Since I started lifting weights in earnest at the end of 2012, I always felt like a lack of appropriate equipment was limiting the benefit I got from my lifts. I started lifting with a 40 pound dumbbell kit that you can get just about anywhere. I got mine at the local sporting goods store. I had to modify a lot of my movements to get the right target muscles for skating specific cross training. This meant modified versions of dead lifts and squats to work with the dumbbells. Weight was also limited, and I very quickly moved beyond the weight I had. Also, dumbbells aren’t ideal for lifts that target your legs. I then acquired a standard barbell. It was a 5 foot long standard width (1″) barbell with screw-on end caps. This totally changed the game for weight lifting because I was no longer having to modify lifts that started on the ground. Squats remained a problem. I quickly got beyond the 150 pounds or so in weight that I had amassed in standard plants, that included eight 10 pound plates, and two 25 pound plates. All of my standard gear then got traded for a 300 pound Olympic lifting set. While I continued to progress in weight for lifts that started on the ground, I found it more difficulty to modify for squats. I was doing all of my squats hack-style, where you basically lift like a dead lift but with the bar starting on the ground behind you. My form suffered, and I don’t think I was making gains that really helped.
After doing some digging, a squat rack or stand seemed to be the missing piece in my weight lifting kit. I don’t do a lot of upper body, so a bench wasn’t necessary. However, I also wasn’t in the position to spend big money on a set of stands, a cage, or a rack. A little more internet research led me to two blogs: End of 3 Fitness and Homemade Strength. End of 3 has a great section of DIY fitness projects, and promotes street parking, the idea that your garage can be your gym. He made a set of squat stands out of 4″x4″ posts and buckets, with the posts set in buckets. I liked the idea, but the build required tools I didn’t have or couldn’t get a hold of. Also, the build didn’t seem to be as effective as it could be, as there is no back-stop for the weight as it rested on the stand. More digging led me to Homemade Strength, where the blogger had designed a set of squat stands that used variable height 2″x4″ rather than 4″x4″ posts. After reviewing the build, the instructions on Homemade Strength ended up becoming the best option for the project.
I bought my materials at Home Depot (no link, this isn’t a sponsored project or post). The store in my area gives you two cuts per piece of wood, so I premeasured based on the instructions, and went in with a list of materials. It included four 10′ 2x4s, two 8′ 2x4s, two buckets, and Quickcrete. Since I had the lengths I needed in mind, I could be more economical with my choice of 2×4. In the end, this saved me money and resulted in less re-usable project waste. I also used 2.5″ wood screws for the project. Since the store did my cuts, I didn’t need a saw. I went in with my measurements, grabbed my wood, and walked to the cutting station. The associate helping me marked the wood, cut the pieces to length, and I walked out with all of the materials I needed ready for my build. When set side by side, my pre-cut 2x4s looked like this:
I then lined the pieces up on top of one another and screwed them together. The pieces I picked out ended up being more warped than I expected, and the lack of a very strong drill meant there were some gaps in the wood. If you can avoid this when you do your build, I would strongly recommend getting the wood to sit flush after it is screwed together. This should prevent unnecessary cracking in the cement. Also, when I set the stands in the buckets, I found that the top rest was about two inches too tall. Before setting the wood in the cement, I had to cut the excess from the bottom of the stands. Thankfully, I didn’t hit any of the screws. This also resulted in a slightly uneven base. I used the concrete to correct this problem when setting the posts.
After screwing them together, I placed them in the buckets and started working with the concrete. I probably used a little too much water for the concrete as it cracked some after it set. This may be caused by the warped wood problem, too. After mixing the concrete in a tub, I started adding it to the buckets. I put down a layer of wet concrete in the bucket and then put the post into the bucket, driving it down to the bottom of the bucket. This compensated for my uneven cut to shorten the posts by allowing the concrete to fill in around the gaps in the bottom of the posts. Once I got the concrete and the stand legs into the buckets, I used a level to make sure everything was even, and pushed the stand legs around until they leveled front to back and side to side.
The end result is a solid set of stands that has two levels, one at squat height, and the other at bench height. I probably didn’t need to do a set at bench height, but I have found this helpful for moving the weight from the ground to the top of the stands. I dead lift the weight to the bench height, then move them up one side at a time to the top of the stands. So far, it works pretty well, and I am glad I followed the measuring instructions for the bench height. Otherwise, I would be forced to unload and reload the bar every time I need to switch from ground lifts to stand lifts. This cuts down on wasted time during work outs. This is what the stands look like loaded:
I like the buckets. The slogan is good motivation. Aside from the tip concerning making sure the wood is screwed together flush, my other suggestion is to use Quickrete’s post setting concrete product. I used Quickcrete 5000, which is a commercial grade concrete for heavy duty uses. I may have let my ego get the better of me with that purchase. I bought two 80 pound bags, and had about half of a bag left over. I think the post setting concrete product is sold in 60 pound bags. The post setting product also requires a lot less mixing, meaning you can empty the contents of the bag into the bucket with the post, pour the required water in the bucket, level your posts, and walk away. The post setting product will set in a couple of hours, with a full set after a day or so. This cuts down on a lot of the extra mixing work and equipment required by working with the commercial grade product. It also requires less experience working with concrete. If that aspect of this build seems daunting, the post setting product removes that concern. If you don’t need a height for a weight bench, you can also set the lower height level for a short person, or just a lower starting height for your squats. Using 2×4 provides a lot of additional options over using 4×4 for the build.
Why do this build? First, it was cheap. Commercial stands run about $200. This build cost me about $52 (I needed some mixing tools for the concrete, a trowel and basin). Second, having the stand means I can do proper squats, work on maximizing my squat form, and have more productive work outs. Hack style lifting was probably sufficient, but this will insure that I lift properly, and build the muscles I want/need to build for skating. So far, this and my other DIY projects have saved me over $300 in commercial equipment. I have been working out with this set-up for most of January, and I really like it. If you find yourself needing squat stands, you can’t go wrong with this build.
After moving from Minnesota to Illinois and selling most of my gear including my prior set of squat stands, I built another set. The posts of the stands, in order from front to back, are 37″, 36″, 52″, 51″, and 62″ tall. I put the screws in through the back so you can’t see them. I used Quickcrete Post Setter this time and it was very easy. This is still a great, easy, cheap set of stands. I anticipate building a full rack at some point in the future, but this will work fine for now.
Now, I can restart training. Hopefully there will be more posts on this progress.