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If you lift weights long enough, you will come to realize barbells come in different shapes and sizes.
Particularly in the world of powerlifting, there are barbells of different names that have subtle visual differences as well as how heavy they are.
Two common barbells that powerlifters may use are the deadlift bar and a stiff bar.
So what are the differences between a deadlift bar vs stiff bar?
When compared to stiff bars, deadlift bars are longer, thinner, have a lower tensile strength, bend more under heavier loads, and have no center knurling. Deadlifts bars are for deadlifts only, but stiff bars can be used for more exercises, including squats, bench presses, overhead presses, and lunges.
In this article, I will present a comprehensive guide detailing the main differences of these bars, the pros and cons of each type, and how they should be used in training.
Why Are They Called Deadlift Bars and Stiff Bars?
Deadlift bars are called this because they are primarily used for the deadlift exercise only.
Stiff bars are sometimes called power bars, are generally more multi purpose, and the fact that they are stiffer, meaning they don’t bend easily.
Anatomy of a Barbell
In order to appreciate the difference between the barbells, you should first understand the different parts of the barbell.
Here are 4 components of the barbell:
- The shaft – The middle long portion of the barbell
- The sleeve – The loadable ends of the barbell
- The sleeve lip – The portion of the sleeve that limits where the plates can go
- The knurling – The grippy texture of the barbell
8 Differences: Deadlift Bar vs Stiff Bar
The 8 differences between a deadlift bar vs stiff bar are:
- Deadlift bars are longer overall than stiff bars
- Deadlift bars have a thinner shaft than stiff bars
- Deadlift bars have no center knurling, stiff bars do
- Deadlift bars have lower tensile strength than stiff bars
- Deadlift bars have shorter loadable sleeves than stiff bars
- Deadlift bars have a longer sleeve lip than stiff bars
- Deadlift bars are used in different federations than stiff bars
- Deadlift bars are better for sumo deadlifting than stiff bars
1. Deadlift Bars Are Longer Overall than Stiff Bars
The first and most obvious difference is that deadlift bars are generally longer than stiff bars. This is mostly contributed by having a longer bar shaft, which is the long middle portion of the barbell that the lifter holds onto.
Deadlifts bars tend to be around 90 inches whereas stiff bars tend to be around 86 inches. Deadlift bars tend to have a 56-inch shaft in the middle and stiff bars tend to have a 51-inch shaft.
The reason why deadlift bars are normally longer is that it allows the lifter to be able to pull more weight off the ground during the deadlift. It does this because the further the loaded weights are from the middle of the bar, the more it can make the barbell bend.
This means that when the lifter pulls the slack out of the barbell, the lifter is able to get a lot of bend on the bar. Such a bar is known to have more ‘whip’.
As a result, they are able to pull the barbell to a higher position before the weight plates leave the floor.
2. Deadlift Bars Have a Thinner Shaft than Stiff Bars
The diameter or thickness of the shaft in the deadlifts also tend to be thinner. Stiff bars tend to have a thickness of 29mm whereas deadlift bars tend to have a thickness of 27mm.
This reduction in thickness for deadlift bars also contributes to the capacity for the barbell to bend at heavier loads.
However, the real benefit with using a thinner barbell for deadlifts is that it’s easier to hold onto.
The thicker the barbell, the harder it will be to grip it under heavier loads. While a 2mm difference in diameter might not be a “make it or break it” factor for lifters with big hands or long fingers, for lifters with small hands or short fingers this could be the difference between holding the barbell at lockout or having your grip fail.
3. Deadlifts Bars Have No Center Knurling, Stiff Bars Do
Deadlifts also have no center knurling because there is no need for knurling when it is designed for deadlifts. Stiff bars have center knurling as it gets used for back squats and bench press too.
The center knurling exists to offer friction so the barbell can stay on people’s back better when they place it there for back squats.
Because the deadlift doesn’t require the barbell to “stay in place on a lifter’s body”, manufacturers have left this feature out.
What does this mean? It means if you squat with a deadlift bar you might risk having the bar slip off your back if your shirt gets too sweaty.
4. Deadlift Bars Have Lower Tensile Strength than Stiff Bars
You can tell what the tensile strength a barbell has when you read the barbell's specifications and it is normally measured in PSI, which means pounds of force per square inch. Having lower tensile strength means how much pressure the metal can withstand before it starts to break or fail.
Having a lower tensile strength does mean that it is weaker but functionally speaking, it lends to its ability to bend under a certain weight when compared to a stiff bar, which has a higher PSI.
As I stated above, a barbell that bends in the deadlift, makes the lift feel easier off the floor because you can pull the barbell higher up in the range of motion before all of the plates leave the ground. The plates on the inside of the barbell will leave the ground first, followed by the plates on the outside of the barbell.
Having a lower tensile strength does also has implications with how much a barbell can be loaded, which leads to the next point below.
5. Deadlift Bars Have Shorter Loadable Sleeves than Stiff Bars
As deadlifts bars have lower tensile strength, it means that it has a lower limit to how much can be loaded onto the barbell. This means that the barbell needs to be designed in a way that limits how many plates can be put on the barbell.
For this reason, deadlift bars tend to have a shorter loadable sleeve at both ends of the barbell compared to a stiff bar. Deadlift bars tend to have a loadable sleeve of about 15 inches whereas stiff bars tend to have a loadable sleeve of 16 to 17 inches.
This matters because if you want to lift a lot of weight using a deadlift bar (i.e. 700lbs+), you will need to make sure you have access to thinner diameter plates. Also, because the barbell shaft is longer and thinner, its maximal tolerance before the barbell bends permanently or breaks is going to be less than a stiff bar.
This is why lifters frequently use competition-style powerlifting plates (like Rogue or Eleiko) when using a deadlift bar because you can load on more plates on a shorter barbell sleeve.
6. Deadlift Bars Have a Longer Sleeve Lip than Stiff Bars
Along with the sleeve, there is a sleeve lip which is the thickest part of a barbell. This is the limit to how far a weight plate can be loaded into a barbell. Deadlift bars also have a longer sleeve lip, which contributes to widening the distance between weight plates on both sides.
This matters because it contributes to how wide you can set your sumo stance if you do use a sumo-style deadlift. It also increases the distance the closest plates are to where you grip the bar meaning it will make the bar bend even more.
7. Deadlifts Bars Are Used in Different Federations than Stiff Bars
There are many different federations that exist in the world of powerlifting, and this means that different equipment may be used during competitions. One such example is the barbells.
Some federations such as the IPF or USAPL use a stiff bar exclusively, whereas other federations such as the USPA, use the deadlift bar for the deadlift event.
This is one reason why you might see bigger deadlifts happening in the USPA compared with the IPF.
For more information, check out my article about the difference between USAPL and USPA.
8. Deadlift Bars Are Better for Sumo Deadlift than Stiff Bars
Sumo deadlifting is notoriously known for being much harder to pull the weight off the floor compared with conventional deadlifting.
As such, deadlift bars are the preferred choice of many sumo deadlifts. This is because as you pull the weight off the floor, the bend in the barbell allows you to pull the bar further up the range of motion before all the weight plates leave the floor.
This makes it much easier to “break the floor” in the sumo deadlift compared with using a stiff bar.
Want to learn more differences between the conventional and sumo deadlift? Check out my article on Conventional vs Sumo Deadlift: Which One Should You Do?
Deadlift Bar: Pros & Cons
Deadlift Bar Pros
Here are the pros of the deadlift bar:
- You can pull more weight on the deadlift bar
- You can grip the bar better as its thinner
- You can go for a wider stance for sumo deadlift
You Can Pull More Weight on the Deadlift Bar
Due to its physical qualities, you can pull more weight on the bar because there is more whip and bend in the bar. This means that you can pull the slack out much more during the initial execution of the deadlift so that the plates do not leave the floor until the bar bends to a higher point than the stiff bar can.
You Can Grip the Bar Better as Its Thinner
As the barbell is thinner, it makes it easier to get a stronger and tighter grip onto the barbell. This is regardless of what type of grip that you use during deadlifts whether you use a mixed grip or hookgrip.
You Can Go for a Wider Stance for Sumo Deadlift
As the shaft and the sleeve lip are wider apart for the deadlift bar, it means that you can afford to bring your feet and toes out to a wider stance and position for the sumo stance of deadlifts. This will reduce your range of motion even more.
The wider distance of the sleeve means the plates are going to be further apart so there is less chance of the plates landing on your toes and injuring you when you drop the barbell back down to the floor.
Deadlift Bar Cons
Here are the cons of the deadlift bar:
- Cannot be used for back squats
- Not as good for training deadlift strength off the floor
- Less stable due to whip
- May not be available in some powerlifting competitions
Cannot Be Used for Back Squats
From the lack of center knurling, it makes it a less stable bar to use for back squatting as it does not grip onto the upper back as well from being smooth. Also, the fact that the bar is longer and can create more whip means that the bar can oscillate a lot when you do multiple repetitions.
Not as Good for Training Deadlift Strength off the Floor
If you want to strengthen your bottom range deadlift strength, using a deadlift bar will not be a good idea because you will not be able to feel the load until the bar bends upwards during execution. So if you are weak off the floor, you may need to utilize a different variation such as deficit deadlifts or snatch grip deadlifts.
For more information, check out this guide to deficit deadlifts.
Less Stable Due to Whip
As there can be a lot of whip, when you lockout at the top of the deadlift exercise, you may feel that the plates end up oscillating the bar. This can be distracting for you and make you lose balance at the top particularly if you are doing multiple repetitions.
May Not Be Available in Some Powerlifting Competitions
This barbell may not be available for use in some powerlifting federations and so if you train with a deadlift bar, it may provide you a disadvantage and the gains you make on the deadlift bar might not transfer well to a stiff bar.
Stiff Bar: Pros & Cons
Stiff Bar Pros
Here are the pros of the stiff bar:
- You can train bottom range deadlift strength
- More stable during squat exercises
- You can see if the bar is centered for bench press
- It is shorter and takes up less room
You Can Train Bottom Range Deadlift Strength
With stiffer bars, you can expect to feel the full load on the barbell almost immediate when you execute the movement during deadlifts. This means that you can train the bottom end range of deadlift strength. This can transfer well if you are a powerlifter regardless if you compete with a deadlift bar or stiff bar.
More Stable During Squat Exercises
With the combination of having a stiffer bar and a center knurling, you can expect to have a bar stay on your upper back better during back squats and not be distracted by bar oscillations when you do multiple repetitions.
You Can See If the Bar Is Centered for Bench Press
Some lifters like to watch the center of the barbell when they train the bench press. By having a center knurling, can they tell if the bar bath is centered and symmetrical when they descend the bar during repetitions.
It Is Shorter and Takes up Less Room
As a stiffer bar is shorter, it might make it an easier barbell to store particularly if you have a home gym or if you have a low ceiling.
Stiff Bar Cons
Here are the cons of the stiff bar:
- You cannot pull as much weight with a stiff bar
- Harder to grip as it is a thicker bar
- Can graze your neck during front squat
You Cannot Pull as Much Weight with a Stiff Bar
As the stiff bar is shorter and provides less whip, it ultimately means that you cannot pull as much weight during deadlifts. This can be a disadvantage if you want to be exposed to heavier weights for competitions that may use a deadlift bar.
Harder to Grip as It Is a Thicker Bar
With the shaft of the stiff bar being thicker, it may mean that there will be a higher demand for grip strength.
Can Graze Your Neck During Front Squat
Having a center knurling may mean that performing front squats may be somewhat less comfortable as it may scratch the lower front patch of your skin on the neck. If it scratches you to the point that it bleeds, that may be a health and safety issue.
Looking for more barbell resources? Check out my articles on:
- 8 Different Squat Bars & Their Uses
- 7 Different Bench Press Bars & Their Uses
- 5 Different Deadlift Bars & Their Uses
- 10 Best Women’s Weightlifting Barbells
Deadlift Bar vs Stiff Bar: Which Should You Use? Does It Matter?
You should use the deadlift bar if:
- You compete in a powerlifting federation that uses the deadlift bar
- You want to pull as much weight as possible during deadlifts
- You want to do front squats without scratching your neck
You should use the stiff bar if:
- You compete in a powerlifting federation that uses the stiff bar
- You want to strengthen your bottom range of the deadlift exercise
- You want to perform the back squat
- You want to perform the bench press
It does not matter what bar you use if:
- You want to perform general accessory exercises
- You are a beginner
- You are training for general hypertrophy or bodybuilding.
Deadlift Bar Examples
Here are 3 examples of the deadlift bar:
- Rogue Ohio Deadlift Bar – By far my favorite deadlift bar because Rogue Fitness are known to produce quality aggressive knurling for gripping, which is important for deadlifts. It also comes with a lifetime warrenty for a peace of mind.
Other deadlift bars to consider:
Stiff Bar Examples
Here are 3 examples of the stiff bar:
- Rogue Ohio Power Bar – By far my favorite stiff bar, since it is approved for use in the IPF federation. It is an incredible good value for money compared to other barbells of similar specifications which can cost three times as much as the Rogue Ohio Power Bar.
Other stiff bars to consider:
So are these two barbells really that different and does it really matter?
Yes they are that different but it may matter depending on who you are and what you want to achieve in your training.
It will definitely matter more especially if you are a competitive or noncompetitive powerlifter. If you are a bodybuilder or a general gym goer, you may find that it does not matter as much.
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About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach
Norman Cheung is a powerlifting, and accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience coaching various lifters, from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Alongside coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com