Lifting weights should be an essential component of your workout regimen if you care about:
- Looking great
- Becoming strong
- And promoting better long term health outcomes
Even just one month of weight training is enough to drastically improve your mood and start packing on muscle.
But if it’s your first time lifting weights at the gym, you might be confused by what you see.
Loading up a barbell with weight plates sounds simple enough, but there are often a lot of different types of weight plates to choose from!
Some are fat, some are thin. Some have small holes, others large. Some are round and some are hexagonal.
Which ones should you use and what are the differences?
The most important types of weight plates to understand are standard vs Olympic plates. Standard plates have a smaller hole and are designed to fit 1″ barbells, while Olympic plates fit 2″ barbells. At most respectable gyms, the barbells and free weights will be of the Olympic variety.
However, standard bars and weights can sometimes be a more affordable option for home, or for specialty bars. Spinlock dumbbell sets usually use a 1″ bar, for example, and require standard plates.
Weight plates also come in tons of different materials and shapes which have different uses, but ultimately it comes down to preference and what’s available at your gym.
Let’s take a closer look.
Standard vs. Olympic weight plates
Many plates are referred to as either being “standard” or “olympic.”
The primary difference between the two is that standard plates have a one-inch hole for the bar to go through.
Meanwhile, Olympic plates have a two-inch hole that are specifically designed for Olympic bars.
There’s no difference in the weight itself or the amount of resistance each one offers.
However, most proper weight lifting set ups at the gym will use Olympic barbells and weights. Confusingly enough, it’s the standard (for lack of a better word) across the board, and Olympic barbells are more versatile and durable (for lifting heavy on squats, deadlifts, etc.)
You can find standard bars at the gym sometimes, just be aware that the standard bar weighs less (around 15 to 25 pounds vs the Olympic which always weighs 45) and has a smaller load capacity.
Standard 1″ equipment also sometimes makes more sense for a home gym set up, and dumbbell bars are usually 1″.
Different types of weight plate materials
The material your weight plates are made out of can affect the type of workouts you engage in.
At a gym, you don’t have much of a choice. However, when purchasing your own set, it pays to consider how you plan on exercising in the future.
Additionally, some materials are more resilient than others. You want your weight set to be an investment, so make sure you purchase something that lasts a long time without deteriorating too much.
Cast iron plates are among the most durable of all the materials. Even if you drop them, they retain their resilience, and you don’t have to worry about cracks or other damage forming.
They may be the most economical choice, but you need to be careful about leaving them outside or in a humid environment like a garage. They are susceptible to rust, so you want to ensure they don’t come into contact with moisture.
Another problem some lifters have with cast iron plates is that you can’t drop them.
You could end up damaging your floor, so you want to ensure you gently set the weights on the ground after a set.
Rubber (or Bumper)
On the other hand, bumper plates are kinder to floors.
These are plates you can drop from a substantial height without worrying too much about leaving a crack behind — they’re made entirely of dense rubber and have a bit of bounce to them. They’re also usually quite a bit thicker than other plates.
Additionally, rubber is available in different colors, so if you want your gear to stand out, then you can opt for a rubber weight set that comes in a variety of shades.
However, rubber tends to be more expensive than cast iron.
Don’t confuse rubber bumper plates with cast iron plates that are simply coated in rubber. Don’t drop those rubber coated ones!
Urethane plates are the most expensive material out there.
The benefit is that it also happens to be the most durable material out there.
This is why you tend to find urethane plates at gyms. The gym naturally doesn’t want to pay for new plates all the time with different people dropping them constantly.
Urethane plates have been known to last for decades. As such, it’s best to consider purchasing weight plates made from this material as an investment you’ll benefit from for years.
There’s no different in how you use rubber, urethane, or cast iron weights and no difference in the resistance they offer. It mostly comes down to look, feel, durability, and whether or not it’s safe to drop them!
Other weight plate features to consider
The material your plates are made out of plays a vital role in how long you can expect them to last, but it’s far from the only factor to consider.
During your search, you may realize that not all plates look the same.
There are certain variations you may find out there, so it’s important to consider the kind of workouts you plan on using your weights for so that you can be certain you acquire the perfect ones for your needs.
Weight plate shape
Most weight plates are round or circular.
However, you’ll also find plates at some gyms (or you can buy them online) that are hexagonal and have a few flat sides.
Mostly, this is a minor aesthetic difference. However, hexagonal plates are a little more stable when placed flat on the ground and won’t roll around as much.
The downside is that deadlifting with hexagonal plates can be tricky. If the flat side doesn’t come down properly, it may mess up your rhythm and range of motion.
Weight plate handles
The most common way to use weight plates is to put them on a bar for lifting.
However, if you purchase weight plates with handles, then numerous other exercises open up to you.
You’re able to use the plate on its own for a litany of lifts that help target muscle groups you may not ordinarily be able to exercise. Some of the exercises you can do with handles include:
- Overhead press
- Side bend
- Squat reach
- Squat press
- Chest squeeze press
- Lateral raise
- Front shoulder raise
It’s a great way to mix things up and keep your workouts interesting.
When the plate has an opening or handle, it’s a little easier to maneuver and place on the bar, as well.
This might sound like a lot to keep track of, but most gyms make it pretty easy for you:
They’ll have a great selection of Olympic weight plates you can use for deadlifts, bench pressing, squats, and more.
You might find standard plates there, as well, to fit the smaller bars. But for the most part, you’ll want to build your training around full-sized Olympic equipment.
If you’re looking to buy plates for home, it really comes down to your budget (here’s how much weights cost, in general). Start with just a couple of pieces and slowly build your set out over time as your budget allows, and don’t cheap out too much with equipment that won’t last for the long haul.
Before you go, check out more equipment guides like:
- Different types of power racks
- Different types of free weights
- The different parts of a barbell
- Different types of dumbbells
Hope this helps!