In my life, I’ve used a variety of bumper plates ranging from run of the mill beater plates you’d find in any box to platform ready competition plates. I’m probably one of the luckier people in the world since most people will probably only get to use only a couple brands. Of all that I’ve tested, American Barbell’s Urethane Pro Series plates are among the best I’ve ever used. These plates have been around for a little bit now and since their release, many other brands have come out with urethane plates as well – but the quality of American Barbell’s makes them still the premier urethane bumper plates.
Why choose urethane over virgin rubber?
The short answer is that it just looks a bit nicer and is more durable, but there are plenty of benefits to having a urethane plate. For vanity’s sake, the ABU plates are made from a vibrant, brightly colored material that sets them apart from most competition plates. There’s a pebbled like texture to them that not only looks great, keeps the plate looking nice for longer, and is pretty easy to get a grip on – except when they’re lying down. The squarish profile of the edges make picking them up from the ground nearly impossible, especially the 25kg’s. Virgin rubber looks great from the get-go, but after a couple drops, will show scratches much more than urethane will. This might be a non-issue for most people, but considering how much you pay for competition plates, I would care.
Using urethane on bumper plates is not a completely new idea, it was actually pioneered by Superior Barbell in the mid 80’s. They used a urethane coating over an iron core – while it was thought to be a revolutionary idea, those plates ended up having issues with durability because the core would smash through the urethane after repeated drops.
Instead, American Barbell uses German made urethane for the “body” of their plates to ensure the highest quality and durability over time. Rubber does absorb shock a little bit better than urethane can, but in this case the ABU bumpers are actually a bit softer than your highest end rubber plate. The durometer rating of AB’s plates is a little lower at 89ShA compared to most competition rubber plates in the same range that are into the 90’s. They’re a little more bouncy than the competition, but won’t drive your neighbors mad when you drop them since they don’t create as much vibration.
Unlike most competition bumpers that use a bolt together hub design, the ABU plates have a single piece, press fitted center hub. This is always the first thing to go with competition plates and I’ve got a collection of loose bolts from the Rogue plates at my gym. The problem with bolt together designs is that the screws aren’t mean’t to hold for the impact bumper plates go through. Some use loctite in addition, but almost every time, the hub will loosen in some way or another. You won’t have to worry about this issue with AB’s design, because there’s nothing to come loose. American Barbell’s design is FAR superior to any others and should be the main reason you’re buying these plates.
The only difference I can tell between the previous AB urethane bumper plates and the current ones is the hub design. Both are press fitted into the plate but the original ones have a cutout design in the hub that you’ll find on some of the other brand’s urethane plates. Honestly, it probably won’t affect performance at all, but it’s worth noting.
One thing that’s out for discussion is how well urethane plates will protect your barbell after repeated drops, since the tech is a little too new to tell. From what I gather, since urethane doesn’t deflect impact as well as rubber does, it could potentially damage your barbell over time. This would probably be more damaging for needle bearing bars than bushing, since there’s nothing loose or moving in the latter. Personally, I haven’t had an issue using these plates yet, but I have had bearings break in cheaper bars using rubber competition plates, so it is definitely possible.
One really annoying thing about these plates is that the numbers are just stickers that can fall off over time. They should be raised and part of the bumper itself like the lettering is. Purely a cosmetic issue, but when you pay so much for bumper plates, you’d expect to not have the numbering fall off.
Using competition plates is essential to mimicking being out on the platform, but not as necessary if you’re never planning on competing. They’re still a luxury and not much of a necessity at all for most people; that doesn’t make them any less cool or nice to have though. There are however, a few practical reasons for using competition plates over normal bumper plates.
The most noticeable thing between normal bumper plates and competition plates is that there’s less play between the barbell and the collar of the bumper plate. That lets you get a more direct pull on the bar when you go for your lift. It might be a millimeter or two, but it does make a difference when you lift – at least to those that are fairly in tune with their technique. Since the openings on these bumpers are so precise, it can be a little bit difficult to get the plates on, but the edges are chamfered so it makes it a tad easier to get them on while also protecting your sleeves from getting scratched up.
Another reason is for your heavy hitter Oly lifters or those of you looking to max out your deadlift: you can just fit more weight on the bar. You’ll save from anywhere from 1.5″ to .25″ depending on the size of the plate. Ex: You’ll easily get 5 20kg/25kg plates on a typical barbell with bar clamps, whereas you wouldn’t be able to get clamps on with standard bumper plates. Of course you could use bands to hold the plates on, but we all know how that can turn out. You definitely do not want to be Oly lifting like that, let alone deadlifting. When compared to other competition plates in the segment, they’re only a tiny bit thinner, but something is better than nothing!
Finally, the difference in bounce from competition plates to standard bumpers is generally lower and more controlled, except that’s not necessarily the case when you’re using these bumpers for workout’s you’ll be repeatedly be dropping the bar in. I found that when you only have a single bumper on each side of the bar, whatever the weight, the bar will bounce and go all over the place. The issue goes away when you have a couple plates on each sides of the bar, but these definitely would not be my first choice for a CrossFit workout.
At the time of this writing, the 140kg set of American Barbell Urethane Pro Plates retail for $1386 with FREE shipping, which is pricey compared to other sets.
|American Barbell||$1386||Free/Depends on State||89||Urethane|
|Rogue Fitness||$1035||Free/Depends on State||94||Rubber|
|Titan Fitness 150kg||$949.99||Yes/No||90||Urethane|
You could spend a bit less and get a rubber option, which honestly, is in no way a bad thing. So what are you really getting by spending top dollar on American Barbell’s plates? Top quality. The main selling point for me is that the center hub design is perfect and will last you forever compared to other bolt together designs. Second reason for me is that they look amazing and will continue to do so much longer than rubber plates will. In a garage gym setting, this is probably less important than in gym setting. As an affiliate owner, I would want my equipment looking nicer, longer; especially since it’ll go through much more punishment. Finally, the last reason I could think of is that if you’re in the garage gym setting, the dampened vibration would be invaluable in keeping your neighbors and family sane.
Overall value of the plates is going to vary tremendously depending on what your needs are. If you’re a garage gym’er, the need to have color coded top of the line competition plates is probably lowest and I’d recommend spending money on a nicer barbell instead; this all depends on your level of lifting as well. If you’re a novice to intermediate lifter, or a Crossfitter – you’d be better off buying normal plates and spending the extra bit elsewhere for your fitness. If you’re a competitive athlete, weightlifter or weightlifting club and you’re looking for the best in bumper plates, I can wholeheartedly recommend the AB urethane plates. They’re easily the best set of bumper plates that I own. Their construction and finish is top notch and they also just look more premium than any other plate.
- Best looking bumper plates out there, that will continue to look nice for years.
- The best center hub design out of any bumper plate.
- Less vibration when dropped.
- Can be a PITA to pick up when they’re laid flat.
- Can be bouncy, not great for Grace/Isabel.
- American Barbell, using German Urethane, made in China.
- Lots of clones.