Q: What’s the best type of barbell to use for power cleans and squats?
A: Ideally, you should have a special bar for each because the characteristics of the barbell can influence performance as well as the risk of injury. Let’s explore.
There are basically three classes of Olympic barbells: those used for Olympic-lifting competition, those used for powerlifting competition and general-purpose bars that can be used for all types of weightlifting competition and training.
The Olympic-lifting barbell needs to be very flexible to reduce the stress on your joints, especially the wrists; that flexibility, or spring, enables you to lift more weight. The amount of spring is related to the quality of the steel, and barbells with the most spring cost much more than the ones made of lower-quality steel. Another feature is that the highest-quality barbells have smoothly revolving sleeves, which make for a rapid turnover as your wrists turn over at the top of the snatch and clean.
The powerlifting barbell is designed to facilitate the performance of the three lifts used in powerlifting competition: the squat, bench press and deadlift. The sleeve should revolve smoothly but doesn’t need the spin of an Olympic-lifting bar, and the center area of the bar usually has a lot of knurling to prevent slipping during the squat. Also, because considerably more weight can be used on the three powerlifts than the Olympic lifts—more than 1,000 pounds each have been lifted on the bench press, squat and deadlift—the distance between the inside collars tends to be narrower to make room for more plates on the bar. The bars should have less spring than Olympic-lifting bars because a bar that’s too flexible can result in excessive oscillation, which will affect stability during the performance of the lift.
Think of a general-purpose bar as a hybrid of the competition Olympic bar and the powerlifting bar. It’s simply an Olympic bar but of lesser quality so that it can be sold at a lower price.
Editor’s note: Charles Poliquin is recognized as one of the world’s most successful strength coaches, having coached Olympic medalists in 12 different sports, including the U.S. women’s track-and-field team for the 2000 Olympics. He’s spent years researching European journals (he’s fluent in English, French and German) and speaking with other coaches and scientists in his quest to optimize training methods. For more on his books, seminars and methods, visit www.CharlesPoliquin.net. IM