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I added a set of bumper plates to my home gym last year – and I use them all the time! But knowing how many bumper plates I needed to order initially and what combination was best for me was tricky to land. Here’s what I found out:
At a glance…
- Most users need a 120kg plate set made up of 10 bumper plates (4x 20kg; 2x 10kg; 4x 5kg)
- Stronger users may want to start with a 110kg, 10 bumper plate set focused around heavier 25kg plates (2x 25kg; 4x 10kg; 4x 5kg) with a few extras…
- Add a pair of your heaviest bumper (20kg or 25kg) for each 40-50kg you are aiming to add to the bar beyond the 100kg basic set listed above
- Add a set of metal fraction plates to enable granular loading of the barbell
- Typical beginner sets often include 15kg plates which are less useful – BUT they may be worth having if the set is cheap enough (this is what I picked up!)
- There are some circumstances to deviate from the above – see below for more nuance…
A standard set of bumper plates is usually a good start…
Most of the time you will be buying a complete set of bumpers either brand new or, possibly, second hand. The advantage of a pre-made set is that it comes with a selection of plates – BUT the disadvantage is it’s unlikely to have ENOUGH weight for you.
Entry level bumper plate set
A typical beginners bumper plate set will look like this:
- 2x 20kg
- 2x 15kg
- 2x 10kg
- 2x 5kg
- Total = 100kg (or 220lbs in imperial terms)
Combined with a standard Olympic barbell weighing 20kg that gives you sufficient plates to lift 120kg at once. This may be enough if you are brand new to weight lifting, but I suspect many will outgrow that in reasonably short timeframe if deadlifting or squatting with a focus on strength.
Intermediate bumper plate set
On top of the above it is common to find sets with an additional pair of 25kg plates bringing the total plate set to 150kg (3300lbs in imperial.)
With the 20kg Olympic bar taken in to account this gives you 170kg of weight to play with – likely enough o last quite a bit longer than with the beginner 100kg set will. On the face of it this seems like a great idea…
The DOWNSIDE to these plate sets
If buying the intermediate bumper plate set outlined above you will have 5 different denominations of plate… Meaning lots of mental arithmetic will ensue when loading and unloading the barbell!
Further having these denominations stored around your home gym can be a pain – if we have LESS different weights then it’s easier to keep them all together on weight horns or weight trees in a more organised fashion.
So just how many bumper plates do you NEED in each weight?
To keep the maths and storage simple I would likely pick the following if starting from scratch:
- 4x 20kg
- 2x 10kg
- 4x 5kg
- Total 120kg (265lbs imperial)
- Add a set of fractional weight plates to enable more granular loading
The fractions plates can be a cheap set of metal change plates (2x 2.5kg; 2x 1.25kg; 2x 0.5kg) – you don’t need to spring for particularly expensive rubber ones if you don’t want to!
This means you need 10 bumper plates with a handful of accompanying metal fraction plates as a compliment. As you can see I’ve dropped the 25kg and 15kg plates – this is deliberate. I think this is MOST suitable for MOST people as:
- The plate-maths is easier when sticking to 20kg – going 60kg / 100kg / 140kg is more realistic and useful than the 70kg / 120kg / 170kg jumps a 25kg based set would offer
- Dropping the 15kg makes loading and unloading easier. A 15kg plate is no more useful than a 10kg and a 5kg plate. While they are absolutely FINE to have around, if that comes at the EXPENSE of a more useful 5kg, 10kg or 20kg pair then it is likely not the best use of your money or space when starting out
Strategy for buying: Add a pair of your HEAVIEST plates as you need them
In this example set of plates we can lift 138.5kg in total (being 110kg bumper plates, 8.5kg of change plates plus a 20kg barbell).
But what if that’s not enough weight for you?!
The best strategy when buying more plates is to add pairs of the LARGEST plate denomination – so in the above case add a pair of 20kg plates. So as you approach 130kg deadlift you would order a pair of 20kg plates to take your capacity up beyond 170kg, and then as approach that figure we would add another pair taking us to 210kg, and so on.
This deviates from the standard sets offered by manufacturers where they add 25kg plates ON TOP of the 20kg ones… So should you consider doing the same?
25kg vs 20kg bumpers: The great debate
I am a hypocrite – my primary weight set (steel calibrated Rogue plates) is based around 25kg plates. But I recommend 20kg bumpers over 25kg for most people.
What is the deal?!
Well I moved to a 25kg based set from a 20kg based one so I can talk from experience here. I love my Rogue plates however the 25kg plates really come in to their own in the heavier lifts. When looking to build up strength as a beginner or do Olympic lifts the jumps between the big red plates is simply too big.
The silver bullet for 25kg plates is for bigger lifters – if you can (or will) lift A LOT of weight then 25kg bumpers are worth adding to your set INSTEAD of 20kg plates as they take up LESS space on the barbell sleeve than a separate 20kg and 5kg plate.
Space on the bar sleeve matters when looking at bumper plates as they are typically thicker than metal equivalents so for stronger lifters, likely those targeting 180kg+ regularly, this really is a factor if you want to have all bumpers on your barbell.
Of course mixing bumpers with metal plates can negate this somewhat (this is what I do, and why my bumpers are 20kg focused…)
How many bumpers are needed for a 25kg-based set?
If you are conscious of the limited space on the sleeve for thicker rubber plates then a 25kg-based bumper plate set is what you will want. A typical number of plates to order would be:
- 4x 10kg
- 4x 5kg
- Total of 110kg (245lbs imperial)
- Note you would add pairs of 25kg plates to match your strength ambitions
- Add a set of fractional weight plates to enable more granular loading
- This is a total of 10 bumper plates for a started set based around 25kg denominated plates
- If you can (or will shortly be able to) lift more than 130kg (being 110kg set plus the bar) then add pairs of 25kg plates as required to reach your total requirement
Note the higher requirement for 10kg plates here due to the more awkward plate maths 25kg necessitate. This is doubly true if you plan to have two bars active in your gym – you will need access to a good number of 10kg plates to facilitate this, where with 20kg-centric sets the demand for 10kg’s is less.
Putting my money where my mouth is: I have 8x green plates in my metal set based around 25kg plates so I can load two bars simultaneously. That’s a lot of 10kg plates…
Do you need all bumper plates?
An important point is that you DO NOT need to use or buy ONLY bumper plates. Depending on your training you likely just need the plates that will contact the ground to be bumpers – that is likely 25kg, 20kg or 15kg plates (at a push – see below for 15kg analysis). The rest are ‘nice to have’ or for serious Olympic lifters.
As such you could likely get by with a combination of bumper plates and cheaper metal ones if you want to save some money on equipment.
Nuance: When you might need to reconsider your needs
The above is great advice (although I am biased…) BUT there are times you may want to deviate:
- Existing equipment – if you already have a ton of metal weight plates and are simply adding BUMPERS to your collection then you can vastly reduce the number of bumper plates you need. You only need enough to do the specific exercises you are buying the bumpers for – NOT all your lifts. This will save you some money on buying multiple pairs of 20kg / 25kg plates!
- Type of training – if you are a powerlifter it may make sense to actually buy NO bumper plates, as your money would be better spent on metal ones! Conversely if you are an Olympic weightlifter you will be wanting to focus on bumpers exclusively, BUT may not need as many of them if doing dynamic movements with comparatively lighter loads than the power moves. Your training plans come in to your equipment requirements.
- Budget – a necessary evil, but it may take time to complete a set of bumpers as they can be expensive. In this situation start with a beginner set and add 20kg / 25kg plates as your finances allow. If doing this it makes sense to use a reputable brand that will stick around so you can be confident you can add matching plates several months / years down the line (assuming you care about having matching plates – I personally do!)
- Multiple bars in use – if you want to load two (or more) barbells and use them simultaneously (supersets or similar) then your requirement for plates will ramp up – likely DOUBLE the amount above if you want to be able to fully load both bars accurately.
Overall then we know we need a minimum of around 10 bumper plates to have a decent range to hand, with an extra pair added for each 40 – 50kg strong we are. A beginner set is a great place to start – BUT they often come with a few less useful plates as well. These sets can be well worth it however as they are often competitively priced as a bundle – so it depends on how you much you value a GOOD DEAL vs the OPTIMUM set up 🙂 (I love a good deal!)
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