Barbells may look like the simplest piece of gym equipment, but they're not. The most common ones, olympic barbells, are metal bars that weigh 45 pounds and are able to be loaded with even more weight to make them heavier. Most people that practice weightlifting train using barbells, but as the weight increases, more pressure is added onto the upper back, neck, and hips. This can make a workout less enjoyable, and more painful. An uncomfortable workout experience can discourage you from adding more weight to your lifts, thus halting your progress.
Luckily, there's a piece of equipment that can help make barbell workouts more comfortable in order to allow you to lift heavier with little to no pain. We're talking about barbell pads. They come in a variety of styles, sizes, and materials, and are typically manufactured with a high-density foam that cushions between the body and weight bar - check out our barbell pads out as an example! Ours has an internal foam pad with a cover on the outside, but some don't have the cover. Anyways, no matter what they look like, they all do the same thing: Add cushioning to provide relief to the back, neck, shoulders, and hips while training.
We're not just saying this because we sell them, but they really come in handy when performing heavy weight barbell exercises! So if you're a lifter and don't have one of these, keep on reading to learn more about why barbell pads should be in your gym bag and/or home gym...
Four reasons to use barbell pads
This piece of fitness equipment is called various names: Squat pads, shoulder pad, shoulder protective pad, and more. All of the different names of it just describe what they're used for - provide protection for certain muscle groups and the exercises commonly used with them. They are used for barbell exercises like squats, lunges, and hip thrusts. They're never used on barbell exercises that don't make direct contact with your body, it's also rarely used on lightweight barbell exercises.
So, why would one even need this protective foam barbell pad? Well, we have four reasons...
Barbell pads are designed with a protective thick foam in order to ease the pressure from the weight of the bar. It essentially prevents your body from having direct contact with the bar thus helping reduce the pressure and make your workout a more comfortable experience. Having a heavy barbell apply pressure on your body can cause prolonged
Aches in the neck, shoulders, upper back, and hips. And if you've ever lifted olympic size bars, you'll know how heavy they are and how heavy they can get when more weight is added. The heaviness of the weight can make it uncomfortable to the point that you won't be able to increase the weight, which is an important way to practice progressive overload – there go your muscle-building plans! Aside from making your workout comfortable, having a barbell pad can help you make progress in your training.
When you're lifting, especially heavier weights, you'll notice that you need some type of support. It could be from lifting straps, wrist wraps, gloves, etc. They are used as an added support in order for you to lift heavier while minimizing the risk of an accident like the weight slipping off while in use. We're giving you this example because barbell pads are also used this way! They help to support the bar and prevent it from slipping and causing damage to lifters like you. It helps give adequate support so you are able to achieve more reps easily and more efficiently.
It's not uncommon to find a few bruises on the skin after heavy lifting, especially after hip thrusting with no barbell pad! The bar causes a lot of pressure on the hip bones which can cause bruising on the skin and make it more difficult for you to hip thrust on your next lower body day. Even when doing back squats, you might feel a bruise or two around the neck.
So if you tend to bruise easily, definitely invest in a good barbell pad made with high-quality foam because they have shock-absorbing properties.
Reduce the risk of injury
Barbell bars can get pretty slippery during a sweating lifting session, one wrong move, and the bar can slip, fall, and cause severe damage. The added comfort and support from the barbell pad prevent this from happening and reduces your risk of injury. Not only that, but if you're recovering from a shoulder, neck, or back injury and want to get back under the bar then a barbell pad can help ease you back into training! This doesn't mean you should train with an injury and use the pad as a crutch. It just means to wait until you're fully recovered to start training, and use the barbell pad as added support and comfort so you don't cause any more damage to the injured muscle and can begin building your lifts back up as they were before.
What is the best barbell pad?
Not all barbell pads are created equal. Amazon might have some good, budget-friendly options, but they might not be made with good quality foam or durable. So before you go off to buy your own fitness barbell pad, here are a few things to look for.
Full coverage: There are various different styles of barbell pads, the most common are the ones with no cover so it's just an exposed foam pad. The other is with a cover (typically polyester or vegan leather) around the foam. Typically the ones with some type of material wrapped around the foam are more durable, comfortable, and can be easily washed. Bar pads with the foam exposed can get damaged pretty quickly. Especially if you're constantly using it with heavy weights. Also, they are slightly harder to clean. They can be wiped down, but the foam can soak up the sweat and moisture making it difficult to clean. Having a wrap around the foam is much easier to clean and it prevents the foam from soaking up any moisture.
Strong velcro: There are some barbell pads that have no way to secure the pad to the bar. There's simply an insert on the pad so it easily pops on and off the bar. This is convenient, but not the safest or best option. Look for one that has straps to secure on the bar, preferably a strong velcro to ensure it doesn't move around.
Material and thickness: This is probably the biggest thing to look for. You want a pad that is going to act as a cushion between a barbell with 100+ pounds on it, and your neck, shoulders, and hips. Look for one with extra thick foam, made from rubber and/or foam material, and make sure it's long enough that it will cover the entirety of your neck and shoulders. Some tend to be short, but you want to make sure it's a good length so that it gives you the neck and shoulder support you need.
Ergonomic design: This one is a matter of preference, everyone is different. There are so many barbell pads that are ergonomically designed for maximum comfort, but what one person finds comfortable, others might hate. Earlier we suggested thicker padding for better support, but some may find it more comfortable when it's on the thinner side. There are also squat pads that are designed with a curved cut out around the neck area to make them more comfortable, but these aren't the best for hip thrusts and some may not find it comfortable at all. The bottom line is, find an ergonomic barbell pad that fits your needs!
If you are serious about your training and want to make progress on heavy lifts then you will definitely benefit from using a barbell pad. The added support and comfort will allow you to focus more on your form and add more weight without worrying about pain.