I’ve owned the Vulcan Black Oxide Absolute Power Bar V2.0 for 1½ years at the time of writing. I’ve racked up many hours of training on it, so I have lots of insights that I’m eager to share with you.
This is the first “serious” barbell I’ve owned. The only other bar I’ve owned was a crappy one from Sears that I bought 15 years ago for my first home home gym in my parents basement.
Since then, I’ve trained with tons of barbells in many different commercial gyms. I’ve come to appreciate the importance of better quality barbells through this experience.
When it was time to buy a barbell for my new home gym, I knew it had to be a good one. I did A LOT of research before choosing the Vulcan Black Oxide Absolute Power Bar V2.0.
Did I make the right choice? Read on to find out! If you’re in a hurry, check out the summary below.
Key Specs & Features
Before I go any further, here’s a complete list of all the technical specs you could possibly want to know about this barbell. This includes more than what’s listed on the product page:
- Weight: 20 kg (44 lbs)
- Bar Type: Power bar
- Use: Powerlifting
- Shaft Diameter: 29mm
- Tensile Strength: 221k PSI
- Steel Used: Chromolybedenum alloy steel
- Shaft Finish: Black oxide
- Sleeve Finish: Matte chrome, flat fin grooved sleeves
- Sleeve Collar Finish: Polished chrome
- Outer Knurl: Aggressive
- Center Knurl: 4.7 inch wide medium aggressiveness recessed center knurl
- Rotation System: Bronze interlocking bushings
- Ring Marks: IPF (International Powerlifting Federation)
- Whip: None/Stiff
- Bar Length: 2200 mm (86.61 in)
- Loadable Sleeve Length: 415 mm (16.33 in)
- Sleeve Collar Width: 30 mm (1.18 in)
- Distance Between Sleeves (Shaft Length): 1310 mm (51.57 in)
- Manufactured: Import (likely from Taiwan, known for making many excellent import bars)
- Warranty: Limited lifetime warranty against bending or breaking
- Price: $339 with free shipping (continental US only)
Some of the specs and features listed above are self explanatory. Others warrant additional explanation, which I’ll get into later.
Who Should or Shouldn’t Consider the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar
Do You Train Like a Powerlifter?
Are you serious about powerlifting-style training? This doesn’t mean you have to compete. Just that you put an emphasis on training the big 3 lifts with heavy weight.
If this describes your training, then the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar should be high on your list of considerations.
This bar is made specifically for this type of training. It’s strong, stiff and provides excellent grip.
Plus, it meets all the specs that bars need to be used in powerlifting competitions (e.g. bar length, shaft length, shaft diameter, ring mark placement).
Do You Train Like a Bodybuilder?
But what if you consider yourself more of a bodybuilder than a powerlifter?
Well, if you’re like most bodybuilders, most of your heavy barbell work probably consists of the big 3 lifts, or variations of them. A power bar like the Vulcan Absolute is all you need for this.
Do You Train Like an Olympic Lifter or Crossfitter?
If you do primarily Olympic-style lifting or Crossfit style training, then this is NOT the best barbell for you. You would want an Olympic weightlifting barbell or a hybrid/multipurpose instead.
Vulcan has some excellent Olympic weightlifting barbells to consider. Here’s 3 great ones, each in a different price range:
If you’re more of a Crossfitter type and looking for a good multipurpose bar, Vulcan also has some excellent options you should check out:
- Vulcan Elite V4.0 Olympic Bushing Bar – $369.99
- Note: I also included this in the Olympic Barbell recommendations above. It is designed for Olympic lifting first, but many owners use is it as a multipurpose bar for WODs and the big 3. As a bonus, it has a passive center knurl for grip on squats.
- Vulcan Standard Bushing Barbell (28.5 mm) – $299.99
- Vulcan One Basic Bushing Barbell (28 mm) – $248.99
Do You Do Mostly Powerlifting/Bodybuilding Lifts with SOME Olympic Lifting?
What if you do mostly the big 3 for your barbell training, BUT you also do some Olympic style lifts from time to time?
In this case, the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar may or may not be right for you.
Here’s how you can figure out if it’s the right choice or not:
It IS Right for You IF…
…you’re able to buy a separate Olympic weightlifting bar in addition to the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar.
This is the ideal solution because you’d have the best tool for each type of exercise:
- a power bar for powerlifting and general strength lifts
- an Olympic bar for Olympic lifts
I’d recommend a modestly priced Olympic bar like the Rep Fitness Gladiator Bar (also available in stainless steel) if you go this route. This isn’t the best Olympic weightlifting barbell on the market, but it’s surprisingly good for its price.
If Olympic lifts are a smaller part of your training regimen, then this bar is a perfect complement to the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar.
Read below if you can’t buy a second bar:
It ISN’T Right for You IF…
…you’re not able or willing to buy a both the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar AND a second barbell for Olympic lifts.
In this case, you’d be best off buying a single hybrid / multipurpose barbell.
Multipurpose barbells are typically used by Crossfitters. These lifters train with some of the power lifts (squats, deadlifts) and many Olympic style lifts (clean, snatch, etc.).
Both of these multipurpose bar bars are in the same price range as the Vulcan Absolute. Note that both bars lack center knurling, which is common among multipurpose bars.
There are workarounds if you get a bar without center knurling and realize you need extra grip for squats. Many people simply wrap the center with athletic tape. Or you could buy an A7 Bar Grip shirt.
Alternatively, you could look for a multipurpose bar that has center knurling. These are rare, but they exist. One to consider is the Fringe Sport Hybrid Barbell.
Personally, I’d choose the Vulcan Elite V4.0 if I wanted a multipurpose bar with center knurling. It is more of an Olympic barbell, and an excellent one at that. But it does have center knurling. And many lifters use it successfully for their power lifts. The price is reasonable, too, which helps.
When comparing the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar’s outer knurl to other power bars, I would rate it as agressive — not quite in the very aggressive territory. I could only class it as very aggessive if I were comparing it to all barbells (including Oly & multipurpose). But that’s comparing apples to oranges.
For me and many other happy owners of this barbell, this knurling is ideal for a power bar.
You want a powerlifting barbell to have a a bit of bite to its knurl. That’s a major factor for giving you a firm, no-slip grip when lifting heavy weight.
It is absolutely essential on deadlifts and any other barbell pulling exercises (e.g. shrugs, any barbell row variation).
Really, it plays a role on any barbell exercise where you’re grasping onto the outer knurl, including squat, bench and many others.
You never want to lose grip on any exercise. But if you do, it should NEVER be because of your barbell’s (lack of) knurling. That would mean you’re using a faulty tool for an important job.
When it comes to how effective knurling is, the sharpness you feel is not the only thing that matters.
An extremely sharp knurling will no doubt improve grip compared to a dull knurling. However, there are other factors that can make knurling more grippy without making it too sharp, or painful.
One knurling attribute that improves grip without increasing sharpness is the density of the knurl points (e.g. knurl points per square inch).
The Vulcan Absolute Power Bar has a high knurl point density compared to most power bars.
With the Vulcan Absolute, I rarely use chalk on my hands for deadlifts. I usually only use it if it’s a top set and I’m really sweaty and it’s getting on my palms.
Compare this to when I go to my local commercial gym where the bars have dull to average knurling at best — Then, I’m chalking up on every single work set.
There is a tradeoff between knurl aggressiveness and the comfort. Very sharp knurling will cause some discomfort in your hands because the sharp and deep points are pushing more and more into your skin as the load increases.
If a bar is too aggressive for your preferences without providing any additional performance benefit, then there’s no need to deal with the discomfort. A less aggressive bar will suffice…
…Is the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar too aggressive?
For the vast majority of serious lifters, no. For me, no. In fact, it never actually felt painful in my hands — it just felt very “crisp.”
But for a small percentage, yes, it will be too aggressive. If you’re particularly sensitive to pain, you may want to consider a bar with somewhat milder knurling.
Note that although I consider this bar to be borderline aggressive/very aggressive when comparing against other powerlifting bars, it’s not the most aggressive barbell on the market.
It’s basically one step down in sharpness from the popular Rogue Ohio Power Bar and the Texas Power Bar — As an aside, the Texas Power Bar is more aggressive than the Ohio Power Bar in the sense of the knurling depth and how much it hurts. But the Ohio Power Bar is grippier than the Texas Power Bar.
I believe way more people would find the Texas Power Bar or Ohio Power Bar to be too aggressive compared to those who would consider the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar too aggressive.
Additionally, the center knurl of the Vulcan Absolute vs that of the Ohio / Texas bars is another big factor that will sway many people toward the Absolute. I’ll discuss this point further, below.
Any power bar you buy should have center knurling. It is essential for keeping the barbell securely on your back.
Sure, it’s possible to do squats on a bar without center knurl. However, the bar will likely slide down your traps a bit during your sets. Even if it doesn’t, you’ll waste extra energy and focus trying to stabilize it.
Vulcan absolutely nailed the center knurl on the Absolute Power Bar.
It’s a recessed knurl, meaning it’s intentionally cut shallower and softer than the outer knurling. The intensity is medium, or mildly aggressive.
It’s not dull, though. It’s a step above “passive” knurl.
It’s just aggressive enough to ensure the bar stays in place on your back — regardless of bar position, torso angle, sweat or type of shirt. Yet, it’s not so sharp that it will rip into your skin and cause any pain or bleeding. If you squat shirtless, you probably won’t even chafe.
Your upper back skin is more sensitive than the skin on your palms. Having center knurl that’s softer than the outer knurl is a welcome design choice. Your hands may be able to handle an aggressive knurl pattern, but your traps wouldn’t be as happy.
Many other power bars use the same knurling on the center as on the outside. That can be okay if it’s a mild to moderately aggressive knurl used in both sections.
However, if it’s an aggressive knurl for both the center and outer knurl — as is the case with the Ohio Power Bar and Texas Power Bar — it can be unpleasant. Best case, it will take a while to get used to. Worst case, you’ll always have to wear a thicker shirt for squats to dull the pain.
The center knurl length on the Vulcan Absolute is 120mm (4.72″). This provides enough space for a solid grip across your traps. Plus, it’s within IPF specs of 120-160mm.
The product page on Vulcan’s website lists the center knurl as only being 4” long. This is an error in their description. As you can see below, the center knurl is indeed 120mm, or 4.72″:
From my very first time squatting with the bar, I’ve never had any discomfort, skin ripping or callousing. Nor have I had any issues with the bar sliding down my traps.
I usually squat with the bar on my bare skin because I either train shirtless or wear a stringer that leaves my traps partially exposed. I mention this to underscore the fact that the center knurl provides top notch comfort and performance, even with direct skin-to-bar contact.
You’ll appreciate the center knurl even more if you ever do front squats. The skin around your collar bone, where you rest the bar, is even more sensitive than the skin on your traps.
You do NOT want be front squatting with sharp knurling digging into the front of your neck. I recently added front squats to my training. This reaffirmed how happy I am that I chose this bar.
Tensile strength is the primary metric that manufacturers use to make claims about how strong their barbells are. In reality, it’s more of an indicator of bar strength. By itself, tensile strength is not the end-all be-all of a barbell’s strength or durability.
What exactly is tensile strength for a barbell?
It’s the amount of the tension a barbell can handle before it breaks. It’s measured in pounds per square inch (PSI).
Really, the more useful metric would be yield strength. Yield strength is the amount of tension (in PSI) a barbell can take before it permanently bends. This is a much more practical metric. A bar is much more likely to permanently bend than it is to snap in real training circumstances.
Unfortunately, barbell manufacturers rarely list yield strength in their bar specs. However, higher tensile strength does correlate to higher yield strength — at least when the bar is made by a trustworthy company.
There are shady companies that use cheap steel with high tensile strength but low yield strength. This lets them juice up the tensile strength spec while selling the bar at a low price. Don’t fall for this trick.
As long as you’re buying from a trustworthy brand, it’s reasonable to consider a higher tensile to be a proxy for a higher yield strength.
Understanding this caveat on tensile strength, let’s analyze the tensile strength ratings commonly seen in today’s barbell market. Then, I’ll talk about about how the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar compares.
The majority of quality powerlifting barbells range cluster around the 190k to 205k PSI range. These are strong ratings. In fact, there are some good barbells a bit below this range.
With this range as a benchmark, the Vulcan’s 221k PSI tensile strength rating is particularly impressive. It’s well above the high end of the range for power bars currently on the market.
There are only two barbells on the market that beat the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar in terms of tensile strength:
- The Vulcan Stainless Steel Absolute Power Bar: This bar is rated at 240k PSI and costs $599 shipped. That’s $260 more than the black oxide Vulcan Absolute Power Bar.
- The Kabuki Strength New Generation Power Bar: This bar is rated at 250k PSI and costs between $600-670 (plus shipping) depending on the finish. So you have to pay $260-330+ more than the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar to be able to own the strongest power bar in the world. Of course, it has other premium features that justify the hefty price tag.
In absolute terms, the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar’s 221k rating makes it a super strong power bar. Even the most elite powerlifters in the world wouldn’t “need” a stronger bar.
In terms of bar strength per dollar, it’s THE best value you can find.
The ideal power bar as stiff as possible. This means that as you add more weight, the bar:
- stays as straight as possible — i.e. minimal “flex”
- experiences as little oscillation up and down of the ends of the bar — i.e. minimal “whip”
Whip and flex as defined above, are closely related. But they’re not the same. For example, you can have two bars loaded with 450 lbs each. They could have the same amount of flex after you unrack them. But one may have a lot more whip than the other during the squat movement. However, if one bar has more flex than another, it will usually also have more whip.
Minimizing flex and whip is essential in powerlifting because you’re frequently doing near-max lifts that involves a slow movement. Success depends on maintaining a “fragile” technique that takes you through the most efficient path from point A to point B.
Any destabilizing force, such as a whippy barbell, will interfere with this delicate process. If there’s too much whip, you’ll be less efficient at the least, or miss the lift at worst.
The stiffer the barbell, the heavier the load must be before any noticeable bending in the bar is seen.
That’s why power bar shafts have a 29 mm diameter, which is the thickest of all bars used in the main strength sports (Mens Olympic weightlifting bars are 28 mm; Crossfit bars are 28.5 mm).
As I’ll discuss in a bit, shaft diameter is one of the primary factors in determining how stiff a barbell is.
Before I continue on this topic, I should note that it is a somewhat hotly debated one:
Many people believe that a higher tensile and yield strengths cause a bar to start to flex at a higher load, as compared to an otherwise identical bar with lower tensile and yield strengths
Many others believe the only two factors that matter when it comes to the weight at which a bar will start to flex, and how far it flexes, are:
- the bar diameter
- the bar length (specifically, the distance between where the weight plates are loaded on each side)
According to this school of thought, two bars with identical dimensions but different tensile and yield strengths, will both start to flex at the same load. Furthermore, the amount they flex will be the same at any given load as you add weight.
Of course, in this hypothetical scenario, the bar with higher tensile and yield strengths would deform and break at higher loads than the weaker bar.
I’m not an expert on metallurgy or mechanical engineering, so I can’t give a definitive answer on this debate.
But I can give my opinion after listening to both arguments and relating back to my experience using different bars. I think that the physical dimensions of the bar are responsible for the vast majority of the stiffness, with tensile and yield strength playing a minor role.
Even if tensile and yield strength play NO role in when and how much a bar flexes, they likely do play a role in how stiff a bar feels. That is, bars with higher tensile and yield strengths tend to have less whip (oscillation up and down) during a movement.
For example, a bar with higher tensile and yield strength can be loaded with a lot of weight. It will flex/bend under heavier loads. But it will remain (relatively) still in this flexed/bent position throughout the range of motion — compared to a weaker, but otherwise identical bar.
This idea is articulated in the video below by Chris Duffin of Kabuki Strength, who is an expert in metallurgy and mechanical engineering:
I think it’s fair to say that a stronger bar (i.e. higher tensile and yield strengths) is superior for stiffness — Even if it’s not stiffness in terms of staying perfectly straight at heavier weights. But rather, stiffness in the sense of whip, or moving up and down less at heavier weights.
The Vulcan Absolute feels very stiff at heavier weights. I typically squat in the mid-300s to mid-400s with bumper plates (I’ll explain why I emphasize bumper plates shortly).
When squatting in this weight range, the bar remains very straight and stiff during the descent, the bottom of the rep and the ascent.
I do experience a small amount of whip at the top of the rep. This happens because I accelerate once I get past my sticking point, then stop abruptly to lockout.
Having a bit of whip at the top of the rep is expected with any power bar if you’re lifting heavy enough. It doesn’t impact your technique since you’re already standing when the whip occurs.
The important part is that this bar doesn’t whip during the rest of the squat range of motion. Additionally, it remains almost completely straight (i.e. slight static flex) even with 415 lbs of bumper plates, as shown below:
I want to stress that I’m judging the stiffness of my Vulcan Absolute Power Bar when using bumper plates.
Bumper plates are much thicker than regular cast iron plates. Accordingly, bumpers distribute the load further from the shaft. This means the bar is going to flex more than if I used the same weight with thin plates that take up less space on the sleeves.
If I had normal cast iron plates or extra-thin calibrated steel plates, the bar would be even straighter at 415 lbs than what’s shown in the photo above.
I’ve included a video below of me squatting 365 lbs so you can see the amount of flex and whip, in motion:
As this video shows, the bar looks very straight during the lowering phase, the transition into and out of the bottom of the rep, and the ascent to the top. It’s only as I lockout that the bar whips a slightly.
NOTE: Although stiff barbells are *usually* what most powerlifters want, some powerlifters prefer a bar with a lot of whip for a specific purpose. That purpose is deadlift training for powerlifters who compete in federations that allow specialty deadlift bars designed to be whippy. These deadlift bars use a skinny 27mm diameter to maximize whip while still being strong enough to hold a lot of weight. From a deadlift mechanics point of view, the whippier bar allows you to pull a few inches of the range of motion before all of the weights are off the floor. This effectively makes the first part of the lift lighter than the rest. The IPF and its affiliate organizations, which is make up the largest federation, do NOT allow deadlift bars. But if you’re in one that does, then you may want to invest in a specialty deadlift bar. You’ll still need a regular power bar for the rest of your main lifts, though.
The Vulcan Absolute Power Bar has two different finishes: one for the sleeves and one for the shaft. I’ll discuss each, below:
The sleeves have an attractive matte chrome finish.
What stands out most about the sleeves is the “flat fin grooves.” These are the distinct, long and flat machined grooves. They help prevent the plates from sliding too much on the bar if you don’t use a clip — or if you use change plates outside of the clip.
The collar of the sleeve is chrome as well. But it’s polished chrome instead of matte chrome like the rest of the sleeve. This creates a striking visual, especially when juxtaposed with the black oxide shaft on one side and the matte chrome loadable sleeve area on the other side.
“Vulcan USA” is laser-engraved on the inside of the polished chrome collar, which I love. It adds character and gives the bar an even more professional look.
Chrome — whether polished or matte — is one of the better sleeve finishes. It’s highly resistant to chipping, scratching and oxidation.
Chrome is a thick finish. When used on the shaft, this can fill in the knurl and make it feel less grippy. But that’s not a problem when used on the sleeves. It’s a positive. The thickness contributes to its protective quality.
The sleeves on my Vulcan Absolute Power Bar have held up well for me with no notable damage. They require minimal maintenance; much less so than the shaft. When I do clean them, it’s just to wipe off dirt and residue streak with a cloth.
The shaft is black oxide, which is a commonly used barbell finish.
The most obvious attribute of the black oxide finish is its dark matte black color. It gives the bar a cool, stealthy look.
Black oxide provides mild resistance to oxidation. This is fine for most environments. However, if you train in a highly humid environment, and especially if there’s lots of salt in the air, you’ll want to upgrade to a bar with strong oxidation resistance (e.g. the Stainless Steel Absolute Power Bar).
Even if you train in a normal environment (i.e. not super humid), you’ll still need to perform regular maintenance on the barbell. It’s required to prevent oxidation from slowly creeping in. I personally do a deep cleaning of my barbell once a month on average. I’ll talk more about maintenance later.
Black oxide is a very thin finish. It doesn’t fill in the gaps between the knurling points like some of the thicker finishes do (e.g. chrome, bright zinc, black zinc). You get better grip because you don’t lose any of the knurling depth.
In addition to the grip-promoting aspect of the thin layer, the black oxide also gives the bar a tackier feel. It has a “dry” texture to it, rather than a slick feel like some other finishes.
The tackier feel of the black oxide combined with the quality knurling makes it so I rarely feel the need to use chalk.
Speaking of chalk, black oxide does hold onto chalk more than most finishes. This is both a positive and a negative. It’s great when you’re using chalk, because it enhances better grip…
…The downside is that you need to spend more time cleaning the chalk out later, to prevent buildup. Chalk traps moisture. Moisture leads to oxidation if not removed.
Luckily, it’s fast and easy to remove most of the chalk from the knurling after a workout with a stiff nylon brush. If you do that in conjunction with a more thorough monthly bar maintenance routine (discussed later), you’ve got nothing to worry about. Still, don’t use chalk if you don’t actually need it — reducing conspicuous chalk consumption will save you a little extra time when brushing it out after your workout.
Since black oxide is so thin — and the fact that it’s a conversion coating rather than a plated coating — it inevitably fades over time on areas that are repeatedly contacted. For example, where you rack and unrack it on the j-hooks; or where place your hands on the bar for common exercises.
It’ll take a while before fading becomes noticeable, but it will happen faster on this finish than others.
Similarly, it’s easier to scratch off the black oxide finish if you bang the bar into the rack or other equipment. I’ve done this a few times and got some minor scratches when racking the bar a bit too hard on the j-hooks and safeties in my rack. These marks are quite minor and you only notice them if you look closely…
…But there was one time were I really messed up! I was using a light weight on shoulder presses, so I wasn’t being as careful as I’d normally be when racking it after the set. I misracked it such that one side was racked while the other was halfway racked.
It teetered on the j-hook edge before rolling off as I watched in slow-motion. It slid down the j-hook that I racked it on, grinding on knurl until I was able to stop it. Here’s the damage:
Of course, if you do what I did to any barbell — except maybe the Kabuki Power Bar — it will suffer the same fate.
The sleeve assembly is tight. There’s no vertical sleeve movement. The lateral sleeve movement is virtually non-existant — You can hear a noise if you pull outward on the sleeve, but visually you don’t see any movement, as demonstrated in the video below:
Having as little vertical and lateral sleeve movement as possible is desirable on any barbell. It is a strong indicator of high quality overall bar construction.
Less lateral and vertical sleeve movement also means better durability long term, because there’s less wear on the sleeve assembly. Plus, it’s quieter when doing explosive movements or dropping the bar.
The Vulcan Absolute Power Bar uses bronze interlocking bushings. Bronze bushings are the standard in power bars.
The quality of the rotation in both sleeves is smooth.
The amount of spin is low compared to multipurpose and Olympic bars. This is what you want during the slow, heavy power lifts. It keeps the bar, and thus your body, stable while you move heavy loads.
See the spin for yourself in the video clip below:
The Vulcan Absolute Power Bar uses a unique type of end cap. I asked Vulcan about its construction. They told me it was proprietary.
So I can’t tell you for sure how it’s built. I can just guess by looking at it…
My guess is that the edge of the end cap is threaded and screws into the end of the sleeve. My reasoning is that there appears to be Loctite residue between the end cap and the sleeve. Loctite is a specialty glue used to lock threaded hardware together.
There are two small holes on each end cap. I originally assumed tiny screws went through them. But I shined a light inside and saw no such thing. It’s possible these are used to hold the end caps with a special tool so they can be screwed-in during manufacturing.
I did some research and read that Eleiko has used a threaded end cap design with Loctite for some of their bars. This makes me think I’m not way off in my guess about the basic construction of the Absolute’s end caps. But who knows — I might be wrong, in which case the last few paragraphs were a waste of time! 😀
Although Vulcan couldn’t give me specifics on their end cap construction, they did say that their end caps are completely different, inside and out, than the snap ring end caps commonly used on other bars.
They’re not necessarily better or worse than a snap ring construction. They’re just different.
The Absolute’s end caps are designed to never be opened. In fact, you cannot open them without damaging the sleeve assembly, according to Vulcan. If you do, the sleeve will never be able to be re-tightened. Hence, why the end cap clearly states “Removal of Cap Voids Warranty.”
The good news is that you’ll never need to remove them. You may have seen videos of people taking the end caps off barbells and disassembling the sleeve to clean it and restore the spin…
…But that’s typically only necessary in commercial gyms where bars get a ton of use and exposure to lots of chalk and dirt. Even then, it’s only needed for the Olympic or multipurpose bars, where lots of spin is important. For powerlifting barbells, less spin is more desirable.
So, you’ll never need to disassemble the sleeve on the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar. But will you ever need to do anything to it? Well, it is possible that after years of use, you’ll find that the sleeves no longer spin as smoothly.
In this case, you’d only need to put a few drops of 3-in-1 oil on the inside of the sleeve, where the shaft inserts: Apply the oil to the bushings and rotate the sleeve to distribute it.
I’ve never once had to oil the bushings even after a year and half of using this bar. The sleeves still spin smooth on both sides.
The end caps are visibly different on the outside compared to snap ring end caps. The lack of the snap ring hardware around the edge gives it a different aesthetic.
I like this look better because you can see the full circumference of the end cap circle. There’s nothing blocking the view.
The graphic on the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar end cap is screen printed onto it. This makes it sharper, more professional-looking and more permanent than other barbells that use stickers.
Note: Updated End Cap Graphic
My bar’s end cap graphic design is different than the one on the product page.
Mine features “VULCAN” written in large letters inside a black box. The product page shows the Vulcan eagle logo icon overlaid with the “VULCAN” in their logo font.
I reached out to Vulcan to ask if the end cap graphic on their page is what new customers will receive. I wanted to confirm because every single photo I’ve seen from other owners of this bar has the same graphic as mine. Plus, a review on their product page from early 2019 said the bar they received didn’t have the eagle icon.
Their customer service told me the eagle icon design is indeed the new end cap graphic. This is good news, since I think it looks a bit cooler. I mean, who doesn’t like eagles, right?
If you buy this bar, I’d love if you could send me a close-up photo of the new end cap to include in this review. Leave me a comment on this page with a link to the photo, or contact me here.
The stated bar weight is 20kg (44 lbs). Many if not most barbells will be slightly off from their stated weight.
Bars that are IPF-certified for use in competition will be about perfectly at 20kg for every bar made — they’ll also cost a lot more.
That being said, my Vulcan Absolute Power Bar is pretty accurate at 19.87kg (43.81 lbs). That’s a 0.65% accuracy error, which is pretty minor:
Getting 20kg on the dot would have been nice. Practically, though, being 3 oz. off is not a big deal. I’m happy with this, especially considering the price.
Maintenance for the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar
Regular maintenance of this bar is required to prevent oxidation and keep it looking and feeling as new as possible.
The frequency you’ll need to clean your bar will depend on a few things:
- How often do you use it?
- Is your gym slightly humid or very climate-controlled?
- How often do you use chalk and how much chalk you apply when you use it?
The more often you use the bar, the more humid your training area is, and the more chalk you use — the more often you should clean it.
If you train several days a week in a humid gym and you use chalk regularly, then you should try to clean your bar once per week. That is, once a week with a full maintenance routine (more on this below).
Whenever you use chalk, it’s ideal to brush it out of the knurling after the session. It doesn’t take long to get most of the chalk out of the knurling. You don’t have do the full maintenance routine each time you do this.
If you forget to scrape the chalk off the bar after some session, don’t worry. The bar will be fine. But you shouldn’t make a habit of letting the chalk build up from session to session.
If you only use the bar 2-3 times per week in dry, climate-controlled gym and rarely use chalk, you’d only need to clean the bar every other month.
Most people will fall in the middle, myself included. I personally do a full cleaning of my bar once per month. Sometimes, I’ll do it twice a month if it’s getting heavier use. Occasionally, I’ll slip up and only do a full cleaning once in a two month period.
This doesn’t include the times I quickly brush out chalk and dead skin after deadlift sessions.
This maintenance schedule has kept my bar in great condition and prevented any rusting.
Full Bar Maintenance Routine
How do you maintain the bar?
The main thing you have to do is clean the shaft. The process is the same as on any barbell:
- Use a stiff nylon bristle brush to scrub any chalk, dirt, dead skin and other debris off the shaft, particularly in the knurling.
- Apply just enough 3-in-1 oil to coat the shaft. Don’t go overboard. Use a cloth to distribute it over the shaft. Then use the stiff nylon bristle brush to rub it in and clean out any remaining debris along the shaft.
- Use the cloth to wipe down the shaft. Try to dab, rather than rub when on the knurling. Otherwise, you can get leave behind a lot of fuz from the cloth. Get as much oil off as you can, since it will take a while to dry if you leave a thick coat on. Give it another quick wipedown before using in your next workout to make sure all the oil is off.
The sleeve finish on the barbell doesn’t need to be cleaned as often. However, when you do clean them, it’s very simple: just get a very small amount of the 3-in-1 oil on the cloth and rub down each sleeve fully to get any debris or marks off. Then use the unused part of the cloth to wipe off any remaining oil. You shouldn’t need the nylon brush unless there is dirt trapped in the corners of the grooves.
You’ll rarely if ever need to give any attention to the inside of the sleeves. However, the fix is easy if you notice the sleeves no longer spin as smoothly or reliably as they once did:
- Apply a few drops of oil to the bushings. These are located on the inside of the sleeve assembly, where the shaft meets the sleeve.
- Spin the sleeve as you apply the oil, to distribute it evenly through the bushing.
- Perform on both sleeves.
The quality of the packaging used to ship the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar is top notch.
It comes in a super thick and rigid cardboard tube with a stiff metal cap at each end. There is a healthy amount of duct tape wrapped around the ends to reinforce these caps.
Inside the tube, the bar is wrapped with several layers of packing foam around the most vulnerable parts of the bar: the end of the sleeves and the sleeve collars.
This thorough packaging job ensures the bar will NOT get banged up in transit. Mine arrived looking like it was fresh off the assembly line:
This bar comes with a limited lifetime warranty against bending or breaking. This doesn’t cover abuse. It’s also voided if you remove the end caps.
Any serious barbell from a reputable company should have a similar limited lifetime warranty.
The Vulcan Absolute Power Bar’s features and specs alone make it a high quality, smartly designed barbell that will impress any serious lifter, from beginner to advanced…
…All at a competitive price of just $339 with FREE shipping (in the continental US). In my opinion, it would still be a good deal if it cost $100+ more.
Vulcan Absolute Black Oxide Power Bar vs Vulcan Absolute Stainless Steel Power Bar
If you got this far, you can surely tell I’m very happy overall with my black oxide version of the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar.
But, I can see the appeal of upgrading to the Vulcan Stainless Steel Absolute Power Bar of the Vulcan Absolute now that I’ve taken care of the black oxide version for a year and half. For one, it would be nice to not have to worry about regular maintenance. Plus, I’d love to have a bar whose surface color will look the same after many years of heavy use (i.e. no fading or rusting).
To be clear, the Stainless Steel Absolute Power Bar is a completely different bar than the black oxide Absolute Power Bar.
It’s not just that they have different finishes. That’s what I initially assumed, since they are both “Absolute” power bars. In my opinion, they should have given one of the bars a different name, since this confuses a lot of people.
I spoke to a rep at Vulcan who clarified this for me:
“They are completely different bars, there is nothing similar other than they are the same length and same diameter. If you look at Rogue bars, they are all the same except some sight deviation in the knurl, coatings, end caps etc but the template for the bar is the same. Each of these [Absolute] power bars has its own unique template. To say they are the same is like saying a Texas Power Bar and Ivanko Power Bar are the same.”
In the following sub-sections, I’ll go over all the differences between the black oxide and stainless steel Absolute Power Bars:
The stainless steel version has a ridiculously high 240k PSI tensile strength. This is 19k higher than than the black oxide version, which itself is very high rating. You have more than enough tensile strength on either option.
The black oxide version has a black oxide shaft and matte chrome sleeves while the stainless steel version is stainless steel on both the shaft and the sleeves.
Black oxide is one of the best finishes for giving you a natural feel. However, it still can’t beat stainless steel. After all, stainless steel is a type of raw steel. You can’t beat the feel of raw steel for grip.
The black oxide bar uses bronze bushings while the stainless bar uses stainless steel bushings. There’s no practical difference in terms of performance or durability. But stainless steel bushings do make the stainless bar truly 100% stainless steel.
Both bars’ sleeves are grooved to help keep plates from sliding around if you don’t use a clip. The grooves are most effective for keeping smaller change plates in place if you put those on the bar outside of the clips.
The black oxide bar’s chrome sleeves have flat fin grooves. These are flat, deep, distinct and spread far apart.
The stainless bar’s sleeves have high-sharp ridged grooves. They are subtler, shallower and much closer together. See the comparison below:
Besides looking different, these sleeves sound different, too. The finer grooves on the stainless bar produce a distinct “zipping” noise when you add or remove plates. The black oxide bar’s flat fin grooves don’t make any particular noise.
The outer knurl depth on both bars is comparably aggressive. They do feel different, but that comes down to stainless steel vs black oxide.
But let’s talk about the center knurl. That is a major difference between these two bars.
The absolute oxide bar has a recessed knurl. It is intentionally cut to a shallower depth than its outer knurl. You could consider it medium aggressiveness.
The center knurl of the stainless steel Absolute power bar is much more aggressive than the black oxide bar’s center knurl. It is aggressive. However, it might be a tad less sharp than its outer knurl because the center knurl is cut last — after the knurling tool blade is slightly worn.
The most obvious difference between the end caps is the color and design. This is totally up to your artistic tastes.
I’ve been on a red kick lately, so I prefer that look better.
Another difference between the end caps of these two bars is that the black oxide version is screen printed, while the stainless steel version uses a sticker.
The screen printed design will fair much better over the long term. The sticker will deteriorate faster and possibly peel off after a few years.
It’s too bad Vulcan didn’t give a similar treatment to the stainless steel Absolute bar’s end caps. You’d expect they would since it’s overall a more premium barbell. This isn’t a major negative by any means, but a more permanent end cap treatment would’ve been a nice touch.
The next major difference between these two end caps is their assembly type: The stainless bar has a snap-ring assembly while the black oxide bar has a proprietary assembly (possibly threaded end caps).
From a practical standpoint, this is mainly an aesthetics difference, and a minor one at that. I like the black oxide bar’s end caps more because it looks cleaner because you can see the entire circle. Whereas, the snap ring obfuscates the perimeter of the end cap. Plus, it’s unique — I only know that some Eleiko bars have a similar-looking end cap assembly.
You can’t open the end cap on either of these barbells without voiding their warranties.
Note that if you tried to open the proprietary end cap assembly on the black oxide bar, it would be impossible to re-tighten the sleeve afterward, according to Vulcan. If you attempted to open the snap ring assembly on the stainless bar, you would be able to re-tighten the sleeve; though your warranty would still be voided.
There’s no need to disassemble the end caps on either of these bars…
…In fact, for any power bar, the most you’ll ever need to do to improve the spin is to apply some 3-in-1 oil to the bushings, where the shaft meets the sleeves — add a few drops while rotating the sleeve. And you may never need to even do that.
Vulcan Absolute Power Bar vs American Barbell Grizzly Power Bar
If you’re considering the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar, you may also be considering the American Barbell Grizzly Power Bar.
The Grizzly Power Bar is an elegantly designed barbell with a price you simply can’t ignore.
It meets or exceeds all the minimum specs you’d expect in a serious powerlifting barbell. Whether it meets your specific needs and wants, as compared to the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar, is a different question.
I’ll discuss the major differences between these two barbells below:
The Vulcan Absolute has a 221k PSI tensile strength rating vs 190k PSI for the AB Grizzly. Both are perfectly adequate strength and will make for sufficiently strong and stiff bars. But you may notice a bit more whip on the Grizzly at heavier loads.
Any difference in whip between these bars will be subtle. But if you’re already squatting in the high 300s to 400s (or more), you may be better served with the Vulcan Absolute, which should feel a bit stiffer as you progress to heavier weights.
Even if you’re nowhere near these weights, but want a bar you can grow with for as many years as possible without thinking about an upgrade, then the Vulcan Absolute is that bar.
With the Grizzly, you may eventually want an upgrade to a stiffer feeling bar once you get strong enough to notice the whip more.
Both the AB Grizzly and the Vulcan Absolute have chrome sleeves. This is one of my favorite finish options for sleeves since chrome is highly resistant corrosion and chipping.
The difference between these two bars in terms of finish is their shafts. The AB Grizzly has a chrome shaft while the Vulcan Absolute has a black oxide shaft.
The Grizzly’s chrome shaft finish is best if you train in a humid environment and need superior protection against oxidation. Maintenance is still required with chrome, but is not needed as frequently as with black oxide, assuming the same conditions. Chrome does slightly detract from grip quality and the overall “feel” though it’s not a major negative by any means.
The Vulcan Absolute’s black oxide finish is better if humidity isn’t a major issue for you. It only provides a mild level of oxidation resistance, so regular maintenance is required even in dry environments. It will give you better grip quality than chrome; in fact, the only thing better would be a raw steel bar.
When considering the Vulcan Absolute’s combination of a black oxide finish with it’s more aggressive knurling, it’s unbeatable in the grip department compared to the Grizzly.
The bushings in the Grizzly are composite, whereas the ones in the Absolute are bronze.
Composite bushings are great. They’re super durable and self lubricating.
However, I give a slight edge to bronze bushings for a power bar. They spin less than composite bushings when under load. You want minimal sleeve spin during the heavy power lifts. Less spin means greater bar stability during your slow heavy movements.
That being said, the composite bushings will make the Grizzly quieter than the Absolute when dropped.
Knurl Pattern / Intensity
There is notably less deep/sharp knurling on the AB Grizzly than on the Vulcan Absolute. That said, the Grizzly’s knurling is much grippier than you’d think by just looking at it.
This is due in large part to the AB Grizzly — like all AB bars — having a super high density of knurling points per square inch.
The Vulcan will give you more raw gripping power, but it will also feel sharper. You won’t feel that sharpness with the Grizzly.
The Grizzly will give any lifter enough grip for mid to higher reps on deadlift. However, for low reps with high loads (e.g. heavy triples, doubles & singles), some people will find it lacking and want something with more bite. Whereas, others will find it adequate. It varies from person to person.
The Grizzly has smooth sleeves while the Absolute has deeply grooved sleeves.
The purpose of grooves is to keep the plates from sliding around on the sleeve if you don’t secure them with a clip; plus they can better secure change plates if you use those. The only downside is that the plates can catch a bit when pulling them off, but that’s easy to avoid.
Personally, I’m a big fan of grooved sleeves, especially the extra wide/deep flat fin grooves on the Absolute bar. I appreciate their function and am also a fan of how they look. In the end, this is a very minor detail and comes down to preference.
I think the Vulcan Absolute is the better choice for the majority of lifters. My reasoning is that:
- It will feel stiffer at heavier weights
- It has a slightly more “natural” feeling finish with the black oxide
- Most importantly — I believe more people will prefer the more aggressive outer knurl for heavy deadlifts, especially if this is going to be their only (or their main) power bar.
That said, there’s a few situations where I see the Grizzly as a better choice:
- For beginner powerlifters who still want a serious bar at as low of a cost as possible.
- For lifters who want a second power bar for lighter / higher rep work. The idea here would be to complement a stiffer and more aggressive bar used for the heavier movements.
- For lifters who know they prefer a finer, less aggressive knurling. However, if this describes you and you’re already a somewhat advanced lifter, then you might want to consider the American Barbell Mammoth, which is stiffer and has the same knurling.
Vulcan Absolute Power Bar vs Ohio Power Bar
The Rogue Ohio Power Bar (OPB) is no doubt a classic power bar.
For a while, it was the only real option you had as a serious strength-focused lifter (with the exception of maybe the Buddy Caps Texas Power Bar).
But now that the OPB has more competition — including the Vulcan Absolute in this case — is it still the best?
Well, it’s still competitive, that’s for sure. About a year ago, I had the opportunity to test drive one at a gym I trained at a few times with a guest pass. While I can say it’s no doubt a quality barbell, I don’t personally think it’s better than the Vulcan Absolute…
…But, it could be a better bar…for you.
I’ll help you figure out which barbell is best by reviewing the key differences between the Vulcan Absolute vs the Rouge Ohio Power Bar:
221k PSI for the Vulcan Absolute vs 205k PSI for the Rogue OPB. Both bars are plenty strong for any lifter, but having that extra 16k PSI is nice if you can have it.
The Vulcan is available as a 20kg bar. The Rogue OPB has a 45 lb version and a 20kg version. Generally, 20kg is preferred, simply because that’s what’s used in competition, plus the vast majority of power bars made today are that weight.
The Vulcan Absolute comes with a black oxide shaft and matte chrome sleeves. The Rogue OPB has three different versions available:
- Bare steel shaft and sleeves (for the 45 lb version only)
- Black zinc shaft with bright zinc sleeves (for the 45 lb and 20kg versions)
- Stainless steel shaft with chrome sleeves (for the 45 lb and 20kg versions)
The Absolute’s black oxide shaft is great for preserving the natural feel while providing a mild amount of oxidation resistance on the shaft. Though it will eventually fade somewhat over time. Its chrome sleeves will hold up very well against oxidation and against scratching and chipping.
The bare steel option for the 45 lb OPB will feel excellent on your hands, but should be avoided if you’re in training in a very humid gym; even in a less humid gym, you’ll need to maintain it more than any other type of bar to prevent excessive rusting.
Note that the bare steel OPB will rust even in the best conditions, forming a “patina” which many people like the look of.
The black zinc/bright zinc OPB option is okay, but the feel of the black zinc will feel slicker than most other finishes. Also, it will fade over time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just fade to a lighter shade of black (like black oxide does); rather, it will turn a slightly green shade, which doesn’t look great.
The stainless steel option would be the best option of the three, but it also will cost you a premium compared to the other two finishes (I’ll list prices below). It’s unfortunate that the sleeves aren’t also stainless, but chrome sleeves are one of the next best options.
Knurl Pattern / Intensity
The outer knurling of the OPB and the Absolute are comparable in terms of aggressiveness. The OPB falls more definitively in the very aggressive category, while the Absolute is on the border of aggressive / very aggressive.
As I remember it, the OPB felt coarser on my hands, and sharper but not necessarily grippier.
Whereas, the Vulcan Absolute certainly has a bite to it, but it feels better in the hands and grippier than the OPB.
The difference in the better feel and comfort of the Absolute comes down to main factors as I see it:
- The Vulcan’s knurling is a similar depth as the OPB’s, yet it is notably denser (more knurl points per square inch).
- The OPB uses a “volcano” style knurl points with very deep and wide “craters” that create more sharp areas of contact than if it smaller craters were used or if non-volcano type of knurl points were used.
The center knurl is the most profound difference between these two bars.
The Absolute has a medium intensity recessed knurl (i.e. it’s noticeably less aggressive than the outer knurling, but definitely a step above a “passive” knurling).
The OPB, on the other hand, uses the exact same “very aggressive” knurling in the center as it uses on the outside. For me, this a major negative for the OPB.
As someone who squats high bar, while shirtless or wearing a thin tank top, I don’t want to tear up my traps whenever I squat. I just want enough grip to keep the bar from slipping on my back.
If you do a very low bar squat and wear a thicker shirt you train, then you may be fine with the OPB’s intense center knurl.
But if you high bar squat, front bar squat, squat shirtless, overhead press or power clean, you’ll definitely have a better time with the Vulcan.
Both the Vulcan Absolute and the Rogue OPB have grooved sleeves that serve to keep the weights from moving around the sleeves too much.
The grooves on the Vulcan Absolute are much deeper and thicker than the shallow, subtle ones on the OPB. As such, the Absolute bar will be more effective in keeping plates in place. And it will give the sleeves a very different look, even from afar. I think it looks cool.
The grooves on the OPB will also make the “zipping” sound when stripping plates off. The Absolute’s grooves make no such sound effect.
The 45 lb version of the OPB has 16.25″ loadable sleeve length. The Absolute is a bit longer at 16.33″.
However, the 20kg version of the OPB has an advantage over the both the 20kg OPB and the Absolute, with 16.875” of loadable sleeve length. This is thanks to thinner sleeve collars on the 20kg version. The benefit is that you have a little extra room to add more plates.
Chances are you won’t ever need that much room. But if you’re using only large bumper plates, the extra bit of space can make a difference.
The Vulcan Absolute Power Bar comes in at $339 shipped.
The Rogue OPB price depends on the finish option and whether you get the 20kg version (with more loadable sleeve length) or the 45 lb version:
For the 45 lb version, the prices are:
- $265 + $15 shipping for the bare steel bar
- $285 + $15 shipping for the black zinc/bright zinc bar
- $395 + $15 shipping for the stainless steel/chrome bar.
The 20kg version costs slightly more:
- $325 + $15 shipping for the black zinc/bright zinc bar
- $425 + $15 shipping for the stainless steel/chrome bar.
Conclusion: Is the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar Right for You?
I believe the Vulcan Absolute Power Bar is the best barbell you can buy in the low to mid price range.
It is more than just a beginner powerlifting barbell. Anyone from beginner to elite lifters will be well-served by this quality piece of equipment.
The knurling is the best selling point for this bar:
- The outer knurling is most definitely agressive; but not shred-your-hands level of aggressive. Most lifters will find it tolerable with more than enough grip.
- The center knurl prioritizes comfort with a milder knurl to preserve your sensitive upper back skin on squats. Yet, it gives you just enough knurl depth to keep the bar solidly on your back.
The other major benefits are:
- Way above average strength: 221k PSI tensile strength
- Precise construction: Knurling evenly applied on shaft; zero visible lateral sleeve movement; slow and smooth spinning sleeves on both sides
- Value: One of, if not the, best bang for your buck barbells on the market.
The only reasons I see for dismissing this powerlifting barbell from your consideration would be:
- If you need or want a different finish: For example, if you want a stainless steel bar for better oxidation resistance and/or less required maintenance)
- Aesthetics: For example, if you prefer the look of another bar more.
- Price: The price of $339 shipped is very competitive for what you get. However, if you have a strict budget, of say $300, then you’ll need to choose a lower priced option.
Ultimately, the decision comes down to your needs, personal preferences and budget.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this Vulcan Absolute Power Bar review. You should have all the information you need to decide whether or not to buy this bar.
Please don’t hesitate to ask me any questions in the comments section below.