I’d been training with low reps—fives, threes, and an occasional double—in preparation for a maximum single in each of the three powerlifts. Every eight months or so I do the three lifts in a meet-style format.
I warm up for the squat, then make three single attempts. I then do the same for the bench press and the deadlift. My girlfriend calls the lifts, and a video recorder records my form and overall performance, for my analysis later on. It’s fun, and the preparation training is a refreshing change from the higher reps I usually do the rest of the year.
Since I’m attempting to replicate meet-style conditions as much as possible, I decided that calibrated weight plates were a must. I wanted to know exactly what I was lifting. I looked at calibrated plates from various manufacturers, but true calibrated weight plates are very expensive.
My place of employment happened to have a scale in the shipping department that’s calibrated twice a year by the Department of Weights and Measures. I started to bring my weight plates to work to see what they weighed. I was shocked to find out how much variation there was from plate to plate. I found 45s that weighed 43, for example.
Not much? Well, it is if the plate you match it with weighs 47! That’s a four-pound difference from only two weight plates. Add two more flawed 45s and you could be off balance eight pounds on one side.
Generally, though, the plates tended to be heavier rather than lighter. That was a pleasant surprise because I discovered I was actually squatting 9 pounds more and deadlifting 11 pounds more than I thought I was.
And it doesn’t matter how much you pay for your weight plates, because some of my expensive top-name plates varied as much as the far-less-expensive no-name brands. I’ve over 1,000 pounds of Olympic plates in my garage gym, and I weighed them all.
Lifting an unbalanced bar can easily cause an injury. Often, if the bar feels unbalanced, we naturally shift our grip, or our position on the bar, to compensate. If you set up for a heavy lift without checking balance, however, and one side is significantly heavier, injury can result. This is especially true on heavy lower-rep sets, but is also a factor at the end of a high-rep set when fatigue sets in.
Another big reason to know what your plates weigh is if—HARDGAINER style—you want to add only a small amount of iron to the bar. If you put the wrong plates on the bar, your planned 1 or 2-1/2 pound increase could be anywhere from many pounds light, to many pounds heavy.
Of course, there’s more room for error when you have many plates on the bar.
Prior to weighing my plates, I was usually, but unknowingly, lifting a different weight each week even when I thought I had the same poundage on the bar for those weeks.
Now that I know how much they weigh, I keep certain plate combinations together so that the load is always balanced. Any plate combinations that don’t balance are dealt with by adding small plates to the light side. I know exactly what I’m lifting, and my poundage increments are precise. This makes lifting safer and more satisfying.
With a little creativity it should be no problem finding an accurate scale to weigh your plates on. Try the post office, or a company that ships products—they should have a calibrated scale that’s accurate to the tenth of a pound.
If nothing else can be found, a common bathroom scale will do. It will at least give you an idea of how close, or balanced, your plates are relative to one another.
My inexpensive bathroom scale was very close to the correct weight (within one pound), and will definitely indicate if one plate is a pound or more heavier than another of (supposedly) the same weight.
This is an area where home-gym trainees have a decided advantage over commercial gym dwellers.
If you train in a commercial gym, be cautious, and check balance before lifting heavy. And try to use the same plate combinations workout to workout, so that your weight increases are consistent, although I realize that in most gyms this is difficult at the least, and impossible at the worst.
So, if a weight feels especially heavy one day, maybe it really is!
This article, contributed by a reader to the Forum section of HARDGAINER magazine, is an example of the valuable contributions that readers made to the magazine. There’s a Forum in each issue of HARDGAINER. This particular contribution is from an issue of HARDGAINER in Volume 1 of BODYBUILDING GOLD MINE—the start of the digitization of HARDGAINER magazine. For further information, please click here.