Weightlifting is a great way to keep healthy. I have recently began Stronglifts 5x5 to get back into the iron game after a few years off.
Fractional plates allow an athlete to increase weights by very small amounts, which is called micro-loading. Most Olympic weight sets go down to 2.5#, and I have seen 1.25# standard weight plates with some frequency. Using Olympic dumbbells, 2.5# x 4 ends up being 10#, which is a pretty big jump. Lifters working near their maximum may need to have much smaller increases, which is where fractional weight plates come into play.
However, a set of fractional plates can be quite expensive. A full set of Rogue fractional weights is $65 + $13 shipping, and a single Olympic 1.25# pair is $7.50 + $13 shipping. Occasionally 1.25# CAP plates can be had very inexpensively, when they are in stock. However, I have only found them in standard size, not olympic.
DIY fractional weights can be easy and cheap (even free); let's explore these options and one that might even be a better solution!
Fractional Weight Plate Options
- Commercially Made Weight Plates
- Baseball Bat Weights
- Spring Collars
- "Micro Gainz" Clip On
- Chain clipped to barbell
- Large Washers
- Rolls of Duct Tape
Baseball Bat Weight
Baseball bat weights come in different sizes and usually will be color coded to make matching easier. I was able to easily find weights from 8 oz up to 28 oz very easily online, for about $5 to $10 each. Remember, you will need to purchase 2 or 4 of these, and possibly pay for shipping, which can add up. These are going to be a little chunkier than your standard weights, and likely a little bit larger than your Olympic bar. These should cost between chains and washers overall, if the shipping isn't too high.
- Color Coded
- Accurate weight
- Look Nice
- Generally, a little larger than 2" inner diameter
- Will not fit standard size weight bar well
- Chunkier than a typical plate
Weight Bar Clip Collar
Adding extra clip collars to the end is an easy and useful way to increase the weight. It is important to choose a matching pair of clip collars to keep weight variation to a minimum. My olympic clip collars weigh about 7 ounces each.
- Cheap (You likely have extra on hand)
- Useful if you have extra bars.
- Extra time to load and unload bar
Fractional Plates for Non-Adjustable Dumbbells "Micro Gainz"
I recently became aware of a different product called "micro gainz" fractional plates. These are intriguing, I certainly wish I had invented these weights. They are able to be used on both standard and Olympic-size barbells and dumbbells, even if they aren't adjustable! They are like a hinged weight plate that clip onto the bar, with each half being retained by a rubber band, putting pressure on the bar. They are somewhat hard to explain in text, so take a look.
These could be easily made with some basic metal fabrication skills.
- Useable with Olympic AND standard sizes
- Useable on dumbbells and barbells
- Usable on non-adjustable weights
- Portable - take to your gym
- Come in 0.5#, 1#, and 1.25#
- Durability of rubber band unknown
Magnetic Weight Plates
Magnets and magnetic weight plates can be used as fractional weight plates. Magnets can be had in many shapes and sizes. Depending on the size and weight, they can be added by just adding them to the weight plates you already using. However, Platemate makes hex and circular magnetic fractional plates that look good on whatever you are using.
- Usable on any uncoated iron or steel
- Comes in donut or hex shapes
- Fits around 1" standard barbell
- May not work with coated plates (olympic bumper plates?)
- Should not be used on kettlebells
- Does not fit on 2" barbell, but will stick to plate separately
Chains are a great option because there is a lot you can do with them. The flexibility of chains allows you to increase the load statically or dynamically. To statically increase the load, simply wrap your entire length of chain around the end of your barbell so that it does not come in contact with the floor, then clip the ends with a carabiner.
The real strength of chains is that they can increase load dynamically increase weight. Think about when you are lifting your maximum weight for a PR. Most people are weakest when they are "in the hole" IE the bottom of a squat, or when the bar is touching you during a chest press. As the bar is lowered, the weight of the load decreases when the chain is on the ground. This makes getting "out of the hole" easier.
To dynamically increase your load, wrap the very end of the chain around your barbell and then clip it right around the barbell so that the majority of the chain hangs down towards the floor.
Since I plan to use my chains for squatting and bench pressing, I purchased two 4 foot lengths of chain at Home Depot called "#2 passing link chain" that was plated with zinc. Each one was just slightly over 20 oz each, which is right at 1.25 lbs. Carabiners set me back $1 each. Total cost is $10 for a very useful piece of equipment. If you plan to use your chains for lifting from floor (deadlifting, rows), you can make on big loop and hang it on either end of your barbell.
- Chains are cheap; mine were under $1 per foot
- Chains are easily sourced - just about any hardware store.
- Can be used with standard or Olympic-style weights.
- Static or Dynamic Weight Increases
- Not good for dumbbells
- Some people think they are unsightly
- Clinking noise when being used, which other lifters may find annoying.
- People look at you strangely at Home Depot while you weigh your chains.
- Each movement may require a different chain length/weight to work properly.
- May damage your floor
Large Washers are a good choice if you are only concerned about static weight increases. I found these on Amazon; each individual washer is about 10 oz each, allowing you to do increase weights by 1.25# for barbells and 2.5# for dumbbells. Shipping was free/prime shipping. However, check your local hardware stores; sometimes, you can find large washers for much less.
Amazon's options cost about half as much as an official Rogue fractional weight set.
- Cheaper than Rogue
- Pack of 5, so enough for barbells or dumbbells
- Cleaner look than chains
- Paint and letter/number them for a cleaner look.
- More expensive than chains
- Static weight only - just like regular plates
- Can only be used for specific system (Olympic or standard)
- Check for burrs, in case edges are sharp
Two Rolls of Duct Tape
A full roll of duct tape should weigh a little more than 24 ounces, or about 1.5 lbs. Utilizing a scale, unwrap small amounts of duct tape to equal half of the amount you wish to increase the weight by. For example, if you want to be able to add 1 lb, unwrap a roll of tape such that it weighs 8 ounces. Then do the same to another roll.
- Doesn't fit perfectly
- May Stick
- Doesn't look good
- Not durable
Picking Your Microloading Solution
For me, the choice was simple. I only am really using Olympic barbells now, and exercise on my own back porch. I don't much care about the noise - deadlifts are louder, and I do plenty of those. I don't much care how they look, and I like the flexibility of being able to choose static or dynamic weights. My back porch is concrete and already has damage on it from my frequent deadlifting, plus the three kids running around. Chains were my answers.
Consider the washers or bat weights if you want a more polished look (especially if you paint the washers). A hardcore gym may already have fractional weights or chains, but a local "fitness" gym might not. You will raise far fewer eyebrows if you pick one of the better-looking options.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.