Most people who love working out aspire to have a small home gym of their own — especially these days when more people are staying home than ever before.
You may start looking into the different equipment that you might need in more detail with that in mind.
Every lifter needs some plates for their barbell. But you may not have known that this is not a simple choice to make.
Will you go with bumper plates or steel plates?
We’ll give you a detailed rundown of both right here so that you can make an informed decision!
The most traditional choice when it comes to barbell weights are the steel plates – they’ve been present in gyms all around the world for as long as anyone can remember, and they’ve definitely got their use.
However, we do need to mention that pure steel plates are not used as often as you might think. Instead, people tend to opt for cast iron or the bumper plates that we’ll take a look at in a bit more detail down the line.
Features of Steel Plates
By now, you’re probably wondering – what’s the main difference between steel plates and bumper plates? And is this choice truly so important when it comes to building a home gym?
Well – yes and no.
While both kinds of plates are perfectly usable, they have distinct features.
For instance – steel plates are calibrated much more precisely than bumper plates. This is important if you want to become a serious powerlifter and enter competitions, though, obviously, it’s not something the average person thinks about while working out at home.
Benefits of Steel Plates
These days, most of the steel plates manufactured for home gyms are incredibly reliable and convenient.
First of all, steel plates often have openings on them, which allow you to grip them and handle them far more easily. This means that unloading and loading the weights on your barbell is relatively easy.
Plus, all of these plates are distinctively labeled because the label is part of their cast. As a result, the weight labeling is guaranteed never to fade away or become blurry.
Drawbacks of Steel Plates
As you might imagine, bumper plates’ very existence means that steel plates or cast iron plates aren’t exactly perfect.
And that’s definitely the case — because as satisfying as it is to use steel plates while working out, there are situations in which they’re not acceptable.
For instance — some exercises do not allow you to put down your barbell gently. And in that case, steel plates are bound to make a whole lot of noise, not to mention the fact that they may damage your flooring.
Both of these things are not acceptable outcomes in a household environment. All of that noise is not suitable for an apartment building, where other tenants may find it infuriating.
And even if you live in a house, you don’t want to tiptoe around your family members or roommates. Plus — regardless of where you live, steel plates can cause serious damage to your floor, even with thick carpeting.
Once you start looking into the different plates you can purchase for your home gym — you may not even know what bumper plates are.
And yet, they’re one of your best choices for any home environment — but what are they in the first place?
Bumper plates represent weight plates that are manufactured from high-density rubber. And they are a worthy alternative to steel plates for all kinds of reasons.
Check out our guide to the Best Bumper Plates to find the best ones for you.
Features of Bumper Plates
So, what makes bumper plates such a great choice? Well, apart from the fact that they aren’t made of steel and thus don’t cause damage to your interior when dropped, they’ve also got some other quality-of-life improvements.
For example, the fact that they’re manufactured from hardened rubber means that you’ve got a much wider range of aesthetic choices than with steel — the latter is pretty uniform. All steel plates tend to look pretty much the same.
Conversely, bumper plates are often color-coded. This means you can quickly tell the individual plates apart without reading the sometimes hard-to-see weight labeling on them.
When the entire plate is of a specific color — you’ll know exactly how much it weighs!
Benefits of Bumper Plates
As you can see, bumper plates can be easier to use because of their color-coding.
But apart from that, other practicalities make them a worthy addition to your home gym. We have mentioned this already — but the rubber materials that bumper plates are made from providing a much better weight experience for home gyms.
For starters, when you drop them — they’re basically inaudible, contrary to the extremely loud steel plates. That means that you can use them for CrossFit and Olympic-style workouts that may otherwise prove to be too loud for your household.
Also, these workouts usually entail dropping the weights in a significantly forceful way — and doing that with the rubber bumper plates means you won’t damage the floor!
Drawbacks of Bumper Plates
One of the main drawbacks of bumper plates is that they’re sometimes not as functional for weightlifting professionals.
They tend to be calibrated less precisely than their steel counterparts. Also, their weight labels can fade out over time — though that’s not much of a problem if they’re color-coded, as most of them are.
How to Decide What’s Best for you
What is Your Budget?
Of course, there are numerous factors that you need to keep in mind while making your choice between steel and bumper plates.
And one of them is definitely the price of both. Seeing as bumper plates are in higher demand these days — you will find that their price is definitely on the rise compared to steel models.
How Much Storage Space Do you Have?
In your search for excellent home gym equipment — it’s always important to consider how much space each piece of workout accessories takes up.
And when you start thinking about storage space for steel and bumper plates — you will find that they pretty much take up the same amount of space.
That’s why the right question isn’t which one of these needs more room — it’s whether you’ve got enough free space for any kind of weight plates to begin with.
What is Your Gym Flooring?
Not all people approach the process of creating their own home gym with the same enthusiasm and seriousness. And that’s another way to tell if you’re going to need steel or bumper plates.
In other words — have you put down special noise-dampening flooring in your home gym? And is that enough to prevent damage to the floor or noise to your neighbors?
If you’re confident that the flooring can take the noise and the blows — feel free to use steel plates.
Is Noise a Concern?
As we’ve mentioned above — the space that you’re working with for your home gym will largely determine if you’ll be using steel or bumper plates.
To be more precise — do you live in your house alone, or are there other people there?
And also — is it an actual house, or do you live in a spacious apartment in a building with other neighbors? You will probably want to go with bumper plates in the latter case — the steel ones might disturb neighbors with noise.
What are your Preferred Lifts/Workouts?
While both steel and rubber plates can be used for all kinds of barbell workouts — you should take care to choose your preferred kind of plate based on your most common workouts.
For example, people who do a lot of powerlifting at significant weight levels, with exercises such as the deadlift — they can often find themselves needing rubber bumper plates.
They don’t have to worry about quickly dropping them after a set or when they can no longer handle the weight without injuring themselves.
Barbell Plates FAQs
Can You Mix Bumper and Steel Plates?
There isn’t much of a reason to do this in the first place. But if you want to avoid buying an entire set of bumper plates and you’ve already got some steel ones, there are ways of mixing them up on a single barbell.
You just want to make sure that the steel ones have the same weight but a smaller diameter. That way, the rubber plates will hit the floor first and give you satisfactory noise cancellation and floor protection.
As you can see, while bumper pads are becoming more and more common — there are a few reasons to go with the old-fashioned steel pads as well. That said, we believe that you’ve got all of the knowledge needed to make an informed choice right here!