Elements

The five Elements posts I’ve written were created together and in the order they were presented for a reason: they represent the common core pieces of any/all solid training systems. Whether you are training for strength, size, speed or athleticism, your program will call for heavy, compound barbell movements and bodyweight/calisthenic movements. These five Elements will allow you to perform these core exercises, and establish a foundation from which your gym can grow to meet your specialized equipment needs. Additionally, they lay out a plan for building a garage or home gym literally from the ground up.

The Barbell

The barbell and weights are one of the most tried-and-true methods for building strength and athleticism. Countless athletes have utilized these tools to build strength and size. The ability to progressively and precisely load the barbell means that it can be used for a variety of movements and resistances. Squats, deadlifts, presses, cleans, jerks and snatches develop strength, size and speed, all with a single tool that can be used over the entire lifespan of an athlete.

barbell

The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. – Henry Rollins

The Platform

A platform is vital for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the platform will protect your floor from the impact of falling weights. Second, it provides a foundation to attach a rack or stands to.  It also helps to define your gym space, which is nice for those of us who have a tendency to sprawl.

Firm Foundation

Firm Foundation

The Rack/Stands

Put simply, it’s hard to Squat or Bench Press without a rack or at least stands. For a garage gym, I recommend a rack because it adds a margin of safety that only a highly-competent set of spotters could rival.

11 Guage Steel - Garage Gym Dog Approved!

Everybody chill – I got this!

The Pull Up Bar

Pull ups and chin ups are an important ingredient in training the upper body. Many racks include such a bar, but this post is for those that chose not to use a rack or who want an additional pull up bar outside the rack.

The Bench

While some recent fitness trends have tried to downplay how essential it is to bench press, it remains an important part of a solid strength-based program. A flat bench, therefore, must be part of the garage gym.

bench after

How Much Ya Bench?

With the items above, you’re free to begin pursuit of the training path of your choice: Powerlifting, Strongman, Strength & Conditioning for Sports Performance, Weightlifting, Bodybuilding, CrossFit, Military/Law Enforcement Fitness Tests, etc.

Post in the comments to let me know what training path you’re on, and what equipment you’d like to build for your garage gym!

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Refurbish a Bench

“Since we all want big chesticles, we have to put some pec in it, ok? Chesticles are why we bench press, after all!”

-Mark Rippetoe

The first step in refurbishing a bench is to actually acquire one. Quite frequently, a bench could be picked up along with a barbell and some plates via Craigslist or a garage sale. I have one from each of those, and a third that I acquired when purchasing my current house.

bench before

Bench (Before)

You don’t need to worry about what condition the upholstery (typically vinyl, and often cracked or torn) is in. Check the structural parts of the bench, and understand that the bench will need to hold your weight, plus all the weight that you put on the bar. When benching properly, the vast majority of that weight will be focused on the area where your upper back comes in contact with the bench.

Step two is to tear everything apart. Pull off the upholstery and inspect the structure of the bench. My bench had a label stating the load limits, which I found to be quite helpful.

bench disassembly

Bench Disassembly

bench label

Bench Label

bench fully disassembled

Bench Fully Disassembled

If it needs it or you’d like to do it, this is a great time to prime and paint the bench. Wipe down all of the pieces so the primer doesn’t cause dirt or dust to stick. Apply the primer, and use a second coat if necessary. After the primer has dried (I waited a full day between coats of primer and coats of paint), spray on the paint color of your choice. I went with a matte black color to match my Rogue rack.

add primer

Add Primer

add paint

Add Paint

While I had everything disassembled, I gathered all the bolts and took them to the hardware store. The bolts that were on the bench were black, and I wanted to replace them with traditional hardware to match with the rack. Be sure to match threads where applicable.

bolts

Old Bolts and New Bolts

With the painted parts and the fresh bolts, begin reassembly of the bench. If the bench is made of particle board or if it’s not of sufficiently-sturdy construction, remove it. On a different bench, I replaced an old, worn out particle board bench with a new board, which significantly improved its strength and stability. Most quality benches are 12 inches wide, with some over-sized benches reaching as high as 14 inches.

bench reassembly

Bench Reassembly

Most benches have thin, feeble foam cushioning. Here is your opportunity to customize the compression of your bench. Some like a big plush cushion, while others prefer a firmer surface. Either way, make sure it’s stable and allows you to establish a solid base from which to bench. Most fabric and craft stores carry a variety of upholstery foams.

With the foam cut to shape, it’s time to add fabric. My favorite color is orange, so I got a couple yards of heavy weight (essentially denim) fabric from the fabric shop. Wrap the fabric over the bench, and cut it roughly to size. Start by stapling one of the long sides of the fabric to the underside of the bench. Pull the other side over the bench so it’s taught (not so tight that it compresses the cushion), and staple along the other side. Finish by stapling the ends of the fabric to the head and foot of the bench.

fabric stapled to bench

Fabric Stapled to Bench

To protect the knurling on the bar, I added some “grippers.” These grippers are a piece of rubber with an adhesive backing, meant for preventing furniture from sliding on smooth floors.

grippers

Grippers

grippers installed to protect knurling

Grippers Installed to Protect Knurling

Your bench is now complete. Load up the bar and get pressing!

bench after

Bench (After)

As usual, post comments, questions or feedback to the comments.

Get Your Pull!

If you chose to go the route of squat stands, or if you just want an additional chin/pull up station, then this post is for you! After the basic barbell exercises, the pull up & chin up are some of the most effective exercises for training the upper body.

In the last post, I strongly advised against a do-it-yourself option for the sake of safety. Today’s subject is in a gray area. If you’re not confident in your building abilities, there are some good options available. Don’t be one of these! However, if you’re secure enough in your building abilities to build something from which to suspend yourself against the ever-present pull of gravity, here’s some commentary from my experience.

Foresight tells us that we want a bar that’s mounted firmly enough to hold our bodyweight and then some – weighted chin-ups, muscle ups, kipping pull-ups. The bar needs to be secure, not just vertically, but laterally as well. To accomplish this, you’ll need triangular bracing.

Looking at the options available from Rogue, Again Faster and Christian’s Fitness Factory, I devised a way to mimic their offerings with commonly-available hardware. While I did not actually build what I will describe below, I did verify that it’s possible, and calculated the associated price of materials.

Steel Tube Pull Up Bar

Perforated Square Steel Tubing for a Pull-Up Bar

 

Ceiling Mount

Hardware List:

-(4) pieces of 1”x4’ Perforated Square Steel Tube ($18.99 each)

-(2) 1.5” U-Bolts ($1.14 each)

-(2) 5/16”x3.5” Bolts with flat washers, lock washers and nuts

-(10) 5/16”x2.5” Bolts with flat washers, lock washers and nuts

-(1) 1”x48” Black Pipe ($11.24)

-(4) 5/16”x3” Lag Bolts with flat washers

Pull Up Bar

Ceiling Mounted Pull-Up Bar

Bolts, washers and nuts are typically sold by weight, and would only cost a few dollars for this project. Total cost is approximately $95 plus tax.

Begin by cutting one of the 1” square steel tubes into two 24” lengths. These will be the horizontal pieces (“beams”) that get mounted to the ceiling. Next, take another piece of steel and cut two 18” lengths. These will be the vertical pieces (“risers”) that drop down and mount directly to the bar. From the third and fourth pieces of steel, cut four 16” lengths. These will be the angle braces. From the remaining cut-offs, cut two 6” lengths. These will be the mending braces that attach the vertical pieces to the horizontal pieces.

With the pieces cut, it’s time to start assembling. Using the mending braces, attach a beam to a riser, using the hole just past center. Put a 2.5” bolt through the beam, into the mending brace, then add the flat washer, lock washer and nut. Hand tighten the nut. Put two 2.5” bolts through two of the holes near the top of the riser, then into mending brace, followed by flat washers, lock washers and nuts. Hand tighten the nuts.

Now we need to add the angle braces. Put a 2.5” bolt through the beam, at the second hole from the front. Put the bolt through first hole of the angle brace, then add the flat washer, lock washer and nut. Hand tighten.

Flip the entire assembly over. Put a 2.5” bolt through the first hole of a second angle brace, then through the last hole in the beam. Add the flat washer, lock washer and nut, and hand tighten.

The free ends of the angle braces should now be rotated into place, and the last hole of the angle braces should intersect with the riser at the 10th hole down from the beam. Push a 3.5” bolt through all three pieces. Add a flat washer, lock washer and the nut, and hand tighten.

With all the pieces in place, use wrenches to tighten all of the nuts. They should be tightened enough to fully compress the lock washers. This completes one side. Assembly of the opposite side is exactly the same.

Pull Up Bar One Side

Ceiling Mounted Pull-Up Bar – One Side

When both sides are finished, they can be mounted to the ceiling. You can use lag screws to mount the rig directly to ceiling joists, however, I would recommend placing 2×6’s screwed to multiple joists to further distribute the load. The rig is then bolted or lag screwed to the 2×6’s.

Install the U-Bolts onto the risers loosely. Insert the black pipe by sliding it into one of the u-bolts, then into the other. Tighten the u-bolts until the pipe is held firmly in place.

 

Wall Mount

Hardware List:

-(3) pieces of 1”x4’ Perforated Square Steel Tube ($18.99 each)

-(2) 1.5” U-Bolts ($1.14 each)

-(10) 5/16”x2.5” Bolts with flat washers, lock washers and nuts

-(1) 1”x48” Black Pipe ($11.24)

-(4) 5/16”x3” Lag Bolts with flat washers

 

Wall Mount Pull Up Bar

Wall Mounted Pull-Up Bar

Bolts, washers and nuts are typically sold by weight, and would only cost a few dollars for this project. Total cost is approximately $75 plus tax.

Begin by cutting two of the square steel tubes into four 18” lengths. Two of these lengths will be the risers (vertical pieces) that will attach to the wall; two of them will be the beams (horizontal pieces) that will hold the pull up bar. Cut the remaining 12” piece into two 6” pieces. These will be the mending braces that tie the risers to the beams. Cut the third steel tube piece into two 16” pieces, and set the remaining 16” piece to the side for some other DIY project.

With the pieces cut, it’s time to start assembling. Using the mending braces, attach a beam to a riser, using the fourth hole down from the top of riser. Place a 2.5” bolt through the fourth hole, then through the first hole of the mending brace. Add a flat washer, lock washer and nut, and hand tighten. Place a 2.5” bolt through the first and third holes in the beam, then put them through the second and fourth holes in the mending brace. Add flat washers, lock washers and nuts, and hand tighten.

Next, place a 2.5” bolt through the 11th hole in the beam, then through the first hole in the angle brace. Place a 2.5” bolt through the riser at the 11th hole down from the mending brace, and push it through the last hole of the angle brace. Add flat washers, lock washers and nuts, and hand tighten.

With all the pieces in place, use wrenches to tighten all of the nuts. They should be tightened enough to fully compress the lock washers. This completes one side. Assembly of the opposite side is exactly the same.

Wall Mount Pull Up Bar Side

Wall Mounted Pull Up Bar – One Side

When both sides are finished, they can be mounted to the wall. You can use lag screws to mount the rig directly to studs, however, I would recommend placing 2×6’s screwed to multiple studs to further distribute the load. The rig is then bolted or lag screwed to the 2×6’s.

Install the U-Bolts onto the beams loosely. Insert the black pipe by sliding it into one of the u-bolts, then into the other. Tighten the u-bolts until the pipe is held firmly in place.

 

Wood

Hardware List:

-(1) 1”x48” Black Pipe ($11.24)

-(2) Flanges for Black Pipe

-A few pieces of 2×4

-Triangular piece of ½” plywood

-Wood glue and Screws

-(8) Lag Screws

It’s been a while since I built this, and much of it was constructed using materials I already had. I’d estimate the total cost to be somewhere around $35.

There is a third option for an even lower price: wood. While it costs less, gaining the same strength and stability takes a bit more experience with woodworking, and is more labor-intensive with a lower margin for error.

I went back to my residential construction days for the pull up bar I put in my first garage gym, since it seemed to fit better with the construction of the garage.

For my first chin up bar, I started with a threaded piece of 1” diameter black pipe and two flanges. I added a length of 2×4 to an existing stud to make a double stud. The double stud provided a solid mount for the wall-end of the bar. The other side got a little more complicated.

The other end of the bar did not land directly below a roof truss (in a basement, the same may be true for a floor joist). I framed in a “floating” 2×4 beam utilizing cross members reinforced by hurricane clips.

With the beam now in place, we need to tackle a triangulated mount for the other end of the bar. I measured (to ensure that the bar would be level) a vertically-mounted 2×4 to drop from the beam to the end of the bar. To brace it, I added another 2×4 on an angle up to the beam. I then pieced it all together with a gusset of ½” plywood, glued and screwed to the 2×4’s.

Plywood Gusset

Plywood Gusset

Plywood Gusset

Plywood Gusset

To finish it up, I held the bar, with the flanges threaded on, in place so I could mark the screw holes. I then drilled pilot holes and mounted the bar using eight lag screws.

Portable

Hardware List

-(1) 1”x48” Black Pipe ($11.24)

-(1) 2-pack of Cinch Straps ($6.88)

-(2) U-Bolts ($2.28)

Total cost is $20.40.

Drill holes in the black pipe so that you can insert the two u-bolts, one on each end. Loop the cinch straps over a sturdy structure, then through the u-bolts. Adjust the straps to level the bar. Grab on, pull up!

 

So here you have four options, each a little different, and each with a different price tag. However, you’ll find that each is priced a little below the retail price of a pre-fabricated unit, and any of the do-it-yourself options come with the satisfaction of knowing you created it from the basic raw materials. It’s a very rewarding feeling!

As usual, post questions, feedback or suggestions to the comments! Come back soon to learn how to refurbish a bench!

Nice Rack!

In our last post, we put together the lifting platform. In addition to protecting the floor, the platform also helps to define our workout space. As you’ll see below, the platform also becomes a functional element for securing the rack or squat stands.

I know this is a DIY blog, but lifting weights comes with some risks and we have to factor in personal safety. While some DIY racks or stands might be ok, it has been my experience that there is no substitute for a quality squat rack. I, therefore, recommend that you find the right rack or stands to suit your budget, space and training goals.

When I first started, I was focused on my budget. My strength was not at a level where I was terribly concerned about a failed bench press or squat, and so I opted for the Powerline PS60X squat stands. They had a footprint that matched my training space, and were rated up to 300 lbs. – in excess of my maximal strength at the time.

Other, more substantial squat stands are available, and if that’s the right piece of equipment for you, then the more substantial options would be my recommendation. For those of you interested in Olympic Weightlifting, Catalyst Athletics makes use of the Werksan Portable Squat Stand.

Fast forward through a few months of CFFB’s aggressive Amateur program, and I was starting to become concerned about the weights I was squatting and pressing under. Since I did most of my lifting alone, without a spotter, I knew I needed to compensate.

Still working with a tight budget, I crafted, using common lumber and steel pipe from the hardware store, some spotter bars which attached to the squat stands.

Squat Stands with DIY Spotter Bars

Squat Stands with DIY Spotter Bars

Fast forward a few more months (and several PRs in the major lifts) and I faced another conundrum. Garage Gym Girl and I needed to move in order for her to pursue a new job. The new space was a similar size, but could not have a suitable space for the pull up bar. And, given the effectiveness of the CFFB program, I needed a safer place to squat and bench press.

By now, the iron bug had bitten and I knew that this was a hobby that was not soon to be given up. It all added up to one simple solution: a power rack. I weighed my options (and there are many – Rogue, Elite FTS, etc) and chose a Rogue R3 Bolt-Together.

squat rack

Rogue R3 Bolt Together

When choosing a rack, consider the availability of both replacement parts and ad-on accessories (dip bars, alternate pull/chin up bars, etc.). I chose the bolt together option to make it easier to dismantle and move, in addition the wide variety of extras available from Rogue.

Regardless of your particular choice of rack or stands, we’ll need to tie it back in to the platform. The Rogue rack came with feet, pre-drilled for just this purpose. With the rack assembled and in position on the platform, I marked and drilled holes to bolt the rack to the platform. I then removed the rack from the platform, and disassembled the plywood in order to get carriage bolts installed. The use of carriage bolts is primarily for the flat, rounded head which will not elevate the platform, but will still provide a firm connection. I put the bolts, heads-down, up through the holes in the bottom layer of the platform. I then re-assembled the platform by lining up the remaining holes with the shafts of the bolts. Finally, I placed the rack back over the top, added flat washers and tightened the nuts onto the bolts.

Carriage Bolt in Rack Foot

Carriage Bolt in Rack Foot

The squat stands did not have feet, and were therefore a little trickier. In that case I purchased some U-bolt plates from the hardware store, along with eight carriage bolts. I placed the stands in position on the platform. I then marked and drilled holes in line with the U-bolt plates. I removed the stands and disassembled the plywood in order to get carriage bolts installed. I put the bolts, heads-down, up through the holes in the bottom layer of the platform. I then re-assembled the platform by lining up the remaining holes with the shafts of the bolts. Finally, I placed the stands back over the top, added flat washers and tightened the nuts onto the bolts.

Squat Stands Bolted to the Platform

Squat Stands Bolted to the Platform

Evaluate your current strength level and training goals; consider your budget and the space you have for training. Do your research, and find a rack or stands that work for you.

11 Guage Steel - Garage Gym Dog Approved!

11 Guage Steel – Garage Gym Dog Approved!

Come back for future posts where we’ll discuss refurbishing a flat bench and how to install chin up bars for those of you that go with stands instead of a rack.

 

 

Firm Foundation

My plan for these first several posts is to work from the ground up, literally. A functional gym for nearly any type of athletic training will have a common core of equipment, starting with the barbell. Once we have the core elements of the gym sorted out, we’ll get into more program/goal specific projects.

A sturdy structure of any sort needs a firm foundation, and your garage gym is no different. A decent platform will help distribute loads so that your concrete floor does not crumble or develop cracks.

Today I’m going to walk you through three platform options – a half platform that’s 4ft x 8ft, a full platform that’s 8ft x 8ft and a double platform that’s 8ft x 16ft for those of you lucky enough to have the space or need additional space for a Garage Gym Girl who lifts.

Half Platform (4’x8’) half platform

To build a “half platform”, purchase 2 ½ sheets of plywood. Keep in mind that plywood comes in a variety of thicknesses and types of wood, each with its own relative price. I went with a fairly budget option of Oriented Strand Board (OSB) in ½” thickness. Half sheets are typically available from the big box retailers, or if they’re not directly available, most will cut a piece to size for you. You will also need a sheet of rubber stall mat, preferably in the same thickness as the plywood. Stall mats can be purchased in some hardware stores, and nearly any farm supply store, such as Tractor Supply Co.

Lay down the first sheet, then the second directly over that. Center the half sheet on top of the second sheet. Cut the rubber stall mat into two strips, 2’ x 4’. I have had good experiences using a utility knife with a sharp blade and some sort of straight-edge (a ruler, level or piece of lumber). Cut the mat in several shallow passes rather than attempting to saw all the way through on the first pass.

half platform layers

When the pieces are all oriented properly, screw them together using 1 ¼” wood screws. I like to screw the corners of each piece in the top layer, as well as a few additional screws in the middle of each span. Keeping the layers tight will maximize the platform’s ability to disperse loads and impact. If you plan to add a rack or squat stands (which I will cover in a future post), you may want to wait before screwing all the pieces together.

Full Platform (8’x8’)

full platform perspective

As above, choose your plywood option, but in this case, you’ll need 5 sheets. Begin by laying the first two sheets down, parallel to each other, sharing a long side. They should be oriented such that the long edge runs in the same direction as you would be facing if you were performing a squat. The next two sheets will also be laid down parallel to one another, sharing the long edge, but this layer should be turned 90 degrees to the first layer. The final sheet is laid on the top, oriented the same as the bottom layer, but centered on the platform.

Cut the stall mats to 2’ widths, and enough pieces to fill in 8’ on either side of the top sheet of plywood.

full platform layers

When the pieces are all oriented properly, screw them together as described above. Again, if you plan to add a rack or squat stands, you may want to wait before screwing all the pieces together.

Double Platform (8’x16’)

double platform perspective

This one gets a little more complicated. We’ll need 10 sheets of plywood and enough rubber matting to cover 2’ wide by 16’ long twice. We start by laying out four sheets of plywood – each pair sharing the long edge of the plywood, and the two pairs sharing the short edge of the plywood. The second layer begins with one sheet perpendicular to the lower/base layer sheets, and centered over where the short ends of the middle four sheets meet. Add another sheet on either side of that centered sheet, sharing the long edges.

The final portion of the second layer is accomplished by ripping (cutting the long way) one sheet of plywood, resulting in two 2’x8’ pieces. These two pieces complete the outside edges of the second layer.

The top layer uses the remaining two sheets of plywood. They are set end-to-end and run the length of the platform in the center. The outside edges are then filled in with the rubber matting.

double platform layers

When the pieces are all oriented properly, screw them together as described above. Again, if you plan to add a rack or squat stands, you may want to wait before screwing all the pieces together.

Evaluate your training space, determine which platform size works for you, and head to your local lumber yard. Good luck and happy building! Post questions or feedback in the comments.

Let’s Go to the Bar

As an introvert, I sometimes have trouble building rapport with people. A few years ago while talking about this, my manager shared the following ice-breaker:

“Hi, my name is Eric. Do you like to drink beer?”

“My name is Bob, and yeah, I like to drink beer.”

“Great, we can be friends!”

So, my new friends and fellow beer-drinkers, let’s go to the bar!

Loaded Barbell

Loaded and Ready!

For a beginner, nearly any Olympic bar and a set of plates will suffice. Inexpensive bars have limitations in the amount of weight they can hold and how well the collars spin, but these details are of little importance to the novice lifter.

Note: If you are a more advanced lifter, we’ll assume you are more familiar with the nuances of barbells and leave this article to the novices.

I’d like to discuss what I think will be the two most common types of barbell that a novice is likely to handle. The first is the Cap Barbell-type bar. This is the type of barbell typically found in a 300 lbs set, commonly available in most sporting goods stores. The second is an entry-level barbell offering from the more specialized equipment suppliers. In this case, I’ll use my Rogue Bar, since that’s what I have immediately available. Similar bars are available from Again Faster and Elite FTS, among others.

barbells

My Bars

I will walk you through the process of dismantling and re-assembling both of these bars, with the intent of achieving suitable functionality in a garage gym.

Let’s begin with the Cap barbell. This is one of the cheapest, and probably most common bars available at a low cost via Craigslist or your local sporting goods store. It is also the simplest. If they’re not loose already, loosen the Allen screw at the end of the bar with the appropriately sized wrench. It should come out along with a bushing. After those two parts are removed, the entire collar slides off the bar.

collar bushing bolt

Bushing and Bolt Removed

I used WD-40 and a shop towel to clean the bar, the screw and the bushing. I then used lubricating oil on the bar and the bushing prior to reassembly. In my case, the collar spins much better, but due to some wear and tear, it will never spin well enough for heavy Olympic weightlifting.

My primary bar now is the Rogue Bar. I bought this bar as a nice compromise of price and performance. I do not consider myself such an advanced lifter that I need to spend more than a few hundred dollars on a bar that is capable of far more than I would stand to throw at it.

The Rogue bar disassembles by way of a couple snap rings. The first snap ring releases the cover, thereby allowing access to the second snap ring. Removing the second snap ring allows the collar to slide toward the center of the bar. In doing so, the retention rings can be removed. With the retention rings out of the way, the entire collar can be removed.

collar snap rings retentions rings

Collar, Snap Rings and Retention Rings

Place a few drops of oil on the bar, and immediately replace the collar. Give it a few spins to distribute the oil. DO NOT USE GREASE to lubricate the collars. While it may be a better rust inhibitor, its higher viscosity does not allow the collars to spin as freely as a light oil will.

Time to load the bar! The vast majority of my weight plates came along with a bar in an early Craigslist purchase. The plates were all a little rusty, but it’s hardly worth the effort to clean them up, unless they’re completely oxidized. Expect to pay around half the retail price per pound when purchasing used iron.

I don’t get a lot of use out of them, but over the course of a few used gear purchases I’ve acquired a couple benches, a curl bar and some standard (1”) weights and bars. Keep or sell these extra items depending on how well the items suit your training goals and budget. Off-loading a couple unwanted items might be a nice way to pick up some cash for gear you’ll actually use.

With a bar and plates, you’re ready to start your garage gym! In the next few posts I’ll help you get your gym floor and some other gear set up.

…And in the meantime, cheers!