olympic collars

Olympic Collars: The Definitive Guide

Olympic collars are clamps that are placed on the ends of an Olympic bar to secure weight plates to prevent them from sliding off.

Often collars are an afterthought for those kitting out a home gym. Instead, lifters tend to invest a lot of money in expensive bumper plates and quality steel bars. However, you should remember that a good pair of collars can add huge value by limiting damage to your bumper plates and your barbells.

For most lifters, I would recommend buying a pair of Lock-Jaw or Muscle Clamp collars.

They are both incredibly user friendly collars and can be applied and removed in just a couple of seconds. However, they are also robust enough to deal with the kind of weight that 99% of people will be lifting. In particular, Lock-Jaw collars are said to be able to withstand 200lb per collar. That means that you can feel comfortable using them with Olympic dumbbells, where force may be applied directly upon the collars (for example when performing hammer curls).

However, if you are a powerlifter or perform Olympic lifts, you may be better off with a pair of compression ring collars, many of which are approved by power lifting organisations. These are essentially the gold standard of Olympic collars and you can’t go too far wrong with brands like Ivanko and Eleiko. The only downside is that they can cost significantly more than Lock-Jaw or Muscle Clamp collars.

Overview

There are a number of different tightening mechanisms for Olympic collars. This guide looks at the following mechanisms:

  • Squeezable spring clips
  • Screw ring
  • Compression ring
  • Lock-jaw
  • Strap
  • Brand specific (Muscle Clamp / OSO)

Each of these mechanisms has its respective advantages and disadvantages. These will be explored in detail below. The most important factors to consider when buying collars are:

  • Ease of use
  • Price
  • Durability
  • Impact on your barbell and plates

Another consideration to bear in mind is whether you want to use the collars with Olympic dumbbells. Some mechanisms will be more suitable than others.

Bar Size

It is crucial to consider the diameter of the bar that you are buying collars for. The plate bearing ends of an Olympic bar are approx. 2 inches in diameter. In contrast, standard bars are 1 inch in diameter. This guide will predominantly focus on collars for Olympic bars.

Please note that many Olympic collars (especially high quality / competition approved collars) are designed to fit Olympic barbells exactly. IWF standard barbells are approx. 1.949 – 1.969 inches in diameter.

However, cheaper barbells (for example the kind you might buy from less well known or reputable brands) are often 2 inches in diameter. This means that they are slightly too big for most calibrated collars. As a result, you might find that some of the collars in this guide will not fit on cheap 2 inch diameter bars.

Spring Clips

spring clip collar

Spring clips are simple, inexpensive and commonly used in commercial gyms. This makes them a great option for beginners.

However, they are less suitable for serious lifters, as they are generally less secure than other collars. In addition, they are not particularly convenient to use and are not ideal if you plan to use them with Olympic dumbbell bars.

Mechanism

spring clip mechanism

To use spring clip collars, simply squeeze the ends and slip onto your bar. Release the ends to allow the clips to tighten and fix into place.

Pros

  • Cheap. It would not be unusual to see a pair of spring clip collars being sold for $5. Even a pair of high end Rogue spring clips are under $10 (as at October 2016).
  • Light. Spring clips are very light (approx 1lb each) meaning that they won’t have a noticeable impact on the amount of weight you are lifting. Some of the higher end collars weigh around 2.5kg each, which adds 5kg to your lifts. This isn’t a massive issue, but it may complicate your weight calculations.

Cons

  • Difficult to get a tight fit. There is usually a small gap (approx 4mm) between the clips and the plates. This means that the plates can rattle from side to side during set, which can be distracting.
  • Damage to your plates. Due to the gap between the clips and your plates mentioned above, the tilting of your plates will cause lateral strain on the inserts in your bumper plates. This is where plates tend to get damaged most.
metal insert

Metal insert inside bumper plate

  • Hard to squeeze. I would recommend buying spring clips that have rubber grips. This should make them more comfortable to use, as you may be surprised how much force you need to keep them “open” whilst sliding them across your bar. On the bright side, they do work your grip strength!
  • Lose tension over time. Spring clips can lose tension over time. If they do become loose, you should replace them immediately. It could be dangerous for your plates to slide off during a set. Spring clips usually lose their tension following regular use. As a result, make sure that you do not keep them on your bars when you are not using them.
  • Limited weight capacity. Spring clips are not particularly strong when compared with other collars. They don’t hold up  particularly well when force is applied directly to them. This means that they are not especially well suited for use with Olympic dumbbell bars (especially for movements such as the hammer curl).

spring clip test

 

Recommendation

Price:  $9.50 (as at October 2016) for a pair.

If you are going to invest in a pair of spring clips, make sure you buy from a reputable brand.

Rogue’s spring collars are a safe bet.

Whilst they lack plastic handles, you can be sure that they will grip the bar tightly.

rogue spring clips

Rogue spring collars

Screw Collars

generic compression ring collar

Screw collars are a step up from spring clips but tend to have more drawbacks than compression rings, which have a similar design.

Mechanism

Screw collars are essentially shaft collars, which are used for other industrial applications such as in gearboxes. The set screw is turned clockwise to tighten. This causes it to move downwards and press against the bar. This tension holds the ring against bar like a vice.

Pros

  • Durable. Screw ring collars tend to be made of solid metal and as such are extremely durable. Therefore, you won’t have to worry about them breaking easily.
  • Can keep tightening. Unlike certain collars, once applied to your bar, you can tightening screw ring collars to ensure that they fixed in place firmly. In contrast, lock jaw collars cannot be tightened further once applied. This means that they are unlikely to fit properly on speciality bars (i.e. those with non-standard dimensions).

Cons

  • May damage your bar.  The screw ring collars apply pressure to your bar at the point where the screw comes into contact with your bar. When tightening your collars, you may end up scratching your bar.  However, some brands, such as Bulldog and Proloc, are likely to cause less damage. This is because they are designed so as to have a long flat bar at the point of contact with your bar (instead of a the cross section of a screw). As a result, pressure is spread across a greater area resulting in less damage to your bar.
  • Tension not around whole bar. Pressure is concentrated at one particular point of your bar. The fact that the entire circumference of the bar is not under tension means that screw ring collars are not as secure as compression ring collars.
  • Threads may become worn over time. As with any threaded screw, the threads will become damaged and worn down over time. This will result in the tightening mechanism weakening . However, as it will likely take consistent use over a prolonged period to damage the screw threads, this should only be a minor consideration.

Recommendations

Bulldog

bulldog olympic collars

Price: $75 (on Amazon as at October 2016)

Specs:

  • Width: 2.5″
  • Height: 2.875 (excluding the T handle)
  • The body is constructed of solid 6063-T6 aluminum
  • The patented locking hardware is solid steel
  • 2.5 lb (for a set)

The mechanism for Bulldog collars is a little unusual. First, you slip the collars on to your bar when the steel cylinder is resting in the recess. When you turn the “T” shaped handle, the steel cylinder is pulled up out of the recess. This puts pressure on your bar and so prevents the collar from moving.

bulldog clamp mechanism

Proloc

proloc collars

Price: $39.99 (on Amazon as at October 2016)

Specs:

  • Fits Sleeve Diameters from 1.937″ to 2.007″
  • Made from high strength nylon
  • 3.5″ H  (4.5 ” including knob) x 2.75″ W x 1.75″
  • 2 year warranty

Prolocs are tough, high quality collars.  That is unsurprising since they are 100% American made.

Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Proloc collars is the fact they can be customised. You can choose between different colours and different knobs (heavy duty handles can be added for $20), and you  can even get them engraved ($5 per side).

In terms of performance, they can hold a substantial amount of weight. Here is a photo from the proloccollars.com showing that they can hold 4 plates without slipping:

prolocs

 

Compression Ring Collars

compression ring collar

Compression ring collars are a lot like screw collars but have a more advanced design, making them exceptionally good as bar clamps. They have a wide flat piece of steel that sits on the underside of the hole in the ring (see below for a photo illustrating this). Tightening the bolt causes this piece of steel to wrap itself around the outer circumference of the bar. Olympic collar maker, Ivanko, claims that this has the effect of increasing the holding power by a factor of 10 when compared with conventional bold methods.

Mechanism

compression ring mechanism

Pros

  • Tension applied around the whole circumference. As illustrated below, the compression ring design means that tension is applied around the whole circumference of your bar, rather than focusing it in one place like screw ring collars. This results in a stronger holding power. It is hard to dispute this when you see how compression ring collars fare against other designs.

compression ring

  • Will not damage your bar. Due to tension being applied evenly around your bar, it is less likely that your bar will get scratched or damaged.
  • Can keep tightening. Like screw collars, compression rings can continually be tightened until you are happy that they are gripping your bar firmly.
  • Durable. Many compression ring collars are made almost entirely of steel, so you won’t have to worry about dropping them.

Cons

  • Screw threads may be damaged over time. As explained above (see screw ring collars), the screw threads may become worn over time, weakening the tightening mechanism.

Recommendations

I have to start with Ivanko Pressure-Ring Training Collars.

Ivanko is pretty much the brand when it comes to compression ring collars. Many of its products are approved by the  International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) for use in powerlifting competitions.

COT-1.25  Compression Ring Olympic Training Collar

ivanko cot 1.25 olympic collar

Price: $60.50 (on Amazon as at November 2016)

Specs:

  • 2.5lb per pair
  • Thickness: 1-3/8″
  • Chrome-plated

The COT 1.25 is Ivanko’s entry level compression ring collar. So whilst it might not be approved for competition use, it is the most affordable and still makes use of the same compression ring technology as Ivanko’s other collars.

As the smallest compression ring offered by Ivanko, the COT 1.25 is actually more suitable than other models for use with smaller bars and Olympic dumbbells. Not only does it take up less space on your bar, but at 2.5lb per pair, you won’t have to worry about the extra weight affecting your lifts by much.

If you’re worried that the COT 1.25 won’t quite cut it, you can go for the slightly bigger COT 2.5 for about $10 more:

cot 2.5 ivanko collar

COC 2.5KG Olympic Pressure Ring Collar

coc 2.5 Ivanko collar

Price: $138 (on Amazon as at November 2016)

Specs:

  • Knurled spin-lock feature
  • 5 kg per pair
  • Fully machined on all surfaces
  • Chrome-plated

On the other end of the spectrum to the COT 1.25, is the COC 2.5, Ivanko’s biggest and most robust compression ring collar. You can do no better than this gigantic piece of metal, which is IPF approved.

The COC 2.5 is notably different from the COT 1.25 as it has a spin-lock feature. This kind of feature is not exclusive to Ivanko and other brands, such as Eleiko make sure of it too.

To use the spin lock feature, you first have to ensure that the compression ring section is secure and tightened. Then you simply turn the spin lock section of the collar and it will lengthen filing any space between the collar and your plates. This is a fantastic way of making sure that your weight plates do not rattle during a lift. In addition, it reduces lateral tension on the steel inserts of your plates, which should decrease the likelihood of  damage.

ivanko-collar

To get a good idea of the size and quality of the COC 2.5 collars, see an unboxing video of the COC 2.5 collars here:

Eleiko Olympic WL Competition Collars

eleiko-compression-ring-collars

Price: $289 (as at November 2016)

Specs:

  • IWF certified and calibrated
  • 5kg per pair
  • 50mm width
  • Innovative lock lever

Eleiko is another great brand for Olympic collars, with many of its products being International Weightlifting Federation certified. I particularly like the Olympic WL collars due to their distinctive design and ball tipped screw handles.

Lock-Jaw Collars

lock-jaw collars

Lock-jaw Olympic collars have a snap ring design. (I should probably start by explaining that “Lock-jaw” is a brand of collar; however, it is now used ubiquitously to refer to the snap ring mechanism.)

Lock-jaw collars can be put on and taken off barbells incredibly easily. As a result, they are one of the most user friendly collars you can buy. However, they are not quite as durable or strong as the chunky compression ring collars mentioned above.

As such, lock-jaw collars are not ideal for those aspiring to break power lifting records – but, they are perfect for lifters who want a secure collar that can be applied and remove almost effortlessly. They are becoming very popular among the cross fit community.

Mechanism

lock jaw collar mechanism

Pros

  • Fast on / off action.  Lock-jaw collars can be applied to your barbell in literally a couple of seconds. They are so easy to use that you can even use one hand to put them on and take them off. This is really important, as you don’t want to waste money on gym equipment that is frustrating to use. In addition, the hassle of having to deal with cumbersome equipment will play on your mind and could end up making you less motivated to work out.
  • Light. Having light collars means that you won’t have to worry too much about adjusting your plates to compensate for the added weight. Standard Olympic version Lock-jaw collars are less than 1lb for a pair!
  • Minimal impact on your bar. Lock-jaw collars will have a limited impact on your barbell as they are made of resin and apply force uniformly across the whole circumference of your bar. Therefore, it is very unlikely that your bar will sustain any real damage as a result of using lock-jaw collars.

Cons

  • Limited Tightness. Due to the snap ring design for lock-jaw collars, it is not possible to tighten them once they have been snapped shut. This means that they may not be effective clamps when applied to speciality bars or bars with slightly larger or smaller diameters than they have been designed to fit. However, whilst this is a concern in theory, I have read that users have been impressed with the range of bar diameters that lock jaw clamps cover. It has been noted that they cover a wider range than muscleclamps.
  • Durability. As lock-jaw collars are not made of metal but (usually) resin instead, they are more likely to break than solid steel collars. However, I can only see this as being an issue if you abuse them (e.g. dropping heavy weight from a height). In addition, Lock-jaw offers a 3 year unconditional warranty.

Recommendations

Standard Olympic Lock-Jaw Collar

lock-jaw standard olympic collar

Price: $32.99 (on Amazon as at November 2016)

Specs:

  • 50mm width
  • 450g per set
  • Available in black or red
  • Nylon resin frame

Lock-jaw claim that their collars  can withstand up to 200lb per collar and that they are suitable for dumbbells as well as barbells. That is very impressive given how easy to use and affordable they are. The fact that they can be used with dumbbells is a huge plus if you own a pair of Olympic dumbbell bars.

In my opinion, lock-jaws would be my choice of collar for use with Olympic dumbbells since they can easily withstand the kind of weight you would realistically load onto a dumbbell and because they make changing weights such a quick and painless process.

Lock-jaw offers a 3 year unconditional warranty. So there is no need to worry about durability.

Muscle Clamps

muscle clamps

The Muscle Clamp is a brand of Olympic collar that uses a quick release mechanism. Due to its popularity, it has been emulated by a number of other manufacturers.

Mechanism

The handle is turned 90 degrees to tighten  loosen.

muscle clamp mechanism

Pros

  • Fast on / off action. MCR estimates that the “lock / unlock” time is 2 seconds.
  • Minimal impact on your bar. Much like lock-jaw collars, Muscle clamps will generally have a very limited impact on your barbell.  A special rubber inside lining is used to prevent scratches.
  • Light. The Muscle Clamps website is a little unclear, but it looks like Muscle clamps weigh 1.25 for a set.

Cons

  • Limited Tightness. It is not possible to tighten Muscle Clamps once they have been closed. This means that they may not be effective when applied to non-standard diameter bars.
  • Durability. As Muscle Clamps are not made of metal, they may be damaged more easily than solid steel collars. However, MCR provides a 1 year warranty on muscle clamps and warrants against defects in workmanship for 1 year from the date of delivery.
  • Not intended to be dropped. Muscle Clamps advise against using their clamps for Olympic platform lifting and state that they should not be used if weights are to be dropped to the floor.

Recommendations

The Muscle Clamps

muscle clamp

Price: $32.19 (on Amazon as at November 2016)

Specs:

  • 1.25 lb
  • Made from durable nylon
  • Available in black, blue, orange and red
  • Available for standard and Olympic bars

Muscle clamps are a good choice if you want convenient collars that will do the job. They don’t seem to be as highly regarded for very heavy lifting (however, that shouldn’t be an issue for 90% of lifters).

They are very similar to lock-jaw collars and a choice between them will ultimately come down to personal preference regarding design.

OSO Collars

oso pro barbell collars

OSO Collars essentially have a snap ring design but due to their popularity are deserving of their own section in this guide. These collars are a great middle ground between the easy to use lock-jaw collars and the more robust, competition ready screw ring designs.

Mechanism

OSO collar mechanism

 

Pros

  • Minimal impact on your bar. OSO collars should not scratch or damage your bar as they have a special rubberised inside lining.
  • Do not move. Many users report that these collars are extremely sturdy and do not move at all when secured. You can see evidence of this in the “barbell drop test” video below.

Cons

  • Spring open forcefully. When opening the OSO collars, please bear in mind that the handle springs open with a large amount of force. Therefore, you should keep your fingers away from the direction of the plastic handle. Some users have reported minor injuries to their fingers.

Recommendations

OSO Pro Barbell Collars

Price: $52.90 (on Amazon as at 12 November 2016)

Specs:

  • 1lb per pair
  • Locking clamp mechanism for secure hold

OSO barbell collars are made in the USA and constructed from 6061 Billet Aircraft Grade aluminum. That should give you comfort that they are high quality and strong. However, please note that Aluminium will bend and so it is recommended that you do not throw or drop them. OSO Barbell will warranty this product from defects in material, functionality and workmanship for a period of 2 years from the date of purchase.

In general, these collars appear to perform very well and would be suitable for advanced lifters. You can see for yourself in the following “barbell drop test”:

Strap Collars

strap collars

Strap collars are pieces of material that are wrapped around bars and held in place by Velcro.

Mechanism

strap collar mechanism

Pros

  • Portable. You can take these to the gym with you and they will even fit in your pockets.
  • No damage to your bar. It is hard to see how these could damage your bar at all.
  • Will fit most bars. As strap collars are adjustable, they will be able to fit bars across a wide range of diameters.

Cons

  • Not as secure as other options. Generally, reviews of strap collars seem to suggest that they are an improvement on spring clips but less secure than other types of Olympic collars.

Recommendations

Grizzly Fitness 3″ Ultimate Bar Collar

gizzly straps

Price: $32.95 (as at November 2016)

Specs:

  • Small and large sized to fit dumbbells, standard and Olympic bars
  • Sold as a pair

Unfortunately, limited information about these straps is available.

Collars with chain attachments

Some collars are designed to allow you to attach chains for added weight. As these collars will utilise one of the mechanisms mentioned above, there is no need to go into great detail on the options available.

bp67-lifting-chains-xlg

Some collars have chains already attached and these can’t be removed. Whereas other collars allow users to attach and detach chains as they please. Some people prefer having chains already attached to save time. However, I think it is nice to have the flexibility of adding different weight chains – this is obviously a cheaper solution too.

New / Innovative Olympic Collars

I have come across a couple of innovative collar designs that have been launched through crowd funding.

Snap Clips

basic snap clip

Snap clips are a long piece of nylon fabric that “snap” around barbells providing a collar function.

snap clips

They are designed to be extremely portable and you can even wear them around your wrists when you go to the gym.

At the time of writing, 664 backers on Kickstarter have pledged $23,040 to support Snap Clips.

The Kickstarter campaign explains that the inventors have conducted experiments showing that snap clips outperform spring clips. I am inclined to believe this. However, it is not clear how they perform when compared with more robust collars, such as compression rings or lock jaw collars. I suspect that they won’t be able to support as much weight.

Overall, they could be a decent option for someone who is sick of the spring clips in their gym and wants a better alternative that they can carry around with them easily.

From reading the Kickstarter page, It looks like the entrepreneurs have had problems with manufacturers and it is not clear when they will be taking orders or delivering the final product.

Form Collar

form lifting collar

The Form Collar is essentially a lock-jaw collar with various sensors that allow you to monitor various performance metrics. Like Snap Clips, it was launched through a Kickstarter campaign.

In particular, the Form Collar is intended to help athletes using a velocity-based training program. Users can view either a single lift or an entire session. The performance metrics are stored using a cloud-based storage system.

I actually think this is a great product (though I haven’t used it myself). It will probably only appeal to those who want to compete and I can see it being popular among power lifters and Olympic lifters. Tracking progress should enable athletes to identify strength imbalances and/or fine tune specific aspects of their lifts.

It is difficult to say how effective monitoring will be in practice,  especially since the website for Form Collars doesn’t give a huge amount of information about which specific  metrics are tracked.

Price: $249 (as at November 2016)

Specs:

  • Easy USB Charging
  • Lithium-ion battery lasts 5 hours
  • 7 integrated motion sensors
  • 200 samples per second
  • Bluetooth Low Energy enabled
  • iOS/Android compatibility

Other Resources

Video Reviews

Video review of proloc collars versus lockjaw collars

OSO Barbell Collar Review

Eleiko Power Lifting Collar Review

More Information

Best Barbell Collar Thread on Bodybuilding.com (this is a goldmine of information)

How to use a weightlifting collar (Ivanko COC 2.5)

Grizzly Supreme Grip Collars Forum Review

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