A barbell without weight plates is like a pen without ink.
Yet one important question remains: bumper or iron weight plates?
While both can help you level up your body composition and enhance your overall fitness, some key features differentiate the two.
What are Iron Weight Plates?
Iron plates are the classic weight plates you’ll find in many old-school or non-boutique gyms. They’ve been around for well over a century and helped birth the phrase “pumping iron”. Iron plates are also known as cast iron plates.
- Iron plates are made by pouring molten iron into a circular mold or cast. When the iron cools, it becomes a hardened weight plate.
- Some iron plates sport a minimal finish that gives them a raw appearance and texture, while others feature a thin coating of chrome, rubber, plastic or urethane.
- Iron plates are usually silver or black in appearance, though they can also appear a reddish-brownish color due to rust (more on this later).
- High-quality iron plates are more durable and accurately-weighted than the alternatives. It’s not unheard of for inferior brands to sell iron plates that are 5-10% off their advertised weight.
- Machined iron plates tend to be better quality than non-machined plates. Powerlifting competition discs are considered the cream of the iron weight plate crop, but can be exorbitantly expensive.
Before we dive into iron plates’ potential benefits and drawbacks, let’s give a quick rundown on bumper plates.
What are Bumper Weight Plates?
Bumper plates are weight plates that feature an iron or steel core surrounded by a thick, high-density rubber coating.
Eleiko is believed to be the first manufacturer to introduce rubber bumper plates to weightlifting competition back in 1969.
Prior to that point, athletes and weightlifting enthusiasts sometimes wrapped scrap rubber around cast iron plates to help prevent floor damage, reduce noise, and better protect the weights themselves.
While bumper plates have long been staples of olympic weightlifting and CrossFit gyms, they’re quickly gaining popularity in garage/home gyms and other types of commercial fitness centers.
- Bumpers plates are designed to be repeatedly dropped from significant heights with minimal risk of plate damage. They're also easier on floors. This makes them ideal for olympic weightlifting, CrossFit, athletic performance, and group training workouts.
- Thanks to their rubber exterior, bumper plates are far quieter than iron plates.
- Bumper plates are typically either black or color-coded to their specific weight. For example, the International Weightlifting Federation requires 20kg plates (about 45 pounds) be blue.
- Overall, bumper plates tend to be more accurately weighted than iron plates.
Better quality bumper plates are usually more durable and quieter than the alternative.
Iron vs. Bumper Weight Plates: Key Differences
Both iron and bumper plates let you dial in your barbell load so every rep is as efficient and effective as possible.
Yet the two do possess some significant differences that can impact your buying decision.
- Iron plates increase in both diameter and thickness as they get heavier. Meanwhile, bumper plates all sport a uniform diameter (typically about 17.72 inches).
- Iron plates are most commonly available in 5, 10, 25 and 45-pound increments. Bumper plates are most commonly available in 10, 15, 25, 35, 45 and 55-pound increments.
- Bumper plates are designed to be dropped from significant heights. Iron plates are not.
- Iron plates are often available for both one and two-inch barbell varieties. Bumper plates tend to be manufactured solely for use with two-inch (a.k.a. Olympic) barbells.
- Bumper plates are quieter and less likely to damage your floor than iron plates.
- Without a protective coating, iron plates can rust if repeatedly exposed to moisture or high humidity. This is not an issue with bumper plates thanks to their protective rubber coating.
- Bumper plates are generally thicker than iron plates. While this can be good for overall durability, it does mean iron plates typically let you load a barbell with higher overall max weight. This is really only relevant if you plan on lifting above 405 pounds.
- When iron plates break, they usually shatter or crack. Meanwhile, bumper plates are unlikely to fracture, but can get bent out of shape (this is often known as “tacoing” and is a bigger concern with light bumper plates).
- Generally speaking, bumper plates are more expensive than iron plates.
For what it’s worth, many gym rats swear iron plates feel a bit heavier than bumper plates.
This could be because iron plates are known to have a greater variation between their advertised and actual weights (though this is only really a concern on lower-quality iron plates).
Either way, the phenomenon is definitely a thing:
Before we talk more about finding the right weight plate for you, let’s unpack a key detail — price.
Iron vs. Bumper Weight Plates: Price Comparison
Bumper plates are almost always going to cost a bit more than iron plates.
This is because the raw materials required tend to be more expensive and the manufacturing process is more involved.
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There can be a good amount of variation in price between one brand of iron plate and the next, as well as one brand of bumper plate to the next. We’ll keep our comparisons inside the same brand so there’s a level playing field (prices accurate to the time of writing but are subject to change):
- REP Fitness’s Old School Iron Plates sell at $159.99 for a pair of 45-pound plates. Their Black Bumper Plates sell at $199.99 for a pair of 45-pound plates.
- YORK’s 2” Cast Iron Olympic Weight Plates sell at $134.10 for a pair of 45-pound plates. Their Rubber Training Bumper Plates sell at $145 for a pair of 45-pound plates.
- Rogue’s Olympic Plates (made of cast iron) sell at $127 for a pair of 45-pound plates. Their Hi-Temp Bumper Plates sell at $157.50 for a pair of 45-pound plates.
While the difference in price between iron and bumper plates isn’t massive, it’s certainly significant — especially when extrapolated over a full set of weight plates.
When Iron Weight Plates Work Best
Iron weight plates work best in certain training environments.
- Environments where noise is not a high concern.
- Environments where loaded barbells will not be repeatedly dropped from significant heights (think 3-4 feet or greater).
- Environments where the floor is protected or floor damage isn’t a high concern.
- Environments that are protected from the elements, particularly moisture and high humidity (this is especially true if the plate doesn’t have a protective coating).
Iron weight plates work great if you plan to primarily focus on powerlifting and bodybuilding-type exercises during your barbell routine. Many of the strongest people in the world have trained almost exclusively with iron plates, and they tend to be more affordable than bumper plates.
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If you don't plan on dropping your bar, noise isn't much of an issue, and your plates will largely be protected from the elements, iron plates can be a great choice.
HulkFit Cast Iron Plates are a phenomenal option for true fitness enthusiasts. Each plate is manufactured with a precision-machined hole and a durable enamel finish for enhanced longevity. The plates also undergo a stringent manufacturing process to ensure high performance and accurate weighting.
When Bumper Weight Plates Work Best
Bumper weight plates work best in certain training environments.
- Environments where olympic weightlifting is common.
- Environments where there’s concern about the noise level.
- Environments where you need to reduce the risk of floor damage.
- Environments where your weight plates may be continually exposed to the elements, most notably moisture and high humidity.
- Environments where loaded bars will be dropped at a high volume (such as a CrossFit gym).
There’s a reason bumper plates are a bit more expensive than cast iron.
Overall, they’re safer, quieter, more durable, and more comfortable to use.
Bumper plates are far superior for olympic weightlifting movements as well as workouts where barbells are repeatedly picked up and dropped (such as CrossFit).
Their high-density rubber exteriors helps reduce noise, protect floors, and better ensure the plates themselves won’t suffer damage. Bumper plates also tend to hold up better through the elements, so if you’ll be doing any outdoor training, bumpers are the way to go.
They do tend to require a bit more storage space due to the fact they have a uniform diameter. While the total difference in required space compared to iron plates is likely a non-factor for most users, it’s worth considering if you have a very compact training space.
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You should also know that some lighter bumper plates (think 10-15 pounds) are not designed to be dropped alone due to risk of bending. They should be paired with thicker, heavier bumpers if being dropped. This is rarely an issue, since most individuals can control a 65 or 75-pound load without dropping it, but it’s worth noting.
HulkFit Olympic Bumper Plates will help empower your toughest workouts yet. Constructed of a high-density rubber exterior with a solid stainless steel insert, these bumper plates are built to withstand high-impact bar drops with minimal bounce.
Whether you’re chasing a new PR or simply want a versatile weight plate that can handle a wide range of workouts and environments, HulkFit Olympic Bumper Plates are the right tool for the job.
Bumper Plates vs. Iron Weight Plates: What’s Right For Me?
You should now have a clear picture of the type of weight plate that works best for your needs.
Keep in mind that certain iron plates are better than others, while the same rings true for bumper plates. Yet in general, this breakdown will ring true.
No matter what you choose, a quality set of weight plates is one of the best investments you can make in your overall health & fitness. Choose wisely and train hard.