Mixing BUMPER and IRON plates: THE FACTS

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In a home gym there are always certain compromises – and having a patchwork of different plate types is often one of them! But does it even matter if you mix bumper plates with iron ones on the bar? Not usually, but…

Mixing BUMPER and IRON plates: THE FACTS

At a glance…

  • You CAN mix bumper plates with metal ones on the same bar
  • Load the plates in the SAME ORDER to keep the centre of balance in the middle of the bar
  • Mixing plate types can be helpful to reduce noise, save you money AND let you fit more weight on the bar
  • The exception is if your weights have unusual diameters which would put too much pressure on your bumpers

Can you mix bumper plates with iron ones?

Yes – you CAN mix bumper plates and iron plates on a barbell. This is true for deadlifts, squats and EVEN bench (although I don’t personally like bumper plates for benching…) 

The best way to combine bumper plates and iron ones

To keep the bar evenly balanced match the ORDER of the plates on each sleeve – otherwise the centre of gravity of the bar will be lopsided which may result in a failed lift.

What we mean by this is if you load a 45lb bumper plate followed by a 20kg steel plate on one side of the barbell, load the other sleeve the same – so a 45lb bumper then a 20kg steel.

Keeping the SAME plates in the SAME order means the centre of the weight will be the middle of the barbell – ideal!

Why would you mix bumper and steel plates?

I regularly mix my bumper plates on the bar with calibrated steel ones. There are a few of reasons why:

  1. Convenience – it is less work for me to load up a mixed bar based on how I store my bumper plates. Lazy? Yes. Do I care? Not really…
  2. Noise reduction – bumper plates are less noisy than metal ones. This is true in most lifts – for example the plates won’t ‘rattle’ at the top of a squat – but ESPECIALLY true with deadlifts
  3. Cheaper – instead of having to have enough bumpers OR enough steel plates for your heaviest movements (typically a one rep max deadlift) you simply have to have enough IN TOTAL. Bumper plates can be quite expensive so not having to have hundreds and hundreds of kilos lying around can save you some money!
  4. Space on the bar – as we’ve covered extensively elsewhere most bumper plates are thicker than steel equivalents and therefore it is common to run out of space on the barbell sleeve. Combining with some thinner steel plates can ensure that never happens

The benefits of deadlifting with a mix of bumper and metal plates

The deadlift is one of the noisiest lifts you can do (outside of the Olympic movements) as the bar is HEAVY and the drop back to earth is LOUD.

Bumper plates make less noise than the steel anyway, but they can also help if they are loaded BETWEEN the metal plates as it acts like a buffer and stops them rattling against each other.

When NOT to mix them

There are a few times when it does NOT make sense to mix plates:

  • The diameters are not the same – most premium or pro-sumer spec plates will be the standard 450mm diameter for the larger steel plates (45lbs or 55lbs) as well as most bumpers (typically from 10lbs upwards). If your metal or rubber plates deviate from this standard it will put a LOT more pressure on the largest diameter plates – these will take the hit each time a deadlift is put down as the smaller plates WON’T REACH the ground!
  • You want to load a number of smaller diameter plates on – loading 45lb bumpers and iron is typically OK as the diameters are the same. If you want to load a 45lb bumper followed by 5x 25lb steel plates you will have an issue. The one, bigger bumper will be taking the brunt of ALL the weight being dropped
  • You want to use thinner bumpers – thicker bumper plates like the 45lb and 55lbs varieties will likely withstand pretty much anything in normal use. If you were to beat up a 10lb or 25lb plate own its own however you may find they bend or dilapidate! (This is one of the reasons why many manufacturers won’t guarantee 10lb bumpers.)

So stick to 450mm diameter plates and preferably heavier duty bumper plates and you should be fine.

If you do want to combine some smaller diameter plates then the general rule of thumb is to not exceed the weight of the nearest plate – so if you have a 45lb bumper plate do not load more than 45lbs of steel change plates beside it.

Conclusion

In most situations it is perfectly fine to mix metal and rubber plates on the bar. I do it regularly and have seen no ill side effects. I always load the bar symmetrically to keep the weight centred correctly and – to date – have had no issues at all. So I say – go for it 🙂

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