History Of The Olympic Barbell

History Of The Olympic Barbell

In 1896, the sport of weightlifting was first introduced to the Olympic games, making it one of the longest standing Olympic sports to this day. However, in 1896, the sport is very different than the sport we watch today with colour matched plates and precision barbells being hoisted overhead by athletes with precision technique. Back then, there were no weight classes, no women’s divisions and even the lifts themselves were very different. The first lift was the “two handed lift”, which was similar to today’s power clean and push press. The second lift was the single arm lift, performed with a dumbbell, similar to today’s dumbbell snatch. Successful heavy lifts were usually a better demonstration of brute strength than technique by today’s standards.

By 1902, the first barbells with adjustable weights were introduced to the market. At the time, strength sports were still seen as novelty performed by a niche few, with little to no information around the benefits of regular training. Due to a lack of popularity, the sport was discontinued from the Olympic games until it was finally reinstated in the 1920’s where it remains to this day.

In 1905, the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) was established as the governing body for the sport that still regulates the rules, regulations and equipment specifications of the sport to this day. By 1910, the first rotating Olympic barbells started being used but it wasn’t until 1928 that the 20kg barbell was set as the standard for all competitive weightlifting. The standard barbell includes two rotating and loadable sleeves (one on each barbell end), single knurl marks, a 28mm shaft with centre knurling. The centre knurling was used to perform the single arm lift which still exists in the design of modern barbells. To this day, the design remains relatively unchanged, although the components have improved with modern engineering and machining processes.

It wasn’t until 1924, the single arm snatch was discontinued while the two handed snatch was first introduced to the sport. The clean and press was still included until it was finally removed and replaced with the clean and jerk in the 1972 Munich Olympics.

It wasn’t until the 2000 Sydney games, that the women’s event was finally introduced to the sport, using the 15kg barbell featuring a 25mm shaft. Since the single arm lift was already discontinued by the time women’s weightlifting was introduced to the Olympics, the women’s bar never received a centre knurling. To this day all men’s barbells built to IWF specifications will still feature a centre knurling since the specifications were never changed after the single arm lift was discontinued from the sport.


Does that mean that all barbells built to IWF specifications are the same? Not exactly. As a precision sport that has very few variables, the details are what matters most. Throughout different manufacturers, the price and quality of IWF barbells can differ, significantly. So how do you know what barbell to choose? Well, there are a number of factors to consider.


  1. Whip – The “whip” of the barbell is one of the most significant things that can be felt right away with heavy loads, through a variety of movements. For weightlifting, whip is good, but only the right amount. Whip provides the lifter with feedback that can be felt through the critical moments in a lift. The type of steel and barbell coating used will determine how much whip any given barbell provides.
  2. Spin – One of the most important design elements in any quality weightlifting bar. Without spin, the snatch and clean and jerk can be very dangerous, placing significant stress on the wrists which won’t be able to rotate into position fast enough to receive a heavy barbell. The barbell must be able to rotate both smoothly and freely in order for a quality turnover at the top of the lift. This is best achieved through precision needle bearings placed into the barbell sleeve. The type of, and amount of bearings used will also determine how well it performs this job.
  3. Knurling – Knurling can be a touchy topic for some. A very aggressive knurling pattern ensures a very secure grip to the barbell but can also tear your hands up very quickly for day to day training. Competition weightlifting barbells will usually use a very aggressive knurling to ensure that no lift is failed on the platform due to a lack of grip to the barbell. Since aggressive knurling patterns can wear down your hands quickly, many competitive weightlifters will prefer softer/medium knurling intensities for their day to day training, especially when competitions are far away.
  4. Price – Competition barbells can range significantly in price, which always raises the question: which barbell gives the best functionality and quality without breaking the bank? At Zeus Fitness, this is our niche. We believe that premium equipment doesn’t need to include a premium price tag. All of our IWF specification barbells are built with 10 precision needle bearings in each barbell. This ensures smooth and consistent rotation and turnover regardless of load. Each barbell is built with a proprietary steel that creates both smooth and consistent whip through every movement. Medium knurling pattern ensures a solid grip while ensuring you can train day in and day out without ripping your hands to shreds. Designed and engineered to handle daily abuse while giving competition precision with every movement. Read more information about our barbells by going to: Barbells – Zeus Fitness BC


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1 comment

Lots of great information. Thanks for this article.


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