Details can be significant. The occasional crashes I would hear in commercial gyms (way back in the day when I still belonged to one) were a reminder of that. As plates fell off of bars and hit the floor, I always cringed.
I wish I could say I was never the cause of one of those crashes, but I’d be lying. There was a time when I thought using barbell collars was optional. More than once I proved myself wrong.
When should you use barbell collars? Every time you lift a barbell with weight plates on it. It’s safer and more stable. It protects you, those around you, and your environment. And if it’s not a habit, you’re bound to forget them the one time they are really needed.
What do barbell collars do?
That may sound like a silly question considering their purpose seems obvious, but it’s not. Barbell collars serve several critical functions when training. Some of them are safety-related and some of them are performance related. All of them are important.
Using collars keeps your weight plates snug to the shoulder of your bar. That means that when you use the rings or knurl pattern on your barbell to align your grip, the weight plates are the same distance from each hand.
Without collars, those weights are free to slide outward on your barbell sleeve. If one side slides out further than another, you now have an uneven load. Even though the weight on each side is the same, it no longer feels that way.
The heavier the load, the more of a problem this is. It eventually leads to an uneven lift and a canted barbell. That angled bar allows the plates to slide all the way off of one end. When that happens, plates hit the ground and the other end of the bar heads floorward as it’s no longer counterbalanced by the weights that just fell off.
I’ve experienced this violent teeter-totter barbell movement more than once and I can tell you it’s not fun. Weights come crashing down and the bar tries its best to go flying out of your grip. I’m very lucky me or someone else was not hurt when this happened.
Not only do your collars keep the weights from coming off the bar and snug against barbell shoulders, but it also keeps them pressed close together. This prevents rattling and shaking.
At best, plates knocking against each other is distracting. At worst it causes a lack of concentration and a failed lift. When lifting, especially when lifting heavy, you want all of your concentration available for the lift. Distractions can be a significant problem.
This stability of load is also critical when doing explosive lifts. Cleans, snatches, and overhead presses come to mind. Having a secure load that doesn’t shift or move at all is a prerequisite to this type of lifting. The only way to ensure this is to use collars.
The importance of collars in a home gym
There are some concerns that are more important to home gym owners than others. Several of these relate directly to the use of barbell collars.
Home gym owners often work out by themselves. This makes safety a top priority. It’s why we use power racks instead of squat stands. It’s why we buy spotter pins and safety straps (see my full article on the differences here). And it’s why we should always use barbell collars.
The overall approach to lifting alone should be to take advantage of every safety precaution we can. Barbell collars are one of those precautions.
Another concern is property protection. Our gyms are located in our homes. And most of us would like to keep those homes kept looking nice. One of the many things I hated about going to commercial gyms was the sheer number of people who didn’t take care of the place.
When I’m at home and have total control over that, I want to take as much care as I can to keep my gym (and therefore my garage) looking nice. Not using barbell collars can lead to dropped weights and bars. Both of those things can cause some serious unwanted damage.
Speaking of unwanted damage, our home gyms are usually packed into some of the smaller spaces of our homes. Those spaces are often shared with others.
In the interest of the safety of children or other family members who may be in your gym while you are training, barbell collars are a must.
So when should you use barbell collars? Always? Sometimes? Never?
While all of the reasons I listed above are important, I understand that most people won’t have any of those issues on most lifts. Real-world lifters can probably get away with not using collars a lot of the time.
This simple fact leads to quite a few people either not using collars at all, or only using them sometimes. We all get in a hurry and human nature is to take short cuts when possible.
That said, I don’t think this is the right way to go about it. I know there are probably a good number of people who would argue with me, but I make a point of using collars every time I lift.
In my opinion, barbell collars should be used every time we load a plate onto a barbell. The only exception I can think of to this rule would be when using your bar in a landmine attachment.
There is an old saying, “How you do one thing is how you do everything”. I think it applies really well here. In other words, if it’s worth putting them on some of the time, then it’s worth putting them on all of the time.
It’s kind of like wearing your seat belt. I’m old enough to remember when seatbelts were not required by law. In fact, at that time, almost no one wore seat belts at all.
Their reasons varied, but it mostly came down to things like “I’m just driving to the store, I’m not going to get into an accident”. That reasoning works fine until you get into a wreck on the way to the store.
Collars are like seatbelts. You don’t need them until you need them. And then, when you do really need them, they are kind of important!
This means that just like using your seatbelts, using your collars needs to become an ingrained habit. By using them every single time, you are always guaranteed to have them on when you need them. You won’t have forgotten.
Successfully lifting safely over a long period of time often comes down to accumulating good habits. Being able to do the same things every time without thinking about it. Using barbell collars should be in this category.
Do you need them on every lift? No. Should you get into the habit of using them on every lift? Absolutely!
What barbell collars are the best to use?
Sometimes the internet makes me laugh. Before I wrote this article I was doing a bit of Googling and if you Google “best barbell collars” you get a bunch of results that say things like “10 best barbell collars for 2020” or “15 best barbell collars you should buy”.
15 best?! That’s crazy. At least it is for a home gym owner. Which collars to buy and use isn’t that hard of a decision. While there are a ton of options, and I know because I’ve used most of them, there are only a couple that are worth your attention.
Let’s start with what not to use. First, get rid of those spring collars! If that’s all you have and you don’t have the budget for something better, they’re okay. But otherwise, it’s time to spend a few bucks and get something worthwhile.
I’d also stay away from competition collars (way too expensive unless you are competing), stretchy band collars (will tear over time), and screw in collars (they can damage the sleeve of your bar). Just stick to the options below and you’ll be set to go!
Your first option is to pick up a set of Lockjaws. These are a reasonably priced collar that will last you a long time and work great. They are made of high strength ABS plastic and are quite durable. They will hold heavy weights securely in place and are really easy to put on and take off (unlike those terrible spring collars!).
I’ve used Lockjaws for years and have gone through several sets of them. They are available in a few different colors too. Make sure to buy the actual LockJaw brand. There are a lot of knock-offs and those knock-offs tend to crack very easily.
I can’t stress this enough. Yes, the cheaper knock-offs look like the same thing, but they are definitely not! Don’t waste your money on these cheaply made versions! Check out the real deal legit Lock Jaws here on Amazon.
The next option, and my personal favorite, are the aluminum collars by OSO. These are even more durable and secure than the LockJaws. They come in some very cools colors and are also easy to get on and off your bar.
I own both LockJaws and OSO collars yet have only used the OSO’s for the last year at least. With both in my gym, I tend to reach for the OSO first every time. They are a little more expensive, but could also very well be the last set of collars you ever need to buy.
Comparing the two
Here is a video I put up on my YouTube channel comparing the two. Please excuse the fact that I, for some reason, decided not to look at the camera through the whole thing!
Because of the angle of the bar when using the landmine, the weights will naturally stay stacked both close together and close to the shoulder of the barbell sleeve. It’s not that you can’t use them there, it’s just not needed.
In this case, I strongly recommend the OSO collars. They will stand up to this type of use better than the LockJaws. Their metal construction and tighter grip will both benefit this type of lifter.
They’ve worked and been around for years, so I suppose there’s that. Otherwise, yes! They are terrible, annoying things that in my mind, only have one good use. They’re great at keeping my barbell off the ground when I’m cleaning and oiling it.
You can see an example of this in my complete guide to barbell maintenance here.