Fractional Plate Buying Guide

What are Fractional Plates?

Fractional plates are low denomination plates that aid in building strength and a better physique. In this Fractional Plate Buying Guide we will go through the different types. Plus how they are used.

The title applies to any plates under 5kg, and typically come in 0.25kg, 0.5kg, 0.75kg, 1kg, 1.25kg and 2.5kg. Traditionally, they were added to the barbell to make very precise increases in weight.

Fractional plates have been around for a long time. They were previously used by world-class powerlifters and Olympic weightlifters chasing medals and records in competition – you only need to beat a previous lift by 1kg to get a record.

They are also referred to as micro plates or change plates.

ATX-STFP-0100 Steel Fractional Plates

What is microloading?

Micro loading is adding very small amounts of weight to increase the amount you lift over time. The law of diminishing returns applies to strength. With proper training and nutrition, a novice will experience a steep strength curve when they start training.

However, after training for a while, an experienced lifter will tell you how much hard work has to go into achieving minor strength gains.

Eventually, every human will hit a wall, otherwise we’d be able to lift a car above our head. No matter how hard you train, it’s inevitable that your strength progression will slow down.

That point is the perfect time to start micro loading. Breaking your personal best by 0.5kg is still a win. If you can get three or four of these over the year they will start to add up. Training consistently like this and accumulating small gains might just get you over that wall.

Ironmaster Quick Lock Dumbbell Micro Plates

Who should buy fractional plates?

Fractional plates were once a hidden secret by elite powerlifters and Olympic lifters, nowadays they are used from everyone from professional athletes to mum’s that just want to hit that new squat PB!

I’ve been training for quite a few years now, so progress is getting slow to say the least. But by incorporating micro loading I’ve noticed significant strength results, it’s also helped me to get closer to my 1 rep max goals.

A big part of bettering a 1 rep max is the psychological aspect; you can often fail a lift even before you lift the bar. In your head you know the lift is going to be significantly heavier than anything you have ever handled before. This doubt will trigger your body’s self-defence mechanisms that prevent you from getting injured.

Making a smaller jump is much easier to swallow for a doubting mind.

Fractional Plates for Rehab & Beginners

Microplates are also excellent for use when returning from an injury. If you practice textbook form and make small, consistent weight increases, you are less likely to re-injure yourself.

Novice lifters, whilst they are on a steep strength curve, can also benefit from fractional plates. Instead of trying to jump 5kgs on a lift over a month, why not break it down for a more gradual progression.

People incorrectly think that weightlifting is just heaving a bar up and down. Nothing could be further from the truth. There a lot of subtle nuances that are involved in all lifts. By progressing gradually, a novice lifter can focus on nailing their form.

ATX-FRP-SET Olympic Fractional Plates displayed on a barbell

Types of Fractional Plates Guide

Calibrated Plates

Calibrated fractional plates are manufactured with minimal weight variances. They will generally state what their variance is. For example, the ATX® Mini Fractional Steel Plates have a variance of only +/- 0.5%.

The ATX® Calibrated Fractional Steel Plates have plugs where you can add in tiny ball bearings to achieve perfect calibration. Just make sure your scales are calibrated though!

Calibrated Micro Plates are designed for competitive powerlifters and Olympic Weightlifters who are training to win titles and break records. They are IPF approved and can now be used in IPF competitions.

ATX-CPP Calibrated Olympic Fractional Plates

Non-Calibrated Plates

Non calibrated fractional plates have not been calibrated. They have been manufactured to be as close as possible to their stated weight, but the process is not as thorough and therefore not as costly as the calibration process.

Using the Power Maxx Olympic 5kg Fractional Plate Set as an example, you are getting a set of plates including 0.25kg, 0.5kg, 0.75kg & 1kg plates at an unbeatable price.

Powermaxx Fractional Plate Set

Are Calibrated Plates For Me?

The answer to this is easy. Unless all your gear is calibrated, it is not necessary to spend the extra for calibrated microplates. When I mean gear, I am talking about barbell, weight plates and Olympic collars.

If you have 150kg loaded on the bar, even a minor variance adds up over all the plates and barbell. If you think that having 0.5kg plates that are between 0.49 and 0.51kg is going to make all the difference in winning an Olympic Gold, then you are going to be sadly disappointed.

Here is my theory on non-calibrated change plates. Once again using the Power Maxx Olympic 5kg Fractional Plate Set as an example, if the 1kg plate is heavier than the 0.75kg, the 0.75kg is heavier than the 0.5kg plate and so on, if you keep progressing through the weight increments you are getting stronger.

Even if the 1kg plate is actually 0.9kg, and the 0.75kg plate is actually 0.6kg – by increasing the weight you have still gotten stronger. It might not exactly be the number that is calculated, but it is heavier, nonetheless. That is all that counts.

If you want to get into competitive powerlifting or Olympic lifting invest in some calibrated fractional plates. But you only need to get a calibration level that is similar to your other plates.

Why get +/-0.5% fractional plates when the rest of your plates are +/-1%. A 1% variance on a 25kg plate is far more material than a 0.5% variance on a 1kg plate.

ATX Chrome Micro Plates

Barbell Fractional Plates

Fractional plates were originally used exclusively on barbells, particularly on the main lifts of the respective sports of powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting. However, as the micro loading secret spread, people would use them on all sorts of barbell lifts and differing training styles like bodybuilding.

For the intermediate or advanced lifter looking to build strength, a set of basic non-calibrated plates is almost mandatory – especially given how affordable they are. Even if your current lowest denomination is 2.5kg, that’s a hefty 5kg jump when you whack a pair of 2.5kg plates on the barbell.

Even on big lifts (deadlift and squats), that is a fair jump, but for upper body exercises like bench press, it is even tougher.

Powermaxx Premium 2.5kg Olympic plate

Most microplates were made for Olympic barbells (bars with 50mm diameter sleeves), as this was the standard for powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting.

In Australia, there are a lot of lifters that are still rocking standard barbells (27mm sleeves) and plates. We have 0.5kg, 1.25kg & 2.5kg plates for these lifters. There are no calibrated options for the standard lifters though.

If you want to compete then it might be time to upgrade to Olympic weight plates and barbells.

A standard 1.25kg plate compared to an Olympic 1.25kg weight plate

Dumbbell Fractional Plates Buying Guide

Fractional Plates for Ironmaster Quicklock Dumbbells

In a gym, a typical dumbbell set will go up in 2.5kg increments if you’re lucky. Or 5kg increments if you’re not. On a two 2 arm lift using 2.5kg increment dumbbells, the total jump is 5kg. As discussed above this is a bridge too far for a lot of lifters.

Previously you had to cheat or rely on a spotter to bridge the gap. Cheating can lead to injury. And finding a good spotter in a gym is sometimes hard – in fact sometimes it works out less painful to injure yourself.

The first time I dabbled with dumbbell micro loading was with the 1.1kg plates for the Ironmaster Quick Lock Dumbbells. You could load one of these plates on one side of the dumbbell.

Yes, the dumbbell was out of balance, but only slightly, and if you gripped the heavier side with your thumb closest to the heavier end you could balance the dumbbell out.

This was so successful that Ironmaster has released microplates for the Quick-Lock Dumbbells. You can now drill down into 0.57kgs jumps.

But what about if you don’t have Ironmaster Dumbbells?

Ironmaster Quick Lock Dumbbell micro plates

Fractional Plates for Other Dumbbells

ATX have released the Flex Add On Plates. These plates can be bent so that you can slide them over the handle of a fixed dumbbell. They bend back staying in place on the handle. A truly brilliant option if you are stuck on a particular lift.

If you train in a home gym, you have effectively more than doubled your range of dumbbells at very little expense (especially considering how expensive a set of dumbbells can be). If you train in a gym, you can put these in your gym bag and whip them out on the critical set.

ATX-FRP Flex Add On Plates

Cable Machine Fractional Plate Buying Guide

Micro Loading on a cable machine might seem like overkill for some purists. I mean who cares what you pull on a lat pulldown?!

But speaking from experience, micro loading for cable exercises works.

Most gym machine manufacturers make their cable machines with weight stacks that go up in 5kg increments. If you are shooting for 6-8 reps, when you are repping out your maximum weight, going up in 5kg can sometimes make you sacrifice form.

Adding the ATX® 1.25kg Add On Weight or one of the ATX® Magnetic Plates to the stack makes the progression a lot more manageable.

ATX-AD-W-125 Add On Weight for cable machine weight stacks

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still busting a gut. But I don’t find myself swinging around trying to tame a weight that’s just a little bit too heavy.

If they do the trick for compound exercises like lat pulldowns and seated rows, for isolation exercises they are almost compulsory. Once again, we are not going for gold in the Bro Curl Olympics, we are just looking to lift heavier with correct form.

In the past, there were DIY solutions to this problem. Jamming a weight plate in with your weight stack pin or balancing weight on top of the stack. Don’t get me wrong they do work, but people fork out the extra money for a weight stack for convenience. Considering the price of the fractional solutions, they add a whole lot of convenience for minimal cost.

ATX Magnetic Weight Plates stuck to a weight stack.

Kettlebell Fractional Plate Buying Guide

Fractional Plates for the Ironmaster Kettlebell

If there were ever a candidate for a microplate solution, then kettlebells are a standout. In the olden days, they used to go up in 4kg increments – for two-handed movements you are making an 8kg jump.

Thankfully there are 2kg increments in the lighter kettlebell weight ranges now. But once you go over 20kg, it’s 4kg jumps all the way.

Yes, I understand that kettlebell work is often in the higher rep ranges. You can easily reduce your reps to get to next kettlebell weight.

But there is an easier way – not easier from an effort perspective, but easier in that you don’t have to significantly modify your workout.

Once again, I realised, I underestimated the benefit of micro loading with kettlebell training after training with the Ironmaster Adjustable Kettlebell Handle.

After I complete a kettlebell workout with a little extra in the tank, adding one of their 1.1kg plates made me gas without getting too sloppy at the end of the workout. Jumping in higher increments would have encouraged me to get loose with my form or give up – neither of which are appealing.

Ironmaster Adjustable Kettlebell System

Fractional Plates for Other Kettlebells

If you didn’t have the Ironmaster system you were thrown in the deep end, until now. Just like with dumbbells you can use the ATX Flex Plates.

The rubber coating is soft enough that if you are contacting with it during your movements it won’t hurt like contacting with raw iron or steel.

Just like dumbbells too, it increases the available range of kettlebells you can use, without taking up extra space on your kettlebell rack.

Fractional Plates – The Final Word

The effectiveness and efficiency in running strength programs can not be disputed. If you haven’t tried one, I encourage you to do so. Many of these programs require making small increments over time. Fractional plates are essential for most of these.

If you are focusing just on the basic lifts, then pairs of the cheap Olympic 0.5kg, 1.25kg & 2.5kg plates will be all you need. The potential benefit versus the financial outlay is a no brainer from my experience.

For competitive lifters or those of you who like some bling in the gym, some higher-end fractional plates will be more suitable. Although more expensive, you will have them forever and get some great use out of them.

Lastly, if you are a bit of an all-rounder – you like variety in your workouts by using a variety of gym equipment – then you might need a variety of fractional plates.

Fractional Plate Buying Guide Table

Fractional Plate Buying Guide Table with all the different options and their specifications