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?

Advertisements

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!

Gestalt

The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

The Elements of a basic gym: barbell, plates, platform, rack, bench and chin up bar. A basic plan built on solid Principles: Adaptation by way of compound movements, an emphasis on building and maintaining strength with proper loading and rep ranges.

Garage Gym

Garage Gym Elements

It’s not complicated – and it doesn’t need to be. It’s just exercise.

In the last few posts I’ve given you the tools to select a solid program that fits your fitness goal. I’m going to take it one step further and flat-out hand you a few programs that have brought me great results, or that come strongly recommended by trusted sources.

Based on the Principles we covered, a good program will do two things. First, it will align with your training goals, and second, it will fall in line with the principles of adaptation from an anatomy/physiology perspective.

That means, if you’re a powerlifter, your program better make you stronger in the squat, bench and deadlift. If you’re a triathlete, the program needs to make you a faster swimmer, bicyclist and runner. If you’re a football player, your program needs to make you a better football player. Whatever your sport, your training program is a good one when it results in your improvement at your sport.

The second part is just as crucial – the program needs to fall in line with the general rules of anatomy and physiology. It must provide adequate stimulus for the desired response. It must provide adequate rest and recovery for consistent adaptation. And it must be safe for you, the trainee.

A program that doesn’t sufficiently challenge you, doesn’t allow you to rest enough, or puts you at risk of injury or overtraining is a bad program. Choose wisely!

If you are relatively new to the Iron Game, then it is my sincerest opinion that you should begin with a Linear Progression. You don’t have to stay there, but you need to start there. As your training age matures, you can move on to more complicated programs, but for the “young”, there’s no better place to start.

Starting Strength, Madcow/Bill Starr, Stronglifts, and Greyskull LP are all good choices here. I went with CrossFit Football’s Amateur program (also an LP), and was very happy with the results.

I have since moved on to CrossFit Football’s Collegiate program. This program utilizes a mix of rep max work with some percentage-based work. Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 and Justin Lascek’s Texas Method Part 1 use similar percentage tools, and work well for intermediates. While the Texas Method is suited mainly to brute strength/powerlifting, Jim Wendler has spun off a number of variations to his 5/3/1 program to suit the needs of everyone from powerlifters to football players to CrossFitters.

Speaking of CrossFit, if you fancy yourself the next winner of the World Series of Exercise, Rudy Nielsen has a selection of programs to choose from, based on your level of experience and/or your area of weakness.

If you’re more inclined toward Olympic Lifting, Catalyst Athletics publishes both a beginner program and a running daily program.

For the fitness generalist who is interested in exercise simply for a healthy and fit lifestyle, Everyday Paleo Lifestyle and Fitness also runs a program. For Tactical Athletes (Military, Law Enforcement and First Responders), Military Athlete publishes a variety of programs for both Fitness Test preparation, and active duty applications.

Like we discussed last time, there are plenty of methods out there – these a just a few that I’ve had close contact with, and which fall in line with the Principles we discussed. What programs have you had success with? How well did the goals of the program align with your training goals and how much do you think it contributed to your overall goals? Let us know in the comments or over on Facebook!

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!

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.

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!