Woman lifting with women's barbell

Women’s Barbells. How They Are Different From Men’s and Who Should Use Them.

In Equip Your Gym by Tim Steward

I had never heard of a women’s barbell in almost 20 years of training in a commercial gym. It wasn’t until I started looking for barbells to train with in my garage gym that I came across the “women’s barbell.”

So are women not supposed to use the “men’s” barbells? Is there something special about female training needs that necessitates a different bar?

It turns out that this type of bar is beneficial in a variety of situations. It also has a terrible name since being a woman has almost nothing to do with whether or not you would benefit from a women’s barbell.

Woman deadlifting
I can guarantee you that she doesn’t need a special women’s bar!

What is a Women’s Barbell?

A women’s barbell is both shorter and lighter than a standard Olympic barbell. It has 2.5″ diameter sleeves, as do all Olympic bars but is shorter, lighter, and a smaller diameter. This type of bar is ideal for women, juniors, novices, or anyone else for whom a full-sized barbell is too heavy.

A women’s barbell does not conform to the men’s barbell standards issued by either the IWF (International Weightlifting Federation – they govern the world’s Olympic lifting competitions) or the IPF (International Powerlifting Federation – they manage the world’s powerlifting competitions).

Women’s barbells did not become popular until their inclusion in the CrossFit games, where they are the mandatory barbell size for women competing in the games. While this bar size was standardized by the Olympics, they were not widely available commercially until the advent of CrossFit brought many more women to the sport of weightlifting.

What’s the Difference Between a Men’s and a Women’s Barbell?

Difference between a men's and women's barbell

Women’s barbells differ from men’s in four ways. The overall weight is less at 15kg/33 lbs vs. the 20kg/45 lbs of a men’s bar. This weight difference comes from a shorter length (79″ vs. 87″) and a narrower bar diameter (25mm vs. 28-29mm). Lastly, women’s bars typically do not have a center knurl.

The most important difference is the weight. The idea is to facilitate barbell training for people who can’t yet effectively lift with a 45 lb standard Olympic barbell.

Other than dimensional differences, the two barbell types are the same. Both are available in the same finishes, have the same 2.5″ diameter sleeves, and have knurl and knurl rings to assist with grip. They are available in the same materials with the same quality workmanship (depending on who you buy the bar from).

Size is truly the only difference between men’s and women’s barbells.

This is a big reason why I wish they would rename this bar. Calling it a “women’s” barbell significantly reduces the number of people who might potentially benefit from this type of bar.

Who Can or Should Use a Women’s Barbell?

The most common place you’ll see a women’s barbell in use is the CrossFit or Olympic games, where this smaller bar is the standard for female competitors. To me, this is ironic as the women who compete in the CrossFit games or the Olympics are all more than capable of using a “men’s” barbell!

It’s outside of competitions like that where the women’s barbell shines. Anyone who can’t effectively train with a 45 lb bar can benefit from a women’s barbell.

Juniors just starting out are much better served by starting with a lighter bar. It allows them to focus on form and full ranges of motion before adding load. It’s also a safer option for this inexperienced group.

Seniors can also benefit from these lighter bars. Sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass) dramatically contributes to older people’s mortality. Getting them involved in strength training can significantly mitigate this. A lighter bar can be instrumental in this age group.

Senior women doing curls with a dumbbell
One of the best things seniors can do for their health is resistance training!

People new to training or returning after a long layoff may lack the strength to use a 45 lb bar regardless of age or sex. I fall into this category. When I first started training, I couldn’t overhead press a standard Olympic barbell more than once. A lighter barbell would have helped me quite a bit!

Lifters with smaller hands will also appreciate a women’s barbell’s 25mm diameter. This narrower diameter allows those with smaller hands to maintain a more secure and stable grip on the bar.

Lastly, those who are tight on space in their home gyms may appreciate the shorter length. There are quite a few basement gyms out there using a women’s bar because it’s the only bar that will fit in their space!

These are all reasons I hate that this type of bar is called a “women’s” barbell. First of all, I know a lot of women who are more than strong enough to train with a full-sized bar. Second of all, I know even more guys (of all ages, junior through senior) who would never buy a “women’s” bar even if it would benefit them.

So, let’s forget the name “women’s.” If you fall into one of the above categories, look at this lighter, smaller barbell. It may be precisely what you need to train effectively at home!

Where To Purchase a Great Women’s Barbell

This recommendation is easy as most barbell manufacturers make a women’s version of their most popular bars. 

Who makes the best women’s bars? The same people that make the best men’s bars! Not all models have a women’s option, but the ones that do are excellent!

My top choice is the training bar by American Barbell. American Barbell makes the highest quality barbells you can buy, and their women’s training bar is no exception. If I was in the market to buy a women’s barbell today, this is the one I’d buy, no questions asked!

If you are looking for a less expensive option, look no further than the Women’s Wonder Bar by Fringe Sport. The Wonder Bar is one of the best-reviewed barbells around, and the women’s version carries all the same great features.

FAQ

Women’s barbells are not available with a center knurl. Why?

A center knurl is in place for one exercise, the squat. It allows the bar to grip your back and makes the movement safer and easier.

This isn’t needed with a lighter bar. A center knurl isn’t required if all the person lifting can lift is a 35lb bar. If they can move much more than that, they should graduate to a full-sized bar, which is available with a center knurl. For a full explanation of center knurl, see my article here!

Can men use a women’s barbell?

Yes! The lighter weight may appeal to lifters who have less strength than average. The smaller diameter of the bar also helps people with smaller hands maintain a firm, secure grip on the bar while training.

Why are women’s barbells 25mm in diameter?

The biggest reason for this is weight. The point of this type of bar is to weigh less. A secondary but still significant benefit is that it allows people with smaller hands to maintain a stable and secure grip on the bar better than on bars of a larger diameter.

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