When you go to set up your barbell for a heavy lift in training, you run through a bit of a checklist. Plates loaded to the correct total? Check. Safety bars set to the right height on the rack? Check. Playlist tuned to the perfect motivating track? Triple check. Grip, footing and mindset ready for the upcoming set? Check. Check. Check.
While there are plenty of steps that go into any proper free weight workout, if you're wise to the practice you'll notice a key omission from that introduction — where are the barbell collars? Forgetting to add collars or clips to your barbell setup is a process all too common in a normal training scenario. Whether through negligence, ignorance or laziness these vital fitness tools are too often left on the gym floor. Here's why you should stop making that mistake.
What are Barbell Collars?
Also referred to as barbell clips or clamps, barbell collars are like bookends on a shelf. They act as a lock or stopper to your weight plates when loaded across your typical barbell sleeve. Barbell collars create friction across this contact point between the collar itself and the loading sleeve, keeping the round plates from sliding and jostling during exercises.
While all barbell collars serve basically the same purpose, there are a few different approaches. Each unique profile has its own perks and points of emphasis; from superior lockdown, intuitive operation, budget-friendly build quality and more.
Barbell Collar Types
Clamp-style barbell collars employ a clamping action across the barbell sleeve. These simple profiles are quick to master thanks to the intuitive handle that closes and opens accordingly. Pricing can fluctuate across clamp-style collars, mostly due to the materials used in the exterior casing construction. Some brands also employ magnets in the silhouette, making storage easier.
Lock-style collars utilize a threaded locking mechanism to keep the weights in place throughout a lift, making them the most advanced setups possible for training safety. Tightening the set screws before a set does take some effort, though. Lock-style collars are popular in competitive weightlifting but they might be overkill for more general training scenarios.
Commonplace in most gyms and training centers, spring-style collars resemble a grip strengthener with two handles extending off a center opening. To engage and disengage this profile, you squeeze the metallic frame, which tenses the center ring and expands its diameter for easier on/off. Far more cost effective than clamp- or lock-style collars, spring-style collars aren’t as secure when it comes to plate lockdown. Plus, the spring can begin to warp over extended use, ultimately rendering these collars after a while.
Why You Should Use Barbell Collars
The lockdown that collars provide essentially eliminates any chances of a plate sliding off the sleeve, which in turn stops any chances of damaging your surroundings, your gear and yourself.
If you decide to squat with multiple plates across the barbell and no collars to lock down your silhouette, for example, that last plate on your left or right sleeve can potentially begin to move. This shift in weight will cause the feel of your barbell to become off-balanced, ultimately leading to readjustment twitches. If the plate makes it so far to the edge of the barbell that it falls, it’s like you’re dropping it from shoulder height, and with the mass of the plate, that could lead to potential damage across your rack, flooring and walls if the weight gets squirrelly upon impact.
As the weight falls, you’ve also just created an unbalanced barbell across your frame, and if your totals are high, you could be damaging not just your floors but your rack and ceiling, too.
Finally, outside of the chances of a falling plate landing on your feet, you’re also in the line of fire when it comes to the whipping, unbalanced barbell. All this potential disaster can be easily avoided by taking the extra 30 seconds required to properly install barbell collars. Can you see where the risk doesn’t outweigh the reward here?
Better Plate Balance
A lack of plate movement is also ideal for efficient setups, too, when it comes to moving heavy weight. Barbell collars keep your weights butted up to one another, eliminating any space between each load. This keeps all the weight focused toward the end of the barbell sleeve near your grip, which allows for a more efficient and balanced setup that’s easier to control throughout a movement.
Additionally, a lack of space between plates creates less chance for clanging and noisy reps. While you might enjoy the clanging and banging nature, it can easily overtake your setup and lead to broken focus during a set. Plus, everyone around you is already aware you’re lifting weights — the activity doesn’t need an audible factor to confirm it.
Where Lifting Without Barbell Collars Could Be Warranted
Okay, so it's pretty obvious why barbell collars are a required piece of any free weight-lifting setup, especially during heavier totals and sets. With that said, however, there is room for adjustment, albeit in a very specific scenario.
If you're benching solo, you need to either have a rack that features safety arms or have the utmost confidence in your lifting ability. If you become pinned under the weight, it could be difficult to move or evade the setup, which is why lifting without collars could be ideal when going for these max bench totals on your own. If you become pinned or tired, you can teeter the bar to one side or the other, dumping weights to free yourself.
The plate ditch method is best saved for bench press because the height of the falling plates is lower than that of a squat, and common press setups don't have other safety measures built into the racks like you'd find when squatting. Plus, this process is still plenty violent and requires a ton of self confidence and control to effectively ditch the weights and restrain the barbell during flexion. Lifting with barbell collars (and a spotter, for that matter) is always the first and best option, but we do understand that some situations can come up that call for safer, more advanced setups.