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When it comes to training with a barbell, knurling is something you will need to deal with whether you are aware of it or not. Knurling is the pattern cut into the steel barbell that helps your grip when holding onto the bar or helps the bar “hold” onto you during something like a back squat.
Most of us are unaware that there are actually different types of knurling. These are the 3 types of barbell knurling:
- Hill pattern
- Mountain pattern
- Volcano pattern
These terms were made popular by Kabuki Strength, and have become the standard in identifying different types of knurling.
In this article, you will learn these three patterns and how they can affect your training. From there, I’ll dive deeper into what to look for in barbell knurling, different examples of some top barbells, and proper maintenance.
What Is Barbell Knurling?
Barbell knurling can be defined pretty easily, it is a pattern cut into that bar that helps make a barbell grippy. There’s also a barbell knurling ring evenly spaced, so you can measure the width of your grip.
We will discuss the different types a little later on, but the main purpose of all knurling is to make it easier to hold on to a barbell while working out.
This all started with Olympic lifting, hence the reason why most barbells are referred to as Olympic barbells. When competing, the knurling on the bar allowed Olympic lifters to maintain control of the bar. Without it, a steel bar would be nearly impossible to hold onto (under heavier loads).
Want to see examples of barbell knurling? These are the best barbells on the market.
Why Is Knurling On A Barbell Important?
It all comes down to your ability to hold onto and maintain control of a barbell during exercise. This will be most important for many people during exercises like the squat, deadlift, bench press, and various Olympic lifts (like the snatch and clean & press).
If there were no knurling on the bar, these exercises would become very difficult, if not impossible, as you increase in weight.
Regardless, I challenge you to try and perform a heavy deadlift while only holding on to the smooth steel portion of a barbell. You can also try using a smooth pull-up bar compared to one with some form of grip (most have a rubber coating or knurling of its own). It is really a night and day difference.
Knurling is often only addressed when talking about gripping the bar. However, the knurling can also make things like the back squat much more effective. Most barbells, especially power bars (something discussed in more detail below), have a center patch of knurling.
This knurling makes it easier when performing a back squat since the barbell can easily grip your upper back. Without it, you risk the barbell sliding down. Smooth steel on fabric does not equal stability, especially when dealing with heavier loads.
Barbell knurling is also important as it can help you identify proper barbell placement. For example, the center knurling on a barbell can help you keep the barbell centered during a squat.
Even if we can get by without knurling, there is no denying that you are stronger when using it.
Wondering what are the best inexpensive barbells? These are the best budget-friendly barbells on the market.
The Three Different Types Of Knurling
I am not making a formal statement here that there are “official” types of knurling. However, within the industry, you can find three different types (popularized by Chris Duffin of Kabuki Strength).
The three different barbell knurling types are:
These are somewhat self-explanatory, at least in their design. You can find a breakdown of each pattern below.
The hill pattern of knurling can be identified by round tops when looking at a barbell. This is by far the least aggressive form of knurling you can find. In my opinion, the hill pattern can be broken up into two separate categories.
The first category is the cheaply made barbells. You will often find these barbells in bulk at larger commercial gyms. For whatever reason (probably because it costs less), the knurling on these barbells is far less aggressive than the other two patterns.
I usually like to refer to this kind of knurling as “painted-on knurling.” It looks like a normal barbell from a distance, but once you’re holding on, it's like there is nothing there.
The second category is barbells that have been worn down over time. This is usually the result of “softer” steel being worn down over time. It can also come from extensive use or the improper use of a barbell.
Take care and respect your barbells!
The mountain pattern is similar to the hill, but instead of being rounded, this pattern ends at a sharper point. This style is far more aggressive and is common in sports like powerlifting and Olympic lifting.
In my personal opinion, this style is a double-edged sword in most circumstances. The idea makes sense. The sharper the knurling, the better the grip. Some people (myself included) can think the more the bar hurts, the better the knurling is. This isn’t always the case.
Sharper barbell knurling can be beneficial, but if it is too aggressive, it can make using the barbell difficult for certain exercises and people.
The volcano knurling pattern on a barbell is the most unique of the three. Rather than ending in a point (or hilltop), the volcano pattern has a rimmed edge, like the top of a volcano. In my opinion, this is the best form of knurling you can find.
This style has the best of both worlds, it offers sharpens but with an increased surface area. Unlike the single point of the mountain pattern, the volcano pattern has the entire rim to make contact. This can be far more comfortable for the user and far more effective when exercising.
Which Type of Knurling is Best?
In my opinion, your best option will also be the volcano pattern (in stainless steel). It offers the best of both worlds, it is aggressive, but at the same time still comfortable to hold on to.
You can, of course, identify the “best” type of knurling for yourself. When it comes to a lot of choices within fitness, you need to identify what your goal is, and from there, you can select the best tool for the job.
If you train to be a high-level powerlifter, a barbell with aggressive knurling is probably your best bet. If you are just a casual gym goer, then the type of knurling probably won’t matter to you as much. If that is the case, I would simply recommend using whatever is available at your local gym.
Want to compare knurling on the different deadlift bars? Read all about the barbell options for the deadlift.
Knurl Markings and Placement
Another thing you’ll notice when looking at the knurling on the barbell is the different markings. These usually take the form of small rings of smooth steel found closer to the barbell sleeves.
These markings are often used for certain lifters to identify proper hand placement. It doesn’t necessarily mean this is where you have to hold onto. It can just help give you a landmark for reference.
The different weightlifting federations set these markings for sports like Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting. Usually, two rings are farther from the center for Olympic lifting. For powerlifting, there is typically only one ring that is closer to the center.
How a Barbells Coating Affects its Knurling
In order to protect against corrosion, some manufacturers will use different types of coatings to protect their bars.
Two common coating styles are chrome and cerakote (material used on firearms). These materials add a layer of protection to your barbells but at a cost.
This added layer can reduce the effectiveness of the knurling, and it can literally cost more than a bare steel bar. So, if you are in the market for a bar, you must consider what is most important to you.
Pro-tip: you can look into stainless steel bars. This barbell style offers the benefit of corrosion protection without reducing the effectiveness of the knurling. They do cost more on average, though.
Examples of Barbells with Different Types of Knurling
Here are some examples of bars with both the mountain and volcano knurling patterns. I am not going to look into the best version of the hill pattern since that is something that is the result of excessive use or from gyms buying cheaper barbells. I did list a training bar as an example, since the knurling does not need to be aggressive.
Knurling Style: Volcano pattern
First and foremost, I am a huge fan of anything Rogue Fitness related. They make some of the best equipment out there for garage gyms, commercial use, and competition. I am using the Ohio Power bar as an example since I think it is one of the best barbells on the market.
This is the bare steel model of the barbell, it does come in a wide variety of different coatings as well if you are interested.
This barbell comes standard with the volcano knurling pattern and is considered “aggressive knurling.”
Knurling Style: Volcano pattern and mountain pattern
The aggro version of the bar offers a choice when it comes to the aggressiveness of the knurling. This bar only comes in stainless steel.
For the knurling, you can select from 2XAGGRO or 3XAGGRO. The 2X is the volcano pattern, while the 3X is the mountain pattern. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the 3X is VERY aggressive and might not be for everyone.
Knurling Style: Hill/mountain pattern
This is just one example of a training bar that has a standard less aggressive style of knurling. These types of bars are usually lighter than your standard barbells (standard barbells are 45lbs and 20kgs).
These types of bars are perfect for people trying to get into sports like powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting.
I can never recommend Rogue Fitness enough if you are ever in the market for a barbell (or any training equipment).
Frequently Asked Questions
Is There Any Maintenance Needed on the Knurling of My Bar?
Yes, absolutely! Barbell maintenance is very important if you want to maintain the quality of your bar and knurling. The barbell's knurling (and shaft) will most likely suffer the most wear and tear when in use. I recommend thoroughly cleaning the barbell shaft with a 3 in 1 oil and a barbell brush.
The Bar I Bought Has Too Aggressive of a Knurl, What Do I Do?
My first response is to get used to it over time or simply make another purchase of something with less aggressive knurling. If making another purchase is not an option, then I would recommend using straps (these are my go-to straps for deadlifts) during some of your exercises to minimize contact.
Does the Bar Finish Affect the Bar Knurling?
It definitely can. I talked about it in the article, but coatings like chrome and cerakote can reduce the overall effectiveness of your bar's knurling. These coatings are designed to help prevent corrosion and can be used to help customize your bar. I personally recommend stainless steel barbells to avoid this problem.
Do All Barbells Have Knurling?
To a degree, yes. If it is labeled as a “barbell” it will have some form of knurling. What kind of knurling will depend on the purpose of the barbell. Overall, knurling is very common throughout the gym and can be found on many different pieces of equipment.
What Is Knurling on a Barbell?
Barbell knurling is the crosshatch pattern that is cut into the shaft of a barbell. It is designed to increase friction between the bar and the lifter's hands, which helps to prevent the bar from slipping during lifts. The depth, pattern, and aggressiveness of knurling can vary depending on the type of barbell and the intended use.
I am a huge fan of knurling, and I will also prefer the more aggressive variations. If you are series about strength training, I recommend taking a closer look at the knurling on your barbells and seeing if they fit you.
Regarding the different barbell knurling patterns, my top pick will always have to be the volcano pattern since it allows the knurling to be pretty aggressive while still being comfortable to hold onto. This is going to be the best for the most amount of people. I also highly recommend the stainless steel bars.
About The Author
Jace Fuchs has his MS in kinesiology and sports performance and is currently in the process of getting his Ph.D. in exercise and sports science. Jace has worked within the fitness industry for the better part of a decade now, and before his time in fitness, served in the US Army Infantry. When not writing for Powerlifting Techniques, Jace works as a content developer for the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and as a part-time exercise science professor. Outside of work, Jace is an avid powerlifter and strength-training enthusiast.