Different Types of Weight Plates Explained: Weight Plates Buying Guide

gym weight plates explained

Whether you’re an avid weight lifter, you want to build up your muscle mass, or you want to increase your strength and improve your overall health and well-being; no matter the reason, there’s no doubt that barbells are going to be a focus of your fitness program. Of course, in order to gain the benefits that barbells provide, you need to have weight plates, otherwise, you just have, well, a bar. With that said, weight plates are a vital part of your workout routine and an essential component in any home or public gym.

Because weight plates are such an integral component of a fitness program, there are so many different options available. While variety is certainly a good thing, having too many options to choose from can make the process of shopping for weight plates a bit overwhelming and a challenging task, to say the least.

Of course, you don’t want to just choose any old weight plates; you want to be certain that you’re selecting the option that will best suit your specific needs and that will help you achieve your unique goals.

In order to help make the process of shopping for weight plates a bit easier for you, we’ve put together this handy guide, which features important information about the many different types of weight plates, including the types, the sizes, and the materials. With this information, you’ll be well-informed before you start shopping so that you can choose the right weight plates for your specific needs. 

common types of weights in gyms

Important Factors to Consider When You’re Shopping for Weight Plates

Not all weight plates are the same. They’re available in a variety of styles, sizes, and of course, weights, so in order to make the right choice, it’s crucial that you have at least a basic understanding of these key features. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the most important elements that you’re going to want to know before you start comparing your options. 

olympic vs standard plate weight differences

Types of Weight Plates

Whether you’re purchasing them for home or commercial use, it’s super-important to understand that there are different types of weight plates. The three main types of weight plates include: 

  • Standard disc. Standard disc weight plates have a 1 inch diameter hole in the middle, and while they were once the go-to choice among home gym owners, as at-home gyms has become better equipped, that has certainly changed in the past few years. It’s important to note that the 1 inch diameter hole won’t fit on an Olympic-style bar, which is crucial to keep in mind when you’re shopping. 
  • Olympic disc. Olympic discs feature a 2 inch (or 50.6mm) diameter hole in the center. They’re made in a standard size across the whole weight lifting/exercise equipment industry, which is smart, as any type of Olympic disc can fit on any type of commercial bar. 
  • Studio disc. This type of weight place is specific to group exercise. They’re universally used in many weight lifting and fitness classes, such as the Les Mills’ body pump routine, which typically doesn’t involve lifting heavy loads. Usually, studio discs are coated with rubber, they’re small in size, and they usually have handles for easy transport and use. They’re also commonly very brightly colored. The handles and the colors make studio discs pretty easy to spot and store, and you will be able to put them on and take them off of the specialized studio weight bars that you’re using. The center hole on these plates measures 30mm. 

Why Olympic Plates Are Best

Of the three above-mentioned weight plates, Olympic plates are the most popular. That’s because they are super-versatile; plus, they offer these additional benefits:

  • They’re a lot more stable on a weight lifting bar
  • Thanks to their versatility, you can use them to a wide variety of exercises; much more than the exercises that can be done with standard weight plates
  • Olympic weight lifting bars are designed and built to accommodate a heavier total weight
  • The majority of power racks and weight benches are designed to accommodate the 7 foot Olympic bars, whereas the standard bar is usually just 5 or 6 feet

Popular Types of Olympic Weight Plates

As you can probably surmise from the information discussed above, we’re big advocates of the Olympic plates. We just love how versatile they are, and that versatility is due to the fact that there are so many different types of materials used and are available. There are six different types of Olympic plates, including: 

  • Rubber coated
  • Technique
  • Bumper
  • Competition 
  • Fractional 
  • Powerlifting

To learn more about the different types of Olympic weight plates, take a look at the information presented below. 

Rubber Coated Olympic Weight Plates

Rubber Olympic weight plates are coated with an additional layer of rubber, which boosts protection, safety, and the longevity of the weights. Not only does the rubber coating protect the weight plate, but it also helps to protect the floor. Thanks to the durable finish, the plates are built to last longer and can handle wear-and-tear with ease. 

If you’re looking for an even more durable Olympic plate, consider urethane coated plates. Typically, the dimensions and shape are the same as the rubber plates; however, they’re a lot more durable and are way less susceptible to developing cosmetic damages.

Additionally, whereas rubber coated plates can potentially leave marks on and damage the floors, walls, and other gym equipment, urethane coated plates won’t leave any markings behind. Plus, there’s no odor to them (something that is common with rubber coated plates), which further adds to their appeal. 

When you’re shopping for rubber coated weight plates, you’ll likely see the terms “non-standard” in the description. These types of Olympic plates are designed to fit Olympic bars, but their circumference is smaller than the traditional variety.

In addition to this difference, non-standard plates feature grips that are cut right into the plates. These grips make picking them up off the ground and re-racking them when you’re finished with a workout a whole lot easier. Plus, those grips make it easier to do different types of exercises, such as plate front raises. 

Technique Solid Rubber Bumper Weight Plates

Thanks to the increased popularity in Olympic lifting and CrossFit training in the health and fitness world, the desire for bumper plates has surged. Bumper plates are weighted discs that are made of solid rubber, which makes using them for Olympic lifts a lot safer.

Moreover, you can drop these weights from a height while you’re lifting without having to worry. The objective of the bumpers is to establish a safer environment and to make it easier to perform certain types of exercises without running the risk of damaging the floor, the walls, other equipment – and most important, yourself!

The technique plate is the first type of bumper plate made. They’re pretty basic and are made from a single piece of rubber. They don’t have a metal ring around the hole in the center of the plate. They’re only available in light weights and are ideal for beginner weight lifters and for athletes who are working on improving their techniques. 

Training bumper weight plates

There are also training pumper plates, which vary a bit in regard to the depth, but overall, they have a pretty similar diameter. Leading manufacturers, such as Eleiko and Zhangkong, make training plates that are the precise dimensions of competition weightlifting plates.

While less expensive options usually won’t have the exact depth of the IWF competition plates, but they usually meet the Olympic lifting requirements, commercial gyms, and CrossFit training. 

best bumper plate weights

Competition bumper plates

Calibration is the factor that designates Olympic competition bumper plates from traditional training plates, as well as other types of free weights. As per the official IWF Competition rules, the plates have to be accurately sized to +0.1 percent and -0.05 percent. As such, a 25kg plate will allow for a 25 gram margin of error. As such, the Competition bumper plates are super accurate and consistent, which means that you’ll feel like you’re lifting the weight of that is printed on the size of the disc. 

Fractional Plates

Also known as incremental plates, fractional weight plates were made to allow users to increase and decrease the load they’re lifting in increments that are smaller than 5 pounds. They’re available in a variety of weights, including 2.5, 5, 10, 25, 35, 45, and 55 pounds. With so many different options, you can fit your barbell with a variety of different plates to create the ideal weight for you and reduce or up the weight you’re working on in 5 pound increments. Fractional plates are sold in different amounts, and the amount can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer; however, they’re usually sold in sets of 8. To give you an idea, with a standard fractional plate set, you’ll receive the following: 

  • 2 .25-pound plates
  • 2 .5-pound plates
  • 2  .75-pound plates
  • 2 1-pound plates

In addition to different sizes, fractional plates are also made in a variety of different materials. While steel construction tends to be the most common, several other materials are available, such as urethane and rubber-coated sets. They come in different colors, too. 

44SPORT Olympic Fractional Plates -Pair of 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 1 lb Weights (8 Plates. Total Weight: 5lbs)
808 Reviews
44SPORT Olympic Fractional Plates -Pair of 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 1 lb Weights (8 Plates. Total Weight: 5lbs)
  • Set of 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and 1 lb Fractional Weight Plates that fit any Olympic bar (8 total)
  • Standard sized for 2¨ Olympic bars, 17.5" outer diameter. Increase weight in as little as 1/2 lb
  • Micro loading Plates for Personal Records and Progressive Overload Training
  • Use to learn and practice technique for deadlifts, olympic lifts, cleans, snatches and more

Powerlifting Plates

These plates are available in steel, cast iron, or chromed metal construction. They’re thinner than the aforementioned weight plates, which means that with powerlifting plates, you can add more weight to your bar.

Furthermore, because the discs are thinner, they can be kept closer to your center of gravity, which will help to reduce the risk of whip when you’re squatting. As the name suggests, powerlifting weight plates are most commonly used by powerlifters. 

cheap cast weight plates

Traditional Cast Iron Weight Plates *Best Budget Option

Traditional weight plates are also referred to as iron weight plates. The hole in the center is always 2-inches (or 50mm) in diameter, so they can fit any legitimate Olympic barbell. Iron plates are available in an array of sizes, shapes, and materials. 

Some of the materials that iron weight plates are made of include: 

  • Cast iron, which is the least expensive option. They can be raw or painted, with the latter being the best option, as raw iron can rust and corrode. 
  • Milled iron, which is milled or machined down into the correct dimensions. 
  • Rubber-coated iron, which are super-durable and can handle some degree of bumping without becoming dented or chipped. The rubber coating also makes them a bit quieter when lifting.  
  • Urethane-covered iron, which have a smooth surface and don’t produce any odor, something that rubber-coated plates are notorious for. Usually, the coating is thinner than rubber, so these plates can fit together more closely. They’re also highly durable and can take a beating without getting scratched or scuffed. 
44SPORT Olympic Fractional Plates -Pair of 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 1 lb Weights (8 Plates. Total Weight: 5lbs)
808 Reviews
44SPORT Olympic Fractional Plates -Pair of 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 1 lb Weights (8 Plates. Total Weight: 5lbs)
  • Set of 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and 1 lb Fractional Weight Plates that fit any Olympic bar (8 total)
  • Standard sized for 2¨ Olympic bars, 17.5" outer diameter. Increase weight in as little as 1/2 lb
  • Micro loading Plates for Personal Records and Progressive Overload Training
  • Use to learn and practice technique for deadlifts, olympic lifts, cleans, snatches and more

Steel Plates

Steel plates are quite pricy and they’re usually only used by competitive powerlifters (they’re used in the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF), for example). It’s because the weight tolerance typically falls within 10 grams of the marked weight that they are used in competitive lifting.

Benefits of Bumper Plates vs Metal Plates

These plates were developed for Olympic weightlifting, as lifters frequently drop their bars down onto the ground. Thanks to the popularization of Crossfit, bumper plates have become popular in the mainstream. They’re super durable and are specifically made to withstand the impact of hitting the floor. They feature a metal core, which is covered by either urethane or rubber. 

One of the most notable benefits of using bumper weight plates is that they are much quieter than other options. Thanks to the material that they’re wrapped in, they make minimal noise when they’re dropped on the floor; plus, they won’t damage the floor or chip the weight when they hit the floor, as the material they’re coated in absorb the impact. Plus, bumper plates are exceptionally durable; it takes a lot to chip or scratch them. 

all rubber bumper plates

Skinny Yoked Summary

As you can see, there are so many types of weight plates on the market. Which one should you choose? That’s a tough question, as there really is no right or wrong answer. Before you start shopping, make sure that you take the above-mentioned information into consideration – as well as your intended goals – before you decide which weight plates will best suit your needs. 

Two pointers to save you some time and frustration. One, don’t every buy a weight you have to screw onto a bar. Don’t buy a bar with threaded ends for that matter because with proper routines you’ll be swapping weights frequently and that time to unscrew your weights will drive you nuts in a very short period of time.

Second, do a Google search for a gym supply shop within driving distance, you might be able to save a ton of money on shipping by going to pick up weights yourself.

Pro tip: if it’s for a garage or home gym keep your eyes peeled for closing chain gyms and garage sales as these can be great places to pick up trusty cast iron plates on the cheap.

Last update on 2021-09-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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