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New Home Gym Equipment
Part One

Powerlifting Bars

By Gary Zeolla

      I recently purchased several pieces of new equipment for my home gym. In Part One of this article I will review the new powerlifting bars I purchased. In Part Two I will review miscellaneous other new equipment. This article is a supplement to the section Setting Up a Home Gym on the website. See the page New Home Gym Equipment: Pictures and Videos for such media for all of the items mentioned in this two-part article.


Texas Power Bar

      Before discussing my new bars, a review of my old one would be helpful. It is a Texas Power Bar (TPB). I got it from Elite Fitness , but a TPB is also available from Amazon, though I am not sure if they are identical. Some of the comments say the Amazon bar is a “real” TPB, while says it is not. But I am sure the one at Elite Fitness is the real thing. I got my TPB when I first set up my home gym back in the fall of 2005.

      One of the first things I did with it was to weigh it. It only weighs 43 pounds not the 45 that I expected, but the first pair of 45s I always put on actually weigh 46 pounds each, so together my “base weight” is 135 pounds, exactly what it should be. I used this bar exclusively in my home gym for the next decade plus.

      By the spring of 2016, my TPB had held up very well. It showed no signs of wear or bending. However, the knurling had worn down where I grip it for deadlifts. But that was probably not due to normal use but due to putting Power Hooks on it. Power Hooks are great for doing dumbbell benches, especially when lifting alone. But when I first started using them a decade before, I thought of the possibility that constantly hooking metal on metal would wear down the knurling on my TPB. I thus thought of using a cheap bar I had gotten with a weight set from Dunham when using the Power Hooks, but I just didn’t want the bother of changing bars around. Big mistake, as my TPB would probably still be just fine, and I wouldn’t have had to look for a new bar.

      My TPB still works just fine for squats and benches. The knurling further out where I grip it for those lifts is not as worn down as the area where I grip it for deadlifts, so my hands do not slip. It is just on deadlifts that I had been having problems with my grip. This was affecting all of my deadlift training, as I was concentrating so much on holding my grip that I was not focusing on the pull itself. As such, I began looking into getting a new power bar. My main concern was that it had good knurling for deadlifts, but I figured I would probably also use it for squat and bench workouts. As such, it needed to have center knurling. I would then use my old TPB for my Bench Assistance workouts, which were my only workouts where I would use the Power Hooks.

      Given this, my first thought was to get another TPB and checked Elite Fitness. But it costs $348 plus $24 shipping. The one on Amazon cost $399 but with free shipping. That was a bit pricy for me, so I looked into other alternatives. I first thought of an Okie Bar from Ricky Crain, as I use his belt and wraps. It costs $279.00 + $40.00 shipping. I then checked APT by Alan Thomas, as I also use his wraps. He has three bars in his site: the Okie Bar, a Diamond Pro Power Bar costing $249.95, and a Pro Power Bar costing $309.95, all of these plus $35 shipping.

      Any of these might have worked, but I was unable to find reviews on them, so I wasn’t sure about them. But then I found a CAP Heavy Duty Power Bar, which I will review next. But before I do, one last bar I found after ordering the Heavy Duty Bar was the Ohio Power Bar, available from Rogue Fitness. It costs $250 plus $15 shipping. I might have ordered it if I had seen it before the Heavy Duty Bar as the reviews for it were very positive. But as will be seen, things worked out as it was.


CAP Heavy Duty Power Bar


      I got this Heavy Duty Power Bar (HDPB) from Warehouse Fitness for $220 plus $20.78 shipping, but it is also available from Amazon. Reading the specs and reviews, it sounded like it was just what I wanted: aggressive knurling, including center knurling, and at a reasonable price.  But there was one aspect of the specs that had me a little concerned, which requires a bit of explanation.

      My TBP has a diameter of 28.5 mm. Most powerlifting federation rulebooks indicate that a regular power bar at a contest must have a diameter of 28-29 mm, so my TBP is within that requirement. However, feds that allow specialty bars for squats and deadlifts say the squat bar can be as thick as 35 mm, while the deadlift bar can be as thin as 27 mm. The bar that is used in York, PA for the IPA's major contests is 35 mm, and that amount of difference can be noticed. But that is thicker than most squat bars, which are closer to 32 mm.

      Meanwhile, this HDPB has a diameter of 30 mm. That would make it closer in diameter to squat bars I would probably be using at contests and thus better prepare me for doing so. But it would also make it significantly thicker than the deadlift bar. But still, with the aggressive knurling, I thought I would not have a problem holding onto it for deadlifts, so I ordered it.

      When it came, I can say it looked like a very nice bar, perfectly straight, with aggressive and center knurling. But when I laid my TPB beside it, I noticed a difference in the lengths of the knurling and smooth parts. The knurling on this bar extends a little more inward and the center knurling was a little longer, thus making the smooth part shorter.

      When I weighted it, it weighed 45 pounds, just what it is supposed to, but that is two pounds more than my TPB. With my first 45s actually weighing 46 pounds, that makes my base weight 137 pounds, but I ignore those two “extra” pounds.

      I first used this bar for squats, and it felt great.  It stuck to my back with no slippage, and the thicker bar just felt better on my back. I thus knew I would always use this bar for squats.

      Then I did a bench workout with it, and it worked very well. The extra thickness was noticeable, but it felt good in my hands, and I had no problems with my hands slipping. But it did have a minor problem: with bar being black, and with me lying on the bench with the light over my power rack shinning downward, I was looking at the dark side of the bar. As a result, I could not see where the knurling ended and the smooth part began. I thus had to feel my way to get my grip. But I fixed that by putting a chalk circle around each end of the knurling, so I could see better where it ended. I then did the same for all of the markings on the bar, and had no problems benching with it.

      But then I used this HDPB for deadlifts, and I ran into problems. First, part of the reason the bar did not slip on squats and benches is there is a “tackiness” to the entire bar, both on the knurling and on the smooth part of the bar. That is great for squats and benches, but it made the bar “stick” when it hit my thighs on deadlifts. This is probably due to the black oxide coating. The knurling was also hitting my thighs, so the lockout was very difficult. And the extra thickness did make for a problem with holding onto the bar.

      I tried it for a couple of deadlift workouts, but it made the lift too difficult, so in my third workout, I switched from the HDPB to my TPB after my warmups. I dealt with the difficulty of the worn-down knurling on the TPB by chalking not just my hands but also the bar before every work set. That helped some, but I still was having a problem with my grip, and all of the chalking was very tedious and time-consuming. I thus still needed to get a bar for deadlifts, which I will discuss next.

    But first, I will continue to use this HDPB for squats and sometimes for benches, as this bar is good for most exercises other than deadlifts. It is closer in thickness to the squat bars I usually use at contests and sometimes to the bench bar (more on that later). But it does not work well for arm work, as the thicker bar just doesn’t feel right for curls. Thus my recommendation would be to get this bar for squats and maybe for benches, but if you need a bar for deadlifts, look elsewhere.

    One last point, rather than wearing down the knurling any more on my TPB using the Power Hooks, when using them, I am using an old steel bar I used to use for pull-ups before getting my power rack (which has a pull-up bar on it). To hold the old steel bar down, I am using a pair of six-pound, white vinyl plates that for some reason I still have from back in the day. the point being, do not ruin a good power bar using Power Hooks. Either use an older power bar or something like this steel bar.


Deadlift Bar vs. Power Bar


      My most recent powerlifting contest was IPA PA States. At it, a specialty deadlift bar was to be used on the platform for deadlifts. In the warmup room beforehand, two lifters asked me what the difference was between a deadlift bar and a regular power bar, so before reviewing my new deadlift bar, I will explain the difference. Actually, there are four design differences between a deadlift bar and a regular power bar, resulting in three functional differences.

      The first design difference is a deadlift bar has more aggressive knurling than a regular power bar. This results in the obvious functional difference of a deadlift bar being easier to hold onto.

      The second design difference is a deadlift bar is thinner than a power bar, 27 mm versus 28-29 mm. This again aids in the functional difference of making the deadlift bar easier to hold onto. But it would make a deadlift bar to be less usable for squats, as the thinner bar would dig into the shoulders. However, the thinner bar contributes to a second functional difference that benefits the deadlift—enabling the bar to bend more than a power bar. The benefit of that will be discussed in a moment.

      The third design difference is a deadlift bar is longer than a power bar, 90.5” versus 86.5”. This has the effect of moving the plates farther outward, which, if you understand basic physics, also enables the bar to bend more.

      The benefit of the bar bending is this: when a deadlifter begins the pull, a deadlift bar will bend upward slightly in the center before the plates at the end begin to raise off of the floor. This enables slight momentum to be built up before having to actually lift the weights thus making the initial pull of the floor slightly easier. This is especially important for sumo deadlifters like myself, as the pull off of the floor is the hardest part.

      But this bending of the bar would again make a deadlift bar less usable for squats and even for benches, as it could cause there to be some “whip” to the bar. Thus on squats, when the squatter reaches the hole, the bar could whip downward when the squatter is trying to change directions and begin the ascent. This whipping would then hinder that ascent. The same could happen at the chest on benches. But this would not be a problem on deadlifts, unless there is so much whip it throws the lifter off balance as the bar whips upward at the top the lift.

      The fourth design difference is there is no center knurling on a deadlift bar. Such is not needed for deadlifts and possibly could get in the way for conventional deadlifters, if they have a very close stance and the knurling hits the thighs, causing drag. This design difference thus has the functional difference of making the lockout easier. But this lack of center knurling would again make a deadlift bar less usable for squats, as that center knurling is needed to keep the bar from slipping off of the back.

      The point of all of this is a deadlift bar is ideal for deadlifts, but only deadlifts. It is not designed to be used for squats, benches, or any other lift.


Ohio Deadlift Bar


      I can use my TPB or HDPB for squats, benches, and other lifts, so it did not make sense to get another regular power bar just for deadlifts. I thus decided to spend the extra money and get a deadlift bar. And that is yet another difference: a deadlift bar is more expensive than a regular power bar. But since deadlifts are one-third of the sport of powerlifting, and since my squat and bench has been going great since getting my HDPB, while my deadlift has been lagging behind, I figured it was worth the money to get a deadlift bar.

      There are several deadlift bars on the market, and I have probably used different brands of deadlifts bars at contests, but the Ohio Deadlift Bar (ODB) is the first and only deadlift bar I ever used in training. I decided on the ODB due to it being cheaper than a Texas Deadlift Bar or an Okie Deadlift Bar, the two other major available deadlift bars. Also the reviews for the ODB on Rogue Fitness (the maker of the ODB) were very good. But then, so were the reviews of the other bars on the sites that sell them. Only having used the ODB, I cannot compare it to the two others.

      The ODB is available in bare steel and in zinc oxide versions. I ordered the former as it was much cheaper. Also, it is probably due to the black oxide coating that my HDPB has too much tackiness to be used for deadlifts. I’m not sure if zinc oxide would have the same tackiness, but I didn’t want to risk it.

      Before reviewing the bar itself, I will say I ordered the bar on a Friday morning and received it Tuesday afternoon. Kudos to Rouge Fitness for the fast delivery.      However, the bar was packed in a heavy cardboard tube. I could tell just by looking at it that it was going to be very difficult to unpack. I looked on the tube for instructions, but didn’t see any. I thus began on one end, trying to pry off the heavy foil plug in the end of the tube. It was stapled on with wood staples. After much effort, I got it off. I tried to pull the bar out, but to no avail. I then moved to the other end and pried off that plug, hoping I could push the bar out, but again, to no avail.

      It was then that I noticed the pictorial instructions on a label on that end. They showed to not to knock the bar out by tilting the tube and banging it on the ground. But instead, you were to put on gloves and to cut the tube, unwinding it along the curved seams. To get started, I had to cut into the heavy cardboard, then really pull. The cardboard came off in two layers, so I had to pull one layer a short distance, then cut it off, then do the same with the other layer, then move down a short distance, and repeat. It was very difficult and slow work.

      After almost an hour, I finally got the bar out. Maybe there was an easier way, but I couldn’t figure it out, and I was left very tired out as a result. The previous bars I ordered were not packed in such a difficult to open way, and they arrived with no damage, so I see no reason why this bar had to be so packed. In any case, the bar was then wrapped in plastic. When I took it off, there was a slight oil smell, and the bar felt a bit oily. But I wiped it off with no problems.

      I then laid my TPB beside the OPB. The markings matched up perfectly, except for the ODB being longer and not having center knurling. The shaft of the OPB was also noticeably thinner, but the knurling was more aggressive. I then weighed it, and it weight exactly 44.4 pounds (20 kg), exactly what it was supposed to weigh. But with this bar being longer than my regular power bars, I cannot put it in my bar holder, as there is no clearance between the top of the bar and the ceiling to slide it into the bar holder. I thus put matting on the floor in a corner and leaned it there.

      I was anxious to try out this new bar, but my next scheduled deadlift workout was not until Sunday, so I would have to wait until then to try it out. When I did the workout, the first thing I noticed was there was still some oil on the bar, so after every set for the first half of the workout I had to wipe off my hands and the bar. But by the second half of the workout, I didn’t notice the oil anymore. But despite the oil, this bar was very easier to hold onto, and I had no problems whatsoever with my grip.

      I use a sumo stance for competition, but I also do conv deadlifts of various varieties for assistance work. In this workout I was doing platform (deficit) conv deadlifts. Along with no problems on my grip, I mostly noticed how easy it was to lock out. That was because the smooth part of the bar was entirely hitting my thighs and sliding up with no resistance. The initial pull also felt easy, despite the 2-1/4” deficit. The warm-ups felt so good, I increased my planned weights for my work sets by five pounds and still got my planned reps, and with strength to spare.

      My second exercise was sumo chain deadlifts. I also increased my planned weights by five pounds and still got my planned reps, but the sets were very tough. That was probably because there was no benefit to the extra smooth part of the bar, as with sumos my hands hit my thighs, not the bar. Also, since chains deload at the floor, there was no benefit from the bending of the bar helping with the initial pull. But despite the added weight of the chains, I still had no problems with my grip.

      Another small problem I was having in this first workout was due to the lack of center knurling. Such is not needed for deadlifts, but I would use it to line up the bar in the center of my platform, following the line down the middle where two 4’ x 6’ gym mats meet. But with no center knurling, I couldn’t eyeball the center. But I fixed that by measuring the center and wrapping a thin piece of duct tape around it.

      Then when I was done with the bar, I decided not to put it in the same corner, as I had a hard time getting it out, as the rafters were in the way due to the bar being longer than my other bars, which just clear the rafters. I thus had to clear out room in a different corner where I could lean it without hitting a rafter. But all of this got me behind, so I had to skip my final exercise of this workout. But I was hopeful I had gotten all of the issues resolved, so next time I could use the bar problem free.

      My next workout would the most important as I was doing regular sumo deadlifts. And sure enough, there was no problem with the bar feeling oily. But most importantly, I had no problems with my grip, so I could focus on the pull itself. And this workout went great, with me tying or setting new 50s PRs. Those PRs were set months before. But since then, my deadlift training had stalled, probably due to the grip problems. But with this new ODB, that is no longer an issue. The initial pull off of the floor felt a bit easier, and in the video I could see the bar bending slightly as it came off of the floor.

      Also, on my first and third sets of sumo deadlifts, only my hands hit my thighs. But on the second set, the smooth part did and that made the lockout easier. I experimented afterwards and found out that if I hold my hands just a bit wider, then the bar hits my thighs, rather than my hands. With that minor change, I think this new ODB is going to work out great, and I am looking forward to more great workouts.

      These are the only two workouts I have done with this ODB as of this writing. But by the time Part Two of this article is published, God-willing, I will have entered a contest. I will give an update then.


Bars at Contests


      Having mentioned a contest and before closing this Part One of this two-part article, it would be good to mention about bars I have used at powerlifting contests. At some contests, one regular power bar was used for all three lifts. But those were small, local contests with about a dozen lifters. At every major contest I have entered, meaning a State Championship or higher, a specialty squat bar and deadlift bar were used, and a few even used a specialty bench bar. But I do not compete in the USAPL/ IPA, which allows only a regular power bar for all three lifts. You'll need to check the rulebook for the federation you compete in for details in this regard.

      Remember, the main difference between a specialty squat bar is it is thicker than a regular power bar, while a deadlift bar is thinner, and both are longer. Another difference is a squat bar weighs 55-65 pounds, while a deadlift bar weighs 45-55 pounds.

    As for a specialty bench bar, one difference between it and a regular power bar is the sleeves are longer. That is to accommodate the greater number of plates needed for heavyweight equipped benchers. For that matter, the longer sleeves on squat and deadlift bars would also be for the same reason. A specialty bench bar also has less whip than a regular power bar and is thicker, but not as thick as a squat bar. The Sabertooth Bench Bar is the only one I could find online, and it is 30 mm, the same as my HDPB. A bench bar can weigh from 50-65 pounds.

      As mentioned, I had a couple of lifters asking me about the deadlift bar at my most recent contest. That was because they were worried the difference in the bar would throw them off. I assured them they would not notice the difference, except that they would have no problems with their grip. But I do remember a couple of times lifters complaining that the thicker squat bar threw off their balance.

      I never noticed that. But still, the old adage “train as you compete” would apply here. If there will probably be one regular power bar used at your next contest, then it would be best to train on one regular power bar. But if specialty bars will be used, it would be best to use them in training. Following are the specs for the bars at my last contest in York, PA. These are all Wolfe brand bars (thanks to Ellen Chaillet for sending these to me):

AArctic Wolfe Squat Bar: 65 pounds, 35 mm thick

Mackenzie Wolfe Bench Bar: 50 pounds, 29.5 mm thick

Alpha Wolfe Deadlift Bar: 50 pounds, 27 mm thick

        Following are the specs for the bars to be used at my forthcoming contest (APF Ohio States in Mansfield, OH on September 10:

Okie Squat Bar: 55 pounds, 31.5 mm thick

Texas Power Bar: 50 pounds, 28.5 mm thick

Okie Deadlift bar: 45 pounds, 27 mm thick

    Note that at the APF contest a regular Texas Power Bar rather than a bench bar is to be used. Since I have a TPB, I switched to using it as I prepare for the APF contest. When I made the switch, I thought the sets would feel easy due to my TPB weighing two pounds less than my HDPB. But it was the exact opposite; they felt harder. It seems the thicker bar aids the bench. That could explain why benches went so well at my last contest, for which I trained on my TPB, but a Wolfe Bench Bar was used. A pamphlet for the Wolfe bars says its bench bar, "has an optimal grip thickness of 29.5 mm comfortably distributing the weight in the hands." I have found that to be true and thus will switch back to my HDPB after this contest as I prepare for IPA PA States in 2017, as its 30 mm diameter is close that of the Wolfe Bench Bar to be used at that contest.

      However, the problem with using a squat bar and a bench bar in training is they are very expensive. The two squat bars I looked at were the Okie Squat Bar, which costs $510 plus shipping from Crain, and the Texas Power Bar, which costs $485 plus shipping at Elite Fitness. A bench bar is also very expensive, with the Sabertooth costing $625 plus shipping at Elite Fitness. That is too pricy for me. That is why I got the Heavy Duty Power Bar. It is not quite as thick as a squat bar, but thicker than a regular power bar, and about the same as a bench bar, and much less expensive than either.




      If you can only afford one power bar to train with, then either a Texas Power Bar or a Ohio Power Bar would be a great choice. I've never used the Okie Power Bar, but it would probably work well also. But if you can afford specialty bars, then any of the above mentioned squat bars would probably be great for squats and a specialty bench bar for benches. But a cheaper alternative would be a Heavy Duty Power Bar for squats and maybe for benches. Then the Ohio Deadlift Bar would work great for deadlifts, as probably would the Okie or Texas Deadlift Bars.

    The Wolfe bars I use at IPA contests in York would also be good options, but I could not find the website for them, but there contact info is: Iron Wolfe Barbell Inc ~ Address: 210 Lafayette St, York, PA 17401 ~ Phone: (717) 846-5259, Facebook.


Update: Bars at APF/ AAPF Ohio States

    I competed in the Ohio State Powerlifting Championships for the American Powerlifting Federation (APF) and the Amateur American Powerlifting Federation (AAPF) in Mansfield, OH, on Saturday, September 10, 2016. For details on my performance, see my contest report. But here; at this contest, an Okie Squat Bar was used. It is 31.5 mm thick and weights weighs 55 pounds. The knurling on it was more than sufficient for squats, and it felt about the same on my back as my Heavy Duty Power Bar (HDPB), which is 30 mm thick. I thus had no problems due to the use of a specialty squat bar. And I can now say, if you’re looking for a specialty squat bar, the Okie would be a good choice.

      A Texas Power Bar (TPB) was used for benches. It is 28.5 mm thick and weighs the normal 45 pounds. I had been using my HDPB for training for benches since getting it earlier this year, but when I found out a TPB was to be used at the contest, I switched to mine. And I am glad I did, as if I hadn’t I might have overestimated my capabilities. I say that as when I first switched from my TPB to the HDPB in training, I noticed a slight but noticeable jump in my training weights; but then when I switched back, a corresponding drop, so it would seem a thicker bar is beneficial for benches. This explains why benches felt so good at my previous contest, in which a Wolfe Bench Bar was used, which is 29.5 mm thick and weighs 50 pounds.

      In any case, by training on the same bar as would be used at the contest, I was able to pick my attempts just right. Well actually, if it were a workout, I would have tried 177.5 pounds on my third attempt, but of course, such a “odd” weight cannot be attempted at a contest. But I would have gotten it without the dramatics it took to get the 180.\

    However, I will use my HDPB for all of my bench work in my current training plan, along with all of my squat work. I prefer the extra thickness of the HDPB over that of my TPB, and it will be closer to the thickness of the Wolfe Bench Bar to be used at my next contest. And even after that, I will probably stick with the HDPB. But if a thinner bar will be used at a following contest, then I will switch to my TPB for the last couple of workouts for the aid in picking attempts.

      However, deadlifts were where bar differences were really noticeable. I have been training on a Ohio Deadlift Bar for the last several weeks, while a Okie Deadlift Bar was used at the contest. Both bars are 27 mm thick and weigh 45 pounds. But the differences are in the knurling and whip.

      My Ohio bar has very deep knurling, so much so that I tore a callus on it when I first started using it that still has not healed, as I keep re-tearing it every time I deadlift. But that deep knurling has meant I have had no problems with my grip in training. But I have been a bit leery that if I enter a contest using a bar without such deep knurling, I would have grip problems. And that might have proven to be the case, as I was losing my grip on my second and third attempts.

      I say “might have” as part of the reason for my grip problem might have been the torn callus and the bandage that I was trying to keep on it. I had to change it after squats and again after benches. But with deadlifts, I had to change it once during warmups, after warmups, and after each attempt. And after each attempt, the bandage had pulled off. It is thus possible the bandage was slipping between my hand and the bar, causing the grip problem. But I was very leery not to cover it, lest I really tore it, and it would never heal.

      Conversely, there is a bit of whip to the Ohio bar, but not much. As such, it has not made that much of a difference in the initial pull off of the floor in training. But at the contest, I could see as I watched the lifters before and after me that the Okie bar has much greater whip, as it was bending considerably on everyone’s attempts, even those who were not using that great of weights. And it was really bending with the heavyweights. That whip is probably why my final attempt came off of the floor very easily, and why I probably would have been good for five more pounds.

      It is thus a toss-up which bar would be best train on. Train on the Ohio bar, and you might have problems with your grip at a contest. But then at a contest using a bar with more whip, you might find the initial pull very easy. Train on an Okie bar, and you shouldn’t have any problems with your grip at a contest using a bar with deeper knurling. But you might find the weights “sticking” to the floor if the contest bar has less whip.

      As for me, I have the Ohio Deadlift Bar and will keep training with it. At my next planned contest, there will be a Wolfe Deadlift Bar. It is similar to the Ohio bar in terms of knurling and whip, so using the Ohio bar will prepare me just fine. But to prepare for future contests using a bar with less deep knurling, I will need to do grip work. I will detail my plans in that regard in my forthcoming Training Plan Preview article.


      Part Two of this article looks at miscellaneous other equipment I have purchased for my home gym in the past year or so. And don't forget to check out the New Home Gym Equipment: Pictures and Videos page.

New Home Gym Equipment - Part One. Copyright 2016 by Gary F. Zeolla.

The above article was posted on this site August 1, 2016.
It was last updated September 24, 2016.

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