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No, bumper plates don’t have anything to do with license plates, cars, or bumper cars. If you know what they are, you’ve probably already used them. Bumper plates, aka bumpers, are the weight plates used in Olympic weightlifting (think snatches and cleans) and workout regimens that include Olympic weightlifting (like CrossFit).
Bumpers are designed to be dropped from overhead, mid-body, or anywhere else in the lift. They’re uniform in diameter and are made from different kinds of rubber and rubber-like materials to absorb the shock from the fall and bounce rather than break.
We consulted Max Oldani, a certified personal trainer at Trainiac, to get the rundown on bumper plates along with the materials, brands, and features to consider. Check out the makes and models that made our list.
Buckle up your weight belt and get ready to grunt, groan, and lift to higher heights (and weights).
Bumpers differ from standard weight plates in that they’re made of various kinds of rubber, and sometimes urethane (which is kinda like a rubbery plastic), rather than steel. And no matter the weight, they’re all the same diameter, though diameters can vary among manufacturers and plate lines.
A standard bumper plate is 17.7 inches (in.) in diameter. Plates vary in thickness based on weight and composition. For example, a 10-pound (lb.) bumper is the same diameter as a 45-lb. bumper, but the 10-pounder is thinner.
So, what makes one bumper plate better than another? Here are the factors we considered when choosing the best:
Materials play a huge role in the quality and durability of bumpers, so we paid extra attention to them in the selection process.
Bumper plates are made of recycled/rubber crumb, virgin rubber, SBR rubber, a rubber mix, urethane, or plastic (though plastic plates are technically called technique plates).
Recycled rubber/rubber crumb
Recycled rubber usually comes from recycled tires. One kind of recycled rubber, called rubber crumb or crumb rubber, wins the recycled rubber popularity contest because bumpers made with it can be used outdoors.
Oldani says they’re typically more affordable while still being durable. Expect rubber crumb bumpers to be a little thicker and have a little more bounce when they hit the ground.
Virgin rubber plates are durable but have a sleeker finish that Oldani says makes them more susceptible to scuffing. They’re denser than rubber crumb and don’t bounce as much when they hit the ground, which adds to their durability.
Oldani also says these plates are generally thinner, making it easier to load more plates at once. Virgin rubber has less odor and lasts longer than recycled rubbers.
SBR rubber is also becoming more commonplace, especially in competition bumper plates. The biggest difference is that SBR rubber is synthetic. It offers excellent abrasion resistance and impact resistance and has more tensile strength than recycled rubbers.
Some manufacturers mix rubbers, like virgin and rubber crumb, to give the plates more strength or abrasion resistance at different price points. Others use proprietary mixes to add durability and set their products apart from the competition.
This is a newer material in the bumper world. In many cases, urethane plates are more expensive than rubber bumpers, and they tend to be quieter when dropped. BUT they’re not any more durable, and weight accuracy is about the same as with rubber.
Urethane is uncommon outside a pro gym setting, so these bumpers didn’t make it onto our list.
Before bumper plates were developed, technique plates made of high quality, dense plastic were the norm for Olympic lifts.
Technique plates are made of highly durable plastic that has better strength in the thin 10-lb. plates than rubber. (Thin rubber bumpers crack pretty easily.) They’re used when working on form or technique or recovering from injury.
Other important features
- Hubs. The hub is the center portion of the bumper that slides onto the barbell. Hubs that pop out of or break away from the center are a problem. Competition bumper plates have a wider steel hub to prevent breakage at higher weights.
- Labeling. Bumpers go through some serious wear and tear, which can cause painted numbers to rub off. Models with raised numbers will always indicate the weight even when the paint’s long gone.
- Color coding. Color coding isn’t absolutely necessary, but when all the weights are the same diameter, colors can make it a whole lot easier to find the right plates and calculate how much weight you’re lifting.
Best bumper plates overall
These bumpers are sold in pairs or sets up to 1,000 lbs. They’re made of recycled rubber designed to absorb shock and reduce bounce and have a stainless steel hub. If you’re looking for less noise and bounce, then these are the plates for you.
The HGs are also cut on the slim side to make room for more weight on the bar (we see you lookin’ buff AF). Rogue offers these bumpers as a budget-friendly pro set for athletes just getting into the competitive scene.
Best budget bumper plates
Crumb rubber — in this case made from recycled tires — offers durability and a little more bounce for indoor or outdoor use. The rubber’s shock absorption protects both the weights and your precious floors. This set also includes color-coded flecks to make it a little easier to find the weight you want mid-workout.
For the quality, they come at a reasonable price — even the highest weight (45 lbs.) won’t break the bank. They’re also sold in pairs, which means the price you see is the price you get.
The biggest downside is that crumb rubber has a higher bounce factor, so watch out for “jumping” after the release (aka watch your toes!).
Best bumper plates for beginners
Newbies to Olympic weightlifting or CrossFit will appreciate the reasonable price and durability of the CAP Barbell Olympic Rubber Bumper Plates. They’re sold as singles, but the price isn’t too shabby, even for a pair.
They’re made of a mix of virgin and recycled rubber, which adds durability while reducing the bounce of the plates. A color-coded system makes it easy to find the right plates too. Less bounce and easy-to-find weights are def important for beginners still getting the hang of their lifting technique.
While these plates are durable for the price, the 10-lb. plates are more fragile than the heavier ones. That’s very typical across the board with bumper plates because lower weights tend to be thinner, but it’s particularly true with the CAP Barbell bumpers.
Best bumper plates for competition
“Eleiko is the cream of the crop for Olympic weightlifting competitions,” says Oldani, and it’s not hard to see why. Made of SBR rubber that’s designed to put the weights within 5 grams of the plate’s designated weight, these plates offer impressive durability, weight accuracy, and looks.
They’re IWF-certified for competition use and have two-piece zinc hubs for extra durability. Professional-quality weights like these last longer and have more tolerance for the stress and shock of weightlifting, according to Oldani.
The Eleiko plates are color-coded for easy weight identification and include a lipped circumference to give you a good grip when you’re loading the bar.
Competitive athletes are really the only ones who need weights of this quality because they offer a true-to-life competition experience. They’re also for indoor use only.
Best bumper plate set
Vulcan bumpers are hella popular among home gym owners. The brand (and this set in particular) is known for its impressive durability and reasonable pricing. That durability extends to indoor or outdoor use.
They’re made of a patented rubber mix that’s designed to reduce bounce and dampen sound. Each plate has colored flecks integrated into the rubber to identify the weight, making it easier to organize your gym and grab the right plate.
The Vulcan plates are also made to IWF specifications and show consistency in their diameters, which isn’t always a thing in affordable bumpers. The bad news is that they’re popular enough that certain weights are often sold out. 😩
Best technique bumper plates
Technique plates were the norm before bumpers were invented.
The HiTechplates Technique Plates are made of recycled plastic rather than the rubber of standard bumpers. This type of plastic is stronger when thinner, so the 10-lb. plates are less likely to break than 10-lb. rubber bumpers. They also have a single-piece design that lacks a hub.
Teens and youth who are learning how to lift benefit the most from these plates. These plates are also a good option for any weightlifter recovering from an injury or focusing solely on technique. You get the same general feel and function of a bumper without injury-provoking weight.
The cons: They’re not designed for standard lifting, and they cost about the same amount as a standard set of bumpers.
You can’t beat the convenience of having a home gym. No waiting for someone to finish their lifts. No feeling self-conscious about how much weight you’re lifting (or not lifting). No stranger’s sweat on the barbell. No worrying about ripping a big one at the lift’s peak.
And bumper plates make complete sense in the home gym. They cost about the same as standard weight plates, but they work for Olympic lifts too.
Thanks to the rubber and rubber-like materials used to make them, bumpers let you safely drop the barbell from mid-body or overhead without breaking the weights, the barbell, or your floors — which is totally possible with standard steel plates.
The uniform sizing of bumper plates is another protective measure. While standard steel weight plates come in different sizes based on weight, all bumper plates have the same diameter to create a uniform surface. When they’re dropped, the force of impact spreads across all the plates rather than landing on just the largest ones.
Bumper plates are often color-coded to help you identify the weight of each plate. This makes it easier to find the right weights quickly and to know how much weight you’re lifting.
You don’t need to be a competitive athlete to see gains from incorporating dynamic Olympic lifts into your routine. You just need good form (and bumpers).
Is your home gym indoors or outdoors? Or do you lift in both? Your home gym’s location will help you determine the materials that will work best for your setup.
Oldani says that if you’re lifting outdoors, rubber crumb bumpers are the move. He also recommending keeping rubber crumb away from sharp edges that can cause chipping on the plates.
If your gym is indoors, Oldani says to use virgin rubber because it’s denser and has less recoil than rubber crumb, prolonging the life of your barbell. These plates are also generally thinner than rubber crumb plates, so you can load more weight onto the bar.
Always check the brand’s website to see what kind of flooring the bumper plates are designed to be used on. Most bumper plates are designed for use on rubber flooring or wooden platforms, but some can be used outdoors on concrete or asphalt.
Standard vs. competition vs. technique
“The bottom line is to only buy what you can afford and what makes sense for your specific setup,” says Oldani. If you’ll never see the floor of a competition, there’s no need to invest in competition plates.
Competition plates are made of premium materials and have better weight accuracy. They’re a tool to hone your technique and build strength and endurance for competition.
Oldani points out that standard bumper plates have a competition style but don’t cost nearly as much, so you can still get a great workout and save some cash.
Technique plates are a fairly specialized option. They’re not as durable as rubber plates but cost about the same. They work best for teens and youth or people recovering from an injury because the plastics used to make them are more durable at lower weights (like 10 lbs.). In standard bumpers, the thin rubber of low-weight plates easily cracks.
Basic black bumpers work wonderfully. But color-coded bumpers can help keep your gym organized and make it easier to track how much weight you’re lifting. Bumpers are all the same size, and it’s easy to mistake a 45 for a 35.
If you’re choosing between a basic black set and a color-coded set of equal price, choose the rainbow.
Pairs vs. set
If your budget isn’t as big as your fitness goals, you can buy bumper plates in pairs rather than whole sets. Most adults can start with a pair of 25- to 45-pounders. As you progress, you can invest in more weights to fill out your set.
But if you’re ready to jump in with both feet, complete sets provide all the weight you need from the get-go. They all match in size and color coding and look nice doing it. Sets come in different weights — like a 500-lb. (total) set or a 1,000-lb. set.
Bumper plates add versatility to your weightlifting options. They’re quiet and durable, and they make you look like you know what you’re doing (even if you don’t).
They cost about the same as standard weight plates, so if Olympic lifts or CrossFit is on the horizon, bumpers are worth checking out.
A few things to remember:
- Pick a bumper material that works for your workout style and home gym location.
- Invest in official competition plates only if competitions are in your future.
- Know your budget and look for bumpers that fit within it.
- Get lifting!