When you start buying equipment for your garage or home gym, you’ll have to make a decision on what type of plates you want.
Do you want Bumper Plates or Iron Plates?
If you’re a seasoned weightlifter or powerlifter then you already know the answer to this, but if that’s you, then you’re probably not going to be reading this page anyway.
For everyone else, read on, I’m going to tell you exactly which you should get.
To figure out which plates you should buy, let’s look at bumper plates vs iron plates and do a little compare and contrast.
Let’s talk about the pros and cons of each. Each type of plate fits a particular style of lifting and once you decide what style of lifting you fall into and how much you want to budget for weight plates, the choice in plate becomes pretty obvious.
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What Are Bumper Plates?
Bumper Plates, also known as Olympic Plates, are made of rubber and are predominantly used for Olympic Lifts like Cleans, Jerks and Snatches.
If you’re not sure what those exercises are, then chances are you’re not doing them. Crossfit also falls under this umbrella as many of their workouts involve Olympic Lifts.
The reason having bumper plates for Olympic Lifting is important is because those lifts involve dropping plates to the floor after each rep. Bumper plates, especially when combined with a rubber floor, are designed to be able to be safely dropped without causing damage to the plates themselves or floor damage.
If you plan on doing a lot of Olympic lifting and want to be able to drop weights, then you definitely want to go with Bumper Plates.
If you do go with Bumper Plates, be prepared to spend a little more money. While you can pick up Iron Plates for around $1.50/pound, a good set of Bumper Plates can range anywhere from $2 to $5 a pound.
This is due to both the material used and a more complex manufacturing process. Whether you want high end bumper plates or cheaper bumper plates is an entirely different topic.
Pro Tip: A great way to save a few bucks and not sacrifice quality is to only buy 20kg and 10kg plates. Buy one set of 10kg plates and then as many pairs of 20kg plates as to what makes sense for you.
Then fill in the gaps with 10s, 5s and 2.5s. Buying 15kg and 25kg plates are more of a luxury than they are a necessity.
Also, only buy Bumper Plates smaller than 10kg (often referred to as technique plates) if you need them because 88 pounds is too heavy for some of your lifts.
Finally, I want to briefly mention Urethane bumper plates. These are very similar to rubber bumper plates, but a little denser and have minimal bounce. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of urethane plates and recommend sticking with rubber plates if you buy bumpers.
If you want to know more about the differences between bumper plates themselves (including urethane plates), follow that link to get a deep dive into each aspect of bumper plates.
What are Cast Iron Plates?
Traditional iron plates are made of, as you might guess from the name, iron. As the name would suggest they’re made by pouring molten iron into a cast mold.
Iron Plates are great for powerlifting, bodybuilding and most general fitness working out. If the type of working out you’re planning on doing involves benching, squatting, shoulder presses, etc. then iron plates may be a good fit.
Really as long you don’t plan on dropping weights on the floor, iron plates should work great for anything else you’re wanting to do.
As I stated earlier, one of the biggest pros of iron plates is their price. Iron plates are generally less than half the price of bumper plates. You also have a better chance of saving even more money picking up used iron plates than you do bumper plates.
With bumper plates you have to be particular about what brand of plate it is, how much use it’s had and what kind of condition they’re in. Once bumper plates tear up they lose their function. You can be much less picky with used iron plates.
Cast Iron vs Steel Plates – Is There a Difference?
Is there a difference between the two substances? Yes. Cast iron and steel are technically two different materials.
However, in the world of weight training, these names are used interchangeably.
So, when you hear someone referring to iron plates, cast iron plates or steel weight plates. They are referring to the same thing.
For what it’s worth, the overwhelming majority of iron plates are actually made out of cast iron, hence the origination of the phrase, “Pumping Iron”.
Rubber Coated Weight Plates
I wanted to specifically address rubber coated weight plates because they seem to cause the most confusion for people.
Some iron plates are now coated in a thin rubber coating which makes them less susceptible to rusting. These types of iron weight plates are very common now in college weight rooms and commercial gyms.
Although they may look a little nicer to some, that’s in the eye of the beholder. To me, the best part of iron plates is the old school, primitive design and feel.
Be aware though, that just because these steel plates are coated with rubber, they still have a steel core. This means they are not designed to be dropped on the floor just like any other iron plate.
Do you Need Rubber Bumper Plates to Deadlift?
This is a great question that really boils down to personal preference. I would imagine most hardcore powerlifters would scoff at the idea of deadlifting with bumper plates.
Deadlifts, especially in competition, are intended to be done with iron plates. However, for the rest of us, you can really go either way.
You can be traditional and deadlift with iron plates, but if you’re concerned about dropping heavy weights on your garage or basement floor then you can always go with bumper plates. Either way, make sure you also have a thick enough rubber floor underneath you.
Personally, I always deadlift with bumper plates. A couple of reasons why.
First, when I deadlift it’s almost always right after either Snatch or Clean within my program. So there are already bumper plates on the bar. Instead of stripping everything down and starting over with iron plates I just started adding weight to what I’ve already got.
Second, and this may lose me some meathead cred, deadlifting and then dropping iron plates is crazy loud and gets really annoying over time.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the sound of iron clanking when adding plates to a bar or hearing them rattle on a squat, but deadlifting tends to be too much of a good thing for me.
Do you Need BOTH Bumper Plates and Iron Plates?
Instead of bumper plates vs iron plates, should you get iron and bumper plates. You definitely can. Should you though?
I currently only have bumper plates in my garage gym. The majority of my lifting is Olympic Lifts or some variation of those lifts and then squats. There is no real need for me to have iron plates.
Having said that, at some point in the future I plan on picking up some iron plates if for nothing else than to squat with them.
There is something old school about squatting with iron plates. From the sound they make when you stack them on the bar to the rattle they make when you squat, I love them. But, you don’t have to have iron plates in addition to bumper plates if you don’t want them or don’t want to spend the extra money.
The only situation that having only bumper plates can bite you is if you have the oversized recycled rubber bumper plates. Because of their size, hi-temp bumper plates can limit the amount of weight you can put on the bar.
On the other hand, if you’re not planning on dropping bars and plates then you don’t have to have bumper plates. In fact, I wouldn’t even recommend it. Save yourself the money and just get iron plates.
Can You Use Bumper Plates with Iron Plates?
Let’s assume you’ve now bought both bumper plates and iron plates. Can you use them together at the same time?
I feel like I keep saying this, but yet again, it depends. For squats, bench and really any lift where you’re not dropping the plates – absolutely yes. As long as it doesn’t drive your OCD crazy (it does mine), there is nothing wrong with mixing the two types of weight plates on the bar.
However, if you are dropping plates then that is a different story. Some people think that as long as what hits the floor is the bumper plates then you can stack 25s and in some cases even 45s onto the end of the bar. This is a really bad idea.
Bumper plates are balanced and designed to spin along with the bar itself when it moves in space and when it hits the floor.
Iron plates are dead weight that does neither of these things, so when it hits the floor it can tear up the bar itself.
It honestly hurts my soul to watch loaded barbells with iron plates on them hit the floor. This is not to say you can’t put a 10 and/or a 5 on the ends, that’s okay. But, you should never put an iron 25 (or anything bigger) on an Olympic bar to do Cleans or Snatches.
Bumper Plates vs Iron: Price Comparison
When purely comparing prices between bumper plates and cast iron plates, iron plates will always be the more cost-efficient option.
I mentioned earlier that bumper plates can vary anywhere between about $2 a pound and $5 a pound. The differences in price are due to multiple factors like are they made of virgin rubber or recycled rubber or what kind of steel insert they have.
On the lower end of that price range, what you’ll be able to buy are economy bumper plates.
These plates work great for deadlifting and the occasional Olympic lift but aren’t the best if Olympic lifts are going to be a part of your daily lifting routine.
If you’re going to be doing a good amount of Olympic weightlifting, then you’ll want a little higher end plates that will be in the $3 to $4 dollar range.
Iron plates on the other hand, are much easier to price because unlike bumper plates you don’t have to worry about differences in performance. Steel plates just need to weigh the correct amount of weight. That’s pretty much it.
The only reason to pay more for a steel plate is that you like the look of one plate more than the look of another and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re buying new (almost regardless of ‘brand’), an iron plate will run you about $1.50 a pound.
Final Thoughts – So Which Should You Buy?
Whether or not you should buy bumper plates or iron plates really comes down to one thing. Are you going to be dropping the bar when you workout?
If the answer is yes, get bumper plates. Even cheaper bumper plates will at least protect floors and help absorb shock from being dropped after a lift.
If the answer is no, go with iron plates. They still look great and they’ll save you money that you can use for another piece of equipment (or maybe more plates).
If you want to have both, that doesn’t make you a crazy person either, go for it.
I hope this article helped you with your decision on whether to get bumper plates vs iron plates.