Bumper Plates vs Regular Plates

Bumper Plates vs Regular Plates, July 2021

If you finally have your chance to create your own garage workout space or just get yourself a few weights to throw around. 

Then likely you have seen the countless options available to you when buying weights. One of the biggest points of debate in this field is whether to buy bumper plates or traditional iron plates.

If you aren’t aware of what bumper plates are or how they differ from traditional plates, then you are in luck because our topic today is the differences between Regular and Traditional plates and what each type of weight is best suited for, and what to avoid doing with each.

Firstly, let’s just quickly cover the difference between iron and bumper plates. 

What is a Bumper Plate?

If you have ever stepped into a CrossFit type gym then surely you have noticed the colorful weights that everybody was literally throwing around.

These colorful plates are bumper plates. They are various rubbers with a steel core at the center of each one. 

AmGym Bumper Plates_

Their ideal purpose is to be used for Olympic-style lifting, typically found in such places as cross-fit gyms.

This being because of the nature of Olympic Lifting pushing for maximum weight and have many failed attempts in the process and often dropping the weights.

The bumper plates are designed specifically to handle this drop very well. 

Olympic lifting is when an athlete attempts a maximum weight single lift of the barbell loaded with weight plates. The primary lifts in this style are; Power Clean, Front Squat, Squat Clean, Push Jerk, Power Snatch, Squat Snatch.

Material

Bumper plates are comprised of Steel cores with a thick coating of rubber around them. This rubber is varied across manufacturing processes and qualities. Here is a quick brief on the three most popular bumper plates available. 

Crumb Rubber

Crumb Rubber is the cheapest technique for producing Bumper Plates, and I often find the cheap price is accompanied by a cheap binding agent smell, coming from the rubber.

Crumb Rubber plates’ quality actually comes from the quality of the binding agent and not the recycled rubber.

So the better the quality of the agent, the less smell and better rubber you get. The recycled rubber comes from old car and truck tires that are ground up into smaller “crumbs” hence the name.

Virgin Rubber

These bumper plates are not made of any recycled content. They still have the steel core on the inside however, the rubber does not have crumbs or binding agents to deal with, meaning a less nasty smell.

Seriously, of the worse quality crumb rubber smell absolutely awful and the smell never goes away. With less of a mixture of items going on, the virgin rubber plates are more durable than their crumb rubber counterparts. 

A slightly disappointing note to mention is that the virgin rubber tends to scuff easily and quickly loses that nice new look. They don’t deteriorate, just take on a more used look.

Urethane Plates

The cream of the crop for bumper plates. These urethane plates are the best available on the market, and coincidentally the most expensive too.

These plates have a much thinner coating but are much more durable than the alternative.

Because these plates have a thinner profile, any serious lifters can pack on more weight onto their barbells. The downsides? None except for the price. 

Urethane rubber is nearly indestructible and will not easily scratch or scuff. Not only that but the rubber quality is far superior and the colors “pop” giving your gym space that extra nice factor. 


Shape and Size

Rogue Bumper Plates

Bumper Plates are only ever round in shape, this is the safest and most predictable shape to drop.

With the exception of the smaller plates such as the 10 and 15 lb plates, all the weights are the same diameter, allowing for further security when dropping the weights. 

An important note to mention about bumper plates is that they can be more difficult to handle, and I don’t mean in a weightlifting kind of way.

Better quality bumper plates will come with the edge of the plate having a nice 45-degree bevel.

This bevel is not for looks, it helps when the plate is lying flat on the ground. Poorer quality plates do not come with this incredibly simple but quality feature.

If you have ever tried lifting a 45lb plate without a bevel off the ground after a serious deadlift session, then you know exactly how difficult and frustrating it can be. Do yourself a favor and always get bumper plates with a beveled edge.

Colors

Probably, the most noticeable difference between the 2 types of plates is the color differences.

Traditional plates are usually black or grey but have varying sizes to tell the difference in weight.

Bumper plates however come color-coded according to the  IWF(international weightlifting federation) and IPF (international powerlifting federation) standard color set.

Technically speaking these federations only sanctions the use of KG plates so the lb plates are not guaranteed to fall under those rules but most usually do anyway. 

Plate colors and associated weight:

Rogue

COLOR

KG major

KG minor

LB major

LB minor

RED

25kg

2.5kg

55lb

5.5lb

BLUE

20kg

2kg

45lb

4.5lb

YELLOW

15kg

1.5kg

35lb

3.5lb

GREEN

10kg

1kg

25lb

2.5lb

WHITE

5kg

.5kg

10lb

1.25lb

Please note that this color coding standard applies not only to bumper plates but to all competition plates where color coding is used.

TRADITIONAL IRON

What is a Traditional Plate?

Good old-fashioned, noisy Iron. There is something special about lifting solid masses of iron, it just feels that much more satisfying than rubber. Iron is just associated with strength and muscle.

Typically made of Iron and occasionally other metals such as steel, these plates will vary in size and shape between manufacturers. There is no standard between how companies produced iron weights. 

Iron Weights are the least expensive option for stocking up for the gym. If noise is going to be an issue where you work out, the banging and clanging of the metal plates will prove to be problematic. 

Materials

It doesn’t really need to be said but ok. IRON!

Traditional Iron plates will corrode over time, this is just what happens to the raw iron. Doesn’t matter if they are painted or coated with something, eventually, rust will get to them.

This may not be the biggest issue for some people, but I can see a lot of folks taking issue with big rusted pieces of iron sitting around the house.

Luckily, if you are not buying used plates, most modern iron weights come with one of two coatings that help make a better seal around the iron and further prolong its lifespan.

Additionally, this also gives the weights a fresh new look to those that what to add a little extra to old-fashioned iron weights.

With the coatings also comes significantly reduced noise. If you find yourself with a little bit of extra cash are worried about the noise levels, then grab yourself a coated set of traditional iron weights.

Rubber Coated

Rubber is a nice low-cost material that is extremely durable. This is why it’s the most popular coating found on iron weights.

The only issue with the rubber coating is that, yes, it is durable but its surface tends to take on scratches and scuffs easily.

This is only surface damage though and does not compromise the weight in any way. The other downside of rubber, specifically cheap rubber is that it smells absolutely awful.

I cannot stand the smell of it, it is the cheap binding agent used in the manufacturing process.

The cheap binding agent gives off a terrible smell that sometimes never goes away. If you get a chance then, as absurd as it sounds, smell test the rubber. You can often tell the difference between cheap and quality rubber products. 

Urethane Coated

Urethane is the most durable of rubber materials, and when I say that I mean it’s damn near indestructible.

Plates that are coated in urethane will typically be of the highest quality and very expensive to purchase.

That is because these plates rarely get damaged, scratch, or scuffed.

You don’t need to worry about the quality of the urethane as much as rubber because it does not give off a smell as compared to the rubber coatings.

One more note to mention is that much like the urethane bumper plates, urethane coated iron plates tend to be a tad bit thinner than their rubber-coated alternatives.

This may not be a big deal to most, but if you need to squeeze all the weight you can onto that bar then, a urethane coating is the way to go.

Shape and Size

Traditional iron plates do not have any one standard size or shape. For whatever reason, when they made iron plates back in the day there was no standard agreed upon and every manufacturer did their own thing.

This is why if you are looking for used iron, you might stumble into odd and irregularly shaped weights.

If this doesn’t bug you then go for it, however, I should mention that the only safe shape for weights is round.

Any sides or angles to weights can cause an unexpected shift in the wrong direction and boom, there goes an ankle. An example of this are 8 and 12 sided plates.

Traditional plates are not all the same size as is the case with bumper plates. Traditional plates increase in size as the weight increases. This is an easy and simple way to tell the total weight on the bar. 

Better quality weights will come with certain extra features built into the shape of the weights, such as handles for better loading and unloading of barbells.

The other important feature to look for would be beveled edges for the same reason as when trying to lift bumper plates off the floor, it just makes life that much easier. 

Colors

Most noticeably, Iron weights look a lot rougher than bumper plates and are very limited in color, usually coming in a standard grey or black.

More recently, with the rise in popularity of coated iron weights, designs and colors have become more commonplace but of course, that comes at a premium, and the primary reason for buying iron weights is that they are cheaper.

What to Buy?

Budget

Well, there are positives and negatives to both types of weights, so it’s a matter of choosing the right fit for you.

The biggest determining factor in which weights you choose is what you can budget for.

I recommend stretching the budget as much as possible on this one as the weights you pick are going to be with you for a long time, and as the saying goes “Buy Nice, or Buy Twice”.

Spend a little bit extra on a nicer set that will last a lifetime, your gains and progress deserve as much. 

Start Small and Add Pieces as You Go

Remember that regardless of which type of weights you buy that you can start your collection with a basic set of 250 or 320lb that can be added on when money is more plentiful.

Combining your barbell into the mix, you are already looking at a significant amount of weight over 350lbs, nothing to sneeze at. 

Splurging

Additionally, I’d like to mention that if you are the type of person that is motivated by nice fancy new toys and good-looking gear, then by all means splurge on a set of weights that will make you fall in love with working out with them. It will only bring you benefits to do so, everything is better when you are happy doing it. 

Pros and Cons

All that aside now, let’s break down which type of weight is ideal for you with a list of pros and cons.

Iron Weights 

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Feel Good to lift
  • Coating options
  • Have handles and bevels
  • Fit more on the barbell

Cons

  • Noisy
  • Usually used ones are worn out and ugly
  • Irregular sizes
  • Cheap coating is smelly
  • Rust easily

Bumper Plates

Pros

  • Color-Coded IWF standard
  • Rubber is less inspirational
  • Grades of quality
  • All built to a standard
  • Make less noise
  • Better for floors and durability

Cons

  • Large, less weight on the barbell
  • Expensive
  • Irregular sizes
  • Cheap rubber is smelly
  • Cheap rubber scuffs easy

Starting Sets

Based on my list of pros and cons I’m sure you can determine the better choice suited for you. I’d like to mention though that I’ve frequently heard it mentioned that, a lot of folks end up with a hybrid combination of both Iron and bumper plates. This ends up being the most practical choice for most. Let me explain why. 

The regular person looking to lift is not going to need massive weight to start. The average starter 250 or 320lb Bumper Plates on the market can be shipped to your door starting at around 450$ tax and shipping included.

This means that with your barbell and all your bumper plates you are looking at just under 350-400 lbs of weight!

When you are ready to add more weights you can pick up individual pieces or buy a small iron set to add to your bumpers. The iron will be smaller than the bumpers and you will still be able to drop the weights as usual. 

Dropping Weights and Olympic Lifting

On the subject of dropping weights, bumper plates’ main purpose is to prevent damage from dropping them.

If you are not interested and do not think you will do any Olympic lifting then by all means save yourself the money and buy iron plates, even the coated ones will be less expensive than a cheap bumper plate set.

And I most certainly do not recommend buying a cheap bumper plate set, they stink and are not very durable. 

Based on everything that I mentioned today, I will recommend a choice based on certain outlooks.


FAQs

I Want to Splurge or Show Off / I want to do Olympic Lifting with an unlimited budget

I recommend buying the urethane bumper plates. The quality will last a lifetime and keep that “new” look for a very long time. The colors in the urethane pop and will make your home gym stand out. 

I Want to do Olympic Lifting, I Don’t Have Too Much Money.

Lifters on a tighter budget can get the virgin rubber bumper plates as they are less likely to smell and cost less than the urethane options. If money is really tight then the crumb rubber option will have to do but try and pick a company with better build quality such as Rogue to avoid smelly and bad quality bumper plates. Once again, I highly recommend stretching the budget to at least the virgin rubber options as there is a leap forward in quality.

I Will Never Drop My Weights

I recommend traditional iron weights. If there is no danger of damage to the weights a coating is not required. The sounds of pumping iron will fill your gym and the sheer sound of it will make your muscles grow! If the sound if the problem and it is too loud consider a coating for the weights however, do remember that it will come at a premium.

Denver Matheson
 

I spend a lot of time at the gym and even more time in the kitchen giving my body what it needs to repair itself and grow stronger. The third most important place for any athlete is their research zone. That's exactly why this site exists, to help me share all of the information I've learned throughout the years just like people did for me in the first place!

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