Every serious lifter should carry fractional plates in his gym bag.
They help you gain more strength through progressive overloading – the most important principle behind building a better physique.
But, because of their modest and borderline gimmicky appearance, guys often wonder:
"What Are Fractional Plates Used For?"
By doing so, you can avoid plateaus every intermediate and advanced lifter runs into.
You get stronger for longer.
Beginners won't need fractional plates thanks to their fast rate of adaptation.
Someone who can squat 115 pounds for 8 reps can add 5-10 pounds to the bar next week and repeat it for a looong time before the gain train stops.
But the honeymoon phase of newbie gains will end one day.
When that day arrives, I can think of four specific cases where fractional plates come in handy:
1. Olympic lifts
The first time I pulled a pair of one-pound fractional plates out of my gym bag during a power clean session, one of my pro hockey players sniggered:
"What are those for?!"
Thinking I must have been joking, I had to explain to him how micro plates help you get stronger in the Olympic lifts.
With the three powerlifts (squat, bench press, deadlift), speed of movement isn't that important.
If the bar moves slowly, you just grind the weight up. A max effort squat could take four seconds to complete.
In a clean or snatch, the bar has to travel a greater distance and speed of execution matters a ton.
If you lose a fraction of a second because of a minor technical mistake or because the weight feels too heavy, you'll miss the lift.
It's not uncommon to see Olympic lifters nail a near-maximal weight with textbook form and ridiculous explosiveness...
Only to watch them fail to get under the bar with an extra five pounds on it.
Fractional plates allow you to make gradual weight increases... even more gradual.
2. Busting through a stubborn plateau
You can breach 99% of lifting plateaus with two simple solutions:
1. Improve technique
2. Increase muscle size
But sometimes, the real culprit behind laggard progress isn't poor form or small muscles...
It's between your ears...
A confidence issue.
Especially when you're stuck at a weight you've taken several runs at before, but haven't been able to crack yet.
It could be a two-plate bench press or three-plate squat...
Whatever the load on the bar, it becomes this big, bad boogeyman that's always there... taunting you... so close, but still so far.
Deep down you know you won't make the lift...
Your mind falters before you get under the bar...
And then your body follows suit.
You've lost the fight long before entering the battlefield.
Instead of taking your time to build a bigger and stronger you with submaximal weights and staying away from failure, you try to batter through it like a SWAT breaching ram.
It never works. You go stale.
Fractional plates let you work with submaximal loads for longer.
Rather than forcing your body (and failing) to adapt in 2-3 weeks, you take your time accelerating over a longer runway...
Gathering enough steam to overcome that stubborn plateau a couple of months later.
3. Daily maxing into a micro PR
An advanced method, daily maxing means working up to a heavy single in the ~90% region of your true 1RM before taking some weight off the bar for your work sets.
That heavy but submaximal single "tricks" your nervous system, so your first work set feels easier – resulting in 1-2 more reps than usual.
Taken one step further, based on how that daily max moves, lifters who are in tune with their body can gauge how recovered they feel... and whether they have a legit shot at a new personal best today.
On days where the bar moves with aggression, daily maxing can translate into what I call "micro PRs".
Want an example?
Let's say your deadlift 1RM is 200 kilograms (440 pounds).
Your daily max at 180 kg (400 pounds) flies up, so you go for 190 kg... which also moves up with good speed.
Next, 200 kg. It's slow... but you still have something left in the tank.
Having tied your previous 1RM, you're confident you'll smoke 201 kg (442 pounds)... and set a PR.
I must stress one thing here...
You don't want to go for 202.5 or 205 kg and turn it into a true grinder that takes four seconds to lock out, risking injury or hampering your performance on the subsequent work sets.
You're just picking up an "easy" PR along the way. Once it's in the bag, move on.
When your body again feels primed for a micro PR based on how the daily max at 90% moves (could be next week or six weeks later), you'll attempt 202.5 kg for another personal best.
Don't chase a new PR in every workout.
Most days, you'll hit your daily max only to find out the "pop" isn't there... so you strip some weight off the bar and go straight to your work sets.
But when you catch a session where you feel STRONG?
Crank it up!
That's why I said this is an advanced technique for guys with a decade-plus under the bar and the analytical ability to make smart training decisions to go along with that experience.
You should feel 100% confident moving forward after the 90% single.
None of that "It's a 50/50, but I want to give it a shot" amateur stuff...
You'll find nothing but missed lifts and stale progress on that path.
4. Women And Children
I've trained a ton of 15-17-year-old hockey players, many of whom already resembled grown men.
Going up by 2.5 kg / 5 pounds in each squat, bench press, or deadlift session never posed an issue.
Here's one of my 16-year-olds trap bar deadlifting an easy 210 kg / 462 pounds.
Things are different with prepubescent athletes. So, as a coach, you must adjust expectations.
While a pre-teen's rate of strength gains matches that of newbie adults, the magnitude of adaptation falls well below what you'd expect from a grown-up.
A typical five-pound increase would take a 13-year-old squatting 65 pounds for 10 reps today to 70 pounds in his next session.
That's an 8% increase. He won't be able to maintain it for long.
A smarter approach involves bumping the load up by 2-3% to 66 or 67 pounds.
It's much more tolerable for his still growing body in the long run.
Same goes for female athletes. For a 115-pound lifter bench pressing 125x3, the four-percent jump to 130x3 will probably be too much.
Since women (just like children and male beginners) are neurally inefficient, she'll be able to complete one rep at 130 before switching off.
Because she just can't grind out heavy reps at high intensities (relative to her 1RM) like trained men do.
So small, gradual weight increases are the way to go to avoid overexertion, keep injuries at bay, and ensure continuous progress.
Side note: If you want to read up on the science behind how gender differences impact gym performance, how women respond to strength training, and how they should modify their workouts for optimal results...
It's the most complete discussion on this topic I have seen in any fitness book.
Are Fractional Plates Worth It?
Every serious lifter will admit:
Once you hit your first training snag, you'd sell your mother-in-law for the chance to enjoy those fast and furious weight increases you took for granted as a beginner.
This is where fractional plates come in.
They allow you to replicate those sweet, weekly load bumps from your newbie days – albeit in tiny increments.
Now you're back to making constant progress every time you train.
What Is a Fair Price for Weight Plates?
Before you consider the price, check two things that are often missing in cheaper fractional plate sets:
Fit and accuracy.
What good is a $10 weight plate set if it doesn't fit your Olympic barbell?
Or shows wonky numbers when you weigh it on your kitchen scale?
Look for calibrated (accurate) micro plates.
A one-pound plate should weigh 1.00 pounds. Not 0.8 or 1.3.
As for the price, a quality fractional plate set shouldn't cost more than $50.
Fractional Weight Plates for Dumbbells
Most gyms have dumbbells that go up in 2.5 kg / 5-pound increments.
This can turn into an issue once you get strong.
Let's say you can complete eight reps with a pair of 100-pound DBs (45 kg per hand) in the dumbbell bench press.
When you go up to the 105s (47.5 kg), you'll probably get only five reps instead of eight.
Because the leap from 100 to 105 pounds is 5%.
You wouldn't expect to go from 265 to 280 pounds (+5%) on the flat barbell bench in one session either, right?
Such jumps are unsustainable.
And if you try to force progress when your body isn't ready for it, you will plateau – or worse, injure yourself.
So what can you do?
You can either stick with the 100-pounders until 8 reps become 11 or 12 – at which point you should be good for 105x8...
Keep in mind that magnetic fractional plates often won't work with rubber dumbbells.... they won't stick on the rubber coating.
An easy trick to figure out if that's the case before buying a pair?
See if a fridge magnet will stick. If not, then a fractional plate won't either.
They have a major advantage over magnetic micro plates, since they will also work with rubber dumbbells.
Best Fractional Plate Set for Weightlifting and Powerlifting
When looking for the best fractional plate set to buy, it should match these specs:
Accurate: Because what's the point of paying for inaccurate weights?
Resistant to corrosion: That means no cracks or paint peeling off.
Made of high-quality steel: It's affordable and will last forever.
Fit on an Olympic barbell: Olympic bars have a sleeve diameter of ~50 mm (1.96 inches).
For your fractional plates to fit onto the sleeves, they should have a center hole of just over 50 mm.
Wide range of weight increments: My set (pictured above) contains four pairs – 0.25, 0.5, 0.75 and 1 kg.
I only ever use the 0.5 kg plates because they put me right between standard 2.5 kg jumps.
If I think the leap from 200 to 202.5 kg on the deadlift is too much, I'll use fractional plates to go up to 201 kg.
Progressive overload is the most important factor for building bigger, stronger muscles.
You won't make standard 2.5 kg / 5-pound weight increases forever.
A year or two into your lifting career, strength gains slow down... and stall.
They're an invaluable plateau buster and will benefit your workouts for years.