Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Bumper Plates: The Inside Skinny

by Phil Meggers, SSC | July 07, 2021

set of bumper plates on a platform

Whether you’re an Olympic lifter, you’re watching Olympic lifting, or you’re traveling and need to train at a gym that happens to have kilogram plates, it’s useful to know a thing or two about bumper plates that are set in kilograms.

They are color-coded

The majority of kilogram bumpers throughout the world are color-coded by weight.

Red: 25 kg
Blue: 20 kg
Yellow: 15 kg
Green: 10 kg
White: 5 kg (this is actually a cast iron plate and not a bumper plate)

chris at the rack position of a clean loaded with bumper plates

Due to this universal system, you can easily identify the weight on the bar, even at a distance. If you see a lifter with 1 red bumper and 1 yellow bumper on each side of the bar, you know that he’s about to lift 100 kg (i.e., 20 kg barbell + 25 kg + 25 kg + 15 kg + 15 kg = 100 kg). When bumper plates are not color-coded, it can be a bit tricky to identify what’s on the bar from a distance since all bumper plates have the same diameter, 45 cm. But with color-coded bumper plates and a bit of experience, the process of discerning what’s on the bar becomes very quick.

The change plates are color-coded as well

The cast-iron “change” plates consist of all the smaller, non-bumper plates that go with a full set of bumpers – they are used to make up loadings in 1kg increments. They are also color-coded by weight.

Red: 2.5 kg
Blue: 2 kg
Yellow: 1.5 kg
Green: 1 kg
White: 0.5 kg

If you look back at the bumper plates listed previously, you’ll note that change plates are color-coded to match their larger bumper siblings. For example, a red bumper plate weighs 25 kg while a red change plate weighs 2.5 kg. In other words, a change plate always weighs 10% as much as its identically-colored bumper sibling – simply move the decimal point over one place, and you’ve got the correct weight. This reduces the amount of colors needed for a full set of plates, reduces the amount of memorization needed to do bar math, and again, makes it easier to identify the weight on the bar from a distance.

(It’s worth noting that there are two sizes of white change plates. The larger weighs 5 kg, and the smaller weighs 0.5 kg, so the larger white plate “behaves” like a bumper plate in this relationship, and thus, we listed it with the bumper plates above.)

Competition collars weigh 2.5 kg each

If you’re watching Olympic lifting and testing out your mental bar math skills, don’t forget about the collars. They weigh 2.5 kg each and thus add a total of 5 kg to the weight on the bar. When competition collars are on the bar, do not make the mistake of starting with the 20 kg bar, then adding the bumper plate weight, and then adding the 5 kg in total collar weight at the end. Instead, simply treat the bar as if it weighs 25 kg (i.e., the weight of the bar plus the collars), and then add the bumper plate weight. In the case of women’s Olympic lifting, treat the bar as if it weighs 20 kg (i.e., the 15 kg women’s bar plus 5 kg in collar weight).

Now you know all there is to know about kilogram bumper plates, so you can go out and impress your friends. If that actually works for you, you might want to get some new friends while you’re at it.

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