DIY Barbell and Bumper Plates

Reading Time: 7 minutes

We are back in DIY corner this week. The pandemic has caused a lot of people to become very resourceful when it comes to training equipment. With gyms closed and PTs unable to train people in person, the home gym has come into it’s own. But, with the increase in demand there has been a shortfall in available equipment.

At Wild Life we encourage people to get out and get resourceful with what nature supplies or with materials you already have. One of the important aspects of our Movement category of the 5 Circles of Health is the need to ‘Lift Heavy Things’. Now ‘heavy things’ is a relative term. For many people lifting their own bodyweight is sufficient. But at some point it may be useful to pick up something that is heavy to us other than our own mass.

Dumbells, kettlebells, sandbags, logs, rocks, etc, are all very useful for generating strength gains, but at some point the size and awkwardness will restrict our ability to pick them up. This is where the barbell comes into its own.

Whilst not overly natural, nothing in nature or real life generally comes with a handy 28mm knurled handle, it does allow us to lift very heavy weights with relative efficiency. And when it comes to the big compound lifts like squats and deadlifts, the barbell is king.

man lifting barbel

There is something quite magical in loading up the bar and busting out the reps. Deadlifting for me is both exciting and a little bit scary. It makes me feel simultaneously boyish and manly.

To buy an entry level Olympic barbell and plates will set you back about £250 and with recent demands many places have sold out. You can buy cheaper non Olympic bars ( 1 inch collars) but these are usually rated at a far lower maximum lifting capacity. They also do not allow the use of bumper plates, large heavily rubberised plates, so more care needs to be taken in the lowering of the barbell and the choice of lifting surface. This last point is not a big issue for me. I feel that people are too haphazard with how they lower barbells. For big Olympic lifts I get it, but it annoys the hell out of me when I see people slamming the barbell to the ground for no other reason than to announce to the rest of the gym that they have just finished their set. Especially when the barbell belongs to me!

So what can you do if you cannot obtain or afford a barbell of your own?

You can make one.

DISCLAIMER: This set-up has not been structurally tested so we cannot guarantee what weight this can handle. Differing materials will behave in different ways, so proceed with caution. Anybody attempting this does so at their own risk.

In no way can this be compared with using an actual, purpose made barbell, but it will get you started for very little money, or until you can afford a decent one. You can also do what I do and keep this set-up as your outside rig. It won’t get ruined like an Olympic bar in the rain and it’s always there for me to bust out some lifts, whatever the weather.

The bar itself is made from a 7ft length of steel scaffold tube. An Olympic barbell collar diameter is 50mm, so the closest we can get is a 48mm tube.

Make sure this tube has a wall thickness of at least 3.2mm, and that it is a steel tube. Ideally you’d get this new as it will be stronger and guaranteed undamaged. This will set you back about £10-15. Better yet is to spend a little bit extra and get a 5mm thick walled tube. You can of course come by sections of tubing from a friendly builder, but be aware that these may not be as strong.

Once you have obtained your bar, cut it to the desired length. I went for a standard 7ft length and cut it with an angle grinder.

Next you’ll need some kind of collar to push the plates up to. I went for these locking collars from the Key Klamp range. They were less than 2 quid each.

I got mine from this online store.

I attached these at both ends of the bar, 400mm from each end to give a standard collar length. The beauty of these clamps is that they are secured with a hex grub screw so can easily be altered should you need to.

That essentially is it for the barbell section of the setup. Some people add some skateboard type grip tape to the handle to mimic the knurling of a real barbell, but I have never bothered.

What we have is a fat gripped bar, very similar to the classic strongman axle bar. This is great for developing grip strength but will reduce the amount of weight you will be able to pull. And it’s quite amazing how much it will restrict you. While this is great for grip training you may want to make some modifications to enable you to lift heavier.

I bought a set of these Angle90-style handles. They allow a smaller diameter grip, as well as a variety of different angles. I’ve also played around with a DIY version using some plastic water pipe and some short climbing slings.

This bar weighs in at just over 9kg. With locking nuts it’s pretty close to 10kg.

Next up are the bumper plates. For these I obtained 2 old, matching car wheels with tyres from a local car dealer. These were free as they were not fit for purpose. You will need 2 wheels that weigh the same with tyres that will hold air.

The hole for the wheel hub is much bigger than our tube or an Olympic Barbell, so we need a flange (love that word) to reduce the diameter. You can buy a purpose built flange for this or you can go the cheaper option of getting a couple of cheap 2.5kg Olympic plates and bolting it to the wheels.

I simply laid the wheel on top of the plate, as centred as possible and marked the bolt holes onto the plate with a marker. I then drilled these out to the required whole size (I went for 12mm) using increasingly larger drill bits. The plates are actually pretty soft and easy to drill. I then attached the plates using the appropriate bolts and lock-nuts. Et voila! Two bumper plates.

These are a bit bigger than a standard bumper plate, meaning the bar sits a little higher above the ground. And the beauty is they fit a standard Olympic bar so are perfect if you already have a barbell with normal plates but require a pair of bumpers, as it saves you at least £100.

This whole set up, bar and bumpers, weighs in at close to 50kg (as opposed to a standard 60kg) but this will of course depend on the type of wheels and tubing you use.

And be warned, depending on how much air you have in the tyres these babies bounce, so don’t drop it and think you get the same rebound as a conventional bumper plate or you might lose your teeth.

As I mentioned in the disclaimer, I do not know what total amount this set can handle and it will depend on the materials you use. So take it easy and progress slowly with it. Don’t just load it up to the max and rip away.

If you lift heavy, like over 250kg, I’d maybe suggest not using this set-up. If you are regularly pulling this amount the likelihood is you already have easy access to a bar. I have comfortably (there was nothing comfortable about it!) lifted 200kg on my bar with no discernible issues, other than pulling a face like Popeye. But be cautious!

The biggest drawback of this set-up is the difference in the bar size and plate hole size. Because there is some slack, the plates, either actual Olympic plates or our tyre bumper plates, tend to wobble about a bit. This can be a bit annoying. I am currently working on some kind of a shim to remove the slack and will update as and when I work it out. The same goes for the plate locks, I had to wrap a bit of athletic tape around them to create a tighter fit.

In a future DIY corner installment, we will look at making concrete weight plates.

Happy lifting.

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