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Getting Started with Weightlifting: Choosing Bars and Plates for Home Workouts

Daily exercises are widely available for use at home and can be found online through generators and apps.  While many of these workouts can be completed using only bodyweight or minimal equipment, if you’re committed to training, eventually you’ll find yourself eyeing up the big weights.  Investing in weightlifting equipment will add variety to your workouts and remove limits on your progress in strength and conditioning.  The right equipment will make your lifts feel better and adapt well to the varied nature of this style of training.  Here’s what you need to know to get started.


Lifting 101: Lifting weights traditionally falls into two schools: powerlifting and weightlifting, each with their own demands on your body and equipment.  Powerlifting focuses on three to four major lifts: the deadlift, bench press, squat, and military or overhead press.  The technique of these lifts emphasizes strict form and requirements that are directed at maximizing body strength, such as requiring that a lifter’s butt remain in contact with the bench throughout the bench press. Weightlifting (sometimes called Olympic lifting) includes two lifts, the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk.  These lifts are multi-phased and complex, emphasizing technique in different way than powerlifting due to their explosive actions and overhead catching movements.  Weightlifting equipment responds to these demands by developing bumper plates, which can be dropped onto lifting platforms, and bars that include a spinning action that is responsive to the explosive components of these lifts.  The sport of functional training includes lifts from each of these schools, as well as variations that are unique to functional training, which means you’ll want equipment that works well over a range of lifts.  For the most part, weightlifting style equipment fits that bill. Ready to dive in?  Here are some things to consider.


Space:  If you’re hefting big weights, it’s time to move to the garage or a dedicated space in your home. A basement floor might be able to take the pounding of heavy lifts, but you’ll want to be sure that your ceilings are high enough to allow you to fully extend your arms (and plates) overhead in order to complete Olympic style lifts, such as the Clean and Jerk and Snatch.  Attaching a pull-up bar or home rig is easier on the exposed rafters and walls of most garage spaces. Another advantage to the garage gym is the immediate access it provides to the outdoors (no sprinting up the basement stairs to complete the mile at the end of your Murph).  This gives you more space for jumping rope, wall balls (use the side of your house), bear crawls, and outdoor runs.  Before you invest in your sweet set up, clean out your garage, put in a fan and a space heater, if necessary, and pull the car out into the driveway.  You can always move it back in after you’ve finished your training.


The Bar:  When it comes to your bar, your major considerations are going to be size and style. Standard bars are 45 pounds and a bar that is suited for dynamic lifts, such as Cleans and Snatches, will have a spin that is suited to the overhead component of these lifts.  Most athletes will do just fine with a standard sized bar, though smaller bars in the 35 pound range are available.  Some feature a smaller diameter that can be well suited for a woman’s hands or may be shorter overall, which can make them more manageable in smaller spaces.  If you are purchasing a shorter bar and plan on using it with a rack or rig, be sure that your set up is suited for your bar size.  Most high quality bars are suited for both powerlifting and weightlifting (also called Olympic lifting) and will handle the loads of serious athletes.


Plates:   Bumper plates are designed to handle the demands of dynamic lifts, especially with high reps and heavy weight loads.  While bumper plates can be used for both powerlifting and weightlifting, iron weights will not work as well for Olympic style weightlifting.  Bumper plates are designed to withstand the occasional drop onto a properly prepared floor or lifting platform and provide a better height for deadlifting from the ground than smaller, iron plates.  Remember that you can add more plates as you progress and don’t need to completely outfit your lifting station immediately.  You should also take into consideration your bar weight and the increments of your lift progressions to get the right set up for you.  The handiest bumper plate sizes tend to be 25 and 45 pounds, which you’ll want to complement with enough 2.5, 5, and 10 pound plates to provide reasonable jumps in weight as you work up to heavier lifts and to tackle lighter workouts.  Functional training workouts will frequently feature 65 pounds for women/95 pounds for men, so make sure you’ve got the plates you need to make that happen with your bar.


Accessorize: Don’t forget collars for your bar and a decent weight belt.  Since functional training workouts tend to include a lot of quick transitions and changes in the weight throughout the workout, get a pair of strong collars that are easy and fast to use.  Give the same thought to your weight belt. While a buckle or latch weight belt can provide more security for powerlifting, a Velcro style fastener will make it easier to ditch your belt when you need to quickly transition between lifts and cardio. Many athletes also appreciate the support that wrist wraps provide for overhead movements.


Coaching: If you’re new to serious lifting, time with a reputable coach is the best investment you can make.  Coaches can work with you to learn the basics, but don’t be afraid to shop around.  Many coaches have backgrounds in powerlifting and weightlifting and can add that knowledge to helping you perfect your form. Advanced coaches have completed additional training in program design and coaching and can take you beyond simply completing daily exercises.  Don’t be afraid to check out a few gyms (it’s fun!) and ask around.  Most fitness enthusiasts love to talk about their experiences and will help you find great local training resources.



About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. Learn more about Joli.

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