Gym etiquette is important and so too is the practice of safe weightlifting. This seems like an obvious statement but sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between a necessary act and a plain foolish one.
In a gym environment, people either drop weights as an ego/careless act or they will drop weights intentionally because the exercise calls for it. This is an important point to keep in mind and while you may see people drop the bar during explosive Olympic lifts, you should never repeat this and drop an empty bar.
Why can’t you drop an empty bar? You should never drop an empty barbell as it will damage the bearings and break the barbell. When dropping an empty barbell, it lacks the shock absorption that is provided by bumper plates and the rigidity of the bar will result in moveable parts like the bearings and sleeves becoming damaged.
If you want to look after your equipment, we’d recommend reading on to see why you should drop an empty barbell and what most people in the gym are doing wrong!
Can You Drop an Empty Barbell?
Barbells are durable and not only can they withstand impact from a drop but many Olympic bars are designed to handle being dropped. Don’t believe us? Check out this barbell drop test to see just how durable a heavy-duty barbell can be…
This means that sure, you can drop a barbell during a lift, they do it in the Olympics, and bars are designed to handle a drop. But should you drop an empty barbell? No, not ever.
First off, it’s considered poor gym etiquette. Weight rooms have etiquette, too. Show others working out some consideration. Don’t drop an empty barbell or anything else which is disruptive and careless.
It’s also dangerous. You could end up hurting someone or rendering the equipment useless because of carelessness.
Secondly, you’ll damage your bar. If your working out at home and don’t need to worry about gym etiquette, you definitely do need to worry about the quality and longevity of your equipment!
Why Can’t You Drop an Empty Barbell
We’ve already covered etiquette, you shouldn’t drop an empty barbell because it’s not only inconsiderate to others lifting nearby but also dangerous due to uncontrollable bounce when it hits the floor or rack.
Gym floors are often made of materials with some elasticity and bounce. If you drop an empty barbell on a floor like that, there’s a chance it can bounce back up and hit someone or something. That kind of reckless behavior can result in an injury.
The other issue (more important to you reading this) is with damage to the barbell itself.
Go into any Crossfit gym or speak to any Rogue rep and the first thing you will be told is – “don’t drop an empty barbell”.
This is the more important factor for serious lifters. While few casual gym-goers will train with an empty barbell (it doesn’t suit ego lifting) You will still get some people that drop the bar recklessly and that’s why we’ve mentioned it from an etiquette viewpoint.
For the serious lifter though, who warms up with the barbell for technique work and motor activation, dropping an empty barbell could be common practice. This isn’t the same as dropping a bar with bumper plates they absorb the shock, an empty bar has do protection from impact.
There is a bearing inside the bar which allows the barbell sleeves to rotate (which helps reduce torque and tension on your joints). When you drop the empty barbell to the floor, that bearing can easily get broken. It may not render the barbell useless, but it will make it harder to use.
What Does the Bearing Inside a Barbell Do?
The bearing allows the barbell to rotate back and forth when you’re lifting it. It helps with the weight distribution and balance. It makes the workout more ergonomically comfortable and when training explosive movements with heavy weight, it’s basically essential!
If you were to work out with the bar lacking the bearing, the static weights would not only be more difficult to lift with proper form during explosive Olympic lifts.
Basically, you’d be left to provide the torque to the bar that the bearing did before it was broken (or if your bar didn’t have bearings to begin with). It’s better to have the bearings intact and functional for you and everyone else.
Can You Drop a Loaded Barbell?
Dropping a loaded barbell is different. It doesn’t have quite the same ramifications but this is only true when using proper equipment and training in a suitable facility. Bumper plates and proper gym flooring will absorb shock and distribute the load upon impact.
When you drop a barbell with the correct equipment present, you risk very little damage and this is why you’ll see Olympic weightlifters safely and comfortably drop upward of 400lbs.
It’s still not advisable in a busy commercial gym though. However, sometimes you exhaust yourself during the workout and drop the loaded weights because you need to. As long as you are training in a dedicated power rack or lifting platform, this shouldn’t cause an issue.
If you have to drop your weights, be mindful of the people around you. There’s still a risk of injuring someone close by. Weights can bounce, roll, and bump into other equipment. They can also end up on someone’s foot.
When you drop a loaded barbell, the risk of breaking the bearing inside is far lower. The weights become shock absorbers. They keep the impact from causing damage to the bearings.
If the loaded barbell is dropped from higher like with a snatch or clean and jerk, there’s a better chance the bearings will get broken. It’s also more likely if you’re dropping a bar with light weights on the ends. Light weights don’t absorb as much of the impact so the uniform diameter of bumper plates is why they are used as standard.
Finally, don’t drop your weights onto spotter arms or safety pins. In this instance, a loaded bar will be taking the majority of the impact (instead of the weight plates), and not only would it break the bearings but it can irreversibly damage or bend the barbell.
If you’ve watched any amateur or uneducated lifters, it can be easy to pick up bad habits. That’s not meant as an insult either, the intricacies of weightlifting mean that there is always something to learn whether it’s exercise form, equipment, or even just maintaining equipment better!
Therefore, when it comes to dropping weights, you not only need to make sure you have the correct equipment to do so (bumper plates, proper flooring) but you should also ensure you never drop an empty barbell intentionally.
Accidents happen but intentionally dropping an empty barbell will lead to broken bearings due to a lack of shock absorption and essentially, you’ll break the barbell.