It’s the Thanksgiving holiday here in the USA, a time when we should all take a moment to reflect on all that we have to be thankful for. There are many things for which I’m thankful, but I’ll stay on point for this forum. I’m thankful for the opportunity to share my experience and knowledge with like-minded Garage Gym Guys and Girls!

Ryan's Garage Gym

Ryan’s Garage Gym

I sincerely appreciate all of the interactions I’ve been able to have through this blog, and I hope that you all get as much out of it as I do. Indulge me for a moment, as I share one of these recent interactions.

Ryan is a CrossFitter and Olympic Weightlifter who has been building a gym in his garage. Here are his words, and a couple pictures of his gym.

“I just recently moved and sold my CrossFit Business. I wanted a place to work out but wasn’t sure if I would fit into another CrossFit box. Therefore, I reached out to Eric the Garage Gym Guy. I came across his blog several months ago and I was impressed with his work. My plan was to build a Garage Box and I didn’t quite know what pieces of equipment I wanted. When I emailed Eric, he messaged me back very quickly and took the time to help me with no strings attached. He didn’t hesitate to give me his advice and I am so glad he did. I don’t recommend anyone setting up their Garage box on their own without Eric’s insight. Eric is the source I am going to continue to use in regards to setting up my Garage Gym needs in the future.”

So, to Ryan and all you other Garage Gym-ers out there, THANK YOU, and have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Bruce Lee Graphic on Ryan's Lifting Platform

Bruce Lee Graphic on Ryan’s Lifting Platform


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?

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.