Last updated on November 14th, 2022 at 12:21 pm
The old adage “buy nice or buy twice” definitely applies to basement and garage gyms. But it doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune on everything either!
It’s easy to fall into the trap of spending too much on home gym gear. It’s also easy to go the other way and go too cheap. In a sea of hyperbolic marketing, it’s hard to figure out what you should actually spend your money on and what might be a waste.
Barbell cost is no exception. There are so many on the market that it can be incredibly tough to pick one out in the first place. Add to that the wide range of prices and it becomes very easy to spend too much or too little.
While there are a lot of barbell buying guides out there designed to help you make the right decision (you can check out mine here), a great place to start your search is by determining just how much you should spend to get a quality Olympic barbell for your garage gym.
How Much Does A Good Barbell Cost?
A well-made, multi-purpose Olympic barbell ideal for garage and basement gyms will cost between $350 and $450. This range is perfect for most people training at home. Premium barbells can cost $900 or more but are often overkill. Budget models can be found for under $200 but may not last.
Are there quality barbells in the budget price range? Yes, but they are few and far between. If you are on a tight budget and simply can’t afford the $400ish price range, tread carefully.
To me, it doesn’t make sense to go cheap on a barbell.
Second, your barbell is one of the only things in your gym that you actually touch. It is the connection between you and the weight you are lifting. If you need to save money, try to trim the budget on other things like plates or accessories.
As for high-end models that come with a correspondingly high-end price tag, I rarely recommend them for people training at home.
There is almost no discernable functional difference between a $400 barbell and a $1000 barbell to 99.5% of people training with weights.
What’s the Least You Should Spend on a Barbell For Your Home Gym?
Spending less than $200 on a barbell is usually not a good idea. Barbells in that price range are made of low-quality steel and may bend or break easily. These budget bars also have almost no grip due to poor knurling as well as limited or no sleeve spin, which can make them dangerous to use.
“What’s the least I can spend on X and still get something good” is one of the most common questions I get asked. And it’s a good one! No one wants to spend more than they have to. And no one wants to go so cheap that they regret it later, either!
Please understand that positive Amazon reviews do not mean you are getting a good barbell. Along with the abundance of paid and fake reviews found online these days, many of these reviews are posted by people who have never owned a quality barbell and have no frame of reference.
While there is an abundance of low-priced barbells on Amazon, most are a waste of money. My favorite budget barbell is the Rep Fitness Sabre bar (with center knurl, see why here). It’s usually under $200 if you buy directly from Rep.
Are Premium Barbells Worth the Money??
Premium barbells are a waste of money for most people training at home. Expensive finishes, unnecessarily high tensile strength, and complex bearing systems are features lost on most lifters. These much more expensive barbells are best suited for competitive Olympic and powerlifters.
I believe brand loyalty and aesthetic appeal are the only other reasons to buy a premium barbell. Excellent examples of this are the barbells by Kabuki Strength.
Are they excellent quality bars? Yes! Do they make your training sessions better than a $400 bar? Nope!
In the strength training world, a Kabuki bar is a status symbol. You are paying for the name and unique finish options. Again, they are excellent bars. But they won’t help you lift a single pound more!
So, if fancy finishes and an exclusive brand name aren’t worth paying for (for most people), what is?
What Barbell Features Are Worth Paying Extra For?
The key to buying a barbell you’ll love without overspending is understanding which features you’ll benefit from and which you won’t.
With barbells, a few things are worth a bit extra on the price tag. These are all features that will either aid in performance or durability.
Stainless Steel Construction
Bare steel bars are the cheapest options but also the most susceptible to corrosion. Because of this, there are many different finish options for barbells.
The two qualities to look for in a barbell finish are corrosion resistance and feel. This is where stainless steel comes in. If it fits the budget, stainless steel is the best barbell finish you can buy in terms of corrosion resistance and feel.
Look for hard chrome or zinc if stainless doesn’t fit the budget. Both will look nice, feel pretty good, and last a long time without needing a lot of extra cleaning and maintenance.
Kurling can make or break a barbell. I wrote an entire article devoted to barbell knurl, but the short version is that you want something that aids in grip without tearing apart your hands.
For me, companies like Rogue or Kabuki have knurling that is far too aggressive for most home lifters. Cheap Amazon options by companies like Body Solid and XMark have knurling so passive that it might as well not be there.
Knurling isn’t something you can pay extra for. A company either gets it right or they don’t. You can’t buy a cheap bar and ask for upgraded knurling. The “added price” of quality knurling comes from the fact that only higher-quality bar manufacturers make it.
Bushings in the Sleeves
One hallmark of all better barbells is that the sleeves (where the weights are loaded) spin. When the sleeves can spin while lifting, you eliminate a lot of the inertia that moving weight plates can cause.
What you want are “self-lubricating” bushings. Better companies like Rep Fitness or American Barbell use this type of bushing by default, and any barbell you see recommended here on GymCrafter will have this feature.
Stay away from plastic or polymer bushings. Also, completely avoid any bar that doesn’t have bushings or bearings (see an explanation of the difference between bushing and bearing bars here).
What Barbell Features Are a Waste of Money?
When shopping for a barbell, some features can be made to sound very enticing. Unfortunately, much of this is marketing and not worth a single extra penny of your hard-earned money.
Cerakote is a finish designed initially for firearms. American Barbell was the first company to use cerakote to finish barbells, but the idea has taken hold among many barbell manufacturers.
The two “benefits” of cerakote are durability and color options.
While cerakote is more durable than any other applied finish, it is not more durable than stainless steel. Since the price points are about the same, it makes more sense to go with stainless steel.
Also, since cerakote is a material that is applied to a barbell, it significantly reduces the “feel” of your bar. You can clearly tell there is something on the bar. Personally, I hate the way it feels.
Lastly, the coating will not last over time. Cerakote will wear off!!! When it does, it leaves you with a worn-out and beat-up-looking bar. The exact opposite reason you wanted a cool-looking bar in the first place!
As for color options, Rogue has made a ton of money by offering very cool, customized finishes. If your primary goal in buying a barbell is for it to look cool, this is a good option. Outside of that, it’s a total waste.
Bearings Instead of Bushings
I wrote an entire article explaining the difference that you can read here. The short version is that unless you are a competitive Olympic lifter, you shouldn’t spend extra money on bearings. It adds unnecessary cost and can make the bar unstable.
When manufacturers tout the bearing systems in their bars, it can be easy to think that more spin is better. That’s certainly what the marketing materials say.
The problem with this is that if the weight plates spin too freely on the end of your bar, they will continue to spin while you lift. This becomes a problem when pressing.
Spinning plates will cause your bar to wobble. You don’t want this to happen when bench or overhead pressing. Instead, opt for a bushing bar. It will not only save you money but keep you safer too!
The Final Verdict
Your barbell is going to be one of the centerpieces of your gym. It’s essential to buy one that’s solidly built and something you’ll enjoy using.
That means don’t go cheap! But it’s also important to realize that you don’t need to spend a fortune on your barbell.
I’ve tried to make this easy for folks by creating a barbell buyer’s guide that you can read here as well as always keeping an updated list of my top recommended barbells here.
Is buying a bare steel bar a good way to save money?
Bare steel bars are a pleasure to use. The connection you feel to the bare metal is matched only by a stainless steel bar. There are some excellent, low-priced bare steel bars out there like this one from Bells of Steel.
That said, buy a bare steel bar with the understanding that you will need to clean and maintain it weekly. Bare steel corrodes very quickly. If you stay on top of it, it’s manageable. If not, it can get out of hand fast!
Are factory second bars a good way to save money?
Yes, but be aware that sometimes you’ll get a bar you aren’t happy with. See my video here for an example. Overall, a factory second bar represents a great value and is an ideal way to save money while still getting a quality product.
My preferred place to buy factory second bars is here.
Can you build a great home gym if you can’t afford a barbell?
Absolutely! You do NOT need a barbell to train effectively. Don’t let your budget prevent you from getting in shape and training at home. My article on how to build a gym without a squat rack will give you everything you need to know to accomplish this goal!