The Levels of Bumper Plates

Gear: one of the more enjoyable responsibilities of a Box owner is to purchase gear. Who doesn’t like getting new things? Your reasoning for making a purchase will vary depending on your situation. Are you a start-up? Are you expanding? Is your existing gear worn out? Today I’m going to focus on bumpers.

There are three criteria when making any purchase: cost, quality and service. Cost and quality are pretty self-explanatory. Service revolves around your personal experiences with your chosen vendor: are they punctual and responsive to your questions? Do they deliver timely? Do they stand behind their product when something goes wrong? Using the cost and quality criteria let’s examine the four different grades of bumpers. This info should help you determine which grade best meets your needs.

Entry level: The defining characteristic of entry level bumpers is the stainless steel center insert. The bumpers themselves are a simple, solid rubber construction with the stainless steel insert pressed into the center.  Cost is an attractive feature of entry level bumpers. If keeping your overhead down is important, these are for you. Also, entry level bumpers can be used outside. Whether on a sled or in a WOD with Olympic lifts, they can handle the abrasiveness of the elements better than other models. Finally, the larger increments (45 pounds and 35 pounds) of entry level bumpers have good durability. Generally there are very few issues with these increments.

Entry level bumpers do have their detractions. The dead drop, or bounce, especially in the smaller increments is significant. Too much bounce leads to unsafe conditions for your athletes. Durability is also a concern. The stainless steel insert in the smaller increments has a tendency to blow out. Just think of how many thousands of drops are occurring in your Box each week. This type of damage is understandable. Finally, the overall design doesn’t allow for heavy weights to fit on a bar.  With the overall thickness of a 45-pound bumper approaching 4 inches, there are limitations.

Mid-level: Mid-level bumpers feature a larger center hub. Most frequently this hub is two pieces, bolted together.  When compared to entry level bumpers the density, or durometer reading, of the rubber is significantly greater. Because the rubber has greater density the dead drop, or bounce, is much less than entry level bumpers. The combination of dense rubber and the larger center hub affords a more stable bumper.  Thus, a safer environment for your athletes due to less bounce and minimal lateral skipping. Generally speaking, mid-level bumpers have a more snug fit on the bar. Durability is rather good and, since the bumpers are thinner, it’s possible to achieve significant weight on your bar.

When considering mid-level bumpers they do have a downside. Their cost is usually double that of entry level bumpers. Most manufacturers do not offer the smaller increments such as 10 pounds or 15 pounds. And, even though their initial appearance is attractive, mid-level bumpers should not be used outside. They will quickly show undesirable wear.

Competition: Competition bumpers also feature a large, usually two-piece center hub and high density rubber. The major difference between competition and mid-level bumpers is the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) Certification. Mid-level bumpers might be manufactured close to IWF specifications, but they do not carry that badge. An IWF certification means very tight tolerances are held: +/- 1 millimeter and +/- 10 grams for dimensions and weight. These are beautiful bumpers that offer terrific performance. If there’s an objection for competition bumpers it’s cost. They can be nearly double the cost of mid-level bumpers.

Urethane: There’s a new kid on the block. Polyurethane bumpers are now offered by a few manufacturers. The appearance is attractive. The buzz from users and buyers seems to be positive. Let’s see where this evolution in our industry takes us.

Whether you’re buying four 10-pound bumpers or outfitting an entire Box, gathering info can only increase your likelihood of a sound purchase. Your members have different needs and goals. Does one style of bumper meet those needs?


By Jason Boogerd

VP of Sales for Intek Strength 

Contributing Author