Friday, October 10, 2014

Your Guide to Bumper Plates

With the increasing popularity of CrossFit® and functional fitness training both at home and in the gym, the demand for bumper plates is skyrocketing.  And that increased demand brings about new manufacturers that are diving into the bumper plate market.

Granted, all bumper plate manufacturers thus far are abiding by the same general rules.  They are manufacturing the plates to the same general outside diameter [any variation out there has proven to be insignificant] and the same collar diameter to ensure that their products are compatible with all the current bars in the marketplace.  That's all pretty standard stuff.  And that means that even if you've got an old olympic bar that fits standard steel plates, bumper plates will fit on the sleeves.

There are a few considerations to make when it comes to purchasing bumper plates and we'll do our best to get you in-the-know so you can make the best decision for your needs.

The Basic Stuff First - Why bumper plates over steel plates?  Bumper plate sets are more expensive then steel so why spend more money?  Quite simply, the bumper plate is designed to be dropped.  Even from as high as overhead.  Why is that important?  If you are interested in olympic style lifting - the clean, jerk or snatch - then invariably you will be dropping the bar from shoulder height, overhead or anywhere in between.  The bumper plate gives you that extra confidence in your equipment to go a bit heavier without the risk of damage to the floor or the equipment if dropped.  Dropping a bar loaded with steel plates is dangerous at best - both to you and the equipment.

Here's the Trade Off - Bumper plates are great at what they do - saving floors and equipment - but they also have their limitations.  Any by that we don't mean limited in terms of abuse they can take [everything has its breaking point - more on that later] as much as their limitation on how much weight you can get on the bar.  Most standard bumper plates are going to top out in terms of loading a bar in the 400-500lb range.  It's all due to their thickness.  Some 45lb bumper plates we've seen as thick as 4-1/2".  That takes up real estate on the bar sleeve quickly.  But that thickness is necessary to absorb the impact from the floor.  The bottom line trade off?  Steel takes up less room on the bar sleeve and is a lower cost investment per pound but dropping from anywhere above the knees is risky.

Weighing in on Thickness - As we mentioned, there is a vast array of bumper plates out there but all of them toe the same line when it comes to fitting on the bar sleeve.  Where they do differ is in materials of construction and thickness.  Generally speaking, the thicker the bumper plate is, the more impact force it can absorb.  Hi Temp Bumper plates are some of the thickest bumpers on the market because they are made from recycled rubber.  That manufacturing process creates a lower density bumper that is 'spongier' and thicker and one that has a textured surface.  The more common, high density rubber bumper is much thinner than it's Hi Temp counterpart and has a smooth finish.  The thinner bumpers rebound less when dropped and up to 20% more fit on the standard length bar sleeve.

Bumper Plate Sets - Before deciding on how many bumpers you need or what type of set you want to purchase, remember that by and large, steel plates can cost up to 20% less than bumpers.  And static movements such as the Back Squat and Deadlift being some of the heaviest lifts demand the most amount of weight.  Our suggestion is to consider purchasing a lighter weight bumper plate set and supplement it with steel plates for those heavy static lift days.  Bumpers will serve you best for movements like the clean, jerk and snatch where failed lifts and drops are going to happen.  But those types of movements won't be your heaviest lifts.

For loads 75lbs and under, a Training bar is key.
Protecting Your Investment - The most common failures in bumper plates happen when the low weight bumper plates are the only plate on the bar sleeve.  The 10lb and 15lb bumpers are the thinnest in the line up and when they go solo on the bar, there isn't enough surface area to absorb the impact as well.  When the bar is loaded with 25lb, 35lb or 45lb bumpers, each of these bumpers can stand well on it's own.  The quick rule of thumb to protecting your investment is to be sure that the weight you load on the bar exceeds the bar weight itself.  Lightweight bumpers can begin to flex against the weight of the 20kg or 15kg bar.  If you find that you are going to be working with total weights of 75lbs and under, then a good quality 15lb Training Bar is going to be the best solution to keeping your bumpers safe.

Do I Need Rubber Flooring Too? - If considering a set of bumpers for your Home Gym, then Rubber Flooring is a smart investment but not always necessary.  High Density bumpers have the least amount of rebound, but also make the most noise when dropped on the concrete floor of a garage.  One of the more common types of rubber flooring is the horse stall mats from the local Home & Garden Center.  At 3/4" thick and measuring 6' x 4', these type of mats do a great job of protecting your floor but don't really add enough sound deadening to keep the neighbors from hearing.  The lower density, Hi Temp Bumper Plate is no doubt the quieter bumper and it's better shock absorbing qualities make it a better choice if you are working on bare concrete.  Rubber flooring is a great choice to make your gym more friendly for getting down on the ground for sit-ups, pushups and burpees, but generally won't make a big difference when it comes to deadening sound for dropped bars.

Tried the Atomic Situp yet?
Other Uses - Bumpers aren't just for loading the bar up.  Unlike steel plates which don't play well with shins, heads and body parts in general, bumpers have a 'soft' enough surface that you can grab them with your hands and use them for other movements such as lunges and overhead squats without fear of knocking yourself out should you accidentally hit yourself in the head with them.  They also make great tools for Farmer's Carries, and for adding weight to pushups [add them on your back] or gymnastic ring rows [lay on your chest].  And if you don't own a plyo box, we've seen many an athlete stacking up a set of bumpers and using them for box jumps.

Don't Forget These - As important as it is to own a set of bumper plates for many of today's popular movements, steel plates are still a necessary supplement.  That holds true especially for the smaller incremental weights.  Even one set of 2.5lb and 5lb steel weight plates can make all the difference in the world when it comes to loading up the bar in a wide range of weights.  Since the smallest common manufactured weight in bumpers is 10lbs, that means making jumps in weight is limited to 20 pounds at a time only.  Making a weight jump that significant will hold you back from PRs.  Here's the big picture:  The 190lb Bumper Plate Set - 10/15/25/45 pairs can load the bar with 13 different weight combinations.  Add 15lbs of steel weights as described above and now get 23 more available combinations.  That's one small investment with a big pay back.