Cast iron weight plates can last a lifetime. Old-school bodybuilding gyms and original home gym enthusiasts have rusted plates that serve their purpose for years of abuse and second-hand plates are always popping up online for a good restoration project.
The reason I’m making that point is because iron weight plates last a long time when used correctly. Bumper plates, on the other hand, are designed to be dropped and absorb impact which has many people wondering are they durable and how long do bumper plates last?
A good quality bumper plate will typically last for 5 – 10 years with good maintenance and correct use. Some bumper plates will last forever depending on the frequency of use and exercises used but bumper plates are designed to absorb impact and allow for durability and longevity of use.
Bumper plates are quite literally designed to withstand heavy-duty use for Olympic lifts (or CrossFit style lifts with dropping the weights) but that doesn’t mean they are indestructible. In this article, I’ll cover how long bumper plates will last as well as what you can do to ensure they don’t break or deteriorate.
What Are Bumper Plates
When you’re shopping around for weight plates to add to your home gym, you might be surprised at the number of options out there. While the sound of cast iron clanging and banging is an iconic part of the culture of weightlifting, modern lifting sports, from Olympic lifts and Crossfit to powerlifting, have seen a huge rise in the popularity and use of bumper plates.
Bumper plates are weight plates designed to cause the least amount of damage when dropped on a floor during a lift. It might be surprising to learn that they aren’t just metal plates coated in safety rubber, but they’re actually made pretty much entirely out of high-density rubber, or urethane.
Although you might come across some very light bumper plates (2.5-5kg) called technique plates, high-level Olympic bumper plates are usually made up of a steel core surrounded by a thick layer of this high-density rubber, with a metal hub for loading onto your barbell. The first time you see these colorful rubber plates you might assume they’re some form of training tool, but in actual fact, they are used in some of the most elite levels of competitive weightlifting.
The reason bumper plates are so perfect for Olympic and CrossFit competitions is that they are designed to be dropped from a height without causing damage to the lifter or the surface they are falling onto. If you want some proof of that, check out the video below:
When you’re training for these lifts that rely on speed and power, the chances of dropping the weight is much higher than in most (think lifts like the snatch, or overhead squat), so the obvious question to anyone unfamiliar with bumper plates is how long they can handle this punishment.
Can Bumper Plates Break
The short answer here is yes, they can break, though it definitely isn’t something that’s going to happen easily. Although built to withstand being dropped from a height repeatedly, improper use and dropping onto the wrong surfaces will, over time, damage and eventually break your plates.
The idea behind bumper plates is essentially that they are designed to bounce off the floor, minimizing damage to the surface as well as the plates. This happens when all the plates on your bar (in an ideal situation) hit the floor at the same time, due to the universal sizing, and the high-density rubber absorbs the impact and spreads the force throughout the plates.
How Long Do Bumper Plates Last
Bumper plates are designed to be dropped into the correct flooring – with all the appropriate protective equipment your bumper plates should last you around 5 years, however, if you want to maximize the lifespan of your plates you should make sure to have the right set up to protect not just your plates, but your floor as well.
Dropping Bumper Plates
One of the best things about using bumper plates at home is that no one is there to judge you for dropping your barbell. Even though it’s perfectly safe and proper form, when executed in a controlled manner, you know that there’s always going to be someone at the gym who thinks you’re just being rude.
It’s crucial that if you are planning on training with bumper plates and dropping the barbells at home to make sure you’re dropping them onto the right flooring. Investing in rubber inlay flooring in your gym area is something that should be considered essential if you want to avoid damage to your equipment and home. Although it can be more expensive, it’s always wiser to go for the thicker padding, especially if you’ll be dropping the barbell from overhead.
Once you’ve got your flooring ready to take the impact of your bumper plates, there’s one golden rule to remember:
Do not drop the bar unless you have equal to or more than the weight of the bar on both sides of the bar.
It’s simple: the lighter your bumper plates the easier it is going to be for them to break. If you’re lifting fairly lightweight and only have 10 or 25lb plates on either side of your bar, for example, you’re going to see them damaged much sooner than your 35 and 45lb plates. This isn’t to say that you can’t drop your bumper plates, but if you’re going to be dropping a lighter bar think about reinforcing your protective flooring beforehand.
Can Bumper Plates Be Dropped On Concrete
If you’re building your home gym on a budget and building a platform or installing rubber flooring isn’t an option for you, don’t worry. You can definitely still drop bumper plates directly onto concrete, but the damage to your equipment will happen more quickly – your floor on the other hand should take barely any damage at all.
The reason for this is that rubber mats used for flooring or lifting platforms are not only used to protect your flooring (though they do a great job for this), they are also used to protect your equipment and improve safety when lifting.
When you drop a weight onto rubber flooring, the force of impact is absorbed and distributed over a greater distance which is why weights will bounce when dropped on a rubber floor. When you drop a weight on a concrete floor, however, the force of impact is directed downwards and the force is not distributed but rather concentrated.
Therefore, there is a much greater chance that dropping a bumper plate on concrete repeatedly could easily result in the plate breaking as the force generated on landing is much greater. While you can drop bumper plates onto concrete, I’d highly recommend avoiding it if possible as it will be sure to damage your plates in the long run.
Are Bumper Plates Worth It
Cast iron, rubber plates, and bumper plates all have their own strengths and weaknesses, but at the end of the day, it really is down to personal preference. If you’re going to be doing more bodybuilding exercises where the chance of dropping your bar is much lower, cast iron plates will be ideal for you.
If you’re going to be doing a lot of CrossFit or Olympic lifts, however, you’re definitely going to be dropping your bar. Bumper plates are a must for these kinds of exercises, for the sake of your floors, your gear, and your wallet.
Bumper plates are going to be an essential purchase for any home gym if you intend on doing any Olympic lifts or will be dropping the weights for any reason at all. The reason they are essential is to protect both your equipment and also the floor.
Bumper plates are designed to absorb impact and force making them the ideal choice of plates for use in most home gyms. If used in the correct manner, bumper plates can easily last 5 – 10 years through moderate use or 3 – 5 years with intensive, daily use.