Last updated on May 3rd, 2023 at 09:39 am
I’m a big fan of “buy once, cry once.” In other words, bite the bullet and buy nice the first time. That usually prevents you from having to buy a second one when you weren’t planning on it.
When it comes to equipping my home gym, I often go by that theory. But not always! You should spend a little extra on some things when you build your gym. Specifically your barbell and your bench. But you can also save quite a bit on other items if you know how.
Bumper plates, in particular, are a great place to save money. After all, 45 lbs. weighs 45 lbs. regardless of what you paid for that plate (and yes, I’ll address calibrated plates later in this article)!
So, before you buy any plates, let’s take a look at what a good set of bumper plates should cost. I’ll touch on features that are worth paying for and those that are a waste of your money.
How Much Does A Good Set of Bumper Plates Cost?
A new set of bumper plates for your home gym will cost $750-$900 for a 370 lb. set (an ideal size for people training at home). This average price of $2.25 per lb. can be reduced by almost half by buying used. Color options, design, and rubber type can raise that price to as high as $8-$10 per lb.
Buying plates in a set is almost always less expensive than buying individual pairs, so it’s always best to figure out your total needs and buy the appropriately sized set all at once. Not sure how much weight you’ll need for your home gym? I’ve got you covered with this article and video.
Do You Need Bumper Plates?
One of the absolute best ways to save money on bumper plates is not to buy them in the first place! Iron plates are exponentially less expensive and a great way to save a ton of cash on your garage gym build.
So let’s take a quick look at why people might “need” bumpers in the first place. If you go through this list and answer “no” to every listed need, you can probably buy iron plates and never have a second thought!
There are a bunch of reasons people buy bumpers, but the three most common are:
You Do Olympic Lifting or CrossFit-Style Training.
Both of these training styles involve repeatedly dropping a loaded barbell to the floor. This training style is why bumpers exist in the first place.
You simply can’t perform Olympic lifts without damaging your barbell, floor, and plates unless you use bumper plates.
You Deadlift and Occasionally (or More) Drop The Loaded Bar to The Ground.
Let’s be honest. If you have ever pushed yourself on the deadlift, you know that sometimes that heavily loaded bar lands on the floor hard. It either slipped from your hands or was too heavy to complete the rep, and gravity lowered it for you.
Even with a deadlifting platform or the appropriate type of flooring, it’s not a good idea to drop a barbell loaded with iron plates to the ground. While the flooring or platform may protect your floor, it won’t protect the barbell.
Dropping a bar loaded with iron plates WILL damage it!!!
You want your gym to be quiet.
There are a ton of ways to quiet down a noisy home gym. But one of the best is to use rubber bumper plates instead of loud, clanky iron plates.
Bumpers make less noise when loading them, while in use, and when racking them for storage. They also pinch your fingers less (and if you scream like a baby when this happens like I do, preventing that scream is a great way to be quieter!) when loading them on the bar.
Basic Bumper Plates vs. Specialty Bumper Plates
If you’ve made it this far in the article, I’m guessing you’ve decided that bumper plates are for you. Unfortunately, that’s only part of the decision you’ll need to make before buying a set.
When you look at most websites that sell bumpers, you’ll quickly see that you have a lot of options. From basic black crumb rubber plates to high-end urethane-coated models, there’s a set of plates out there for everyone.
Basic black bumpers are perfect for those on a budget or who want to spend their extra dollars elsewhere. Outside of a basic black option, you’ll find four main variations that can add to the price of your bumper plates. Let’s look at each and see if they are worth your money.
Are Colored Bumper Plates Worth the Money?
If you’ve ever watched competitive weightlifting, you’ll notice that each plate is coded with its own specific color. This is a standardized color scheme, allowing you to know what each plate weighs without looking at the markings on the face of the plate. The official governing bodies for weightlifting, the IWF and the IPF, both have an official color scheme for plates.
|Plate Weight||IPF colors||IWF colors|
|25 kg | 55 lbs||red||red|
|20 kg | 45 lbs||blue||blue|
|15 kg | 35 lbs||yellow||yellow|
|10 kg | 25 lbs||green||green|
|5 kg | 10 lbs||white||white|
|2.5 kg | 5 lbs||black||red|
There are three ways you’ll find bumper plates color coded.
The first is where only the graphics and lettering on the face of the plates are painted a color corresponding to the table above. On average, this type of color accent will add $20-$50 to a 370 lb. set.
The second way you’ll see colored plates is to have each plate a solid color (again corresponding to the chart above) instead of black. This will add, on average, $100-$150 to a 370 lb. set.
The third way is to incorporate colored flecks, swirls, or other designs into the body of the plate itself. For example, check out Rep Fitness’s selection of bumpers here. You can see several different ways this is done.
Depending on the design, you’ll notice this can add hundreds of dollars to the price tag. So, are colored bumpers worth the extra money?
There is no functional reason to invest extra money on colored bumper plates. A colored plate does not perform any better than a solid black one. Two reasons you may want to spend extra on colored plates are aesthetic preference or the desire to quickly see how much weight is loaded on your barbell.
If you are concerned about being able to see how much weight is racked on the bar but you don’t want to pay extra for colored plates, you can apply some colored electrical tape to the edges of your plates. This is far less expensive than paying for color models.
If you want your gym to look cool, that’s a great reason to buy the fancier colored plates. But remember that this is merely a personal choice, not a necessity!
Are Competition Bumper Plates Worth the Money?
Competition bumper plates have several key upgraded features:
- More durable rubber
- A large center insert
- Nicer aesthetics
- Calibrated weight
This type of plate is designed for the heavy use found in commercial gyms or competitions. Thousands and thousands of drops from overhead warrant a more durable design. Competitive readiness requires more precision in the weight of each plate.
Competition plates run hundreds of dollars more than standard bumpers. Those extra dollars can do a lot of good in other areas of your gym. So, are competition bumper plates worth the money?
Competition bumper plates are a waste of money for most people. They may be worth spending more on if you plan to compete at a high level in Olympic lifting or CrossFit. A standard, non-competition set of bumper plates is perfect for everyone else, especially the average lifter training at home.
Are Urethane Bumper Plates Worth the Money?
The newest additions to the world of bumper plate manufacturing are urethane-coated bumper plates. These costly entries into the bumper plate market are beautiful and come with several key benefits.
They have virtually no odor, which sets them apart from every other bumper plate type you can buy. They have almost no bounce, making them very safe for aggressive lifting. And they are practically indestructible, something that can’t be said for many other plates.
Only two urethane-coated plate manufacturers are currently operating in the world. One is American Barbell. The other privately brands and sells to a handful of other retailers (Titan and Rogue are examples).
The American Barbell urethane bumpers are superior if you go this route. The third-party mfr. that supplies all other vendors leaves a few unfinished spots along the edge of the plates and cuts corners in a few other less obvious ways.
The cost of urethane bumper plates is 2-3x what standard bumper plates cost. While the benefits are excellent, that’s a huge upcharge. You could almost buy a second set of standard plates as a backup to your first and still spend less than a set of urethane bumpers. This begs the question: Are urethane bumper plates worth the money?
Urethane bumper plates are not worth their significantly higher price point to most people training at home. While they are more durable when heavily used, this use rarely occurs in a garage. Urethane plates are better suited to commercial environments, not home gyms.
All that said, urethane bumpers are awesome, and those with the money to spend and the desire to kit out their home gym with the best possible gear will definitely want this type of plate!
What Bumper Plate Features Are Worth Paying Extra For?
It might seem like I’m not recommending buying anything but basic black bumpers if you are shopping by “needs” alone. But remember that enjoying your gym is a big part of consistently using it. If you dig color, patterns, or the idea of urethane, go for it!
Regardless of the type of bumper you decide to go with, there are a few features that are well worth a little extra money.
Low Odor Plates
Bumper plates are made of three basic types of rubber (outside of the urethane-coated models I mentioned above): Virgin rubber, high-quality crumb rubber, and low-quality crumb rubber.
Virgin rubber is the best of the three. It has the lowest odor, the thinnest footprint (you can fit more plates on your bar), and the most durability.
Crumb rubber is recycled tires. The difference between high-quality and low-quality is the binders that hold the ground-up rubber together. Higher quality equals lower odor and more durability.
Odor is critical because of the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that cause the smell in the first place. Studies have found that these chemicals are associated with cancer and other health risks (source).
Therefore, I do not recommend budget bumper plates made of low-quality rubber. They will not only stink up your gym for a very long time but can also cause health problems.
I’ve tested bumpers from every company I can find that sells them. The list of bumpers I don’t recommend is very long. A large majority are made from low-quality rubber and come out of the box with a strong chemical odor that never goes away.
Fringe Sport is the only major company making their plates from virgin rubber. They make the plates I own and are who I recommend most often. Check out their full assortment of virgin rubber plates here. They have some very cool options!
A basic set of black virgin rubber bumper plates does not cost more than a quality set of crumb rubber plates. They do add a price premium once you start including color and fancy designs, though.
Rep Fitness is one of the only companies that consider rubber quality when making crumb rubber plates. All of their plates are “low-odor,” and if you decide to go the crumb rubber route (and you might once you see some of the awesome designs that Rep offers), Rep Fitness is the best place to go.
The “insert” is the little metal collar in the center of a bumper plate that directly contacts the bar. Cheap bumper plates simply press this insert into the plate. Better plates use spikes on the outside of the insert to permanently affix the ring to the plate itself.
For me, this is a non-negotiable feature. Without it, your plates will fail, and it will happen quickly. Both companies I recommended above use anchored inserts.
How much extra does this add? I can’t say exactly. It’s not a feature you can add or subtract. Anchored inserts only come installed on higher quality plates, and those do cost more than cheap ones, but again, I can’t put a specific number on it.
10 lb. Plate Durability
Ten-pound plates are thin, and since bumpers are made of rubber, this plate size is notoriously flimsy. Many companies don’t even make a bumper plate below 25 lbs. for this reason. What does that say about the rest of them if they can’t make a durable 10 lb. plate?
This is another reason I use and recommend Fringe Sport bumpers. They have the most robust 10 lb. plates available.
Whether or not you buy 10 lb. bumpers (many people use change plates for this purpose instead of bumpers), this is an excellent indicator of the overall quality of the company’s bumpers.
As with anchored collars, I can’t pinpoint exactly how much the feature adds. I can say that this type of quality only comes from reputable companies, and those companies do tend to charge a bit more for their products (as they should!).
I also want to point out that NO company out there builds 10 lb plates that can be dropped other than Fringe Sport. They are also the ONLY company making plates from virgin rubber. To me, they are the ONLY choice when it comes to bumpers.
There are two things to consider when buying bumper plates for your garage gym. Form and function. The key to not wasting money is to understand both.
The features I outlined above that relate to function (virgin rubber, anchored insert, durability) are all worth paying for. The features related to form (colors, patterns, designs) are worth paying for if they make you happy and you have the extra dough.
In either case, take your time making this decision and be honest with yourself about what is and isn’t important to you. If you do that first, you really can’t go wrong!
Aren’t uncalibrated plates inaccurate and dangerous?
No! Companies marketing calibrated plates make a huge deal out of the “accuracy” of this type of plate. If you are an Olympic athlete with a lifetime of lifting experience, this might be important.
For the rest of us training at home, as long as you buy from a reputable company (and that is all I will ever recommend here on GymCrafter), the weight of each of your plates will not vary from their intended weight by any meaningful amount.
Can I mix brands and types of bumper plates?
You sure can! There are no issues with mixing brands or types of plate. You can even mix iron and bumper plates if needed (see my article on how to do this here).
Are used bumper plates a good idea?
As long as you inspect them before buying, used plates are a great way to save money! Make sure to check that the insert is well seated and not coming out. Also check that the plates are flat and unwarped.
If those two things look good, and the plates are from a reputable manufacturer, you are good to go with used plates!
If you want to buy used plates online and can’t inspect them, always buy from a reputable used dealer like Freedom Fitness. They only sell quality items and you can buy with confidence from them.