5 BIG problems: My Strength Shop barbell review

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So I have owned a Strength Shop Original 2028 black oxide bar since February 2015 – so a whopping 6 and a half years! That’s pretty crazy to me, not the least because the bar in some evolution has been on sale continually since then. Well done to Strength Shop for keeping this bar alive and kicking!

I thought it was worth sharing my experience as detailed reviews of Strength Shop barbells are thin on the ground.

Strength Shop 2028 Barbell Review

At a glance…

  • I’ve been using the 2028 bar regularly for 5 years
  • It is the best budget Olympic bar available, but has several downsides
  • The build quality is not as good as more expensive bars
  • I’ve had issues with the sleeves coming loose and adding noise, as well as needing to rebuild the bar

Who is this bar made for?

The 2028 bar is aimed at someone who is looking to build out a reasonable home gym to support non-Olympic weightlifting activities – but crucially – on a budget.

Think of the 2028 barbell as a “my first serious bar” and you are not far from the truth. It works great as a ‘general use’ barbell and is a significant step up from the terrible, overly thick, poor quality bars usually available in the sub-£100 range from the likes of Powerhouse or similar.

The bar is the expected 7’ length and 20kg weight, but has a diameter of 28mm. The centre knurl and bushings reinforce that this is not a bar for weightlifters – it is more suitable for powerlifters or general home gym use. I use this bar now as my ‘general’ bar that lives outside my rack – so it is getting used for deadlifts, rows, barbell curls, overhead pressing etc. While this is quite a varied list it notably contains no snatches. I have power cleaned with the bar and it seemed OK, but the take-away is this is not a bar designed for the dynamic lifts.

If you are looking for a barbell to squat / bench with only you may prefer to check out the 2029 bar which has a 1mm thicker diameter making it feel a little nicer in use, but making it harder to grip for deadlifts.

The Strength Shop 2028 Barbell - black oxide edition
The Strength Shop 2028 Barbell – black oxide edition

What do I like about the Strength Shop 2028 barbell?

After more than six years of use I have a love / hate relationship with it.

Let’s run through the good bits:

1. Price: Well under £200

I paid £100 for this bar in 2015. Now it retails for £130. Whichever way you slice it, this is a great bar for around the £100 mark and there are not many creditable alternatives. This bar absolutely crushes competition from the ubiquitous “140kg + bar” sets and from the mainstream in-house brands such as Powerhouse Fitness.

2. Value for money: Competes with junk bars

For something I have used & abused for so long £100 seems like a bargain. If budget is more flexible, consider the excellent Bulldog Bar 1.0 barbell which has quickly become a regular in my home gym owing to its aggressive knurl (I also use an ATX RAM bar which is far more passive). Are these twice as good though? It depends how much you value the additional £100 – 200 you would need to spend.

3. Black oxide finish: Premium finish, budget price

In 2015 this barbell was sold with a black oxide finish on the shaft and this is the bar I have (and am reviewing). Black oxide is a great barbell coating as it is so natural in the hand and extra grippy. Now they offer it in E-Coat which I am yet to try.

They also did a run of bars more recently in a black zinc finish. I’ve used this barbell a few times and I was actually quite impressed. It addressed a few of the issues I have with my bar (see below). That said I am not a fan of a zinc finish usually as I find it feels inherently slippy in my hand – I find it easier to “bind” to a black oxide bar (is this possibly the worst description of barbell finishes ever 🙂 )

Smooth sleeve - held up well after several years of use (ATX Ram bar in the background)
Smooth sleeve – held up well after several years of use (ATX Ram bar in the background)

What could be improved?

It is unfortunately not all sunshine and rainbows. In fact even after so long in faithful service the Strength Shop Original 2028 bar is the next item that is in line to be replaced in my home gym (with the Bulldog Bar 1.0 takings its place for MOST things).

Let me explain why:

1. Knurling aggression: Inconsistent and soft

The knurling on my 2028 is virtually smooth. There really is hardly any bite whatsoever. This is fine for rep work, but it can be a pain when looking to pull heavy deadlifts without straps.

My Strength Shop Barbell - very passive/light knurling
My Strength Shop Barbell – very passive/light knurling

2. Build quality: Has a number of issues

The barbell is not built to the same standard as the likes of Rogue, Bulldog or ATX equipment. That said the barbell is priced at least a full tier down from their offerings. 

As an example, I have an issue with the noise of the bar which is really crashy compared to my ATX RAM barbell and the knurling finish is poor on one side where it runs into the sleeve / bushing area. I also debate whether the bar is perfectly weighted as it feels a little lopsided. This is a suspicion shared by a few others.

3. Knurl consistency

This is related to build quality but it’s important enough I wanted to bring it out in more detail. The knurl on my bar is practically smooth, with the exception of the centre knurl which is really rough. This roughness is actually inconsistent across the centre knurl itself. This is bad because it makes front squatting and overhead pressing more awkward than it needs to be, and it just shows the quality control on the bar was not great.

Centre knurling visibly rougher on the left (as you look at the picture) side, and notably lighter as it goes towards the right
Centre knurling visibly rougher on the left (as you look at the picture) side, and notably lighter as it goes towards the right

4. Sleeves use screw caps

The screw cap sleeves are becoming quite frustrating as they are continually working loose. This means every time I use the barbell I am having to tighten the end caps and just accept that they will work loose over a few deadlift sets. The thread is long so the sleeve never comes off – but it does end up with a noisey barbell and it is just generally frustrating

Screw in end caps - this one always works itself loose
Screw in end caps – this one always works itself loose

5. Sleeve construction: Uneven spin & build issues

Overall the sleeves spin is quite slow as you would expect from a budget bushings bar. I’ve had issues over the 5 years or so of the collars spinning unevenly – I’ve had to strip and rebuild this bar a few times to clean it up and get it working freely which I’ve not had to do with other barbells. I think this is a combination of storing the bar vertically (my fault) and the knurling running in to the bushing housing thus channeling dirt in there (not my fault). The overall construction seems to let more crud in than other bars I’ve used.

Knurling running right into the sleeve - one side only
Knurling running right into the sleeve – one side only

Strength Shop 2029 barbell – New kid on the block

In the 5 years I have had my 2028 black oxide bar, Strength Shop have widened their range of barbells to offer a premium range (I really want to get my hands on a Strength Shop Bastard bar to review soon – maybe even a stainless steel one…) and also introduced another entry level bar alongside the 2028 – the 2029 bar.

You can probably guess the difference – the bar is 29mm in diameter vs the 28mm offered by the 2028.

Why would this matter? Well diameter influences how easy it is to grip the bar. For example deadlift specific bars tend to be thinner to allow for a better grip when pulling from the floor – the Strength Shop deadlift ‘bastard’ bar is 27mm diameter as an example (although p6 of the IPF rules state a bar should be between 28 – 29mm). Bars used for squats and bench tend to be thicker as grip strength matters less.

The 2029 therefore offers a more powerlifting focused alternative to the 2028 with the wider diameter which is meant to mimic the wider competition bars. This bar would suit people looking to bench / squat more so than deadlifting, but the difference for a novice may be slight at best.

“Middle for diddle” comes in to play here – if going for a general bar to do everything, I would be inclined to stick to a 28mm or 28.5mm as a jack of all trades.


So you can probably tell I am fairly neutral on the Strength Shop 2028 barbell. I ended up retiring the bar from regular use as ultimately I had enough of its negatives and managed to snag a Bulldog 1.0 when it was in stock (reviewed here).

BUT that is not the full story – this is a bar I have used in virtually every session in my home gym over almost 6 years, and it is without a doubt the best budget barbell available in the UK. I have had more than my moneys worth from it, and for that reason I would say it is worth the price.

Without this bar I would never have developed my interest in working out and home gym equipment as fully – and for that I owe this bar a lot of credit. It is unfortunate that is simply has become a victim of its own success as the bar is outclassed by barbells that cost roughly twice as much.

If you can afford it, then I would suggest skipping the Strength Shop bar and going for the Bulldog Gear 1.0 barbell which I now use regularly.

If you are really on a tight budget you will still have a great bar in the 2028 (or 2029) barbell as I think the 2028 bar is the best weightlifting bar available for under £150 in the UK, just be aware of the downsides noted above!

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