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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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!

Strength

“…strength drives everything. That’s your foundation, even if you run marathons. How much you develop that foundation will depend on the needs of your sport. For the marathoner, that won’t be extensively; for the competitive CrossFitter, it will be considerably more extensively, although less than a strength athlete like a weightlifter.”

-Greg Everett

Like I said in the last post, the most important biomarker of athletic performance is strength. Being strong enough is your ticket to play. If you’re not strong enough to actually lift the paddle, you can’t play ping-pong.

forrest gump ping pong

Ping Pong Strong

So how does one go about developing the requisite level of strength for his or her sport of choice? Short answer: by imposing demands that cause the body to adapt in a strengthening manner. That is, by exposing the body to resistance which requires near-maximal strength to overcome. Thus, by way of super-compensation, the body gets stronger.

Most of us are limited on training time. We’re desk-jockeys or service-providers, not professional athletes. We cook your meals, we haul your trash, we connect your calls, we drive your ambulances. We guard you while you sleep. So how do we maximize efficiency when training for strength? There are hundreds of muscles, dozens of joints – which movements should we focus on?

Just like we established a brief hierarchy of biomarkers, we can create a similar hierarchy of training movements. Since our primary focus is strength, we want to use movements that accommodate heavy loads. Since our limiting factor is time, we want to utilize as much musculature and as much of the body’s structure as possible.

The beauty here is that these two criteria also coincide with hormonal response desired for strength development: anabolism.

Enough with the Socratic method already – which movements? Squat, deadlift, bench press, press, dips, pull ups, chin ups and cleans. When performed properly, these movements require the vast majority, if not all, of the body’s musculature and structure. As such, they are referred to as complex or multi-joint exercises.

Part two: how much of these exercises? This answer is simple, but complicated. One of the most definitive answers is Prilepin’s Chart. Depending on what training phase (periodization) you’re in, you’ll be training for size, maximal strength, power or strength endurance. The chart clearly tabulates the sets, reps and relative intensities that lead to the desired outcomes.

Given the demands of the exercises and intensities, you’ll want to allow for rest and recovery. It will be optimal to include 36-48 hours between heavy squat sessions, and the same will hold true for most of the other movements. It’s a good idea to then establish your training split by breaking it into upper and lower body, and push and pull groupings. Day one could be both upper and lower body pushes (squat and press), and day two could be upper and lower body pulls (deadlift and chin ups). The cumulative loading would then call for rest and recovery on day three before repeating the push and pull combo (perhaps with different exercises) in the second half of the week.

This brings us essentially full circle. In order to get stronger, we need heavily loaded, complex/multi-joint movements. In turn, our gym needs the equipment to perform those movements. Come back next time to complete the journey with some recommendations on how to choose a program that suits your needs, using the Principles and Elements we’ve covered over the last several posts.

In the meantime, be sure to check out Garage Gym Guy on Facebook for more content!

Biomarkers

In the last article, we discussed Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. But what type of demands are we talking about? The answer is simple: What are you training for?

Do you play a sport competitively? Are you a strength trainee exclusively? Are you an endurance athlete? Are you training for a lifestyle of fitness? Some combination of all of the above?

The point is this: your training program needs to Impose the Specific Demands that will cause you to Adapt in such a way that the biomarkers of your performance improve.

Now, which biomarkers are we talking about? In nearly every sport or athletic pursuit, there are particular biomarkers that immediately come to mind: strength, speed, power, agility, flexibility/body control, endurance/stamina, etc.

In the perspective of training, we should be able to craft a hierarchy of those biomarkers which will in turn help us create a priority list that we can use to maximize the efficiency of our training regimen. After all, most of us only have a few hours per week to devote to our training.

I’m not going to beat around the bush. It is obvious to me that strength is the most important biomarker of performance. Strength is the ability to exert force, from which comes speed. Being stronger also means that the rate of exertion for a given movement, relative to absolute strength, is much lower. In vehicle racing, this commonly referred to as the Power to Weight Ratio.

Furthermore, strength is a hard-earned attribute when compared endurance. Endurance can take as little as a few months to acquire while true strength requires years. “Strength is never a weakness.”

Following strength is its derivative: speed. Even in the endurance sports, the competition is still a race: who is the fastest. Assuming the competitors all have the stamina to complete the race, it is still the most powerful (force divided by time – the one who exerts the most forward propulsion in the elapsed time) one who wins.

What comes after strength? Everything else – for your given sport, you will need some level of endurance, coordination, sport-specific skills, etc. A wrestler will only need a few minutes of stamina, while a triathlete may need a couple of hours. A hockey player will only need to be on the ice for about 30 seconds per shift, but may need to be capable of 30 or more shifts per game.

Garage Gym Girl - Sprint Triathlete

Garage Gym Girl – Sprint Triathlete

For our purposes here, we can see that athletes need to start with strength, transition from maximal strength to strength-endurance, and as the in-season approaches, move from a strength-based template to one that closer-approximates the demands of the sport. The common model of periodization describes this near-perfectly. For more detailed reading, I recommend Periodization Training for Sports by Tudor Bompa. In it, the authors describe, in exhausting detail, the periodization approaches for a wide variety of common sports.

In our next installment, we’ll get into the details of how to maximize efficiency while pursuing training goals. In the meantime, post in the comments or visit us on Facebook to share what sport you participate in, and how you hope to use your garage gym to train for domination!