When I wrote Part 1 of this, I wasn’t really planning on it being a part 1. I was trying to write an overview, some stuff to think about if you wanted to set up your own home gym. However, it missed a few points that I figure would be wise to cover at this time.
So you’ve decided to build your own Temple of Iron at home. Sweet.
You’re finding yourself scouring Amazon or eBay looking for sets to buy, but you’re not really sure. Yeah, you have my recommendations from earlier, but you figure it’s wise to look for yourself so you have complete information.
No, I don’t take it personally.
But now you’re finding all these different types of sets, and you don’t really have enough information on what’s what. Luckily, I’m going to try and clarify this for you.
With free weight plates, there are two types, and both have two subtypes. At least for our purposes.
Weights come with two kinds of openings, as I mentioned in the previous posts. They have 1″ (standard) or 2″ (Olympic) holes, which determines what kind of bar will take the plates.
However, not all plates are created equal based on opening.
Standard weight plates come in two types: Plastic and metal.
You’ve seen plastic weights before. Hell, you might even have owned some. I call them plastic weights, but what they really are is a plastic shell where sand, water, or concrete is poured to create the actual weight.
Back in my day, if you asked for weights from Mom and Dad, this is what you got. They’re cheap, which means if Junior quits lifting after a few months, no big deal.
Unfortunately, there are problems with them. Even if everything is filled to perfection and the weight is exactly what it’s supposed to be, these plastic weights fill up the bar and eat up real estate, meaning that you can quickly outgrow these sets.
For grown adults, you will probably outgrow these weights quickly. Very quickly.
Because they are so thick and bulky, it also makes it challenging to add metal plates to your bar. This means you have to buy a whole new set, and that negates any savings you made.
Metal plates, if you’re using standard, are clearly the way to go. Since I prefer standard weights for dumbbells, you can well imagine that I’m saying metal for dumbbells.
With Olympic plates, however, things get interesting.
Olympic plates also come in two subtypes: Metal and bumper plates.
Metal plates are pretty much what you find in most gyms. They’re the gold standard and they’re what most people are going to think of. Some are coated and some aren’t, but they function the same way.
Bumper plates, however, are a little unusual. These look a little like coated plates, but that’s not entirely accurate.
When you watch Olympic weightlifting, you’ll see these people lifting up heavy weight, then literally dropping it after they raise it. If you notice, the weights bounce up for several feet.
These are bumper plates.
Bumper plates come in the regular increments you find on other Olympic plates, but most of the plates have been standardized to the same diameter. This is apparently because as you add more weight, this increases the stress on the bar when dropped. By having more plates to absorb that shock, these stresses are minimized.
However, bumper plates tend to be more expensive. A halfway decent set will cost you a couple hundred more bucks than an iron weight set.
So which should you get?
That’s an interesting question, and I’m going to answer it with that oh-so-cryptic “it depends” answer.
Bumper plates are great for Olympic lifts and CrossFit lifting (where they do a lot of Olympic lifts). If you’re looking at doing Olympic lifts as part of your routine, then they’re probably worth it for you. After all, bumper plates work just fine for bench press, but standard plates aren’t great for dropping on hard concrete.
As I mentioned in the previous post, I’m a big fan of standard weights for dumbbells, so if you want dumbbells, I recommend those. Just stay away from the plastic weight sets. If you want to go with barbells but aren’t comfortable with Olympic lifts, then save some money and get metal. On the other hand, if you think Olympic lifts look fun, then fork out the extra cash on bumper plates.
For what it’s worth, I have dumbbells now and will be looking to add barbells later (the reasons why are for another post). I will not be seriously looking at bumper plates unless I just find a set for ridiculously cheap. In my opinion, Olympic lifts are dangerous unless you know what you’re doing, and unless you have someone to coach you in those lifts, you probably don’t know what you’re doing.
Besides, I’d rather spend that money on a power rack, a nice bench, or more weights than to have some that can bounce when I drop them. Especially since I don’t really plan on dropping anything on purpose.
But that’s just me.