Powerlifting Meet Write-Up

I know it’s way over-due, but better late than never! This past March I lifted in the UPA Michigan Powerlifting Championships hosted by Detroit Barbell.

First things first, the meet was very well run. Detroit Barbell’s staff was top-notch and did a great job with everything from loading bars to spotting the lifts to running the scoreboard. I look forward to my next Detroit Barbell hosted meet!

OK, now for the details…

Making Weight

I did a water cut to lift in the 181 lbs class. I’m normally up between 185 and 190, so it was a fairly easy cut. I lifted in the CrossFit division since I follow CrossFit Football as my primary mode of training.

Squat

I opened at 365 lbs, which was roughly my 3RM in the weeks leading up to the meet. I used this method to choose my openers for all three lifts, and it seems to have been a good strategy. That first squat was an easy one, so I felt good moving up to 405 for the second attempt. This one felt decent, and came up with another three white lights. I called for 415 on my third attempt and got stuck in the hole. As mentioned earlier, the spotters did a fantastic job! I’d hit 411 once in the gym a few weeks prior, so hitting 405 and missing 415 seemed a fair assessment.

Bench Press

I opened at 235, and like the squat, put an easy first attempt on the board. I had a minor hiccup on my second attempt due to benching with a supine grip and having a spotter who wasn’t used to seeing it. No harm, no foul, and 255 went up for three white lights. I called for a PR of 270 for my third attempt. Driving off the chest, my back cramped hard, which I think helped my arch and gave me just enough help to drive through to lockout.

Deadlift

I train with the Rogue barbell, so using a legit deadlift bar was a bit of a treat, and it showed in my score! I once again called for the easy opener of 405, which came off the floor surprisingly easy. A jump to 435 on the second attempt had similar results, so I called for another PR of 455 for my third attempt. It felt heavy, but good as I locked it out.

Total

I had calculated a projected total around 1,130 prior to the meet, albeit with a little different mix through the lifts. As it turned out, none of the lifts was exactly as I had projected it, but the total was spot-on.

Conclusions

I was primarily looking for an honest, meet-verified assessment of my strength progress. Being able to lift with such a knowledgeable and helpful staff also made for a nice opportunity to determine any lagging areas and possible means to fix them. I accomplished both things, and have already set out to prepare for what comes next.

If you’ve ever contemplated lifting at a meet, just do it! Also, if you happen to be in the Midwest, try to find a meet hosted by Detroit Barbell!

If you have done a meet, or have one coming up soon, tell us about it in the comments or on the Facebook page!

Independence

I’m a fourth-generation American who can trace his roots to ancestors who fought alongside Sir William Wallace. This family has never shied away from the call of duty to fight for the freedoms we embrace. We know the value of Liberty and Independence.

Here at Garage Gym Guy, we like to celebrate Independence! While most in America celebrate socio-political independence today, I also like to celebrate physical independence and financial independence.

One of the biggest motivations for my training is to be physically independent – that is, I can take myself to the places I want to go and do the things that I want to do. Sometimes that means picking up something heavy, sometimes it means hiking up a mountain, and sometimes it’s as simple as stretching the sleeves on my favorite work shirt when some skinny hipster walks into my cubicle.

Another key element in my life is being wise with my money. That means not over-paying for training or equipment, so I like to celebrate freedom from gym dues and Smith-machine retailers.

Our tagline is Liberate, Innovate, Dominate. You’ve seen some Garage Gym Innovations, and the Domination part is truly up to you and your definition. This Independence Day, we can celebrate our decision to Liberate from sub-par gyms, and what better way than raising the Star Spangled Banner in our training space.

Begin by obtaining your flag of choice. Then select both the location and orientation (landscape or portrait) that suits you. Finally, be aware of proper flag etiquette. Since the vast majority of my readership is from the USA, that means that regardless of orientation, the blue field should always be on its own right (viewer’s left). If you’re putting up multiple flags (check out the history on The Saltire, Gadsden Flag, and Jolly Roger), be aware that there may be dictates on the relative placement of your flags of choice.

I’ll be hanging my flag in the landscape orientation, and as such, it needs an extra grommet in the upper-right corner. I got a grommet kit, which can be picked up at either your local hardware store (check near the tarps) or fabric shop. I folded the right edge over approximately an inch, to make room for the grommet to catch two layers of fabric. I then ironed the fold flat. Following the instructions on the grommet kit, I added a grommet in both the upper- and lower-right corners. The flag is now ready to be hung using nails, screws or hooks.

Fold and Iron a Double Layer for the Grommet

Fold and Iron a Double Layer for the Grommet

Install the Grommet

Install the Grommet

So celebrate Independence Day and Liberty in all their forms! Feel free to share what it looks like or what it means to you in the comments or over on the Facebook page!

The Garage Gym

The Garage Gym

DIY Pulling Sled

This is probably the easiest DIY that I’ve done so far. Paradoxically, it’s also one of the most useful pieces of equipment that I have. Mine gets used primarily for warmups and finishers, but there are a variety of other uses for such an implement.

DIY Tire Pulling Sled

DIY Tire Pulling Sled

The most difficult part of this project is getting a tire. Old, beat up used tires can be found in a variety of places. I picked up a truck tire from the family farm, and also kept the full set of four old tires when I bought new tires for my car. You might also check scrap yards and community recycling centers. A 16” radius tire will work well for holding weight plates.

The other pieces we’ll need are two straps (ratchet or cinch straps), an eye bolt and some extra washers and nuts for the eye bolt. The only tools required are a drill (with a bit) and wrenches to tighten the nuts on the eye bolt.

Drill a Hole in the Tire

Drill a Hole in the Tire

Begin by drilling a hole in the tire. I prefer to put the hole a little closer to the bottom than the top so that when pulled, the front edge of the tire is lifted slightly so it doesn’t dig into the ground. Thread a nut all the way onto the eye bolt, and then follow it with a washer. Then, insert the eye bolt through the hole in the tire. Add another washer, then a nut. Tighten the nuts toward each other until suitably tight.

Eye Bolt with Washers and Nuts

Eye Bolt with Washers and Nuts

Remove the two long straps from the pair of ratchet/cinch straps. Slide one tail through the eye of the eye bolt, then tie the other tail to the first. Finally, tie the two straps together, thereby locking the straps together and to the eye bolt.

Straps Tied to Each Other and to the Eye Bolt

Straps Tied to Each Other and to the Eye Bolt

To drag the sled, attach the hooks to a dip belt or lifting belt. For free-hand exercise, simply grasp the straps, or create handles similar to the ones we made on the suspension straps.

Pulling the Sled with a Lifting Belt

Pulling the Sled with a Lifting Belt

For stacking multiple plates, I found that having a length of 1 1/2” PVC pipe with a cap or union on it and slid through the holes keeps the plates from sliding off each other.

PVC Pipe and Union to Secure Plates

PVC Pipe and Union to Secure Plates

As always, share feedback in the comments or over on the Facebook page.

DIY Suspension Straps

Suspension training is a great way to spice up calisthenics. By adding a level of instability to familiar movements like pushups and rows, you can further engage and challenge the muscles that stabilize the joints involved in those movements.

Rows on Suspension Straps

Rows on Suspension Straps

In this post I’ll show you how to build a set of suspension straps at a price far below the commercial offerings. To start with, you’ll need three cinch straps, a foot of 1” PVC pipe, a pair of scissors, a lighter, a carabiner and a quick link for chain. Cinch straps are a little different than ratchet straps, but they’re in the same location at the hardware store.

Just a quick note on safety here: look for straps and hardware with weight ratings. These ratings will let you know if the materials you plan to use will be strong enough. Remember that you’ll be suspended on this stuff, so don’t sacrifice safety to save a couple dollars. Get materials to build gear you can trust!

Cut the PVC pipe in half. Boom: handles! While we’re cutting stuff up, cut the buckle off one of the cinch straps, and use the lighter to make sure the end doesn’t fray.

Suspension Strap Anchor Loops

Suspension Strap Anchor Loops

Remember that overhand loop knot from the lat pull down? Make one big loop with the buckle-less cinch strap and tie a tie an overhand loop knot at the end. Starting from the knot-end, continue to tie overhand knots at intervals of 6 inches until you reach the opposite end. Put the quick link in this last loop. This strap becomes the “trunk” of the suspension strap and the loops are essentially adjustable anchor loops. The quick link is where the other two straps will connect. The carabiner gets used to connect the anchor loops when you loop the strap around your rack, pull up bar, tree branch, playground equipment, etc.

Quick Link

Quick Link

Back to the other two straps: Feed one end of one strap through a PVC handle, through the quick link, and then through the buckle to create a loop. Repeat for the other side. We could stop here, but we’re on a roll!

Go set the straps up and get them adjusted for typical working length. Chances are you have a bunch of extra strap on the two handle loops. Cut off 24-36” from each strap. Use the lighter to de-fray all the cut ends. Now put one of the cut-off straps through the handle and tie a square knot to make a loop. Repeat on the other side for a pair of foot cradles.

Suspension Strap Handles

Suspension Strap Handles

Congratulations on creating your very own suspension straps! As always, share your experience in the comments or over on the Facebook page!

Push Ups on Suspension Straps

Push Ups on Suspension Straps

DIY Lat Pull Down

Lat Pull Downs are a common accessory movement in many training programs. For those who are unable to do pull ups or chin ups, the lat pull down is the best way to build up to pull ups and chin ups. The same equipment is required for triceps press downs, which are another common accessory exercise.

DIY Lat Pull Down

DIY Lat Pull Down

You’ll need the following materials, all of which are easy to locate at any hardware store:

-2 pieces of ¾” black pipe, 18” long

-2 ¾” floor flanges

-2 pieces of ¾” black pipe 6” long

-2 ¾” 45 degree elbows

-Tie down/Ratchet strap in the color of your choice, preferably 12’ length

-2 Carabiners (suitable for loading/lifting/climbing)

-1 Quick Chain Link

-1 U-Bolt 5/16” by 2” by 4 1/2” with washer and nuts

-2 5/16” nuts and washers

You will also need the following tools:

-Drill with 3/8” bit suitable for drilling metal (not a masonry or wood bit)

-C-Clamp

-Wrench

-Scissors

-Lighter

We’ll begin by building the loading pin. Screw one of the floor flanges to one of the 18” pieces of pipe. Using a C-Clamp, secure the other floor flange to a suitable surface, and drill out two of the opposing bolt holes using the 3/8” drill bit. Be sure to use appropriate eye, ear and hand safety equipment.

Drilling the Floor Flange

Drilling the Floor Flange

Thread a nut onto either side of the U-bolt, about an inch into the threads. Put the washer that came with the u-bolt on. Now put the u-bolt through the floor flange, and add the remaining washers and nuts. Tighten the nuts securely.

U-Bolt Flange Assembly

U-Bolt Flange Assembly

You may now thread the u-bolt/floor flange assembly onto the 18” pipe. Congratulations, you are now the proud owner of a loading pin. There are many additional uses for loading pins, but we’ll save that for another post. On to the pull down strap!

Loading Pin

Loading Pin

Open one of the ratchet straps, and set the ratchet/buckle portion aside. On the strap portion, carefully pry open the hook, just enough to slip the strap off the hook. Put one of the carabiners in place of the hook you just removed. Put the loading pin in place under your rack, connect the carabiner and strap to the loading pin, and drape the other end of the strap over the chin up bar on your rack. Tie an overhand loop knot with the strap that hangs over the chin up bar. The knot should be within a couple inches of the bar when the strap is pulled tight. Put the chain quick link in the loop you just created. Leaving a little strap to spare (approximately 4-6”), cut off the rest of the strap. Use a lighter to carefully melt/weld the edges to prevent fraying.

Overhand Knot

Overhand Loop Knot

Now we need a handle for the pull and press downs. Thread the two 45 degree elbows onto the remaining 18” piece of black pipe so they are hand-tight. Thread the 6” pieces of pipe into the other ends of the elbows, again hand-tight. Now adjust the joints so that all of the pieces are in-line with each other.

Handle

Handle with Lark’s Head Knot

To attach the handle to the strap, you’ll need the remaining piece (24-36”) of strap. Tie an overhand loop knot in both ends, then tie a Lark’s Head knot around the handle such that both overhand loops come through at the top. Use a carabiner to connect the two overhand loops to each other, and ultimately to the chain quick link on the long strap.

Triceps Press Down

Triceps Press Down

Give it a shot, and let me know how it works in the comments or over on the Facebook page!

Power Rack Safety Straps

Warning! What I am going to describe below is only what I have done myself. It is not a recommendation that you should do the same. In fact, most of the pieces I use below specifically include warnings that the pieces should not be used to hold weight overhead, be used for athletics, or used to support body weight. Anything you choose to copy from the following is done at your own risk.

Lifting safely by yourself has been a popular topic lately. This was brought to my attention quite directly under the weight of a 400 lbs squat attempt a couple weeks ago. It was further reinforced by a 70’s Big post and a video that has been making its way through social media recently:

While I typically pride myself on taking appropriate safety measures, the squat attempt a couple weeks ago revealed a flaw in my setup. When I missed the attempt, the bar dropped on my safety straps and bent open the quick links, catastrophically. While I frequently record my lifting attempts, unfortunately I did not record this one, and so I only have a picture of the aftermath. The good news is that the pin & pipe safety system survived with hardly a scratch.

broken saety straps

Failed Safety Straps due to…

broken link

Broken Quick Links

The pin & pipe safety system is likely the strongest, but when the barbell comes into contact with it, a couple things happen. First, the bar comes to an abrupt stop and/or bounces, particularly if one side hits before the other. This can be quite jarring. Second, when that impact occurs, if it is of sufficient force, it will mar the knurling on the barbell. I paid a decent price for my bar, and I’d like to keep it in the best shape I can.

I prefer straps because they take up slack more smoothly on a squat that goes a little deeper than planned, and because they do not mar the knurling on the barbell. I still believe my original strap system is safe and effective, with the exception of using master links in place of the quick links. The quick links were used in the mistaken belief that they were rated for enough loading force, and because they would allow for a fast transition from the bench position (lower) to the squat position (higher). This design is incredibly cost-effective, especially when compared to the commercially-available alternatives that start around $165.

original safety strap

The Original Safety Strap

The original strap system could have been corrected by simply replacing the quick links with threaded master links, but it still had one fundamental flaw for my garage gym: it was the wrong color. So, I set out to make a reasonably-priced strap system that would out-perform the first system, preferably in orange.

Here’s what I came up with. I started with four axle straps ($4 each, rated at 3,300 lbs). I used 3/8” clevises ($4 each, rated at 2,000 lbs) to connect to a master link ($2.50 each, rated at 1,980 lbs). The master link connects to one loop of a tree saver strap ($24 each or orange, as low as $14.50 each for yellow, rated at 20,000 lbs). The other end of the strap connects to 5/16” Grade 30 chain ($15 for 7 feet, rated at 1,900 lbs) using another 3/8” clevis.

safety straps labels

Safety Straps with Labels

Since a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, that means my entire system is rated for 1,900 lbs per side, as limited by the chain. I don’t know about you, but it’ll be a while before I squat 3,800 lbs! And the price isn’t too bad at $110, total. If I was willing to settle for yellow straps, I could have knocked the price down to $90.

 

Strap Adjusted for Rack Pulls, Squats and Bench Press

Strap Adjusted for Rack Pulls, Squats and Bench Press

I replaced all of the clevis cotter pins with hair pin clips for easier adjustment. And because I’m crafty like that, I added paracord lanyards to the clevis that will adjust the strap position for rack pulls, bench pressing or squatting. The lanyards make the clips easier to see and easier to remove.

hair pin clip lanyard

Hair Pin Clip with Lanyard

In closing, I prefer straps as the primary safety method, but I recommend setting the pin or pin & pipe safeties as a redundant back-up, just in case. In the end, can you really put a price on the life or limb you risk in the gym?

DIY PVC Weight Plate Storage Rack

After the basic Elements, the single most-used accessory in my gym is the plate rack. Four days a week, the plates come out of the rack, get loaded on the bar, and get returned to the rack; sometimes multiple times in a single session.

PVC Plate Rack

PVC Plate Rack

I’d seen a few examples of DIY plate racks online, and decided I liked PVC the best. PVC is one of the most versatile and easy to work with materials, and it’s widely available at very low prices.

The design is quite simple, but requires a lot of cutting. I used a hand saw the first time I built a set of plate racks, and a miter saw the second time. Obviously the miter saw is faster, but I want you to know that it can be done with just hand tools. Remember to use all of the appropriate protective gear.

I used ¾” Schedule 40 PVC pipe and fittings. When I first built the plate racks, I was fairly certain I’d end up with broken pieces of PVC, or at least cracks over time. I’ve been using these racks for nearly two years, and there are still no cracks or breaks.

PVC Plate Rack Version 1

PVC Plate Rack Version 1

There are only two basic components in the plate rack: ends and dividers. The ends, two per plate rack, should be 8 ½” pieces of pipe with an elbow (90 degree fitting) on each side. On both sides, like book-ends, and in between each plate will be a divider. Each divider should be two 5 ¾” pieces of pipe with an elbow in between, and a Tee on each end. The ends join the dividers at the Tees, and each divider joins the next at the Tees. Each of those connections is performed by cutting a joint of pipe to mate with the Tees (for the dividers) and the elbows (for the ends).

Ends and Dividers

End and Dividers

The first time I built the PVC Plate Racks, I only added space where the wider plates would go. In my case, that meant the 25 lbs and 45 lbs bumper plates. All of the others were left loose, as the gap between two Tees is 1 ¾”, which is wider than my 10 lbs bumper and all of my iron plates. There was a bit of wiggle room, but no real drawback to leaving the looser spacing.

The second time around, I cut the Tees down to make a tighter fit. I did this mainly for cosmetic reasons, but I find it to be a little nicer when retrieving the iron plates. Less wiggle room correlates with a reduced risk of pinching my fingers when retrieving or replacing the plates.

If you decide to go with the tighter fit, measure the thickness of the plate, then compare that to the 1 ¾” gap of two joining Tees. To maximize the strength of the joint, I removed equal amounts of material from both Tees, rather than simply cutting the extra material from one Tee and leaving the other alone. The bumper plates required a bit of test-fitting and adjusting, while the iron plates were fairly direct.

As an added touch, I primed and painted my racks to match the rest of the gear in my gym. Be sure to select primer and paint that’s intended for use on plastics.

Take a minute to count up how many plates you need to store, and factor that out into the appropriate length of PVC pipe and the correct number of elbows and Tees. Head out to your local hardware store and get to work!

I’d love to see how these turn out for you, so post pictures to the comments, or email them to be posted on the Facebook page.

Apps

While most of my training is fairly low-tech, I do make use of some high-tech tools in the gym. I use my iPad and/or iPhone as a timer, video recorder and jukebox. Below are a list of the apps I use for each of those items.

Timers

Tabata Pro from SimpleTouch

Tabata intervals are a proven conditioning method. I highly recommend working them into your routine.

Timers Pro

This app works well for CrossFit style workouts, and includes a built-in rep counter. This is the app that was featured in all of the 2012 CrossFit Open videos.

Chronolite from Treeness, LLC

I use this app as my primary stopwatch. Any time I see an AMRAP or For Time workout, this is the app I use.

Seconds

This app is nice for its ability to create custom HIIT timers. I used it recently for an every-30-seconds workout, and it gave a nice three-second beep cue for every rep.

Video

Ubersense

Coach’s Eye (not free) gets a lot of publicity, but I’m not sure it provides anything that Ubersense (free) does not. I use Ubersense to record video so I can confirm proper form on my lifts. It has the ability to tag videos by movement, play back in slow motion, and draw directly onto the video. And it’s free.

Music

Spotify

You can hear anything form Amon Amarth to Skrillex and almost anything in between in my garage, all thanks to Spotify.

Pandora

Pandora radio is another great alternative, and is free if you don’t mind the advertisements.

Training Log

Evernote

Jerred Moon did a full write-up on using Evernote for your training log. While I prefer the narrow scope of my handful of charts and spreadsheets, those who want to be able to recall and analyze a wider selection of metrics may find Evernote to be very helpful.

What apps do you use in your home/garage gym? Post in the comments or tell us on Facebook!

 

Recommended Reading

Your journey to strength and fitness should not be one of blind faith. There is an incredible wealth of knowledge available to you on the topics of strength, fitness, athletics and nutrition. I’ll list a few that I think are particularly helpful, and that will hopefully set you off on a course to knowledge.

On Nutrition:

The Paleo Manifesto by John Durant

I had the pleasure of meeting John at a CrossFit event a few years ago. He’s a witty and engaging conversationalist, which shows through in his writing. His book presents a compelling case for a diet based in real, whole foods to accompany an active lifestyle. While it has plenty of substance, the concepts are presented in such a way that any reader can understand them.

Paleo for Lifters by Justin Lascek

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time at all, you’ll notice I’m a big fan of Justin’s work. This book takes the principles from Loren Cordain’s “The Paleo Diet” and applies it directly to strength trainees. The framework is nearly identical to the recommendations Power Athlete HQ and CrossFit Football have for their athletes.

The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf

Along with Mark Sisson and Mat Lalonde, Robb Wolf is a torch-bearer of the paleo movement. His book is a little less geared toward athletic development and more toward the simple healthy lifestyle. It’s an easy read that provides plenty of information to anyone interested in cleaning up their diet.

On Exercise:

These are a handful of strength, fitness and athletic training books that I would immediately recommend to anyone seeking to learn more about those topics:

Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe

Fit by Lon Kilgore, Michael Hartman, Justin Lascek

Periodization Training for Sports by Tudor Bompa

Science and Practice of Strength Training by Vladimir Zatsiorsky

Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes and Coaches by Greg Everett

Advances in Functional Training by Mike Boyle

There’s no shortage of training, coaching and nutrition literature available. What books have made an impact on your training? Leave a note in the comments, or on our Facebook page.

Charts and Spreadsheets

As you progress on your journey to improve your fitness, it’s good to have and keep metrics. A rule of thumb from business school: if it can’t be measured, it can’t be improved.

training log

Gym Metrics

I like keeping metrics for a few reasons. First, certain metrics are a good indicator of how well I stack up against the competition and/or my peers. Second, having the right metrics lets me know if there’s a particular gap in my training. Finally, there are metrics that indicate whether I’m ready for more advanced training methods, or whether I should stick to the basics.

Here are a handful of charts and spreadsheets I keep handy:

Basic Strength StandardsRippetoe, et al.

This chart is great for keeping a handle on my overall strength progress, as well as identifying whether I have a strength imbalance. For example, if I’m near the Advanced level for all lifts except Power Cleans where I’m at a Novice level, I know there’s something about the Power Clean that needs attention.

Olympic Lifting Strength ChartGreg Everett of Catalyst Athletics.

This is similar to the Rippetoe chart, but has a focus on the olympic weightlifting movements.

Linear Progression Spreadsheet – Garage Gym Guy

LP Chart (pdf) LP Chart (xlsx)

I put this spreadsheet together to keep track of both progress, and to know when it was finally time to graduate from the LP. (The general consensus is that you stay with the LP until you stall on all major lifts at the same time. Individual stalls and resets do not indicate a need for more complex training.)

Rep Max Spreadsheet – Garage Gym Guy

RM Chart (pdf) RM Chart (xlsx)

I put this sheet together as a way to keep track of 1RM, 3RM, 5RM, etc. for the CrossFit Football Collegiate program. It’s faster than digging through my training log to find the right number for a given lift.

Percentage Chart – Garage Gym Guy

Percentage Chart (pdf) Percentage Chart (xlsx)

When your training progression requires it, I’ve also put together a spreadsheet for working with percentages.

CrossFit LevelsCrossFit Seattle

This is a handy chart to help track and monitor progress in the sport of fitness. Some of the biggest critiques of CrossFit relate to pushing too hard, too soon. Having charts like this to help tailor training to individuals can help limit the risks associated with pushing inexperienced athletes in over their heads.

If you found any of these materials to be helpful, please share them! Leave a message in the comments of head over to Garage Gym Guy on Facebook, and let us know what reference materials you keep with you in the gym!