DIY: Reinforcing the Bench

In an earlier post, I showed you how to reupholster a bench. That method is great for taking a structurally sound bench, and dressing it up or making it into your own personalized piece of equipment. If you happen to have a bench that is not structurally sound, this post should help sort that out.

My first bench began its life as a typical adjustable bench press unit. As is typical with these types of benches, the uprights were in the wrong location for a guy my size. I used an angle grinder to quickly remedy that (I chopped them off). I dealt, similarly, with the upholstered portion of the bench.  What I had left was a solid frame with no actual bench and no more ill-spaced uprights.

Flat Bench, Version 1

Flat Bench, Version 1

My next step was to add back a flat bench. For this first iteration, I went with a couple pieces of 1/2″ angle iron screwed to a 1″x8″ board. I then added some carpet padding and wrapped it in a durable fabric. I rarely do incline or decline pressing, instead opting for overhead pressing and dips, so this worked well for a while as a basic flat bench. My bench press has increased steadily over the past few years to the point where I was no longer comfortable on this bench.

The basic structure was still adequate, but the angle iron and 1×8 board weren’t going to cut it any longer. On heavy attempts, I could feel the bench sagging under the weight and the narrow base left me feeling a bit unstable. I decided to upgrade to 1″ square steel tubing and a 2×12.

Square Steel Tube Frame

Square Steel Tube Frame

First, I drilled holes in the steel tubing so it would mount to the rest of the frame. Second, I added holes for bolting the steel to the wood. I then used the drilled steel to stencil the bolt pattern onto the 2×12. I drilled through the 2×12, and added T-nuts on the upper side of the board. From there, it was as simple as sliding the bolts through the steel tubing and the wood, and tightening them into the T-nuts.

Tee Nuts

Tee Nuts

I topped it all off with four layers of carpet padding, and wrapped it in the same durable orange fabric as before. The result is a much sturdier piece of equipment that I doubt I’ll ever out-grow.

Bench with Carpet PaddingBench with Carpet Padding

Bench with Carpet Padding

And here’s the finished product.

The Reinforced Bench

The Reinforced Bench

Got a bench that’s not keeping up with your training? Give this a shot and let us know how it turns out in the comments or over on the Facebook page!

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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!

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!