The Difference Between a Power Bar, Olympic Bar, and Deadlift Bar

If you have recently made the switch from a large scale commercial gym to a smaller privately owned specialty gym, you may be surprised to learn that their are multiple kinds of barbells.

Maybe you’re lucky and the gym is nice and has them all labeled for you, or you found out the hard way when the owner was giving you the evil eye from across the gym for using the brand new power bar for rack pulls.

In any case, yes, despite them all looking pretty similar there are multiple kinds of the same 45lb barbell, and each of them serve a different purpose. Here are the 3 most likely styles of bar you will run into and what they do.

1. Power Bar

Power bars are the most likely “specialty bar” that you’ll find in a gym. These are one step up from your usual “all purpose” barbell and it should be no surprise that they are made specifically for the sport of powerlifting.

Also called “stiff bars” power bars will have the least amount of whip. Put simply, the bar isn’t going to bend much under heavy load. This is great for heavy lifting in the squat, bench, and deadlift as too much whip can add an unwanted variable to training, and in some cases be downright dangerous when you are talking about truly heavy lifts.

Additionally these bars will also feature very aggressive knurling, which while great for competitive lifters, can feel very sharp in the hands of someone who is just starting out in lifting, it just takes some getting used to.

You’ll always have center knurling on a power bar for extra grip on squats and the knurling along with the markers on the bar are typically setup to standard powerlifting metrics.

2. Olympic Bar

Just like the power bar is used for powerlifting, the Olympic bar is used for…you guessed it…Olympic weightlifting.

The most distinctive feature of an Olympic bar is the bearings. If you have a good Oly bar they should spin much more efficiently compared to something like a power bar, allowing weightlifters to more easily rotate under and catch the bar for their main movements the snatch and the clean and jerk.

Likewise, these bars will have more whip to them compared to an power bar, and tend to lack center knurling altogether or have very light center knurling so weightlifters don’t scratch their neck/throat during lifts.

Keep in mind these bars will also feature different markings compared to a power bar as they are setup to weightlifting standards, so if something feels “off” compared to your usual setup you may have just accidently grabbed an Oly bar.

3. Deadlift Bar

The last type of specialty bar you are going to find before getting into more “niche” bars is a deadlift bar. Popular for their use in USPA powerlifting as well as the sport of strongman, these bars are easy to pick out because they will be the tallest in the gym.

Deadlift bars are notable in that they are longer than normal, have a much thinner diameter on the shaft, and much more whip compared to any other barbell. These bars are going to bend a great deal before they leave the floor in a heavy deadlift, which in most cases means you’ll be able to deadlift a small percentage more with these bars compared to a stiff power bar.

Deadlift bars are a 50/50 love hate relationship, people either love to use them or steer clear of them and stick with a power bar. They do have a distinctive “feel” to them compared to a power bar so if you have a competition coming up that involves one I’d highly suggest finding a gym that has one to train with.

As the name sake implies these are really only used for deadlifts due to how much whip the bar has, and shouldn’t be used for other common strength movements like the squat and bench press.


Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.