When you start buying equipment for your garage or home gym, you’ll have to make a decision on what type of plates you want. Do you want Bumper Plates or Iron Plates? If you’re a seasoned weightlifter or powerlifter then you already know the answer to this, but if that’s you, then you’re probably not going to be reading this page anyway.
For everyone else, read on, I’m going to tell you exactly which you should get.
To figure out which plates you should buy, let’s look at both bumper plates and iron plates and do a little compare and contrast. Let’s talk about the pros and cons of each. Each type of plate fits a particular style of lifting and once you decide what style of lifting you fall into the choice in plate becomes pretty obvious.
What Are Bumper Plates?
Bumper Plates, also known as Olympic Plates, are made of rubber. (There are actually some cheaper bumper plates available now that are made of urethane, but I wouldn’t recommend getting those) Bumper Plates are predominantly used for Olympic Lifts like Cleans, Jerks and Snatches.
If you’re not sure what those exercises even are, then chances are you’re not doing them. Crossfit also falls under this umbrella as many of their workouts involve Olympic Lifts.
The reason having bumper plates for Olympic Lifts is important is because those lifts involve dropping plates to the floor after each rep. Olympic plates, especially when combined with a rubber floor, are designed to be able to be safely dropped without causing damage to themselves or the floor (or platform) they’re being dropped on.
If you plan on doing a lot of Olympic lifts and want to be able to drop weights, then you definitely want to go with Bumper Plates.
If you do go with Bumper Plates, be prepared to spend a little more money. While you can pick up Iron Plates for around $1/pound, a good set of Bumper Plates can range anywhere from $2 to $5 a pound. This is due to both the material used and a more complex manufacturing process. Whether you want high end bumper plates or more economical lower cost plates is an entirely different topic. If you want to know more about the differences between bumper plates themselves, you can read my entire Bumper Plate Guide here.
Pro Tip: A great way to save a few bucks and not sacrifice quality is to only buy 20kg and 10kg plates. Buy one set of 10kg plates and then as many pairs of 20kg plates as to what makes sense for you. Then fill in the gaps with 10s, 5s and 2.5s. Buying 15kg and 25kg plates are more of a luxury than they are a necessity.
Finally, only buy Bumper Plates smaller than 10kg (often referred to as technique plates) if you need them because 88 pounds is too heavy for some of your lifts.
What are Iron Plates?
Iron plates are made of, as you might guess from the name, cast iron. Some iron plates are now coated in a hard rubber which makes them less susceptible to rusting. This is very common now in college weight rooms and commercial gyms. Although they may look a little nicer, that’s in the eye of the beholder. To me, the best part of iron plates is the old school, primitive design and feel.
Iron Plates are great powerlifting, bodybuilding and most general fitness working out. If the type of working out you’re planning on doing involves benching, squating, shoulder presses, etc. then iron plates may be a good fit. Really as long you don’t plan on dropping your plates on the floor, iron plates should work great for anything else you’re wanting to do.
Like I stated earlier, one of the biggest pros of iron plates is their price. Iron plates are generally less than half the price of bumper plates. You also have a better chance of saving even more money picking up used iron plates than you do bumper plates.
With bumper plates you have to be particular about what brand of plate it is, how much use it’s had and what kind of condition they’re in. Once bumper plates tear up they lose their function. You can be much less picky with used iron plates.
Do you Need Bumper Plates to Deadlift?
This is a great question which really boils down to personal preference. I would imagine most hardcore powerlifters would scoff at the idea of deadlifting with bumper plates. Deadlifts, especially in competition, are intended to be done with iron plates. However, for the rest of us you can really go either way.
You can be traditional and deadlift with iron plates, but if you’re concerned over dropping heavy weights on your garage or basement floor then you can always go with bumper plates. Either way, make sure you also have a thick enough rubber floor underneath you.
Personally, I always deadlift with bumper plates. Couple reasons why. First, when I deadlift it’s almost always right after either snatches or cleans within my program. So there is already bumper plates on the bar. Instead of stripping everything down and starting over with iron plates I just started adding weight to what I’ve already got.
Second, and this may lose me some meathead cred, deadlifting and then dropping iron plates is crazy loud and annoys the piss out of me over time. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the sound of iron clanking when adding plates to a bar or hearing them rattle on a squat, but deadlifting tends to be too much of a good thing for me.
Do you Need BOTH Bumper Plates and Iron Plates?
It really depends on personal preference, how serious you are about those preferences and is it worth it to you to spend the money. I’ll explain.
I currently only have bumper plates in my garage gym. The majority of my lifting is Olympic Lifts or some variation of those lifts and squating. There is no real need for me to have iron plates. Having said that, at some point in the future I plan on picking up some iron plates if for nothing else than to squat with them.
There is something old school about squating with iron plates. From the sound they make when you stack them on the bar to the rattle they make when you squat, I love them. But, you don’t have to have iron plates in addition to bumper plates if you don’t want them or don’t want to spend the extra money.
The only situation that only having bumper plates can bite you is if you have the oversized recycled rubber bumper plates. Because of their size, these plates can limit the amount of weight you can put on the bar.
On the other hand, if you’re not planning on dropping bars and plates then you don’t have to have bumper plates. In fact, I wouldn’t even recommend it. Save yourself the money and just get iron plates.
Can You Use Bumper Plates with Iron Plates?
Let’s assume you’ve now bought both some bumper plates and iron plates. Can you use them together at the same time? I feel like I keep saying this, but yet again, it depends. For squats, bench and really any lift where you’re not dropping the plates – absolutely yes. As long as it doesn’t drive your OCD crazy (it does mine), there is nothing wrong with mixing the two on the bar.
However, if you are dropping plates then that is a different story. Some people think that as long as what hits the floor is the bumper then you can stack 25s and in some cases even 45s onto the end of the bar. This is a really bad idea. Bumper plates are balanced and designed to spin along with the bar itself when it moves in space and when it hits the floor.
Iron plates are dead weight that does neither of these things, so when it hits the floor it can tear up the bar itself. It honestly hurts my soul to watch a barbell with iron plates on it hit the floor. This is not to say you can’t put a 10 and/or a 5 on the ends, that’s okay. But, you should never put an iron 25 (or anything bigger) on an Olympic bar to do Olympic Lifts.
Final Thoughts – So Which Should You Buy?
Whether or not you should buy bumper plates or iron plates really comes down to one thing. Are you going to be dropping the bar? If the answer is yes, get bumper plates. If the answer is no, go with iron plates. If you want to have both, that doesn’t make you a crazy person either, go for it.