The Ultimate Guide: Do I Need Bumper Plates For A Home Gym?
June 17th 2019
Table of Contents
- Should I get bumper plates?
- What are your training goals?
- Training environment or competition feel
- Kgs or lbs
- Do you care about size?
- Protecting your floors
- Color coordination
- What are the different bumper plates?
- Difference between STANDARD and OLYMPIC bumper plates
- Rubber plates
- Urethane plates
- Different shapes
- Calibrated plates
- A special remark about 100lbs plates
- Should I purchase 35lbs and lighter bumper plates?
- What should I budget for?
- What do I have?
As an owner of a garage gym, I have purchased bumper plates, metal plates, and oddly-shaped plates. So, I will let you know whether or not you should get bumper plates for your home gym.
When I first started to think about getting more plates as my deadlift strength increased, I thought it was going to be an easy decision. No, seriously. I thought I was going to just look online and just grab a pair of 45s and that would be it. No, that is far from the truth.
There are tons of variations that are very overwhelming if you did not structure your plan or budget. So, let us clear everything up with this ultimate guide on deciding whether or not you should get bumper plates.
Should I get bumper plates?
Depending on your training goals, budget, and personal satisfaction, getting bumper plates for your home gym can include many of the following criteria:
- Based on the training or competition environment
- Based on kilogram or pound plates
- Based on size
- Based on your environmental demands (Are you slamming weights?)
- Based on style (does color matter?)
There is no one size fits all recommendation for deciding on whether or not to get bumper plates. However, I can provide you the necessary information so that you make the best decision for yourself. By understanding all the nuances and little known facts about bumper plates, you can make a logical and well-informed decision when it comes time to buying your own bumper plates.
What are your training goals?
There are so many conditions to consider when deciding whether or not to purchase bumper plates. At the same time, we all know that there are certain reasons that are WAY more important than others. So, let us dive deep into the real issues that matter and to make you aware of certain bumper plate qualities that you should consider:
Training environment or competition feel
Are you a casually lifting weights or are you competing in powerlifting, Strongman, Crossfit, etc? Different people will have different standards in their gym equipment and that is perfectly okay.
If you are a casual lifter, you can get away with training with just regular metal plates. However, if you are competing, it is highly recommended that you get bumper plates or the plates that closely resemble your competition conditions.
Because in reality, there are variations in the plate weights. All plates are not designed equally unless you purchased calibrated weights, in the bumper or steel variation.
Kgs or lbs
For those who do not compete, there are different weights used in competition. For instance, in powerlifting meets, kilogram (kg) plates are used instead of pound (lb) plates. This can be due to a few reasons. One huge reason is that there is only so much space on the bar. So, big time lifters can still crush their world records without having to worry about technical difficulties in the equipment. If you watched any big deadlifting videos on Youtube, you could see the gym fails where someone is deadlifting over 800+lbs and they are running out of space on the bar. This is because they were using pound plates.
So, what does this all mean for you? Unless you are squatting or deadlifting 800+lbs in training, using pound plates or training plates work perfectly. However, you also have the option of purchasing pound plates that are either in steel, iron or bumper - this adds another layer of complexity.
Do you care about size?
I have 2 sets of bumper plates, one of which is 3.25” in width and the other is a little less wide. For lower weights, this clearly does not matter. However, for many lifters who are running out of space on the bar with their 600+lbs deadlifts, it may be worth it to brainstorm and to decide whether or not you should get the minimum thickness in plates, bumper or not.
You may have read online that all bumper plates have a uniform diameter and I thought that was true when I bought two different sets of rubber plates from two different companies. The same right?
No, not quite. I am living proof that the previous statement is not accurate. You need to know your specification of the Olympic sized bumper plate, ie diameter, and width, and thoroughly vet each company’s bumper plate with each other. You will be surprised by the variations. Whether this is a marketing scheme to differentiate themselves from their competitors, I will have no idea. But it was a shock to me to realize that not all rubber plates had the same diameter if you purchase your plates from different companies.
Protecting your floors
If you want to protect your floors, barbell, and plates, bumper plates will serve you better in the long run. Though you may not notice it immediately, you will slowly see the difference over the years.
I have had my iron plates for 3 years and they have beat up my garage floor and themselves. Similarly, my Olympic sized rubber plate with a wider width barely has a scratch on them. Granted, if there was any damage to my rubber plates, I would need to probably throw them away since once rubber plates break, they really break. If iron plates slowly begin to rust or get chipped away, repairs could be made and they could still be used.
So, imagine doing Crossfit or Olympic weightlifting and you need to drop the weights from overhead or even off your back. If you use Olympic sized metal plates, you will probably not only break your plates, but you will damage the flooring of your gym and even the platform. With bumper plates, they put these worries to rest. It should also be noted that gradual wear and tear of your platform will occur if you regularly drop weights from overhead or off your back. So with that training specification noted, you should also optimize your training platform as well as protect your equipment by getting bumper plates.
For bumper plates, there is an additional perk - they are color coordinated.
- Red = 55 lb or 25 kg plates
- Blue = 45 lb or 20 kg plates
- Yellow = 35 lb or 15 kg plates
- Green = 25 lb or 10 kg plates
- White = 10 lb or 5 kg plates
There are also color coordinated plates for weights under 10lbs but we will not describe them here. What you will mainly use (and purchase) are these big weights. So, one benefit is that instead of calculating the weight you need to put on the bar, you can just add certain colors together and you will get the same weight. Since all the weights are the same size, having different colors makes it easier and faster to change weights for upcoming sets.
What are the different bumper plates?
Difference between STANDARD and OLYMPIC bumper plates
When we refer to a standard bumper plate, we immediately think about the Olympic bumper plates - the ones with 450mm diameter with a small width and 2” collar.
Manufacturers usually refer to the Olympic plate above as an “Olympic Plate.” If you want, you may call it a “Standard Olympic Plate,” but you must make the distinction that it is an OLYMPIC plate. This is important because if you do not, a standard plate is not the same as an Olympic plate.
When you order plates online, if you type in just standard bumper plate, you will get this:
And this makes a HUGE difference especially since you do not have a 1” bar to use these plates. You have an Olympic barbell that needs Olympic plates.
This is only usually a problem when you order your plates online, so it is vital that you double check your specification before placing any order. I actually made this mistake and it was pretty embarrassing. I had to haul back 90lbs of weight back to return and it was tough to carry.
Fortunately, these standard plates are uncommon and are also referred to as exercise plates or vinyl plates. They are normally used in light resistance training, where they use a very small bar with a 1” diameter. They are low cost and usually for casual strength training. This is not what we want to purchase but it is important to visually see the difference in the barbell weights and to avoid any poor purchasing decisions.
One of the most common bumper plates are the rubber-coated plates. They are low to moderately priced. They are durable but can scratch easily. They will not look new for a long time but you can expect them to perform for quite a while.
In terms of longevity of plates, I did have the opportunity of seeing how rubber plates are destroyed. If you are using a light bumper plate (25lbs or 10lbs), these plates can get wedged and bent beyond usage. In addition to being completely ripped, they are literally unusable once they sustained a tear near the center of the weight.
For 35s, 45s and even 55s rubber plates, I have seen very worn out rubber plates. However, that is due to years of usage and minimal maintenance. They last a very, very long and by the time you do need to replace your rubber plates, you would have probably made so much money that you could afford to buy 10 higher quality pairs of rubber plates. For instance, I had my rubber plates for over 3 years now and they still look great to me. I tend to notice that rubber plates show their true colors around the 5-10 years range. Your plates will just continue to serve you if the 5-10 year range shows great promise.
Are there any drawbacks to purchasing rubber plates? Well, a few. One of the cons of getting rubber plates is the smell, especially if you purchase cheap rubber plates. As a general rule of thumb, the cheaper you bought your rubber plates, the stronger the smell will be.
As the owner of two sets of rubber plates, I do not recall any heavy rubber smell from either weight sets. Perhaps there was a very faint scent but I have an outdoor garage gym. I did leave my weights outside for at least 24 hours in the open air. So, for the most part, I would not worry about this rubbery smell. In fact, the worst rubbery smell I faced was buying a horse stall mat for the floor. Oh boy, that stunk up the garage gym for at least a week but that is another story.
I have also read online that your hands will smell like rubber if you handle your weights. I think that is absolute nonsense and my hands definitely do not smell like rubber after I use them. Even when I handle my horse stall mat, my hands are still odor-free afterward.
Another option to get is the urethane-coated plates. They are durable, thinner and do not scratch easily. They are a nicer finish and look at a lot more cleaner. They have zero rubbery smell and are nearly indestructible… or so they say?
In the article, I linked above, Ivanko barbell dispelled myths about urethane plates and free-weight equipment. Why does this relate anything to us? Just by the sheer fact that other sources are drooling over how much value urethane plates can provide, there is something very fishy in the air. It sounds way too good to be true. Do you want plates that can last forever? No problem, pay us 3-5 times more than the average plate set and we can make it happen. Yeah right…
I am confident that sources that claim that urethane plates are the best invention in the strength training community since sliced bread have either never purchased urethane plates or have never had them for over 10+years. How do I know? All equipment goes through a very natural aging process and unless you maintain your equipment, very few materials can last through time. Especially in strength sports where plates are often abused, it is hard not to believe that the urethane coating will break. This is not the fault of the urethane but the coating just cannot withstand all that force and pressure.
Nevertheless, that article was written over 5 years ago. I am sure that scientists and engineers have created new polymers and coatings that both withstand great forces and bind to the iron plates better than before.
Aside from not being indestructible as we may think, what are the cons of getting urethane plates? They seem to fix all the negatives of purchasing rubber plates. Great observation and that looks to be the case from my end as well.
The major difference is the price of the urethane plates. For 1 pair of urethane plates (45lbs), you can expect to pay between 200-500 USD. Depending on your goals and budget, you can be the ultimate judge of whether or not you should purchase urethane plates.
Back then, purchasing urethane plates would be way over my budget to get even one pair of 45s. So, choosing rubber plates or even iron plates at the time was the better choice because I needed more weights immediately.
However, buying equipment for your home gym is an investment for yourself. If your equipment breaks, you will need to replace it regardless. So, purchasing urethane plates at the upfront cost may ACTUALLY be a better investment than trying to save money by cutting corners and purchasing a cheaper bumper plate.
Circular plates are the best
Nearly all plates are circular by their design. However, many companies have been creating differently sized plates with edges. If you are deadlifting or doing any Olympic lifts, stick with using circular plates to greatly increase the safety of your help, environment, and others. With odd corners on your plates, you run the risk of hurting yourself or someone in the area. Do not be a hazard.
A typical diameter of a bumper plate should be 450mm or 17.72”. However, you may see that certain plates are about 17.7” or 17.75” in diameter. For some, they may even come to 440mm or 17.5”. The biggest question you want to have answered is, does this all matter?
Yes, to a certain extent. If you have different sized 45lbs plates on the bar (like myself), all of the impact of the entire bar will be transferred over to the biggest plate, which is not good for your equipment longevity.
Newer plates have integrated handles in some of their rubber and urethane plates. With lighter weights, handles are not necessary. However, when you deal with 35s or 45s, it may be a bit trickier.
Should you get handles or not on your bumper plates? It really depends on your preference level. Having handles on your bumper plates does make it slightly more comfortable unloading and loading weights. But the difference is small and you have been lifting weights for a while, you should have no issues changing weights.
I have read that people should avoid having smooth disc plates because they are harder to unload and load off the bar. What I really read is that this person either has not been lifting weights for a long time or does not really care about its readers. I have been lifting weights for over 6 years. When people go into the gym, most of the plates in the gym are smooth disc plates. While there are some complaints that the weights are difficult to rack and unrack for newer lifters, every single lifter just accepts it as a fact that they will need to lift weights at the gym. You just grab the weights and lift them up to the bar. Done.
But there is another small benefit for having handles for your weights - you can grip them much easier and do other exercises like shrugs or rows. So instead of having to use dumbbells or purchasing other equipment, you have easy access to 45lbs weights to do some exercises.
What is a bevel? The bevel is a portion of the outer edge of a plate that is taken off so that it does not form a ninety-degree angle. Basically, it does not have a square edge. So, what exactly does this do? It separates the weights on the bar and it also allows you to pick up the weight on the floor when they are flat.
It is often an overlooked design component when it comes to selecting plates. From my plates, my iron plates do not have a bevel and it is a pain to pick up when they are flat on the ground, especially after a heavy deadlift session.
Fortunately, I can just slide them off the edge of a horse stall mat and just pick it up that way. My other two rubber plates have a bevel or handle that I can leverage in order to pick up the weight. And to be really honest, I did not realize what a bevel was when I was purchasing my weight plates. I did get lucky in that the plates I selected had a bevel or a handle.
Calibrated plates or competition plates will be more precise in their weight. However, is it worth the extra money? If you are competing at a high level, it is 100% worth it to train in competition condition. Otherwise, a majority of lifters can get away with training with average equipment. This is not a jab the weaker lifters but every gym owner needs to be realistic.
Unless you are absolutely crushing it in your strength sport for years, there is literally no reason why you should invest 3-5x more money to purchase a pair of 45s from Rogue or some other equipment store.
Then, we have another issue. Yes, there can be inaccurate measurements and different companies have different tolerances with their weight variations. But at the end of the day, you just want to train. Yes, it is important to make sure you get what you pay for, literally.
But over the years, your equipment will wear down if you purchase some iron plates or abuse your equipment. Will you repurchase new equipment once you see that your old plates are being worn out? Probably not but you do want to make your purchase last as long as it can.
This brings me to another point, people often fret about purchasing their weight from Amazon. I would disagree. If Amazon is able to deliver the equipment to me, why not? Would you bring a scale to the store before you purchase a pair of 45s? (Actually, that is not a bad idea)
And if you are a gym owner, you would probably bulk order plates anyway. So, you would not weigh your plates until after you receive them. What is my point that I am trying to make? Accuracy is important if you want to get down to the hit and gritty of how much your barbell weighs, plate weighs, etc. But it is fairly easy to vet companies and quality if you do your research.
Read the reviews! They have golden nuggets in each review and all past buyers can outlet anything future buyers should know before purchasing. It is one of the best ways of helping the strength community out.
Use your common sense
If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. For instance, when I mistakenly bought standard plates instead of Olympic plates, I was wondering why the pair of 50lbs was so cheap. When I received them, I realized immediately why and I went to return them on the same day.
This goes the same for cheap iron plates online, which is what many home gym owners are hesitant to pull the trigger on. You will get what you pay for and quality does improve.
The same can be said for rubber plates. I purchased both of mines, thinking that I struck gold. I realized there was something wrong with each of them, one is not a 450mm in diameter and the other being very wide (3.25”). So, it is important to think logically before pulling out your credit card and hitting submit. There are a ton of choices out there but every choice should meet your standard and budget before you decide on doing anything.
A special remark about 100lbs plates
As someone who is looking to improve his garage home gym, I have dwelled upon the idea of getting 100lbs plates. 100lbs on each side, BOOM. 245lbs on the bar.
I have participated in several discussions about this topic and a group of gym owners has reached the consensus that 100lbs plates are not worth buying. Why not?
Though they seem like a great idea, in theory, you have to unrack and re-rack 100lbs every single time. Imagine needing to pick up a 100lbs dumbbell every single workout? I barely do anything with dumbbells, let alone, 100lbs+ dumbbells. I believe I didn’t use heavy dumbbells until a few years into strength training AND they were still difficult to pick up.
I am not saying it is not possible but it just makes life much, much harder than it needs to be. Gym owners have also commented that 55lbs are decent but you should be getting 45lbs or 20kg plates if you can.
Should I purchase 35lbs and lighter bumper plates?
Purchase 10lbs, 25lbs, and 35lbs bumper plates if you are competing in Olympic weightlifting or any high-level competition sport. Otherwise, money can be saved by choosing to purchase other alternatives. I am not telling you what to do but unless you have the budget to support building the ultimate home gym, that is awesome as well. But for a lot of people that do have financial constraints, it does not make sense to get EVERY single weight set in bumper plates. In fact, it would only make sense to get the 45lbs in bumper plates.
You only need so much weight
If anything, you only need a pair of 25lbs, 10lbs, 2.5lbs and 2 pairs of 5lbs. You can get a cheap bundle if you include a starter bar. Personally, I have used the starter bar and it is just bad. You will need to purchase another barbell.
By the way, the cheapest plate sets are going to be metal plates. And since they will not be banged on the ground as aggressively as the 45lbs plates, this is a no-brainer in terms of cost efficiency in purchasing plates.
You will only buy additional 45lbs anyway
When you hit a new PR, will you be looking for new 25lbs to add to your weight set? 100% not. You will be looking for new 45lbs bumper plates to add to your collection. It does not make any sense to purchase smaller weights if you already have them. You will be getting exponentially stronger so it is only right that you purchase more 45s in order to accommodate your strength gains.
Let me share a story with you. When I was not testing my max a few years back, I did okay with just the cheap metal plate bundle with a starter bar. I recently came back from an injury and just started to work my way back up. When I was squatting and deadlifting in the upper 200s, I knew I had to purchase a new set of 45lbs plates (I purchased the X Training Equipment Bumper Plates first). So, once I started to deadlift over 300+lbs, it took me a few more months before I started to deadlift within the mid 300s.
Then, I had to look again for more 45lbs plates (I purchased the XMark Fitness Rubber Plates). Now, at any of these crucial points, I could have decided to only buy a pair of 25lbs plates but that would make no sense since I already had it. I was missing 45lbs weights. And since this is my home gym, I want to make sure I have enough weights in order to train to my liking.
Of course, in an ideal situation, we would all have multiple 35s, 25s, 10s, 5s, and 2.5s lying around in our home gym. In fact, our home gym may look like a smaller version of a commercial gym to a certain extent. But with each new plate, that is an additional cost for your home gym. For most of us home gym owners, we need to optimize our funds in order to create the best training experience possible.
What should I budget for?
There is no right or wrong way to start off building a gym. However, you should be aware that your plates should last you a very long time. If you do not have a big budget to start off with or you are hesitant about putting up the upfront cost of having high-quality equipment, there is no shame of starting off with iron plates or even used plates.
For me, 490lbs of a mixture of iron, bumper, and irregularly shaped plates was around $500 USD. If I went to the competition plates and selected higher quality bumper plates, this could have gone up to $1000 USD. And if you are really OCD about plate quality and specificity, you could even get calibrated plates which could drive the price well over $4000 USD.
There is no race to finish building your gym from the get-go. You can build it as you see fit. For instance, I did not purchase my last set of rubber plates until I started to deadlift over 405lbs. So, as my deadlift numbers increase, I will look to purchase another set of 45s.
Should I worry about quality early?
I understand your concerns. You are curious that if you do not purchase a good quality bumper plate due to whatever reason, you may end up buying something else (for an, even more, pricier tag).
While some people may find that to be true, I have eternally grateful that I have space and capacity to have a home garage gym to train in. Although I have three different sets of 45s (iron, bumper plate, and irregularly shaped rubber plate), they still get the job done in training. Yes, I can nitpick and whine about not having symmetrical plates or that certain plates are not up to my level of standard. If that were the case, I would have made a different decision at the purchasing point of my plates. All I know that I wanted to have plates in my gym for a reasonable price and that is EXACTLY what I got.
What do I have?
These are the two rubber plates I have purchased in the last three years. The XMark plate is not an Olympic sized plate and I did not realize that until the plates were shipped to me. Nevertheless, I decided to use them anyway since they were cheap and they were also 45lbs (supposedly). I do not regret any of these purchases (both of these plates were very cheap compared to other rubber and bumper plates). However, if I were to purchase additional plates, I WOULD purchase places that have a certain thinness and are in great quality.
XMark Fitness Rubber Plate
The XMark Fitness Rubber plates are rubber plates that get the job done in the gym. For me, there was no awful rubber smell and they were shipped very quickly. The biggest reason I bought these plates were because of the low cost. Usually, rubber plates would cost over $2 per lbs at your local fitness store. So, you will need to make that determination on your own during your own home gym construction.
My biggest caveat from this purchase what the SIZE OF THE PLATE. In the advertising, it claimed to be an Olympic plate. Yes, I guess they meant for an Olympic barbell, they could fit a 2” diameter. But the diameter of the entire plate IS smaller than the Olympic plate size (450mm or 17.72”).
X Training Equipment Bumper Plate
The X Training Equipment Bumper Plates are rubber bumper plates that also get the job done. Again, they had no awful rubber smell and were shipped quickly. The biggest reason I purchased these plates was to buy a set of cheap bumper plates to protect my first set of iron plates. At the time, I could see that my iron plates were showing signs of wear and tear. As a response, I thought it would be a great idea to protect them by purchasing a set of bumper plates in order to help absorb some of the shocks from deadlifts. I was not wrong. These were very budget-friendly plates.
My biggest caveat from this purchase was that the width of the plate is excessive. The width of this rubber bumper plate is about 3.25”. After doing some research, here are some of the cross comparisons of other brands in terms of bumper plate width:
- Rep Fitness Bumper Plates - 2.83”
- Valor Fitness Polyurethane Bumper Plates - 1.5”
- Titan Fitness Olympic Bumper Plate - 3.5”
And these are just some of the many brands out there. As you decrease the width of your plate, you will find that the price will increase. It is also worth noting that if you do decide to purchase 2-3” thick plates, you will only fit about 500-600lbs on the bar. So, if you are stronger than that, you will need to purchase thinner plates. Whether you go the bumper plate route or choose to use steel or iron plates, that will be discussed some other time.