Bumper plates are more versatile than steel plates because they can be used for Olympic lifting where the weighted barbell is dropped to the ground. Steel plates will crack if used in this fashion. This means that bumper plates are also more durable because the rubber weight absorbs the impact of being dropped, whereas steel plates are more brittle. However, steel plates are typically less expensive, making them a great choice for building a home gym on a budget.
What’s the Difference Between Steel Plates and Bumper Plates?
Bumper plates are weight plates made of dense rubber while steel plates—like the name suggests—are made of steel. This is the foundational difference between the two, but not the only one. Bumper plates are all the same diameter, meaning a 10-pound plate is just as large as a 45 pounder. Steel plates vary in size based on their weight.
- Bumper plates are made of high-density rubber with a stainless steel insert where the barbell is inserted.
- Steel plates are made of metal, although they may have a thin rubber coating.
- Bumper plates have the same diameter regardless of weight.
- Lighter steel plates are smaller in diameter than heavier plates.
Regardless of whether you choose rubber weights or standard plates, 45 pounds is still 45 pounds. Both steel plates and bumpers can be used to achieve an excellent workout.
Head-to-Head Comparison: Steel Plates vs. Bumper Plates
If you’re looking to round out your home gym with a set of weight plates there comes a time where you have to choose between steel or bumpers. Which one is worth the money? Rather than beat around the bush, let’s get to the comparison. We’ll look at both plates across 4 categories: versatility, durability, cost, and suitability for a home gym.
When you own a set of bumper plates, you can perform every barbell lift in the book. Not only are the standards like bench press and squat doable with bumper plates, but you can also perform Olympic lifts where the loaded barbell is dropped to the floor at the end of a rep. The weights will absorb the drop without damage. This means you can add power cleans and jerks to your workouts. Unlike bumpers, steel plates cannot be used for Olympic weightlifting. Dropping a barbell loaded with steel plates will crack your plates or the floor beneath them.
- Bumper plates can be used to perform Olympic lifts.
- Steel plates cannot be used for Olympic lifts.
- Steel plates can be loaded onto smaller bars and dumbbells.
- Bumper plates cannot be loaded onto dumbbells.
Steel plates, on the other hand, do have one plus in the versatility column. Small-diameter steel plates can be loaded onto dumbbells or EZ curl bars for curls, tricep extensions, and a variety of other lifts. Because of their large diameter, bumper plates inhibit a full range of motion when loaded onto a dumbbell. If you want to do Olympic lifts, go with bumpers. If you want to load up dumbbells for some unilateral workouts, choose steel plates.
Bumper plates are more durable by far. As mentioned above, bumpers are designed to be dropped from overhead without taking damage. Although you should never treat your equipment carelessly, rubber bumper plates can be dropped onto a concrete floor or driveway at very little risk to the plates.
- Bumper plates are more durable than steel.
- There is very little risk to bumper plates, even when dropped on hard surfaces.
- Steel plates can be chipped or broken if they are accidentally dropped.
Steel plates can last indefinitely if they are properly cared for. If you avoid dropping your weights and lift on top of a padded surface, your steel weight set will serve you well for years. However, a single drop or mistake can crack a steel plate.
Steel and cast iron plates are less expensive than bumper plates. For a quick review, compare the price of this 45-pound bumper plate to its cast-iron equivalent. When considering solely your pocketbook, steel and iron plates win the day over more expensive bumper plates.
- Steel plates are typically less expensive than bumper plates.
- This bumper plate weight set is a great value.
- This set of iron weights includes a barbell and more weights than the bumper set at a comparable price.
- To reduce cost, check local for-sale boards for weight sets in your area.
Whether you decide on bumper plates or steel plates, consider shopping for a used set. This can help reduce your out-of-pocket cost and get your home gym started on a budget.
Home Gym Suitability
Bumper plates are a much better choice for a home gym setup for a few reasons. First, they are much quieter than a barbell loaded with metal plates. If disturbing your neighbors or other members of your household is a concern, bumpers are the way to go. A bar loaded with steel makes quite a bit of noise, which others may enjoy less than you do.
- If noise levels are a concern, bumper plates are much quieter than working out with steel.
- There is less risk of damaging floors when lifting with bumper plates.
- If you choose bumper plates, you can save money by investing less in rubber lifting mats.
- Rubber lifting mats are a necessity when using steel plates.
Another plus for bumper plates in a garage gym setting is the fact that there is less chance of damaging a concrete floor with rubber plates than steel. A dropped bumper plate will bounce while a steel plate may crack the concrete it lands on. This means you may be able to lift with bumper plates without investing in thick rubber mats. When using standard weight plates, a good lifting mat is a necessity to protect your home and equipment.
Winner: Bumper Plates or Steel Plates?
Unless budget is the number one factor in your decision, rubber bumper plates are the clear winner for your home gym. You’ll be able to perform more barbell exercises and your plates will be less prone to damage. The biggest benefit steel has over bumpers is that they cost less.
- Bumper plates are a better investment than steel plates.
- Bumpers are more versatile and durable than steel plates.
- In order to reduce the cost disparity between bumpers and steel plates, choose training plates or shop for used bumpers.
If you’d like to save as much money as possible but want bumper plates, make sure to shop for bumpers sold as “training plates.” These black bumper plates are less expensive than the colorful competition bumper plates. Additionally, search your area for used bumper plates to get a discount on the best set of weights for your personal gym.