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My first lifting experience was with a cheap EverLast bench and set of concrete weights which I received as a birthday present. Fast forward around 15 years and here I am writing about gym equipment every day, lifting several times a week! What I can tell you though is that – if you can afford it – iron plates are almost always better than concrete. Here’s why…
At a glance…
- Iron weights are better than concrete in almost every circumstance
- The exception is if you are BUDGET constrained, receive them as a gift or find them cheap second hand
- Iron is denser and therefore plates are smaller allowing us to fit more weight on the barbell as we get stronger
- Iron plates are made to tighter tolerances in terms of size (important for deadlifts and rows) and weight accuracy (helpful to track progress accurately)
- Concrete plates are more brittle than iron putting them at risk of crumbling
- Home made concrete plates are NOT recommended due to the difficulty in making them, and the safety aspect
Why iron weights are superior to concrete
Iron weights are far better than concrete equivalents. Iron is a denser material than concrete therefore iron weights take up less space on your bar than concrete filled ones. This means you can fit enough weight on the bar to keep progressing over time. The weight you can lift with concrete or thicker rubber bumper plates, will be limited by the loadable space on a barbell sleeve.
Can you make weights out of concrete?
Cheap basic weight plates sold by the likes of EverLast and similar brands are often plastic casts filled with concrete as a ballast to get them to approximate weight.
While these weights can you get started lifting (my first set of weights were exactly like this!) they have significant drawbacks. Put it this way – I don’t own them anymore, and I am a hoarder!
Can you make your OWN plates out of concrete?
If you are considering making your own weights with concrete WITHOUT a plastic cast to keep it all together I would urge caution – drops and impacts will crack the concrete and could lead to a ‘plate’ falling off the bar mid way through a lift making you go lopsided and bail.
Principally this is because – while cheap – concrete is quite brittle.
With that said it is POSSIBLE to cast your own concrete plates with a weight mould and ready mix cement. If you use metal piping you can create a reasonable sleeve as well (either 1” or 2”).
The complexities are then around accurately weighing in cement to your mould knowing what the DRY weight will be and then having the time and space to then CURE the concrete fully (typically a month).
Personally I do not think the work that goes in to making reasonably accurate concrete weights is worth the time and effort to create what is a sub standard product compared to iron or rubber equivalents.
Further there are safety concerns – I certainly wouldn’t trust a homemade weight plate over my head personally!
Are concrete weights any good?
No concrete weights are not desirable. They are better than no weights, but there are no circumstances outside of availability or budget that would make them better than iron plates.
Pros and cons of iron vs concrete
Concrete weights are typically cheaper than iron equivalents which is the main PRO to using them. But – as touched on above – the main downside is that they are less durable.
Further their construction is far less precise than milled iron. I have a set of Rogue iron plates accurate to within 10g of stated weight! We won’t get anywhere NEAR that with concrete.
There are also limitation in spec that will hamper your progress. For example my concrete weights were NOT standard diameters (45cm for a 20kg / 25kg plate) which meant that deadlift range of motion was compromised as the bar was too low.
Iron also has the benefit of being denser than concrete so the weights themselves are thinner allowing us to load more on the bar if we need to. As your lifts take off over time this will become more important.
Olympic vs standard barbells
One final point to consider is your barbell. All concrete weights I’ve seen use “standard” barbell sleeve diameters – that is a 1” diameter hole in the centre. If you have an Olympic spec barbell with a 2” sleeve you will struggle to find concrete weights that fit – making the decision pretty easy on which to go for 🙂
So are concrete weights useless? Not quite…
No concrete weights are not useless – far from it. I strongly believe both iron and rubber bumpers are better than concrete, but concrete can still have its place.
If you’re brand new to weight training and picked up a cheap bench with weights from Amazon or similar then it will probably be concrete weights you are using. They will be absolutely FINE to start with (that’s what I began with), even if you ultimately sell or upgrade them later so do not stress or hit return just yet!
Where they ARE great is when budget is a concern. If you’re just looking for SOMETHING to lift or short term they can be helpful. Similarly if someone is buying them for you they are a great way to get a gift you will use but without shaking down your friends and family for expensive kit!
But if you have budget you may save in the long run by picking up iron initially – assuming you keep up training!
Shout out for concrete filled DUMBBELLS
This article has focused on weight plates for barbells, but you also get concrete filled dumbbells. These can have their place if you need a few light dumbbells around for basic exercise routines such as the ‘follow along’ videos.
Their use case is limited to this and other light movements as they are size constrained – concrete takes up a bit more SPACE than iron so heavy concrete dumbbells would be HUGE!
I would also have reservations about using heavy concrete dumbbells due to their integrity – if they began crumbling or falling apart it could be disastrous if the dumbbells were overhead at the time!
For heavier dumbbell work iron or rubber hex head dumbbells are still a better choice for most.
Why do iron weights feel heavier than concrete ones?
This will either be in your head (i.e. you have DECIDED) iron feels heavier, or down to the accuracy. Typically concrete weights are far less accurate than their iron equivalents so maybe you are ACTUALLY lifting the stated weight for the first time!
In essence “weight is weight”, and 1kg of bricks = 1kg of feather (or 1kg of cement = 1kg of iron!)
After a few training sessions you will acclimatise. In truth almost all equipment changes take a period of adaptation to feel NORMAL, be it a new bar or weight plate. Stick with them.
If you have the budget in almost EVERY situation I would recommend iron over concrete weights. The exceptions to this are if you absolutely can’t stretch to a set or if you find a good deal on them second hand or as a gift. I started my fitness journey with a set of concrete weights and it sparked a lifelong hobby (and this website) – so they definitely aren’t all bad 🙂
Just budget to change out for more robust equipment as you get stronger if you do buy concrete items initially.
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