Selecting Bumper Plates for Your Garage Gym

Time to pick out some Olympic weight-lifting plates for your garage gym. What kind to buy? Bumpers or steel? Where should you get them? Online? New or used? Are they expensive to ship? Should you expect free shipping? I’ve been through all this myself. I’ve done all of the research already for my gym but I’m going to do it all over again today for this article. So let’s see if I can make purchasing some Olympic plates easier for you guys and gals.

Choosing which olympic plates is best for you

Cast Iron Plates, or Bumper Plates? Which choice is best for you? If your budget allows it, purchase bumpers. The price difference isn’t as much as you’d think.

First off, do you buy bumper plates or classic steel/iron plates? Well that depends. If money is really tight, steel might be the way to go. Steel plates are less expensive and much easier to find second-hand. Check craigslist and you’ll be blown away by how many folks are selling plates and bars from local sporting good stores that they’ve used only a few times. Prices on new steel plates are already about 60-70% of the price of decent bumpers, so finding them used can mean major savings.

So why even consider bumper-plates over steel? Simply put, they’re just better. First let me clarify something. When I say bumper-plate in this article, I mean the plates you’d see them using during the Olympics, not those plastic or rubber coated steel plates. They are two totally different things. For those familiar with box gyms, the black hex plates with handles that they tend to have are a good example of the coated plates. Most times, the thickness of the plate gives it away. Non-competition bumpers are very thick compared to coated and steel plates. Check pic below for clarification. FYI: The coated plates are another alternative to bumpers if money is tight. At about $1 a pound, they’re on par with a lot of the steel plates.

the difference between bumper plates and rubber coated steel plates

The plate style on the left is just steel that is coated in plastic or rubber. The plate on the right is an actual bumper-plate. The coated plates are nicer than plain steel plates, but they’re not the same thing as a bumper. Though to be honest, the handles are nice. They allow for some exercises you couldn’t do with a bumper.

Take a look at the thickness differences of these two plates

This is to show you how much the thickness can vary on bumpers. The plate on the right is pretty standard for an average bumper like the Hi-Temps… pretty beefy plate. On the left is a high dollar training bumper from Eleiko. Much thinner. But notice, it’s still much thicker than the rubber-coated steel plates.

Alright so, why are bumpers better than steel? First of all, they’re safer. Safer as in, they won’t smash through your foundation or crack and chip if you drop them accidentally. Consider that if you cannot safely drop a 45 pound steel plate while just transporting it to and from the bar without having to worry about what it would do to your flooring, you obviously can’t drop it from the top of a press or from shoulder-height on a failed snatch. With so many folks these days utilizing Olympic lifts in their workouts (even crossfit uses the clean and the snatch), it makes sense to just go for the bumpers initially so those lifts are an option for you later, even if you’re fitness level doesn’t necessitate them right away.

There is another reason so many prefer bumpers over steel. It may seem a little silly, but for those who have worked out with steel (or still do) you will understand. It’s the noise. Steel is crazy loud on the bar. Even on relatively smooth movements, those giant plates banging against each other is definitely loud. When you let that bar down from even a few inches above the ground or rack, it’s loud as hell. Bumpers don’t clang and bang like that. Just something else to consider.

You don’t have to go 100% bumpers. I have a combination of steel and bumper in my garage gym. While my 35’s and 45’s are all bumpers, I still use smaller steel plates. The steel 25’s and smaller plates never touch the ground so it doesn’t matter what they’re made of. Besides, the 10 lb. and 15 lb. bumpers tend to deform (taco) if they’re allowed to take the brunt of a drop too many times. They’re just too thin to take the same abuse as the large 45 lb. plates.

I want bumper-plates! Who makes the right plate for me?

I’ll go over the different types and brands of bumper plates and also go over what I’ve discovered regarding the best places to buy each type based on price, shipping cost, and overall reviews and feedback.

Standard black bumpers. There are a number of manufacturers out there but I’ve narrowed this down to three different brands: Rogue HG, Troy VTX, and Hi-Temp.

Rogue HG, HI-Temp and Troy VTX

From left to right: Rogue HG Bumpers, Troy VTX Bumpers, and HI-Temp Bumpers. (Incidentally, Troy VTX also is available in colors.)

Troy VTX is probably what you’ll come across more times than not in a sporting goods store or used equipment store. They’re priced reasonably and reviews are overall pretty decent. It’s one of the few options in that price range available in color. Look on Amazon for a deal on these. There is a ton of sellers for Troy products.

Hi-Temp bumpers are solid and the price is great as well. They are on the thicker side of available bumpers, but unless your lifts require over 400 pounds on the bar, I think you’ll be fine with the thickness of the plates. Lots of sites sell Hi-Temps. Rogue has them for cheaper than I could find them anywhere else, and shipping was included in the price. These are the only bumpers I know of that are made in the USA.

Rogue HG Bumpers are my favorite choice for a basic black bumpers. I own some of these plates and I love them. They are slightly less expensive than the Hi-Temps, yet they are a bit thinner and look much cooler. They are warranted for 3 years (25’s and up) and the shipping is included in the price. Read some of the reviews here. These are hands down the best option for getting set up with bumpers.

Competition (& Training) Bumpers¬†Competition bumpers like the Eleiko Olympic plates, the Pendlay Elites, or the Rogue Competition plates for Crossfit are thinner, more durable, and significantly more expensive. The “training” versions of these bumpers pretty much means they are the same plate, only not calibrated. So either way, when compared to a standard bumper, they are much more expensive.

Complete Bar and Plate Eleiko

The Eleiko Competition set. Comes with bar, full bumper set and the collars. Very fancy, very expensive. Probably not what most people need for a garage gym, but if you have $4k to blow, go for it. The rest of us would definitely envy you.

I have lifted with competition plates so rarely that I have no business giving a review on them. Eleiko is used in the Olympics, Crossfit successfully uses and abuses Rogue’s Competition plates, and Pendlay Elites appear to be of the same quality. The weight deviation tolerances on these are so tight that you know you’re lifting the weight claimed on the plate… unlike the super cheap brands (of any plate, bumper or not) where the tolerances are in the form of a percentage rather than in grams.

If you have the money to spend on bumpers this nice, I’m sure that regardless of which brand you buy that you’ll be happy with them. Even though I won’t review them, I’ve still found the best prices online for all three brands for you to check out in case you are considering one of these options. Just click the links on each name in the previous paragraph. (please research prices yourself as well. These best prices are at the time of writing, and I didn’t dig to page 10 on Google when comparing.)

Pricing Summary 

Below is just some pricing to give you an idea of what you will spend to get your hands on some plates (again, at the time of writing this article).

Cast Iron / Steel Plates: Approx $.90-$1.20 a pound. Definitely look for used.
Rogue HG Bumpers: Approx $1.50-$1.75 a pound. Best deal I could find.
HI-TEMP Bumpers: Approx $1.60-$2.00 a pound.
Training Plates: Approx $3-$5 a pound.
Competition Plates: Approx $4-$8+ a pound.

I hope this article has been helpful. I realize there are a ton of other brands and places to buy bumper plates. I looked at a lot of them both online and in local stores, and I’ve been exposed to them in gyms. I wanted to narrow it down a bit. If you want to add your two cents on the type of plates you have and love (or hate), please do.