
The 7ft barbell variety will fit the vast majority of modern quality rack systems designed and built to the Olympic width standard. However, with the exception of a few unique, “rackable” 6ft barbells, standard 6ft and 5ft barbells are only suitable for floor work or isolation-type exercises.
You can use a shorter bar for most exercises and if you’re looking to improve your physique or get stronger they will definitely be of benefit. The only issue is that and strength progress you make may not necessarily transfer over to competition lifts on a full-length barbell.
Is A Longer Bar Harder To Lift?
Longer barbells are actually easier to lift with than their smaller counterparts. Short barbells typically require the lifter to use a close grip, where their hands are not spread apart very far. This lifting stance gives the weight lifter a more controlled lift, but it is more challenging to keep a steady, even lift.
The longer the barbell is, the greater its rotational inertia. In other words, longer bars are more resistant to rotating, which translates to a more stable-feeling load balance for weight lifters.
This is only one of the key reasons why Olympic barbell sleeves spin. This rotational inertia makes it very difficult to lift weights if no rotation is present.
Using a longer barbell will also help you lift more evenly, as the lack of rotation will help avoid one sleeve stack raising more quickly than the other.
6Ft VS 7Ft Barbell
Weightlifters of all stature can benefit from using either the 6ft barbell or the 7ft barbell in their workouts. As we’ve already discussed, a 7ft barbell provides the user with the most options for weight lifting exercises, with varying degrees of difficulty as the sleeves can hold more weight.
The less popular 6ft barbell will only fit rack machines if it is a specialized, “rackable” model with a minimum of 51 inches of shaft for clearance. The “rackable” 6ft barbell only provides 6 inches of load space at either end of the barbell, however, which dramatically decreases how much you can lift with it.
If accessory work and floor-based weight training are part of your regular workout, it would be beneficial to have a 6ft barbell on hand for increased control on lightweight work.
What Size Barbell Do You Need?
What size barbell you need for your weight lifting workouts depends on a number of factors that you should consider carefully before making any purchases.
You want a barbell that will fit your weight lifting needs and help you achieve all of your exercise goals. Choosing the right barbell size will depend on factors such as-
- Your stature
- Your gym setup (what machines will you be using?
- Your available space if training at home
- Your physique and lifting goals
- Whether or not you plan to compete officially
Consider Your Stature
Average to large stature weight lifters benefit the most from a long barbell that provides enough space for proper shoulder line up and larger weight limits on the sleeves.
In contrast, many smaller stature weight lifters prefer a shorter barbell to increase control and increase potential as an accessory and floor-based workout tool.
Consider Your Equipment
If you have a modern full/half-rack or a bench press that you plan to use your barbell with, you’ll almost certainly have to go with a 7ft barbell to ensure it will have the necessary shaft clearance to rack it safely.
However, if you aren’t planning to combine your barbell with other equipment, you can choose the barbell length that feels the best for off-the-floor pick-up exercises.
Consider Your Goals
Depending on what you want to accomplish with your weight lifting, different size bars can accommodate your goals. For example, if you’re going to do a ton of lightweight reps or accessory work, a 5ft or 6ft barbell would be perfect. On the other hand, if you want to lift as much as possible, you will obviously want the 7ft barbell, which has the most loading space for plates.
Consider Competition Requirements
Remember, if you intend to compete in any official capacity whatsoever, you will need to become comfortable with using the Olympic lifting barbell.
For mens’ competitions in Olympic lifting, they use a 7ft barbell (actual size is between 80-88inch). For womens’ competitions in Olympic lifting, they use a specialized 6-6.5ft barbell with a rackable shaft that matches the 7ft bars shaft.
It’s often assumed that barbells come with a standard size or weight. When you ignore specialty bars like a safety squat bar, EZ curl bar, or tricep bar you’ll find there are three common and official barbell lengths.
These are a 5ft bar, 6ft bar, and 7ft Olympic barbell. For so many lengths, weights, and types, does barbell length matter really?
Overall, barbell length matters for 3 important reasons:
- Shorter bars cannot be racked properly on a power rack or squat rack unless they are designed specifically to be rackable
- A 7ft barbell is needed to perform regulation Olympic and powerlifting exercises
- Not all barbells will be usable depending on your available space.
When looking to purchase your own barbell – or maybe when using one in a gym – it’s important to know why you are using the bar and what its limitations could be.
You can’t bring a tape measure with you to the gym so instead, stand the bar upright and compare it against your own height. This is the quickest test you can do to ensure you are using the correct barbell for your desired purpose.