Last updated on May 15th, 2023 at 11:59 am
One of the barbell features that impact price the most is the choice between a barbell with bushings and one with bearings. At first glance, the sales copy on bearing bars makes it seem like a higher quality choice.
Barbell manufacturers describe bearing bars as having “faster, smoother spin” or “ideal for faster lifting.” Faster? Smoother? To many, that sounds like “better.” But that’s just not the case for most people.
A barbell with bushings is a better choice than one with bearings for almost all home gyms. Bearings can make the bar feel unstable when bench or overhead pressing. Bushings are better suited for general weight training, cost less, and are more appropriate for all but the most specialized athletes.
Why Bar Spin Is Important
“Bar spin” is a term you’ll often see used in barbell reviews and descriptions. It refers to how well the sleeves of the bar (the parts you mount the weights on) spin around the bar’s shaft (the part you hold on to).
When you lift, the bar itself will rotate. For example, when you do a barbell curl, the bar will rotate as you move from the bottom of the lift to the top. This happens to some extent on all lifts.
If the sleeves don’t spin, then this movement would also rotate the plates mounted on the end of your barbell. Because they are heavy and have a large diameter, that rotation would build up inertia in the plates themselves.
That inertia would then cause the bar itself to spin in your hand at the end of the movement. This would be dangerous, especially when lifting heavier weights or performing faster movements.
A bar that spins in your hands may spin out of your grip and drop towards the floor unexpectedly. It could also move in such a manner that your wrists are overloaded and injured. In either case, that’s bad!
Instead, you want the sleeves and the weight plates to move independently of the bar itself. That’s where bearings and bushings come in. How much spin you need is determined by the type of lifting you are doing.
Is a Barbell with Bushings Right For You?
Bushings are solid rings of metal, typically made from a softer material than the steel bar itself. There are usually a minimum of two bushings per side on a barbell.
The bushings are located between the sleeves and the bar at either end of the sleeve.
Because the bushings are not fixed to the bar or sleeve, they allow the sleeve to spin around the bar shaft. The spin of a bushing is slower and more measured than that of a bearing.
Bushing bars cost less than bearing bars (all other bar specs being equal) and are the right choice for almost all the lifting you’ll be doing in your garage or basement gym.
Is a Barbell With Bearings Right For You?
Bearings are a series of balls or round cylinders (called needles) mounted inside an inner and outer holder. You’ve probably seen bearings before in things like bike or skateboard wheels.
Bearings are located in the same places as bushings, but because they are narrower, you will typically find quite a few of them at either end of the bar sleeve (see image).
Bearing bars are also used in some CrossFit applications because of the speed and high rep nature of that type of lifting.
Since most home gym owners are not (and should not for safety reasons*) be doing CrossFit or Olympic weightlifting at home, bearing bars are a waste of money for most.
(*The exception here are athletes who have received proper training from certified coaches and fully understand how to perform these lifts safely at home without a spotter)
In addition to that, the ultra-fast spin of a bearing bar will often make slower movements like bench, and overhead presses feel unstable. This is absolutely NOT something you want when moving heavy weight over your body! It will actually feel like the weight is shifting around on the bar.
Should You Spend the Extra Money on a Bar with Bearings?
I get a lot of people who email questions that go something like, “I know I don’t really need the spin of a bearing bar, but wouldn’t it be okay to buy one anyway? Maybe I’ll need that down the road.”
First of all, 95% of all lifters training at home will never notice the difference. Don’t overcomplicate things. Buy a quality bar (see my recommendations below) and start training!
But the correct answer is to spend your money where it matters. If you want to spend extra on a barbell, do it on features that make a difference. Specifically, spend that money on a more durable finish. Bearing bars are a complete waste of money for most home gym owners.
I’d rather see you buy a more expensive bar with bushings that’s stainless steel than buy a more expensive bar with bearings in a finish that will corrode easily over time.
But again, don’t make this too hard. Buy a nice bar and start training! Below are my top choices for bushing bars for your garage or basement gym.
My Favorite Bushing Bars
Power bars are what I recommend to almost anyone that asks (see my complete article here on power vs. Olympic lifting bars). One key feature of power bars is that they use bushings.
My favorite power bar, and the one I train with daily, is the stainless steel power bar V2 by Rep Fitness. This is a fantastic bar and quite possibly the only barbell you’ll ever need to buy.
If you want an equally good bar, but one made in the US, check out the Elite Power Bar by American Barbell. American Barbell has the tightest manufacturing specs of any barbell manufacturer on the market. You can’t go wrong with anything they make.
It’s easy to get swayed by persuasive bar descriptions and marketing material. Unfortunately, when it comes to barbells, those descriptions often lead to people buying the wrong thing.
If you are currently wondering whether or not to spring for the extra money and buy a bearing bar, I would advise against it in all but a few specialized cases. Just pick up one of the two bars I list above (or see my complete list of recommended bars by budget level here) and get to work!
If you still aren’t sure, check out this video by Fringe Sport. It’s possibly the best breakdown of bearings vs. bushings that I’ve seen. I’m not a fan of the bar they recommend at the end (it check any of the boxes I see as needed for a home gym bar – see my article here for details), but the video itself is fantastic.
Do bushings wear out faster than bearings?
How fast bushings or bearings will wear depends on whether you clean and maintain your bar regularly. For full details on how to do that, see my guide here.
Does the bushing material matter?
Yes. Cheap bars that you’ll find on Amazon or at your local sporting goods stores use harder, lower-quality bushings. These low-quality bushings are also not self-lubricating. This means that they will very quickly seize up and stop spinning.
If you stick with quality bars by companies like Rep Fitness or American Barbell, you won’t need to worry so much about bushing material.
What is a self-lubricating bushing?
Higher quality bar manufacturers self-lubricating bushings. This means that the bushing has been infused with oil. The act of spinning will release the oil over time.
This does not mean that maintenance and lubrication are not needed. Regular maintenance and care are required for all bars regardless of bushing or bearing material and type.