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.
**If you enjoyed this review, please use my links when shopping for your new barbell. It helps me out a ton in getting new equipment to review and doesn’t cost you a thing!**
I’ve owned just about every iteration of the Rogue Fitness Ohio Bar. My first being the black oxide 1.1, and since then, a few more black zinc 1.1’s and 1.2’s; even the Operator bar and Echo bars can be counted as spin off versions of the Ohio. The only real drastic change in the Ohio bar since it was first conceived was the tensile strength going from 155k psi to the current 190k psi. Besides losing the option to get a chrome version of the bar, mainly everything everything stayed the same. Still, 3 years later the Ohio bar remains arguably the most popular barbell in the world. Partly because the name behind it, but mainly because it just works for just about everything and everyone. The latest version of the ever popular barbell brings some useful features but also a questionable “downgrade”, at a moderate premium in price.
The shaft largely remains the same, but now has a 195k psi tensile strength rating, probably due to being made from stainless steel. In the real world, that 5k increase really isn’t going to do a ton in the way of durability, but anything above 190k should be able to stand up to just about anything you can throw at it anyways. The stainless steel Ohio bar came to me extra dirty, but at least it wasn’t too greasy when it arrived. Stainless steel is unmatched in feel by any coating, as it’s basically like having a bare steel barbell. If you’ve never used either types of barbells before, they have a chalky feel to them, unlike zinc or chrome. Though the shaft is stainless, the sleeves are still coated with chrome. Rogue’s website says something about not using a steel wire brush to clean the SS Ohio bar because it can cause rusting. I’m going to assume this is the same reason they went with chrome sleeves instead so that bumper plate collars aren’t going to be rubbing and causing rust issues.
Since it is the Ohio bar, the shaft remains the 28.5mm multi-use bar standard diameter. Don’t expect this to ever change, but at least they’re going to be releasing stainless versions of multiple bars in their line-up, including a 28mm (Ohio?) training bar. Still, 28.5mm remains a popular pick because it can fit in with just about everything you’re planning to do. If you’re a dedicated weightlifter, get a 28mm bar, it makes a difference.
Arguably the best feature of the stainless steel shaft is the fact that it’s provides the knurling the exact feel the Rogue engineers designed it to have. With bars with coating, the knurling is cut, then the coating is laid on top of the bar, bastardizing the knurling to some degree. As always, Rogue knurling is the most uniform and well cut knurling on the market with a pattern designed to satisfy most people. I say this because I have plenty of friends that think Rogue’s knurling is too aggressive, but many would beg to differ. Personally I think it’s more towards the medium depth spectrum – after getting used to it, the knurling will be tolerable to use for high rep work but at the same time it’ll be grippy enough to use for powerlifting and weightlifting singles. Vary rarely do I ever feel the need to use excessive amounts of chalk. At this point, I love Rogue’s current knurling but there was definitely a break in time for my hands.
As with my first Ohio bar and those that followed it, the sleeve spin isn’t anything to write home about. When I first experienced this, it was a major letdown, but over time I’ve learned that free spinning a sleeve isn’t actually indicative of how well it will spin under load. Ohio bars have always had very smooth and consistent rotation with their bronze bushings and the SS Ohio is no different; you have nothing to worry about as long as the sleeves spin without seizing, . Rogue decided to go with the same composite bushings that they use in their Rogue Bar 2.0. Performance feels the same between bronze and composite bushings, but durability is questionable. Composite should actually cut down on friction between the bar and sleeve by reducing metal to metal contact, assuming the bushing itself lasts that long. In my Rogue Bar 2.0, one of the bushings has flattened out after so many drops, to the point where I have had to pull the excess of it off the bushing.
Even though spin between composite and bronze bushings is very similar, I think this change is a huge mistake. I can’t be the only one that sees the stainless steel version of the Ohio bar as a premium version of an already premium product, also with a premium price tag, so taking away a “premium” feature like bronze bushings is just ridiculous. Keep in mind this is exactly what separates the not so premium Rogue Bar 2.0 from the “premium” Ohio bar; even Echo bars have bronze bushings.
Performance remains largely unchanged from generation to generation of Ohio bars. That’s kind of what makes the Ohio bar what it is and why it’s popular. It’s a jack of all trades, master of none kind of barbell. The spin isn’t amazingly fast, the whip isn’t very dynamic and actually feels slightly stiffer than it’s original models. Still, the Ohio bar will handily do anything you ask of it, and that’s exactly what most people need/want. If you want a stiffer bar for squatting and pressing, get a power bar. If you want a whippier bar for olympic lifting, get a training bar. The Ohio bar is the perfect multi-use/CrossFit/functional fitness barbell.
So, why drop the extra cash on the stainless steel Ohio bar when you can get a normal one with bronze bushings for about $75 less? The main draw, and really the only reason you should buy the stainless bar, is it’s corrosion resistance. Unlike it’s counterparts that will eventually lose their protective coatings and rust, stainless steel will never have that problem because it doesn’t have a coating. Corrosion resistance is a spectrum and stainless is at the top, though it’s not completely immune to rusting – it will just take much, much more for it to start to oxidize. Being near Los Angeles this really isn’t an issue (no, we don’t all live by the beach). I spent the last couple weeks using the SS Ohio bar as my daily driver, not worrying about knocking the chalk out of it or wiping it down, and it looked as good as new when I did.
If you’re in the south, where humidity runs rampant a good chunk of the year, this bar is made for you. Garage gym enthusiasts might also want to look into the SS Ohio bar since their bars will be more exposed to the elements. Hell, this might be a good choice for you even if you’re just too lazy to maintain your barbells. If you don’t fall into any of these categories, you’re better off saving your money by purchasing the tried and true version of the Ohio bar.
Quite some time ago now, I blindly picked up a barbell from a company I didn’t know a whole lot about named Vulcan Strength. I admit, at the time I was much more of a noob about equipment than I am now. Honestly, I don’t even remember how I came about finding out about Vulcan in the first place, but I remember being dazzled by their “Standard” barbell. It was and still is, one of the few U.S. made barbells that isn’t Rogue, American Barbell or Diamond Pro. That alone gave it a certain allure, but the performance quickly made it one of my favorite and most recommended barbells.
If there was anything “wrong” with the Vulcan Standard; it was that the shaft was 28.5mm in diameter making it more of a “CrossFit” bar (I’m a crossfitter), and less of a training barbell. Which could be fine for you purposes depending on what you’re looking for. I also think it’s kind of weird when 28.5mm bars only have a WL marking, but Vulcan must have read my review and not too long after the PL marking was added in; I guess the same could be said about 28mm bars with PL markings! The original 28.5mm Standard is still available, but you now also have the option to go with a true 28mm Training Bar under the same moniker.
- 28mm diameter shaft with nickel chrome coating and a single IWF marking.
- 196k PSI tensile strength.
- Medium depth knurling.
- Oil impregnated bronze bushings with bright zinc sleeves.
- Made in the U.S.A.
- $345 with Free Shipping
- Lifetime Warranty
Many of the specifications of the original Standard carry over to the training bar other than a very slight jump in tensile strength. This is not a bad thing as the original Standard was a great barbell due to many of these attributes. The same good ol’ American made build quality still stands as well; the Training bar is one of the most sturdy sounding bars when dropped. A more significant change is the difference in price, but more on that later on.
As with the original Standard, rotation is aided by a set of bronze bushings per sleeve. Spinning the sleeve freely without weight surprisingly doesn’t produce as many rotations as the original Standard did. We all know by now that spinning the sleeves like that doesn’t mean much to the actual performance of the bar. On the contrary, the bronze bushings found in the Standard Training bar allow for buttery smooth rotations under any kind of load. Since the bushings are sintered, rotation should actually get better with use and last you quite some time before having to re-lubricate. If you wanted “wow” factor, you could opt for the bearing variant!
Out of the box, Vulcan uses a much thicker grease lubricant to protect the bar from it’s own tight tolerances. This reduces metal to metal contact, resulting in less wear over time and a “looser” barbell. Other manufacturers will use a thinner type lubricant to make the bar spin better out of the box, but not necessarily to safeguard the barbell.
Tensile strength has changed from the 194k psi tensile to a 196k psi tensile, which does mean that the metallurgy of the steel has been altered. It’s interesting to see that the thinner shaft has the higher strength between the two, but the hike in tensile strength doesn’t do anything to the dynamic properties of the barbell. Most barbells in this range usually have an adequate amount of whip for most people but should increase as the weights go up. I found that the Training bar feels a lot like the Standard I remembered in this area. You start to feel the bar move around 100kg, but not enough to make a difference. YMMV if you’re a big boy/girl lifter!
Vulcan’s nickel chrome coating is blingin’. Aesthetically, the Training bar is beautiful, but that’s probably not the reason you’re buying it. Chrome is great against chipping and scratching but remember, oxidation can still happen. Though I haven’t experienced any issues with this being from SoCal, you can expect this to happen in the most humid of environments. You can count on the shaft looking great for years to come if taken care of properly. I always recommend keeping a nylon brush near by to knock the chalk out of your knurling. The polished shaft is without center knurling but you shouldn’t have any issues with it slipping off your chest, as I felt it actually caught my sticky skin instead.
Vulcan is one of the only manufacturers to actually tout they have a medium depth knurling; I think companies stray away from this because they’re afraid that it might cost them some bar sales, but over the years I’ve notice a trend of people that actually want a more aggressive knurl pattern. I remember the original Standard not having a very aggressive knurl, which I personally liked, but the Training bar’s knurl is much more aggressive than it what it once was. Knurling is the most subjective thing when it comes to choosing a barbell; what I like, you might not, and vice versa. However, I actually find the Training bar’s knurling to be quite comfortable, even for reps. The pattern is a bit more fine, but also deeper and provides excellent grip even without having to chalk up. Fans of more aggressive knurling will revel at the touch of the Training bar’s knurling.
The Standard Training bar will set you back a cool $66 more than the OG ($345 vs $279), which is a considerable amount more. If you’re a dedicated weightlifter, this is a no-brainer, you need that 28mm shaft! From a Crossfitter’s point of view, you might be just fine saving a little bit and going for the original Standard. You can sure as hell perform Oly movements just fine with the OG just as well as you can do WOD’s with the Training bar. They’re still both excellent and it mainly depends on your budget, but I would always opt for the 28mm barbell.
For the price, there are other great barbells, so I think it mainly comes down to what your preferences are with knurling. There are no wrong answers in this range of barbells, but if you’re looking for a good ol’ American made 28mm training bar with a real medium depth knurling, is built like a tank and should last you for years to come, look no further than the Vulcan Standard. If theres anything I know about Vulcan, it’s that they have an insatiable need to put out the the best quality gear out there; you can shop with confidence.
This review has been a long time coming. I’ve always wanted one ever since I saw this bar at the Games in 2014, but I never wanted to shell out the money they were charging for it. Why you ask? I just thought it was overpriced compared to other import bearing barbells that I thought would be better barbells. Comparably speaking, at the time the Pendlay HD could be had for much less and was a very similarly spec’d barbell. So why did I even want this bar? The amount of free spin in the sleeves was incredible; I couldn’t believe it was a bushing barbell. A part of me concluded that since it was the display model at the games, they had just pumped the sleeves up with oil, so it was kind of a risky buy since just about every Rogue bar doesn’t have the greatest rotation. Luckily, that’s not the case, and the Rogue Fitness Training bar is one of the greatest bars that they make, if not the greatest.
From a specification standpoint, the Training bar doesn’t really stand out; it’s pretty much like every other Rogue barbell, or like most popular barbells for that matter. With the Training bar, you get a 190k psi tensile strength 28mm shaft, bronze bushings, light knurling with a single IWF marking and the choice between either bright or black zinc coating. So on paper, it looks like that premium over a typical Rogue bar just nabs you a 28mm shaft. It’s very easy for the Training bar to get lost in the crowd this way, but the specs are only half the story. I wish there was a place that you could go to try these bars before you purchased them! If that were the case, you’d see more people with this bar. (Any SoCal natives are welcome to come to my gym, CrossFit 805 and check some of my collection out.)
Unlike the 190k 28.5mm shaft thats used on the Ohio bar (Rogue bar, operator, Castro…), the training bar uses the exact same shaft as the NA weightlifting bar. Since that’s the case, the whip is much more substantial than you’ll find on a typical multi-purpose Rogue bar. The Ohio bar, while still an awesome bar, feels like a powerlifting bar compared to the Training bar. You’ll notice things start to get going around 200lbs, but from there it only picks up and gets better. It’s true that at these weights, whip isn’t necessarily going to have the same impact that it does at advanced weights, but you can definitely feel the bar oscillate during cleans and jerks.
Another thing reminiscent of Rogue’s higher end weightlifting barbell is the knurling pattern. Once again, the same exact style you’ll find on both of the bearing barbells. In my opinion, one of the best patterns on any barbell, but those who prefer aggressive knurling might not be thrilled at it because it falls into the shallow category. I’ve never found it to not have enough grip, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much, sweaty folk.
By far the most intriguing aspect of the Training bar is how well the bar rotates while using bronze bushings, much like you’d find in most of Rogue’s bars. Anyone that has ever owned a Rogue bar will tell you that though they’re fairly smooth, there’s always something left to be desired with how fast the sleeves spin. The Training bar is the exception – these sleeves spin like mad. When put up against my higher end Rogue WL bars, the Training bar out-spun my EU bar and was just slightly behind the NA bar. The only question this leaves me with is: “Why the hell don’t all Rogue bar’s spin like this?!”
I get it, spinning a sleeve and pulling under a clean are two very different things, but the real world performance is just as stunning as watching the sleeves spin. Having a bar that spins this smooth and fast really makes you doubt just how important bearing bars are for beginner to intermediate weights. The necessity to have bearings becomes more apparent when you’re trying to get under 400lbs, but for sub-300lb lifts, any smooth bushings that don’t get stuck should be fine.
Just FYI, I scored this bar from Rogue Fitness’ boneyard bar section for $245 before shipping and tax. One of the reasons I pulled the trigger on this bar is because it had center knurling on it, which I highly recommend if you’re in the market for a brand new barbell; they only offer it on the Chan, WL and EU bars. The Training bar came to me in new condition, with very, very minimal blemishes. This barbell for that price is an outstanding value and a no brainer if it pops up again. Most people will be paying the full $330 MSRP, and like previously mentioned, it looks like you’re not getting much more than a standard Ohio bar. You’re just going to have to take my word for it when I say that for the money, the Training bar is probably the best bar that Rogue Fitness sells at the moment. Unless you’re not training the Olympic lifts, this bar is the one to get for weightlifting and even WOD’s.
I’m happy that I didn’t pull the trigger sooner on this bar because it was such a great deal, but I probably wouldn’t regret it if I had spent the full price on this bar either. For this price, you can either get a cheap-ish feeling import bearing bar or a high quality U.S. made Training bar. Personally, I would choose the latter.