One of the first things you learn when starting to work out is to put plates on the barbell with the flat part facing out. A trainer or maybe a more experienced friend explains this unwritten rule, and from that point forward you put the plates on that way.
It’s something so basic you don’t question it or ever think about it again. And when you see someone put plates on with the logo facing out, your newbie siren goes off.
But is there really a proper way to load plates onto a bar? When we asked this question to Rick Scarpulla, owner of Ultimate Advantage and strength coach for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point powerlifting team, he chuckled, then said, “It’s nonsense, because the weights are the same either way you put them on. If you’re worried about which way the plates are facing, then you are not in the right place mentally.”
A few theories purport to explain why the flat part of the plate should face out.
Theory 1: There’s less wobble
With the flat part of the plates facing out, you can stack every plate against a flat surface, reducing wobble when you work through your reps.
Scarpulla’s Take: “If you load up the barbell with as few plates as you can for a given weight [more on this below], there won’t be any wobble. Also, using clips—which you always should use—eliminates any wobble difference, which is negligible anyway.”
Theory 2: There’s less spin
The greater the surface area of the plates that touch each other, the less chance they’ll spin.
Scarpulla’s Take: “If you’re concerned about spin, you’re probably not using correct form on your lifts. Also, the collars of a barbell are on ball bearings, so this stabilizes the weight. You’d have to do something crazy to cause plates to spin independently of each other.”
Theory 3: It’s safer
If the lip of the plate faces in, it’s easier to wrap your fingers around the plate when putting them on and taking them off the bar.
Scarpulla’s Take: “If the lip faces outward, you can wrap your thumb around it. It doesn’t matter other than personal preference. People who say there’s less drag or less wiggle are ridiculous, and it makes no difference.”
For athletes who come into his gym and make an issue about which way the plates face, Scarpulla has them lift with their eyes closed. Not one person has been able to tell the difference.
This is coming from a guy who has over 10,000 appearances on the platform during powerlifiting competitions and is one of the strongest men in the world for his age and weight.
Basically he says you can load the plates any way you want. The only rule for loading plates, according to Scarpulla, is to use as few as possible to achieve a specific weight load. For example, if you’re lifting 225 pounds using a 45-pound barbell, load two 45-pound plates on each side, not a 45, 25 and two 10s.
Using more smaller plates can be perceived as increasing the difficulty, because the weights are further from the center of the bar, creating more torque that must be overcome. Using fewer plates shifts the weight closer to your body, making the lift easier.
So next time someone tells you to load the plates differently, tell them to bug off. A weight is a weight, and the way the plates face should not be a concern when it comes to your workout.
Whichever way you load your plates, try this barbell complex to get in shape fast.