I think I’m having deja vu.
It’s like I’ve come across this bar before…
I’ve said this before, but with the influx of import barbells to the weightlifting/crossfit market, you tend to see a lot of the same bars, just rebranded. To be fair, a lot of the barbells that are domestically made are the same ones as well. Now that doesn’t necessarily make them bad, but it sucks for me more than anyone else because I end up with a bunch of duplicate barbells; though I don’t mind all that much when the bars are good. In this case, it’s the latter.
A bar that I tried way early on when I first started reviewing things was the X Training Equipment Elite Bearing bar, which at the time, was really rough and lacked polish. The spin and whip were great, price point decent, but the knurling was just too uneven. On a whim, I picked that bar up again because it went on sale and ended up loving it. Everything that plagued the initial run of the barbell was fixed and I ended up PR’ing my clean at 300; something I never got close to on any barbell that cost 3x the price. I never updated that review, but you can take this review as and update to that.
Like I said, a lot of bars I run into are just rebranded versions of others and in this case, the Christian’s Fitness Factory Keystone bar is the same thing as the X Training Equipment bar. Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not, but you’re better off just going for whichever one is cheaper at the moment.
Looking at the specifications of the bars, the CFF bar advertises a tensile of 205k PSI and a 166k PSI yield, whereas the XTE bar advertises their bar at 190k PSI with no yield listing. I know what you’re thinking, “If they’re the same bar, why is one tensile higher than the others?”, well when it comes down to it, you’re never going to be able to tell the difference. Anything over 190k PSI tensile is strong enough to take any kind of punishment and not bend (unless dropped directly on a point). I’m not saying CFF is lying about having a higher tensile, because they might, but it’s just not something you’re ever going to notice over the XTE bar.
Both bars feature a 28mm diameter shaft, 8 needle bearings (4 per sleeve), a light depth knurling and hard chrome coating. Everything about these bars is the same other than the “tensile”; if you put both bars side by side without end caps, you’d never be able to tell them apart. Once again, this isn’t a bad thing, the build quality of the bars is excellent with little play side to side in the sleeves and consistent knurling throughout. Any rattling you might get is just from the endcaps sliding around and not actually from the sleeves being loose.
$800 performance in a sub $300 bar.
Sounds pretty enticing right? Well, for the most part, it’s true. When it comes down to it, most people aren’t going to be able to tell the difference between either of these bars and an Eleiko bar as far as whip or spin is concerned. Obviously the Eleiko is probably going to be finished a little nicer with it’s polished chrome and it’s unique knurling, but for most people, the performance of the CFF/XTE bars will be absolutely stellar.
If you’re used to lifting on bushing bars, the spin alone of the CFF/XTE bars will make you a believer. Never will you have to worry about a slow turn over and having such fast, smooth bushings is like having wrist protection built into you barbell. The shaft rotates extremely well inside the sleeves which not only makes for a great weightlifting training bar, but also a great high rep CrossFit bar.
The bars are both pretty good as far as their whip goes; the oscillation is better than most and should be for most beginner to advanced lifters as well. Both bars don’t really get going until around 225lb/100kg, and like most 190k PSI bars it only gets better as you go up in weight. Best of all, the bar doesn’t wreck you when you make contact, which to me is one of the better indicators of the dynamic properties of a barbell, making for an overall smooth lifting experience.
Those of you looking for Eleiko knurling will be sorely disappointed. Personally, I like the lighter knurling of the CFF/XTE bars because I think they provide excellent grip without totally destroying your hands, but in no way are they close to the depth of an Eleiko bar. If I had to say the knurling resembled any, it would be closest to the Rogue WL training barbell, which in my opinion has one of the best, most well rounded knurl patterns out there.
The CFF bar retails for $262 and the XTE bar retails for $300 normally. Both are excellent values for the price, but the edge goes to the CFF bar for normally being $40 cheaper. That being said, at the time of this review, you can get the XTE bar for $200 on sale and use code “enderton2016” for another $20 off, making the grand total $180 shipped. For that price, there is no other comparable barbell making the XTE bar, the best barbell on the market for the price. I’m not sure how long that’s going to last, but I highly recommend you jump on it while you can. Even if that weren’t the case, the CFF bar’s normal price of $262 is one of the best deals without any kind of discounts (though if you own an affiliate, that price goes down to $222 shipped!).
Nowadays, the selection for barbells is greater than it’s ever been before. If you needed an excellent performing weightlifting training bar or general use WOD bar, it’s really hard (impossible) to beat the price to performance ratio of the CFF or XTE bars. The only people I wouldn’t recommend these bars to would be people that love aggressive knurling, or people looking for press/squat bars. You can’t go wrong either way, so just pick whichever is the better price at the time and go with that.
Strencor is a new fitness brand trying to make their name with a signature barbell made for Jared Fleming called the American Lifter barbell. The marketplace over the past few years has gotten saturated with tons of generic barbells, and not just limited to imports. Even USA made barbells typically come from the same places. Nowadays, I can usually tell when I look at the specifications, knurl, or even sleeves, but every so often a bar comes along that makes me second guess myself.
Not that the specs for the American Lifter Bar were bad, the product page was just a little all over the place. From experience with certain manufacturers, I know that there aren’t many USA made 28mm barbells with needle bearings because of sourcing the bearings; seeing those two things together was a little odd. The specs on this bar are a jumbled mess when you compare it to what their advertising on Instagram says. Maybe that’s what they were going for, because it piqued my interest and made me want to try out the bar for myself.
Seeing “made in the USA” to me, means that there has to be a certain level of craftsmanship that must be upheld for whatever product it is. While not quite at the same level of polish as a Rogue barbell (not many things are), the American Lifter bar almost holds its own. The first thing I did upon receiving the AL bar was measure the diameter of the shaft and sure enough it was actually 28.5mm in diameter. I was really hoping that I was going to be wrong, but experience proved me right. The bar is also advertised at a 185k PSI yield strength; when asked why they went with a yield number over tensile, the response was: it’s a more relevant measure for the actual use of the bar. Honestly, in my experience, tensile strength doesn’t mean a thing in the real world.
The sleeves on this bar resemble a bar made in 2012; the shoulders are still really wide compared to what you’ll currently find out there. Aesthetically it’s weird to look at since I’m used to seeing thinner shoulders, I don’t need to put rubber bands on them but it does decrease the loadable area of the sleeve. On a positive note, there isn’t much play side to side so there isn’t a ton of noise when you drop the bar. On the flipside, the sleeves are held on using a coiled clip as opposed to normal C-clips, making it much more difficult to maintain the bar.
For the most part, the knurling is well cut and uniform until you get to the areas around the IPF/IWF markings, where it protrudes a little bit. It never really bugged me and overall, I thought the knurling was great. I would rate it as a medium/light knurling thats comfortable to hold for reps and deep enough for weightlifting singles.
Numbers don’t mean jack, if the bar isn’t fun to use, but I think the American Lifter bar has a ton of character to it and is currently my daily driver! Even though it’s not a 28.5mm shaft, I can still perform oly lifts just fine with it. I’m mainly doing CrossFit anyways and the AL bar makes for an excellent WOD bar. Strencor went with the bigger diameter for this limited run because currently Jared is doing more CrossFit type training this year as he recovers from his ACL surgery. Compared to other 28.5mm bars out there, the AL bar blows them away in terms of “whip”/oscillation, which totally took me by surprise and is what makes the bar a lot of fun to use. It’s hard to put “whip” into words, but the best way I can describe this bar is that it’s “springy”.
When I first got the bar, I thought I had been lied to about the needle bearings. I couldn’t rest until Scott from Strencor showed me pictures of the actual bearings they use, which are larger than normal and are designed for durability rather than overall spin. Forewarning: the sleeves on the AL bar hardly rotate right out of the box and need a lot of breaking in. You can however, speed up the process by spraying some kind of lubricant into the sleeves. Even after doing that, the sleeves never really got going a ton, but they spin just fine for the weights most people are going to be lifting. I never noticed any kind of stickiness or slow turn over when working out with the AL bar. Still, the sleeves rotate about the same as an average bushing barbell, not something you’d expect from needle bearing.
For future bars: keep the whip, maybe add some light lubricant or more bearings to the sleeves, and hopefully get it down to 28mm and you’ll have a winner on your hands.
While the barbell isn’t really all that expensive at $274, shipping can be; to get this bar to California, it costs a whopping $45. When you compare that to most people’s free shipping, the price overall isn’t quite comparable. You can use code “Fleming” for 10% off your order, but even after the coupon, it costed me a little under $300. If you live on the east coast, shipping is only $15, making the AL barbell a pretty good deal after the coupon.
I think the American Lifter bar is in an odd spot. Most people interested in this bar are going to be because of Jared Fleming’s name and Olympic Lifting legacy; I know I was. As a Crossfitter, it’s not the end of the world that the bar is 28.5mm in diameter, but that’s a deal breaker for all Olympic weightlifters, at least the ones I know. If this bar was “insert well known CrossFit athlete’s name here” bar, we wouldn’t even be talking about the fact that it’s 28.5mm. Another point is the price, which gives the bar a ton of stiff competition, especially when you can get the “big” name’s barbells at the same price or cheaper. Even 28mm import bearing bars for much less would entice the weightlifting crowd. “Made in the USA” is a big deal for me, but it’s not a deal breaker either.
I really do like the American Lifter bar, it really is a ton of fun to use as a general use WOD bar, but that’s pretty much what it is. Don’t expect true Oly bar performance out of it (like I did), or you’re going to be disappointed. Strencor is still a new brand and I’m sure they have a bright future ahead of them. Be on the look out for some competition ready stuff coming soon!
I decided to pick this bar up again seeing as how it was only $200 shipped and was pleasantly surprised to find out that the knurling problem has been fixed. Before, it was jagged and very uneven, now it’s perfectly uniform with the right depth. Whip is still as good as I remember but the spin isn’t as great, but still good. For $200, you’d be hard pressed to find a better barbell.
Over the years, I’ve used a plethora of barbells. Some have been “cheap” to mid-range, but lately I’ve been getting into more expensive top end barbells. You come to expect a certain quality from bars that are costing you over $500 and you never ever need to worry about them not being great in performance. Obviously this isn’t the case with lower end bars, but you learn to really appreciate the ones that are exceptional and don’t cost an arm and a leg.
The original American Barbell California Bar was one of the best deals in fitness, originally retailing for a mere $250. At that time though, I hadn’t had much experience with higher end barbells, but I still knew the California Bar was one of the best bars I’d ever used. I don’t usually hold on to bars much longer after I review them, but it’s two years later and I just recently unloaded my precious California bar. Only because I got the new, upgraded Cerakote California Bar, otherwise it would have been in my collection forever. Honestly, the new one is pretty much the same in performance as the old one, it just looks a hell of a lot more bad ass.
I got to see magic in the making when I toured American Barbell’s facility in San Diego. Crates of sleeves, shafts, bushings just waiting to be assembled into fully functioning barbells, but the thing that impressed me the most were the people behind the barbells. I forgot his name, but the guy I talked to knew the ins and outs of everything and most importantly, actually gave a crap about what he was assembling.
American Barbell always has some of the most solid feeling barbells on the market. Every single one that I’ve used from them have been exceptional, rivaling the best in the business. When dropped, you don’t get the same kind of rattles you’d find on import bars and even some domestically made bars. There’s little to no play in the way the sleeve fits on the shaft and the end caps actually fit.
Like I said, this is pretty much the same barbell overall, but there are some new enhancements to it, along with the coating. The shaft is still the 28mm diameter, 190k psi tensile strength one that you’ll find on just about every American Barbell bar. Unlike the earlier model, the updated has sleeves with a recessed weld to ensure plates sit flush with the shoulder and also looks awesome. Unlike the shaft, the sleeves remain hard chrome and will chip if you use metal plates. The California bar still comes with composite bushings, as with all of American Barbell’s bushing barbells, but they’re now quite thicker than before and more so than others on the market. Though light in depth, the knurling is perfectly cut with definite start and stop points with both IPF and IWF markings. Since it’s so fine, I had trouble spotting where the markings were without my glasses on!
The real star of the show here is what American Barbell decided they wanted to coating to be on their new barbells: Cerakote. For those of you not familiar, Cerakote is a ceramic coating usually applied to firearms as a protective finish. It’s chalky in feel and supposed to last 70 times longer than stainless steel or chrome, obviously this is not something that I’ve tested myself, but check out how Cerakote performs in this video. What I can tell you, is that in the month that I used the barbell as my go-to bar for everything, I never once wiped it down. When I finally took just a nylon bristle brush to it, there were no signs of surface rust and and the chalk completely came off without any difficulty.
Even without the fancy make-up, the character of the California bar makes it a real winner. What other barbells in the mid-range usually fail in getting right is the oscillation of the bar, or whip. Not saying that they aren’t adequate for most usage, they just never feel as good as American Barbell’s bars. When the California Bar comes off your hips, it feels smooth and fluid, not jarring like other mid-range 190k psi bars. I don’t “bang the bar” but I try to make as solid contact as possible with every lift, still no bruises on my legs or hips.
Spin isn’t hyper speed like some of the cheaper bearing barbells, but it’s butter smooth and you’ll never have to worry about it hitching up on you. This is probably the most misconceived areas of a barbell so trust me when I say, spin doesn’t matter, as long as the shaft isn’t completely stuck. Even with it’s “slow” sleeves, I managed to set a new snatch PR at 225 (two wheels!) and clean to my maxes with relative ease. Something that I couldn’t do before with my more expensive bars like my Eleiko Training or AB SS competition bearing bar
The real subjective area is the depth of the knurl. Pattern-wise, it’s the same as all of the other American Barbell bars, but feels even lighter due to the Cerakote finish. Those of you that have extremely sweaty hands or like shark tooth knurling might want to look the other way because the California Bar is on the light side. On the other hand, the Cerakote finish is chalky by nature and I have personally never had any kind of issue with grip, with or without chalking up for weightlifting singles or WOD’s alike.
At $335, the Cerakote California Bar is priced in line with other brand’s, durable, multi-function barbells. The edge that it has is that it’s 28mm in diameter, so it will function much better in the way of weightlifting or even deadlifts. The price cements it firmly into the mid-range barbell line, but I think all of the features it comes with justifies the price tag. Most garage-gym folks aren’t going to buy a ton of barbells, and most importantly want one that’s going to survive the elements, so you’re better off buying something with a durable finish and a lifetime warranty.
All things considered, the American Barbell Cerakote California bar is probably my favorite barbell right now. Sure, it’s not my Uesaka, but it costs less than half of what that bar costs and to me, performs just as good. More mid-range barbells should be this good, but again then I’d be a hell of a lot more broke.
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