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From the Stronglifts 5x5 Report (Page 44):

By the way, if your gym doesn't have round plates […], switch gym. You can't Deadlift/Row correctly with octagonal plates.

What makes round plates superior? Is there even any truth to this claim or is it just a personal preference of the author? Are there advantages of using octagonal plates?

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Weight wise no difference, from the quick look I took on the web, the main difference was being able to position the bar easier with round, and a difference in the height emphasizing the lift differently, with the round being superior. –  JohnP Sep 11 '13 at 18:55
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I suspected something about positioning, too, but his recommendation to switch gyms still sounds like a very drastic measurement. –  Baarn Sep 11 '13 at 21:03
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3 Answers 3

Octagonal plates interfere with proper strength training

Octagonal plates have no reason to exist, and are actively counterproductive to working out properly.

Octagonal or otherwise non-round plates make many fundamental barbell exercises from the floor--including cleans, snatches, and most importantly deadlifts--awkward. Upon putting plates down, the bar will often roll away from you (possibly upsetting your back position, and certainly your foot position) or painfully into your shins. This produces a deadlift set peppered with minor frustrations. One must constantly re-set one's stance, interrupting each rep. It's not just annoying. The movement of the bar and disruption to one's stance is a safety issue.

If you do not currently deadlift, imagine needing to turn exactly 3 degrees after every push-up or crunch that you do. It's a tiny thing that is disproportionately disruptive to one's workout. If you do any pulling from the floor, non-round plates are a significant problem.

Find a gym with round plates

If one is training the deadlift regularly (which most strength trainees should), this is enough of an annoyance to justify switching to a gym that has proper equipment. Moreover, I am not aware of any advantages to non-round plates. They should be avoided in favor of round plates.

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It's easy to make the argument that a plate has only one requirement: to weigh a certain amount. However, round plates enable a range of exercises that are impractical with any weight that has straight edges.

  • Any floor exercise: i.e. rows, deadlifts, cleans
  • Any exercise that requires rolling: i.e. barbell ab rollouts

The difference is significant enough to be concerned about

I started lifting in a gym with octagonal plates. While the weights were pretty light, the annoyances were minimal. However, when I was deadlifting in excess of 350 lbs when the plates spun (and they did every pull) the bar would jerk as it settled on the ground. That is a recipe for injury. Not to mention the fact that you had to interrupt your set to chase the bar that was spinning underneath you, sometimes smacking your shins and sometimes wrenching your obliques.

When I switched gyms to one that had both round plates and a proper lifting platform, the difference was very noticeable. I wasn't wasting energy chasing the bar anymore. I was able to add weight consistently again without fear of injuring myself. If I set the bar down a little too far in front, all I had to do was pull the bar in closer again and I was set up for the next pull.

Gyms employ octagonal plates on purpose

Gyms that are not designed for serious lifting, and instead cater to the cardio crowd use the octagonal plates to discourage deadlifts and other floor exercises. They also usually have rules about not allowing chalk for the same purpose. For some reason the sound of the plates hitting the ground either intimidate or annoy gym goers that don't want to lift.

Finding a gym that has round plates at the very least will be more open to proper training. If you are very fortunate, then the gym will provide chalk for your use, and have a number of strongman implements for real conditioning work.

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I totally did not think of gyms using these hellish plates intentionally. That is sinister. –  Dave Liepmann Sep 16 '13 at 13:39
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Nil to Negligible

Octagonal plates will be harder to position on the floor due to the plate edges. Its not uncommon for plates to rotate on a bar, so that as you return the plate to the ground it may shift slightly, and rotate the bar in a plane parellel to the floor.

This means you need to reposition your feet, but this is only a problem for floor exercises, such as deadlifts, cleans or snatches. Squats, overhead press and bench press are unlikely to be effected at all.

Presuming a difference in mass, the center of gravity and physics between the two plates is unlikely to be disernable.

Regarding height, again, there may be a slight difference in the radius of the octagon, depending on if the radius of a circular olympic plate is used for the distance to a corner, or the centre of the edge, or some point in between. But again, this difference is likely to be no more than an inch in height compared to a normal circular plate (that are also subject to differences between manufacturers). This again, only impacts floor exercises.

The only real difference is the inconvenience of having to lift and move the weight if it shifts during the lift, when returning a weight to the floor. But you can always just move your feet.

edit: Just to clarify, I'd recommend round plates over any other shape if all other factors are equal. However, if you have a choice between a gym that is convenient and cheap with octagonal plates, and a gym that is inconvenient or expensive that uses round plates, I wouldn't consider the shape of plates as a major factor in where you lift. Apart from a small difference in a few exercises it is a very minor issue. Don't leave your gym over the shape of the plates - maybe ask nicely for some round bumpers.

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