Scrolling the Rogue Fitness “Plates” page for this first time? Feels like a kid in a candy store, doesn’t it?
What does it all mean?
Weight plates come in a number of different shapes, sizes, and intended uses. The plates you use for barbell bicep curls (in the squat rack, of course) are no-gos for heavy push jerks.
Today, we’re going to declare a winner in the bumper plates vs iron plates rivalry and determine which are best for your garage gym and for your CrossFit barbell(s).
(hint: it’s bumper plates!)
I’ve lifted with every combination of weight plate. Sometimes with great results. Other times with…noisy and painful results.
Use my experiences to skip out on all of those “oh crap, oh crap, oh crap, oh crap!” moments where you find you and your barbell in no man’s land!
Table of Contents
What are Bumper Plates?
Bumper plates are similar to many other types of weight plates as they are primarily comprised of steel or iron.
The main factor that differentiates them from other plates is the extremely thick layer of hard rubber coating. This coating “pads” the metal interior, significantly blunting both impact and noise when the plates are dropped to the ground.
The impact-reducing qualities of bumper plates make them the preferred plates for sports where weights are regularly dropped to the ground. Olympic Weightlifting and CrossFit immediately come to mind. Nobody wants to risk injury (or severe discomfort) trying to slowly lower a 315-pound barbell to the ground after a successful clean and jerk!
As you might expect, there is a bit of variation in bumper plate attributes. The plates you use in training are generally different than what you use in a competition.
You’re most likely to come across one of these four main categories of bumper plates:
- Technique bumper plates
- Crumb bumper plates
- Standard bumper plates
- Competition bumper plates
Let’s go over each in detail.
Technique Bumper Plates
Most CrossFit gyms do not actually fit themselves out with technique plates. However, if you start your lifting career at an Olympic Weightlifting gym, you and every other noob will start with these.
They are exclusively produced in 2.5, 5, and 10-pound sizes.
These are usually the “bounciest” types of bumper plates and have the same dimensions as your average 45-pound bumper plate. This allows new lifters to get accustomed to larger dimensions while learning with lighter weights.
These dimensions also ensure that the bumper plates don’t bend or morph when dropped from overhead. Other, lightweight bumper plates can crack or bend when dropped from overhead.
Technique plates aren’t mandatory for beginners, but can be useful when initially learning Olympic lifts.
Crumb Bumper Plates
These powdery-finished plates are extremely common in CrossFit gyms (especially in North America).
They are not as “bouncy” as technique bumper plates, but have noticeably more bounce than the next two classifications of bumper plates. This bounce results in less of a dead “thud”, resulting in less noise and a lower potential for causing damage than most other bumper plates.
The additional bounce can be obnoxious in CrossFit WODs where the barbell is dropped and then bounces out of position. If you plan on breaking your thrusters in “Fran”, prepare to chase the bar!
Standard Bumper Plates
Another bumper plate that is commonly found in CrossFit gyms (especially in Europe), standard bumper plates have a much smoother finish than crumb bumper plates. They are more rigid and less flexible than crumb bumper plates and bounce much less.
The lack of bounce in these plates makes them more ideal for CrossFit WODs; the bar won’t travel too far when dropped. However, these will “thud” louder and smaller increments can break or crack when dropped from overhead.
Competition Bumper Plates
These look very similar to standard bumper plates. They are always color coded to comply with International Weightlifting Foundation (IWF) standards. They actually have a little less bounce to them (making them the least “bouncy” on the list) and the most “thud” of any bumpers.
The main benefit of competition bumper plates is that they are fully compliant of all IWF specifications. If you plan on competing in Olympic Weightlifting meets or competitions, getting used to lifting with these will be beneficial to you.
Advantages of Bumper Plates
You can solve a lot of common home gym problems with a good set of bumper plates.
Safe and quiet…what else can you ask for?!
I’ll be the first to admit that bumper plates aren’t some type of magic wand that will magically protect the floor of your garage or basement. My competition plates have created quite the divot in my floor (but that clean-and-jerk RM was so worth it!) and even some old standard bumper plates I had cracked the tile in my old garage.
That being said, this damage accumulated over time and after hundreds, if not thousands of drops. Drop even one rep from overhead during “DT” with steel plates and…well…watch out for tile shrapnel!
If you’re into any kind of sport that requires dropping weights from any distance higher than your waist, use bumper plates. Your plates will last longer and your floor will last longer!
Ever heard someone miss a lift and dump their steel-plated barbell to the ground?
Large Marge explains it best:
If you’re in the Globo gym, everything stops and the patrons collectively piss their pants in response to that horrible sound.
Bumper plates are like 007’s silencer. You can still hear something (to various degrees, depending on the type of bumper plate), but the sound is GREATLY muffled.
Working out downstairs at 5 AM and don’t want to wake the kids up? Bumper plates probably won’t quite do the trick.
Want to work out and allow your family members to go about their respective days in relative peace? Bumper plates will do the trick.
As previously mentioned, there is nothing “magic” about bumper plates. They won’t help your technique, even in the way that a good Olympic Barbell might.
However, there is just…something about performing Olympic lifts and overhead work when you KNOW that dropping the barbell won’t result in an auditory nightmare. For me, this comfort allows me to focus much more closely on my lifts as opposed to constantly worrying about the consequences of dropping the bar.
Also, the standard height dimensions of bumper plates creates a more consistent lifting experience. Try to get that when snatching with these metal plates…
Or cleaning with these steel plates…
Disadvantages of Bumper Plates
Bumper plates aren’t some type of “wonder drug” and in certain situations, they might not be the best for you.
You won’t find any “skinny” bumper plates. Those situations at powerlifting meets where you lose count of the number of 55’s on each side…doesn’t happen with bumper plates.
If you’re a mere mortal (like me and most everyone else), this likely won’t be a huge problem for you.
But if you’re planning to go really heavy on deadlifts…you can probably figure out the rest!
Like anything else, there is a pretty direct correlation between the price you pay and the quality you get. Sure, you can get some cheap bumper plates. However, they’re more likely to crack, break, or damage your floor.
If you want “decent” bumper plates, in most cases, they are going to run you as much as “good” or even “great” steel plates.
What are Iron/Steel Plates?
Been to any decent (sic) Globo gym sometime in the last 50 years? If so, you’ve seen iron and/or steel (metal) plates.
Metal plates are incredibly common, largely to their relatively low prices and high levels of durability. They are easy to mass produce and craft to easily fit the dimensions of regular-sized Olympic-style barbells and other bars.
Metal plates are known for their distinctive sound. There is no greater noise than the *clang* *thud* of someone loading their second (or third) 45-pound plate onto the barbell. The metallic rhythm of the bar, plate, and collar harmonizing with each other is what garage gym dreams are made of.
Unfortunately, there is no getting away from this sound. The iron thumping of everyday barbell cycling is loud enough. Drop a metal plate from any height and just try not to bust an eardrum.
However, metal plates can easily be manufactured to almost any size and to different levels of preferred density. You’ll never see a bumper plate THIS skinny
Need to fit some serious weight on your bar? You’re going to have to load up on some heavy metal to do so!
It would be difficult to go into all of the different shapes and sizes of metal plates. Let’s just say they range from something like this:
To something like this:
Advantages of Iron/Steel Plates
People have been throwing around metal plates for a long time. Can you seriously doubt the lifting utensils of the cave men?
While not usually cheap, most metal plates are going to run you less than bumper plates will. If you’re really not too picky about dimensions, you can get all of the weight you’ll need for your garage or home gym for a decent price.
Don’t care about used plates (which, in most cases, are just as practical as new ones), you could walk away with a set for less than a few hundred bucks.
Can be used for most lifts
In a pinch, you can snatch and clean with metal plates. However, you’d better be going light or have little to no regard for the floor you’re lifting on.
Not Olympic lifting? Aren’t likely to do a CrossFit WOD in the near future? Congratulations; you just opened up a whole new world of flexibility in the form of metal plates!
As long as you’re not planning on dropping your barbell, metal plates will be more than appropriate for 95+ percent of your lifts.
Can be very narrow
Remember that picture from earlier? Steel and iron plates can be skin-nee! This really allows for a lot of weight to be stacked on to your barbell.
Want some motivation to get really strong? Buy some narrow metal plates. Train hard until you actually need them to be that narrow!
Hard to break
There is a reason why those old, steel-framed cars didn’t have seatbelts or other “safety features”. They were essentially indestructible tanks!
I don’t advise tossing steel plates around for the sake of doing so (after all, you have the floor and feet to worry about). If you decide to ignore this advice, you can still be confident that your metal plates will hold up for a long time.
Disadvantages of Iron/Steel plates
Metal plates can be less-than-ideal in a number of situations. Planning on doing CrossFit or Olympic lifting? These bad boys are going to cause you a bunch of problems.
Like anything made of metal, plates can and will rust. This can be prevented by housing them in an appropriate environment and properly cleaning them as necessary.
PeeWee and Large Marge told us about the horrors of dropping metal plates earlier.
“There was this sound, like a garbage truck dropped off the Empire State Building!”
Steel and iron plates are harder and denser than just about any material you’ll find around your house.
Including your floor.
Every garage or basement gym should be equipped with appropriate gym flooring, but sometimes this just isn’t enough. On an uncovered wood, tile, or laminate floor, expect significant damage every time you drop any plate heavier than a 2.5-pounder.
Bumper Plates vs Iron Plates: The Showdown!
After looking at the attributes of each type of plate, let’s run a quick tally of which material “wins” the bumper plates vs iron plates war!
Let’s crank some Ozzy to kick things off!
Bumper Plates vs Iron Plates: Price
Bumper plates and iron plates are generally going to be in the “same ballpark”. In the middle 25-75 percentile range, there is little variation (when purchasing from Rogue and other top manufacturers).
In the lowest quartile, you’ll find more iron and metal plates; in the highest quartile, you’ll find more bumper plates.
If the lowest price wins, give this one to iron.
Bumper Plates vs Iron Plates: Noise
When you drop bumper plates, you hear anything from a minor crash and bounce to a muffled “thud”.
We don’t need to quote Large Marge a third time to express the horrors of metal plate noise.
Bumper Plates vs Iron Plates: Damage/Danger
Don’t get me wrong; every time I slip and drop a bumper plate, my foot shoots back faster than if I stepped in lava!
Also, my floor largely tolerates my heavy drops from overhead; I’ve shelled out less than $100 in repairs over time.
When you play with iron (plates), you play with fire.
Every drop is a potential disaster. Mess around and get stuck out in the open with a heavy, iron-plated barbell in a front rack? Good luck choosing between potentially hurting yourself and definitely hurting your floor!
Bumper Plates vs Iron Plates: For Powerlifting
For most lifters, plate material won’t make a huge difference.
If you happen to be Eddie Hall though, opt for iron!
Bumper Plates vs Iron Plates: For Olympic Weightlifting
You’re constantly dropping the weight from overhead.
Bumper Plates vs Iron Plates: For CrossFit
You’re CONSTANTLY, constantly dropping the weight from overhead.
(and probably with worse form than the Olympic lifters)
Bumper Plates vs Iron Plates Champion:
Bumper Plates vs Iron Plates: Post-game Show
To be honest, this is one of those instances where the score was much closer than the actual game. For most people opting for low-to-mid-range plates and deadlifting under 600 pounds, go with bumpers!
If you’re on a budget and are able to pick up a set of used iron or steel plates for a low price, go for it! Just be mindful of the noise, potential for damage, and other limitations they present.
Got your bumpers ordered and ready to crash some weights around? Give one of the top deadlift WODs a try. Your floor and eardrums won’t bat an eye!