Let’s get one thing straight right off the top. If you plan on doing any Olympic lifts or deadlifts where you’re going to be dropping the bar then bumper plates are an absolute must.
The question is, are cheap bumper plates worth buying and working out with?
My question back would be, ‘how cheap are we talking’?
Cheap, low quality bumper plates can tear up rather quickly, causing you to have to buy plates again, essentially doubling your total cost. The key is knowing how cheap you can go in price and still get a quality bumper plate.
In this article I’m going to tell you specifically why cheap bumper plates may be a bad idea altogether. I’m also going to give you some tips on how to spot quality cheap bumper plates vs potential future door stoppers.
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Why Cheap Bumpers May Be a Bad Idea
Cheap Bumper Plates Can Cost Double
The issue with buying cheap bumper plates is that if you buy too cheap and end up with low quality bumper plates, they can tear up quickly.
Specifically, the number one culprit for a plate tearing up to the point of it being unusable is the center insert.
The center insert (often a steel insert in quality bumper plates) is what creates the hole at the center of the plate that slides onto the barbell. It’s also connected to the actual rubber that makes up the majority of the plate.
On cheap bumper plates, this center ring can become loose and even come completely apart from the rubber of the plate. Once this happens your plate has become a very expensive door stopper.
Without the center ring trying to put a bumper plate on the bar is somewhere in between reckless and dangerous.
If you find yourself in this position, now you’re going to be buying bumper plates a second time making the whole process at least twice as expensive as it could have been. High quality bumper plates can last a really, really long time. Buy nice or buy it twice.
Cheap Bumper Plates Don’t Perform As Well
High quality bumper plates are manufactured to be balanced and able to rotate smoothly. A contributor to this is they have a steel insert in the center of the plate with a wide diameter. This is one of tell-tale signs of a higher quality plate.
A cheap bumper plate will not rotate and spin as well or as precisely, making Olympic lifts a bit more challenging. It’s one of those things that’s hard to explain until you’ve actually felt the difference.
Once you feel the difference a quality bumper plate makes for your lifts, it’s really hard to go back to using cheap plates again.
So, with dozens of different bumper plates out there, how are you supposed to know where the line is between budget-friendly and junk?
Here are a few things to look for:
How To Find Quality Cheap Bumper Plates
The first place I would recommend starting is by looking at brands with strong reputations for making quality equipment. Companies like Titan, Rogue, Rep Fitness and Bells of Steel have all been making quality equipment for a long time.
Those are by no means the only companies making quality gym equipment aimed at the home gym owner. There are plenty of others.
However, there are also companies popping up all the time that are simply slapping a logo on the cheapest equipment being manufactured overseas and selling them on popular online marketplaces. These ‘companies’ I would avoid like the plague.
So, how can you spot a reputable company?
Check their return policy. Is there a return policy clearly stated and what are the details of it?
Do their products carry any kind of a warranty and what does the warranty cover?
Finally, when in doubt, find a group like r/homegym on Reddit where you can ask the community. If you asked about a specific company there, you’d get an answer back pretty quickly on whether they are reputable and trustworthy or not.
The first thing to look at when comparing bumper plates are the materials used to construct the plates. All bumper plates are made of either virgin rubber, recycled rubber or urethane.
Virgin rubber is the optimal material for bumper plates (although to be fair some people prefer urethane which I’ll discuss in a second). This is rubber that has not been used for any previous purpose except to be put on a barbell and lifted for reps.
While being made of virgin rubber alone doesn’t guarantee a plate is really high quality, it’s a good start.
Recycled rubber is the other type of rubber used in making bumper plates. Some recycled rubber is manufactured in a way where the plate has a similar appearance to virgin rubber while others are what is referred to as crumb rubber bumper plates.
Recycled rubber is what you’ll typically find in very low cost plates.
Urethane is a man-made material that basically mimics rubber. It’s denser and harder than rubber, which is one of the reasons urethane bumpers have such a low bounce.
For the most part, there are pretty minimal differences between virgin rubber bumper plates and urethane plates so for the purposes of this article I’ll leave it at that.
Personally, I would avoid most crumb rubber bumper plates because while they are going to be the cheapest bumper plates, the quality lower than I would want in a home gym.
The center insert on a bumper is so critical to overall quality and performance of a bumper plate than most people realize.
We talked about the center insert a little bit earlier, but I want to expand on it a little more because I think it’s that important of a feature of a bumper plate that separates cheap bumpers from higher quality bumpers.
The differences in bumper plate center inserts include both the size of the center insert and the material from which it’s made.
I talked about how high quality bumper plates will have a large diameter center insert and economy bumpers tend to have a very thin center insert and how it affects performance and durability.
Another thing to be aware of is center inserts can also differ in material as well. Almost all quality bumper plates, even cheap quality plates, will have some form of a steel insert with stainless steel being a popular material.
Low quality bumper plates will sometimes use a lower quality material like brass for example. I would avoid any plate that doesn’t use steel as its center insert.
Cheap Bumper Plate Recommendations
So, what would I recommend if I were looking for a cheap bumper plate?
It depends. If what I needed bumper plates for was deadlifts and the occasional Olympic lift, then I would go with the Sorinex Recon Lites.
They’re recycled rubber and have a thin center insert, but they’re quality made. These plates are as cheap as you’re going to get in my opinion and still end up with a quality plate that will be durable.
If you want to do a little more Olympic lifting (like Crossfit for example) then I would recommend something that is going to have a little better performance. In this case, something like Titan’s Elite Black Bumper Plates would be a great choice.
They’re low cost, but will give much better performance for your lifts and getting black bumper plates vs color plates helps lower your cost as well.
I feel really comfortable recommending both of those plates because I have both in my garage gym and have been using both of them for over a year now and I really like both.
I use the Sorinex plates for deadlifts, squats and other compound movements and I use the Titan plates mixed right in with my Uesaka bumper plates for my Olympic lifts.
Final Thoughts on Cheap Bumpers
The key to buying and using cheap bumper plates is knowing how cheap you can go and still get a quality plate that is going to be durable and that you’re going to enjoy lifting with. Otherwise, they end up being a complete waste of money, cheap or not.
Hopefully, this article has helped you know how to find your own pair of cheap (but quality!) bumper plates. And, if after reading this you’ve decided you don’t want to settle for cheap bumpers at all anymore, then take a look at my picks for the best bumper plates for a garage gym.
They are a few more low budget options on there as well and it ranges all the way up to the most elite bumper plates you can get.