Time to pick out some Olympic weightlifting plates for your garage gym? What kind do you buy? Rubber bumper plates or steel plates? Where should you get them? Should you buy new plates, or should you seek out used bumper plates? Are they expensive to ship, or should you expect free shipping? I've been through all this myself. I've done all of the research already for my garage gym but I'm going to do it all over again for this article. So let's see if I can make purchasing some Olympic plates easier for you guys and gals.
What are Bumper Plates?
Bumper plates (or just bumpers) are Olympic weightlifting plates, typically made of rubber, so that a loaded bar can be safely dropped without damaging either the plates or the lifting platform (or simply the floor in most home and garage gym situations). Bumpers are available in both pounds and kilograms in the same weight variety as normal cast iron or steel weightlifting plates. Competition bumper plates are color coded by weight, while training bumpers are normally just black.
Bumper Plates or Steel Plates?
So do you choose bumper plates or classic steel / cast iron plates? Well that depends. If money is really tight, steel weights might be the way to go. Steel plates are less expensive and much easier to find second-hand. Check craigslist and you'll be blown away by how many folks are selling their used plates and bars from the local sporting good stores. Often times, the weights are practically new. Prices on new steel plates are already about 60-70% of the price of decent bumpers, so finding used plates can mean major savings. You may also get lucky and find used bumper plates.
Another option for a tight budget is rubber coated plates. The cost is on par with steel, however, don't think for a second that they are similar to bumpers. They are still just steel plates, only they have a protective coating. Rubber plates are typically what box gyms have these days, probably because they are quieter and look less like old school iron. They are not intended to be dropped from overhead like a bumper plate is, so if Olympic lifts are going to be part of your workout, I would avoid both steel and rubber coated plates as an option.
So why are bumpers better than steel? First of all, they're safer. Safer as in, they won't smash through your foundation or crack and chip if you drop them accidentally. Consider that if you cannot safely drop a 45 pound steel plate while just transporting it to and from the bar without having to worry about what it would do to your flooring, you obviously can't drop it from the top of a press or from shoulder -height on a failed snatch.
With so many folks these days utilizing Olympic lifts in their workouts (even Crossfit uses the clean and the snatch), it makes sense to just go for the bumper plates initially so those lifts are an option for you later, even if you're fitness level does not necessitate them right away.
There is another reason so many prefer bumper plates over steel. It may seem a little silly, but for those who have worked out with steel (or still do) you will understand. It's the noise. Steel is crazy loud on the bar. Even on relatively smooth movements, those giant plates banging against each other is definitely loud. When you let that bar down from even a few inches above the ground or rack, it's loud as hell. Bumpers don't clang and bang like that. Just something else to consider.
Mix and Match Plates
You don't have to go with 100% bumpers. I have a combination of steel and bumpers in my garage gym. While my 35′s and 45′s are all bumper plates, I still use smaller steel plates. The steel 25′s and smaller plates never touch the ground so it does not matter what they're made of. Besides, the standard 10 lb. and 15 lb. bumpers tend to deform (taco) if they're allowed to take the brunt of a drop too many times. They're just too thin to take the same abuse as the large 45 lb. plates.
One other option for Olympic plates are Technique Plates . These are one-piece solid plastic plates really meant to be abused. They are mostly available in 5, 10, and 15 pound plates. If you're new to Olympic lifts, these allow you to get your form down with very little weight added weight, but you still have the feel of plates on the bar. They are not cheap per pound, but you shouldn't need more than one or two pairs of technique plates.
"I want bumper plates!"
I'll go over the different types and brands of bumper plates and also go over what I've discovered regarding the best places to buy each type based on price, shipping cost, and overall reviews and feedback.
Standard black bumpers . There are a number of manufacturers out there but I've narrowed this down to three different -brands: Rogue HG, Troy VTX, and HI-Temp bumper plates.
-Troy VTX bumper plates are probably what you'll come across more times than not in a sporting goods store or used equipment store. They're priced reasonably well and the reviews are overall pretty decent. It's one of the few options in that price range available in color. Look on Amazon for a deal on these. There is a ton of sellers for Troy VTX products.
-Hi-Temp bumpers are solid and the price is great as well. They are on the thicker side of available bumpers, but unless your lifts require over 400 pounds on the bar, I think you'll be fine with the thickness of the plates. Lots of sites sell Hi-Temp. Rogue has them for cheaper than I could find them anywhere else, and shipping was included in the price. These are the only basic bumpers I know of that are made in the USA. FYI, HI-Temp bumper plates are the most searched for bumper plate by brand.
-Rogue HG Bumpers are my favorite choice for a basic black bumpers. I own some of these plates and I love them. They are slightly less expensive than the Hi-Temps, yet they are a bit thinner and look much cooler. They are warranted for 3 years (25′s and up) and the shipping is included in the price. Read some of the reviews here. These are hands down the best option for getting set up with bumpers.
Competition (& Training) Bumper plates: Competition bumpers like the Eleiko Olympic plates, the Pendlay Elites, or the Rogue Competition plates for Crossfit are thinner, more durable, and significantly more expensive. The "training" versions of these bumpers pretty much means they are the same plate, only not calibrated. So either way, when compared to a standard bumper, they are much more expensive.
I have lifted with competition plates so rarely that I have no business giving a review on them. Eleiko is used in the Olympics, Crossfit uses and abuses Rogue's Competition plates, and Pendlay Elites are used by SuperFit. The weight deviation tolerances on these are so tight that you know you're lifting the weight claimed on the plate … unlike the super cheap brands (of any plate, bumper or otherwise) where the tolerances are in the form of a percentage rather than in grams.
If you have the money to spend on bumper plates this nice, I'm sure that regardless of which brand you buy that you'll be happy with them. Even though I won't review them, I've still looked for the best prices online for all three brands for you to check out in case you are considering one of these options. Just click the links on each name in the previous paragraph. (please research prices yourself as well. These best prices are at the time of writing, and I did dig to page 10 on Google when comparing.)
Below is just some pricing to give you an idea of what you will spend to get your hands on some new bumper plates (again, at the time of writing this article).
Cast Iron / Steel Plates: Approx $ .90- $ 1.20 a pound. Definitely look for used.
Rogue HG Bumpers: Approx $ 1.50- $ 1.75 a pound. Best deal I could find.
HI-TEMP Bumper Plates: Approx $ 1.60- $ 2.00 a pound.
Training Bumpers: Approx $ 3- $ 5 a pound.
Competition Bumper Plates: Approx $ 4- $ 8 + a pound.
Technique Plates: Approx $ 14-16 a pound (ouch).
I hope this article has been helpful. I realize there are a ton of other brands and places to buy bumper plates. I looked at a lot of them both online and in local stores, and I've been exposed to a number of them in gyms. I wanted to narrow it down a bit. If you want to add your two cents on the type of plates you have and love (or hate), please do. You may also want to check out either my weight bench review or my power rack review, both done in a similar fashion and available at www.garage-gyms.com .