Barbell Math is way too hard

by: Laura Mattison

I think we could all agree that counting up a barbell could bring Einstein to his knees.

Scenario 1: Your loading your barbell, staring at it, counting on your fingers (and toes), counting again, adding, subtracting, questioning your higher education, looking around for an abacus, calling over a few training partners…

“How much weight is on my bar?”

Scenario 2: The WOD is over, you approach the whiteboard and the coach says, what weight did you use? Suddenly, fear strikes your heart. How MUCH weight? Um…it was the green ones, and two white ones, and wait, I think I added a few little ones…um…it was….[see scenario 1].

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Let’s talk about barbell math and my personal way of making it simpler. Think of your barbell and the weights on each side as a picture or a complete unit. No more of this adding up one side, multiplying by two and THEN adding the barbell. (It’s happened…) That’s just non-sense.

You are an educated, capable member of a CrossFit gym. Just like you learned all the acronyms and lingo, you need to be able to identify certain barbell “pictures.” It’s just “stuff you gotta know.” The trick of this method is learning to see large, identifiable “chunks” of weight, and then adding from there.

Step one is knowing what each color plate weighs. The skinny bumper (with red paint at NECF) is 10#, white is 15#, green is 25#, yellow is 35#, blue is 45#. A men’s bar (with blue tape at NECF) is 45#, a women’s bar (yellow tape) is 35#. Now that I know what I am working with, step 2 is to start creating pictures.

I look across the gym and see someone deadlifting a blue and green on each side of their bar. I know right away that it is 185, if it’s a girl, it’s probably 175. I didn’t have to ADD all that weight up. I knew just from looking. Now let’s say they added whites (15’s) on each side. Well, perhaps I don’t know that one right away, but I can start with the biggest identifiable picture that I know (185) and then add 30. It’s 215. Got it. Quick and easy.

When you are building to a heavy, a max, or to a certain weight, its helpful to exchange lighter plates in favor of heavier plates so that you can create these identifiable “pictures.” You will usually have to add and re-add if you just keep throwing 15’s and 10’s on your barbell. That can get messy and confusing. Not to mention, bigger weights just look cooler on your bar. Ladies, if you get up to 125 or more for a back squat, throw those big wheels on that bar!

Back to Scenario 2. You need to know how much weight you used in the workout…before the workout starts. It shouldn’t be an adding game after the fact. This is simply a matter of being focused and self-aware during class. I wouldn’t start a road trip without knowing where I was going; you shouldn’t start a workout without knowing how much weight is on your bar. Now that you know how to add your barbell with this method, it should be a cinch.

Make it simple, see colors and pictures and shake the fear of adding your barbell.


Need to Know Barbell Pictures (not an exhaustive list, but these are the big ones!) 

Using a 35# bar? Just subtract 10.

Bar + 25’s = 95 lb

Bar + 35’s = 115#

Bar + 45’s = 135

Bar + 45’s + 25’s = 185 lb

Bar + 2-45’s on each side = 225

Bar + 2-45’s + 2-25’s = 275

Bar + 3-45’s on each side = 315