Barbell tensile strength title card

Barbell Tensile Strength Explained. When It Matters and When It Doesn’t.

In Equip Your Gym by Tim Steward

Barbell manufacturers like to throw a lot of specs at their customers. Unfortunately, most of those specs are meaningless to 99% of people who buy a barbell. So what about barbell tensile strength ratings? Do they matter? And if so, what should barbell customers be looking for?

I’ve read more than a few barbell buying guides that say, “high tensile strength = good bar.” While I wish it were that simple, it isn’t. How high? Can you have too much? And where does it fall in order of importance? Is it more important than bar material, knurling, diameter, finish, sleeve spin, or any of the other barbell features that may be important?

tensile strength raw
Image courtesy Buff Dudes on YouTube

Unfortunately, high tensile strength alone doesn’t tell you much about the quality of a particular barbell.

What Is Barbell Tensile Strength?

Measured in PSI or KSI (pounds/kilos per square inch), the tensile strength of a barbell measures the point at which a barbell will break. This is different than weight capacity, which tells you when a bar will bend. When buying a barbell, aim for a minimum tensile strength of 150-180 PSI.

Tensile strength is measured with a special machine that puts increasing pressure on the barbell until it breaks. The video below shows this process.

Something important to keep in mind is that you have to take the mfrs. word for the tensile strength rating. Unfortunately, not everyone is telling the truth.

This is why I never recommend buying an imported barbell that’s only sold on Amazon. I know many people who thought they were saving money because the $150 Amazon bar “has the same specs” as one that is twice the price.

One important reason to check the listed tensile strength is to ensure it is above the minimums listed above. If you’re on a tight budget, bars listed at 150 PSI or above will work great. If you can afford a few more dollars, stick to 180 PSI or above.

Here’s a real-life test of a barbell that shows precisely this type of deceptive specifications.

How Important is Tensile Strength When Buying a Barbell?

While tensile strength can give insight into the steel quality used in a barbell, it’s not the most important thing to look at when buying a bar.

Tensile strength is a great way to eliminate bars from your shopping list. Anything listed as under 150-180 PSI should get crossed off.

After that, you’ll most likely never be able to tell the difference.

You can make a case for higher tensile strength ratings if you are a competitive powerlifter who deadlifts 800+ lbs. If you’re not, then it just doesn’t matter.

That is not a popular opinion, especially with barbell manufacturers who use numbers like tensile strength to get you to spend more money. They will all tell you that higher tensile strength is “better.”

Okay, how? Will you feel the difference when lifting? No. Will your barbell last longer? No. Will you lift more weight? No.

Barbell tensile strength being tested
None of us is strong enough to truly test the strength of a barbell!

It’s kind of like shopping for sports cars. It doesn’t matter that one car has a top speed of 210 mph while another can only do 180 mph. If the fastest you’ll ever drive that car is 85mph, it doesn’t matter!

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy a more expensive barbell (or sports car!). What I am saying is that there are a million other reasons to spend that extra cash than tensile strength or top-end speed.

Not to mention that if you are shopping with a reputable company (Rep Fitness, Bells of Steel, Fringe Sport, Vulcan, Rogue, American Barbell, etc.), all of their bars will have solid tensile strength ratings.

In short, when shopping for a barbell for your garage gym, tensile strength (once you are above the minimum rating) shouldn’t factor into your purchase decision.

Too Much Tensile Strength?

Broken barbell
Yes, barbells CAN break!

Barbells should bend/flex under load. The type of bar you are using determines how much flex there is. This is called barbell whip (another spec that doesn’t really matter for most people, but if you’re interested, I wrote a full explanation here).

If you’ve ever watched a professional powerlifter or Olympic lifter, you’ve seen their bar bend and flex during the lift.

A higher tensile strength rating at some point causes steel to become brittle (source). Anything approaching 300PSI or more no longer flexes under load. Instead, it just breaks.

Just like exercise and weight training, too much is just as much a problem as too little.

The Verdict

I can already see the emails I will get because of this article. So I want to be very clear.

  • Tensile strength matters because you need to be at or above a minimum rating to ensure a quality barbell.
  • Tensile strength matters to extraordinarily strong people who lift competitively.
  • Tensile strength matters if you are equipping a commercial gym where you don’t know who will end up using your bars.
  • However, to the average garage gym lifter, it matters very little once you are over 150-180 PSI.

Want to know what matters a lot more than barbell tensile strength? Check out my complete barbell buying guide that will walk you through exactly what to look for in a barbell you’ll love and use for years!

FAQ

How much weight can a 150-180 PSI barbell hold?

This level bar will be rated at an 800 lb capacity at 150 PSI and at least 1,000 lb capacity at 180 PSI.

Should I buy different tensile strength bars for different types of lifts?

Only if you are a professional weight lifter. To quote Andres Lewis, SSC of Starting Strength, “You don’t need to pay a premium for marketing nonsense.” (source).

Don’t let people whose sole purpose in life is to sell you things convince you that you need a wall full of different barbells. You don’t.

I don’t care what you say. I want a high-tensile strength bar!

Cool! Don’t let me stop you. The best high tensile strength bars are the 250k squat and 250k deadlift bars by Kabuki strength. Both are excellent bars. And they should be for well over $700 each!!!

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