Squats, and bench, and deadlifts, oh my!
Whether you're a competitive powerlifter, an aspiring powerlifter, or just someone who wants to build total body strength centered around the main three lifts, having the right equipment is paramount if you want to make real progress.
A great way to do that?
Build a powerlifting gym at home.
The problem that arises for powerlifting-minded people is that commercial gyms generally don't offer the right platform (pun intended) on which you can build an efficient and intelligent training program. You see, the vast majority of commercial gyms cater to the masses. They provide isolation machines for as far as the eye can see. Smith machines are a staple. The one squat rack they have is probably being used as a curl rack. And perhaps worst of all, the dreaded HEX PLATES! If I'm ever president, which, I promise I won't be, I am banning these abominations ASAP.
You want to know the truth of the matter?
It's typically going to be more difficult to realize your strength goals in a commercial gym setting, and unless you have access to a specialized facility built for it, your home is the best option. There are many highly regarded powerlifters who train from home. Guys like Cody Lefever, Mike Tuchscherer, Garrett Blevins, Brandon Lilly, Chance Mitchell, Dennis Cornelius, Brandon Campbell, etc… they have reached awesome strength levels by lifting in the comfort of their own home.
So click your heels and say it with me… “there's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like home..”
Join along as I present the ultimate guide to building a badass powerlifting gym at home.
Part #1: Essential Powerlifting Gym Equipment
Your equipment is your lifeblood. If you want to squat, bench, and deadlift, there are a few pieces of equipment that are absolutely essential. Once you have your foundation, you can add to your collection with ‘nice to have' accessory pieces and specialty bars.
Let's tackle each in order:
There are 5 items that you need in order to maximize your powerlifting potential and make the most of your space. They include the following:
- Power Rack
These items will serve as your training foundation, and they will, for all intents an purposes, provide everything you need to start your own powerlifting gym and hit the ground running in serious strength gains.
#1: The Power Rack
This is an essential piece of equipment that will facilitate your primary barbell movements while also keeping you safe.
There are two primary types of racks I would recommend:
The first is the full power rack, which consists of either 4 or 6 steel posts and a section inside from which your movements will be performed. These racks are the most commonly used because of their durability, usability, and versatility. The distinction between the 4 and 6-post racks is that 6-post racks normally have more lifting depth and they also offer a convenient section to easily store your plates out of the way of your lifts.
Full racks can handle extreme weight loads, and because of this, they are often the selection of choice for powerlifters. From a safety perspective, a full rack is preferred because there are several safety systems available: pin & pipe, spotter arms, safety straps, and drop-in safeties primarily.
As it relates to customization, full racks can't be beat. There are seemingly an endless number of ways that you can pimp out your rack. Things like monolift arms, dip attachments, pull up systems, etc… are all at your disposal. Talk about versatility!
The second is the half rack, which is mainly different from a full power rack in that movements are performed on the outside of the rack via J hooks and spotter arms. The price point is typically less than a full rack, which, depending on the brand you choose, is a potential benefit if you're on a budget.
Ultimately though it comes down to preference. Some people like to lift outside of a rack, while others like the feeling of being inside of a 4 or 6-post full power rack. You can of course also lift outside of a full power rack. If you're someone who lifts a ton of weight, I would suggest you focus your attention on full racks.
That said, I've seen some pretty awesome half racks that are certainly strong enough to handle heavy loads. Another benefit of a half rack is the ability to store your plates on the back posts without them interfering with the movements like you may see on some 4-post full racks with limited interior depth.
Where to buy
There are literally hundreds of power racks to choose from. They can range from several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars depending on manufacturer, specs, and finish level.
Your choice will be determined on your specific needs and your budget; however, I've put together a list of a few of the most regarded manufacturers of racks below:
- Rogue Fitness
In my humble opinion, It's hard to beat Rogue when it comes to picking a power rack for your home gym. They make high quality racks at a range of price points that are sure to appeal to almost anyone. The fact they are built right here in the U.S.A. is another nice consideration. I will add that their customer service is nothing short of superb.
I personally own a Rogue Bolt-Together R3 rack. You can read my full review here. Again, in my opinion, it's a tough rack to beat. It's built like a tank, it has plenty of interior depth, and its footprint is perfect for a garage or home gym setting.
- Titan Fitness
Titan Fitness is a relative newcomer in the fitness space, but they have captured significant momentum due to their compelling prices. Their racks are essentially Rogue clones that are a bit less in quality with only very slight spec differences. The primary selling point for Titan Fitness is their prices are awesome, they run sales often, and they have fast & free shipping. Definitely check them out if you're looking to outfit your home gym on a budget.
- Rep Fitness
Rep Fitness is similar to Titan Fitness in that they are a young company who has really hit the scene hard. They make quality products at excellent prices and their shipping is fast. One thing I really appreciate about this company is their constant evolution to improve their product offerings.
Sorinex is another company who manufactures their equipment in the U.S.A. If budget isn't a concern to you, Sorinex makes amazing, beautiful, and rock solid power racks. You will often see professional sports teams, collegiate sports teams, etc… rocking Sorinex racks and rigs. Make no qualms about it though, they are expensive. But the racks will likely outlive us all, as their quality is supreme.
Like Rogue, Elitefts racks are also manufactured in the U.S.A. and they offer a range of racks at different price points to appeal to almost anyone. They actually have a dedicated ‘garage line' that would directly compete with Rogue on price. They make beautiful racks.
- Legend Fitness
I find Legend Fitness to make some of the best looking and highest functioning racks on the market. They offer some awesome customization capabilities directly on their website with their “build-a-cage configurator.' It's really fun to use. The price point at Legend is going to be on the higher side, but their quality speaks for itself. Like Sorinex, professional sports teams, collegiate sports team, etc… trust Legend with their training equipment.
#2: The Barbell
Not all barbells are created equal. In the sport of powerlifting, specificity is extremely important. Because of this, you want to buy a barbell that is suited for squatting, benching, and deadlifting. You're not going to buy a bearing weightlifting bar used in the clean & jerk, snatch, and other Olympic lifts.
Nope, you're going to buy a power bar. A stiff power bar. A power bar more stiff than a 17-year old boy on prom night. After all, this is what you would compete with.
There are a few important specs that are basically required in order for a bar to be considered a powerlifting bar:
- Tensile Strength should be high, thereby creating a strong & rigid barbell with little whip. The band, Devo, really hates these bars. Generally speaking, anything over 180,000 PSI is going to be sufficient for tensile strength. Most quality powerlifting bars will be over 190,000 PSI, getting as high as the mid-200,000 range.
- Knurling should be aggressive and deep in order to provide a better grip on the bar for working with heavy weights.
- A center knurl is important in order to prevent the bar from slipping down your back when performing back squats.
- Powerlifting Knurl Marks should be present in order to regulate grip width. These markings are 81 cm (~32 inches) apart from one another.
- The Shaft should have a girth….errrrr… diameter of between 28-29 mm in order to strike a balance between pushing and pulling movements. You will notice the biggest difference in shaft diameters on pulling movements, particularly if you have smaller hands.
- Bushings should mechanically spin the sleeves. A bushing system is good at providing enough spin, but not nearly to the level that a bearing weightlifting bar would provide. This is a a good thing in powerlifting because spin isn't necessary for the big 3 lifts.
What to Buy
The following list is my personal list of recommendations for powerlifting barbells:
The bar is stainless steel throughout, including the sleeves, thereby giving it supreme oxidation resistance. The knurling has a very aggressive, mountainous profile that is outstanding for the big 3. I particularly love it on deadlifts and low bar squats.
The shaft has a tensile strength of 200,000 PSI and it's diameter is 29mm, which is consistent with most other power bars.
This is actually my favorite power bar. Priced at $379, it offers a nice value for a fully stainless power bar
It's built to be a workhorse for all powerlifting movements. It is a rigid barbell with 200,000+ tensile strength and a knurling that is considered to be among the best on the market. I don't personally consider the knurling to be particularly aggressive, but it strikes a great balance between medium and aggressive.
For the 45 lb bar, there are four different finish options at three different price points. The bare steel version is $265, the black zinc/bright zinc version is $285, stainless steel/hard chrome is $395, and the fully stainless steel version is $470. At these price points, it's an accessible power bar for virtually any budget.
Vulcan Strength offers three powerlifting barbells. The Absolute Power Bar is their mid-tier option, priced at $339 (free shipping).
This is one of my absolute favorite power bars. You can read my full review of the Absolute Power Bar here. This bar has one of the most impressive knurls I've ever felt. It also offers a whopping 221k tensile strength, which is one of the highest available in the power bar market.
The shaft is finished with black oxide and the grooved sleeves have a mate chrome finish. This bar looks very nice and performs very well, but you will want to maintain it with oil and a brush if you train in a humid environment.
The New Generation Power Bar from Kabuki Strength is a mammoth of a powerlifting bar. It boasts the highest tensile rating of any bar out there, ranging from 250k to 258k. The shaft is 29 mm in diameter and the knurling is considered “industructable.” There's actually a video out there of Chris Duffin shredding the knurl on another power bar with that of the New Generation bar. Scary stuff, folks.
The bar itself comes in three different coatings (in order from least resistant to corrosion to most resistant): zinc, black oxide, and electroless nickel. The sleeves are smooth, which I love, and they're operated by a bushing system.
The biggest drawback of this bar is the price. Ranging from $599 to $665, this is a premier offering from Kabuki that is certainly not cheap. The bar is great (I own it) but the value as compared to some other quality powerlifting bars may not be as high.
The bar is 29 mm in diameter with a tensile strength of 190,000. The knurling is considered “sticky” by many, but without the sharp & coarse knurling that some other power bars offer. If you incorporate a lot of volume work into your training, this knurl balance is a really nice feature.
Perhaps the biggest selling point of this bar is its stainless steel shaft, which is of coarse the least corrosive option outside of the Cerakote coating that American Barbell first innovated. If you are training in humid environments, stainless steel should be a strong consideration.
American Barbell is also known for their beautiful welding on the sleeves. It is truly a work of art that I haven't seen anywhere else. The smooth sleeves are hard chrome and they are operated by a composite bushing system.
At $450, you're paying a little more, but you're getting a terrific barbell that will last years and make your friends say goo-goo-ga-ga over its craftsmanship.
This is an old-school iconic power bar.
Having been manufactured since 1980, this barbell offers a ton of history and a proven track record of being utterly badass. Some of the most elite powerlifters have trained on this bar.
As for specs, the Texas Power Bar offers a slightly smaller diameter shaft at 28.5 mm. To some, this is preferred for pulling movements as it makes it more “gripable.” The shaft is black zinc, which is good at fighting off oxidation, but the smooth sleeves are a raw steel finish, which will require additional maintenance. The knurling is quite aggressive and does have a sharp feeling that isn't agreeable to some.
I have personally used an older Buddy Capps Texas Power Bar extensively in my training and I will say I definitely enjoyed it. Given an option though, it wouldn't be my first choice, but it's a nice bar with a really cool background.
The price point is around $289 (free shipping), which represents a very nice value.
When it comes to choosing weights for your powerlifting gym, you basically have two choices: iron/steel plates or bumper plates. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages that I will outline below.
Iron/Steel plates are traditionally the go-to plates in the world of powerlifting. They've been around for ages, you can fit more of them on the bar, and they're used on the actual platform if you're a competitive lifter.
Advantages of steel plates include:
- Price – They're typically cheaper than bumper plates. In some cases, they're much cheaper. I say typically because you can choose to buy calibrated steel plates that are fine-tuned and platform-ready, but these will cost you a pretty penny (around $2/pound minimum) new. You can find standard steel plates for closer to $1/pound new.
- Thickness – Steel plates are thinner than bumper plates, which means you can fit more weight on the bar.
- Sound – This could also be a disadvantage (see below), but the sound of iron is just awesome, in my opinion. The clanking of the plates is something you either love or hate, but no matter your preference, the sound personifies powerlifting.
- Durability – Steel plates are pretty damn durable. They are made to be picked up and put down repeatedly with force.
- Restorability – Yep, just made that word up. Steel plates are unique in that they can fairly easily be refinished and made to look brand new again. If you buy used plates off Craigslist, this can be especially attractive because you can find awesome deals and then bring the plates back to life inexpensively.
Disadvantages of steel plates include:
- Rust – Steel plates are prone to rust over time, particularly if you live in a humid environment or train in a garage. The good thing is that they can be restored as mentioned above.
- Loud – Remember when I said the sound can be good or bad? Well, steel plates are loud. They sound cool, mind you, but your neighbors just may hear you. This is something to keep in mind if you life in an apartment, have close neighbors, etc…
- Weight Tolerance – Unless you buy calibrated plates from Rogue, Eleiko, Ivanko, etc… there are going to be some wider weight tolerances. This means that if you buy a 45 pound pair of standard steel plates, one may weigh 47 lbs and one may weigh 43 pounds. If you're loading up a bunch of weight, this discrepancy may feel quite noticeable.
Where to Buy
I encourage you to check out the used market in conjunction with your search for new plates to give you an idea of what's available and what kind of deals you can get.
Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, LetGo, etc… are all good resources to consider. Depending on your location and your willingness to be patient, you can usually find really good deals on used steel plates.
As far as buying new; however, there are a few places I would recommend you start your search:
- Rep Fitness
I think Rep Fitness has to be near the top of the list, especially if you're not planning to purchase calibrated plates.
They offer a unique shooter-style round plate with hex grip holes for easy handling. These plates are fully machined and their weight tolerance is guaranteed to be within +/- 2%, which is comparable to the slightly more expensive Rogue machined plates below. I think these plates personally look pretty awesome from a pure aesthetics perspective, and you also have the option to pick from a black finish or a dark gray finish.
- Rogue Fitness
Shocker, I know, but Rogue is currently offering several different types of iron plates.
– Rogue Standard Olympic Plates– These are your basic cast iron plates that are going to be the most budget friendly. There will be some imperfections as a result of the casting process and your tolerances won't be as tight, but they will definitely get the job done. If that old school look and feel is what you're looking for, consider these.
– Rogue Machined Olympic Plates– These are modeled similarly to the Ivanko OM Series plates shown above in the photo at a fraction of the cost (~$55 savings on the pair). The tolerances here are tighter than the standard plates, but they will still deviate up to 2% higher on the 25-45 lb plates and about 3% either way on the 2.5-10 lb plates. The deep lip provides for easy loading and unloading.
– Rogue 6-Shooter Olympic Plates– These are modeled after the Ivanko OMEZH plates, but again at a fraction of the cost (~$82 savings on the pair). The tolerances here are even tighter than the machined olympic plates with the 25-45 lb plates having only a 1% deviation either way. The holed grips provide an even easier way to load and unload the plates. These are really hard to beat if you're looking for this style of plate.
– Rogue Calibrated Steel Plates – These plates are just awesome. They look beautiful and they perform beautifully. They're super thin, allowing you to load a bar up to 1,500 lbs (LOL). Weight tolerance on these bad boys is a minimal 10 grams in either direction. Holy precision! One important thing to note about these plates is that they have a slightly smaller hole diameter of ~1.96 inches vs 2 inches, so make sure you have a quality barbell, as cheaper ones may not be able to handle the awesomeness. These plates are going to be the most expensive of the bunch, as expected. Still, they are significantly cheaper than calibrated discs from Eleiko and Ivanko.
- Adamant Barbell
Adamant Barbell is a reseller who carries several different brands of plates including Troy, York, Intek, etc… They also carry standard plates similar to those shown above sold by Rogue.
In my opinion, the Troy Premium plates are a great option for a reasonable price. Adamant Barbell is known for solid customer service and for offering deals, either on price or shipping, if you purchase a lot of weight.
Alright, we've talked about steel plates, but how about those ever-so-sexy colored bumper plates?
Generally speaking, bumper plates are a more versatile option, as they can be used in more ways than steel plates. With respect to powerlifting, it's important that you focus your attention on low-bounce bumper plates.
Do not buy Hi-Temps or crumb bumpers for powerlifting.
The reason you want low-bounce is because you'll be far less likely to throw off your bar path on deadlifts and also because they typically have a thinner profile.
Bounce is measured through what is called a durometer rating. The higher the number (max 100), the harder the material, and therefore the lesser the amount of bounce. As it relates to powerlifting, I'd recommend staying at or above a 90.
As with all pieces of equipment, there are advantages and disadvantages to using bumper plates.
Advantages of bumper plates include:
- Versatility – Bumper plates have more practical applications than their steel plate counterparts. Namely, you can use them with traditional weightlifting movements where you drop the bar from overhead.
- Durability – Did I mention you can drop these from overhead? They're built like a friggin' tank, folks.
- Aesthetics – Bumper plates are just nice looking. From their steel center inserts to their sweet color schemes, they just look awesome.
- Less Noisy – Unlike steel plates, Bumper plates have no rattling noise, which is a sure benefit if you're worried about that sort of thing.
- Consistent Diameter – Bumper plates offer the same diameter from 10 lbs to 55 lbs, so you're pulling from the same spot regardless of plate selection. With steel plates, diameters increase as weight increases.
- Tighter Tolerance – Bumpers tend to have a tighter tolerance around the stated weight than steel plates.
Disadvantages of bumper plates include:
- Price – Bumper plates are typically more expensive than steel plates.
- Thickness – Bumper plates are thicker than steel plates, which means you won't be able to fit as many of them on the bar.
- Odor – Some bumper plates can emit an unpleasant odor. This isn't common in nicer bumper sets, but your rubber sets may have this issue. The smell does normally dissipate over time.
Where to Buy
- Rogue Fitness
Rogue is known for having some of the best bumper plates on the market. They offer a range of plates from Hi-Temp to competition bumpers, but for the purposes of powerlifting, I recommend you focus your attention on the following options:
– Competition Bumpers – These plates are best-in-class. I personally own them, and I highly recommend checking them out. You can read my full review here. They are sexy, they perform well, they have tight tolerances, and they offer a thin profile as far as bumpers are concerned. The durometer rating is a 94, which is among the highest you'll find with bumpers plates. It's practically a dead bounce. Good news for powerlifting. These plates aren't cheap, but they are worth every penny in my opinion.
– Black Training Plates – These plates are essentially the exact same as the competition plates, but with a different look. Their profile is the same, the durometer rating is the same, and they still look badass. They are less expensive than the competition bumpers, so check them out if you're looking to shave a few bucks of your total. Important note: The colored training plates linked here are not spec'd the same. They have a durometer rating of 86. The colored plates are better for general purpose lifting.
– Urethane Plates – These plates are primarily different from the comp and training bumpers in that they are coated in urethane, have a different insert (hard chrome vs steel), and a slightly less durometer rating of 90 (still impressive). These plates do offer two benefits: The first is that the profile is a bit thinner than the first two options, and the second is that they make a 10 lb bumper plate, whereas the others do not. These are the most expensive option of the three.
- Rep Fitness
Rep offers an attractive set of competition bumpers that are similarly spec'd to the Rogue comp plates. The durometer rating is a 92, which although a bit less than Rogue, is still very good. One way the Rep plates are actually better is that their tolerance is +/- 10 grams vs the +/- 15 grams on the Rogue. The other differences are primarily aesthetic.
The Rep plates do represent a significant savings over the Rogue competition plates if budget is a concern.
- Fringe Sport
Fringe offers their Color Competition Bumpers with very similar specs to the Rogue and Rep plates. The durometer rating sits at 90, within the suggested range for powerlifting, and they happen to look pretty sweet too. The steel insert is the same diameter as Rogue's comp and training plates, and the tolerance on these is +/- 1%. Price point on the Vaughn plates is on the higher end of those listed above, but they represent a solid option. You can read my review here.
#4: The Bench
Buying a bench seems like a pretty easy decision, but with all the options out there, it's not all that simple. In fact, there are some pretty big considerations to pay close attention to before purchasing a bench.
Because we are looking at essential equipment here, I'm only including flat benches, as that is what you absolutely need.
Let's tackle a few of those considerations before getting into the list of recommendations:
- Weight Capacity – If you're powerlifting, you want a rock solid foundation from which to bench… one that is capable of holding not only your body weight, but also the bar weight. Cheap benches are light weight and their maximum load is underwhelming. You can find quality benches rated for 1,000 lbs that aren't much more expensive than their cheaper competition who's weight capacities are significantly less (400-600 lbs).
- Height – This is an important consideration because you want to be able to utilize leg drive effectively. If your bench is tall, you may not be able to maximize this advantage because your legs aren't in an optimal position. If you compete in powerlifting, you should also consider your federation's bench height rules. The IPF, for example requires that a bench be no less than 42 cm (~16.5 inches) and no more than 45 cm (~17.7 inches). Lastly, your federation may or may not allow you to bench with your heel off the ground. You will need to select your bench with all of this mind.
- Width – Pad width is a very important spec because it directly affects the bench's stability, it helps protect your shoulders, it's more comfortable (for most people), and it will also be a requirement in your federation if you're a competitor. 12″ width is in my opinion the optimal pad width, and certainly anything above 12″ is good. 11″ is suitable, but 10″ or less I feel is inadequate.
- Padding/Foam – To go along with the width, you want a pad that is comfortable and one that will withstand the amount of weight imposed upon it. Trust me, you'll know the difference between high density foam (what you want) and cheaper alternatives. Look for benches with at least a 2.5″ pad.
- Pad Covering – Have you ever benched on a piece of equipment where you kept sliding up the bench? It's likely because the covering sucked. High quality coverings not only hold up over the long haul and under heavy weight, but they also provide a certain degree of “grippyness” as to not have you slipping and sliding everywhere while under load.
Where to Buy
- Rep Fitness
– Rep FB-5000 Flat Bench – The Rep FB-5000 is my favorite flat bench – it's a competition bench that is perfect for powerlifting. You can read my review here. Not only is it designed to meet all IPF specs, but it also includes a tripod design that eliminates any issues with foot positioning. It's also compatible with the popular Thompson Fat Pad. The height of the bench is 17″ and it comes with a pad that is 48″ long and 12″ wide. They also sell a wide pad that is 14″ wide. Keep in mind that if you elect to add the Thompson Fat Pad, you will add 0.5″ to the overall height. The bench is constructed with 3×3 11-gauge steel and it has wheel for easy transport. Considering the bench weighs in at 62 lbs, this is a helpful feature. When you consider this bench is priced currently at $149, the value is awesome.
– Rep FB-3000 Flat Bench – This is another popular option from Rep. At $93.99, the Rep flat bench is much cheaper than the Rogue benches and it boasts similar specs as the flat utility bench. Rated at 1,000 lbs capacity, you can rest assured it will handle the load. The frame is bolted together and offers a 17.5″ height. The primary difference is the frame is 2×2 vs 2×3, but with the weight rating being what it is, this is of little consequence.
- Rogue Fitness
Rogue offers two high quality flat benches that are certain to serve your home gym well.
– Flat Utility Bench – The flat utility bench from Rogue is a good-not-great flat bench at under $180. You can read my review here. It's fully welded and ready out of the box. The 12″ wide pad consists of 2.5″ high quality dense foam and feels nice and firm. The 18″ height is slightly higher than some comp federations, so keep that in mind if you require comp specs.
– Monster Utility Bench 2.0 – The Monster Utility Bench 2.0 is Rogue's latest release to improve upon the prior Monster bench. This bench comes in two heights, which will depend on the type of pad you're using. The shorty version is only 15.25″ with the standard pad, but if you add a Thompson Fat Pad it becomes 17.5″, which is ideal. The Standard height bench is 17.5″ with the standard pad, but if you add a Thompson Fat Pad it becomes 19.75.”
The bench is built using 3×3 11-gauge steel. It includes wheels for easy transport and a tripod design so that the base of the bench doesn't interfere with foot positioning. Unlike the Rogue Flat Utility Bench below, the Monster 2.0 is bolted together vs. welded. It's priced about $95 more than the flat utility bench, but you can add a Thompson Fat Pad for only $20 extra.
In my opinion, it's a better option than the Rogue Flat Utility bench.
- Vulcan Strength
– Vulcan 3×3 Flat Bench – This bench is a tank. As the name implies, it's 3×3 11 gauge steel. The 2.5″ pad is 12″ wide and sits 17.5″ off the ground. The 21″ foot width is a nice blend between the two Rogue options, providing a really stable foundation. All in all, it's a great bench at a nice price. Retail is $199, which includes shipping.
- Titan Fitness
– Titan Flat bench – Titan offers another solid budget option. Priced at $134.99, this bench is also rated at 1,000 lbs. It is 17″ tall with a 12″ wide pad and 17″ wide feet. This bench also includes wheels for easy transport, but it doesn't offer the tripod design that the Rep FB-5000 and Rogue Monster 2.0 offer.
#5: The Platform
Ok, I'll be honest, this isn't absolutely essential, but it's pretty sweet and it does make a difference. At the very least, you should be deadlifting on horse stall mats or something similar that can absorb the hits.
I will say, there is something about having a legit platform that is just cool. You can perform all three power lifts right on the platform, and it looks awesome in your gym.
Building a DIY platform is actually quite easy… and rewarding. There are a few online instructions outlining exactly what you need and how to build it. I personally followed these instructions.
And boom, just like that – you have everything you need for your powerlifting gym.
Now that we've covered the basics, let's look at some other fun stuff that will really take it to the next level.
Part #2: Specialty Bars and Accessory Equipment
Specialty bars and accessory equipment are made to supplement your main lifts in order to get strong as hell and ultimately help you lift the most weight on squat, bench, and deadlift.
While you can absolutely create an effective accessory program with the essentials above, adding a few pieces of nice-to-have equipment can have a massive carry-over.
Let's look at a few of the most popular pieces:
#1: The Safety Squat Bar
In my opinion, the SSB is one of, if not the best specialty bar you can own.
It's an extremely versatile piece that will get you insanely strong while minimizing stress on the upper extremities, particularly the shoulders, elbows, and wrists.
With the SSB you can perform back squats, front squats, good morning variations, unilateral work (great for rehab), and even lying triceps extensions!
This bar will destroy your back (in a very good way) and it carries over very well to the deadlift.
Suggestion: If you're a beginner lifter, focus on mastering the straight bar squat before jumping in head first with an SSB.
#2: The Trap Bar
I really love the trap bar. I think it's a great implement for general strength and an excellent teaching tool for the hip hinge.
In fact, this is one specialty bar I would actually recommend to beginner lifters. I used one when I first started deadlifting and I felt it helped me tremendously.
Greg Nuckols over at Stronger By Science has a great article discussing how Trap Bar Deadlifts are Underrated.
When purchasing a trap bar, there are a few key considerations to pay close attention to:
- Handles – Not all trap bars have high and low handles.
- Sleeve Length – Some trap bars have shorter loadable sleeves. This is something to consider if you plan on lifting a lot of weight.
- Weight Capacity – Speaking of lifting a lot of weight, not all trap bars are built to load massive amounts of weight even though most people can lift more weight on a trap bar than a straight bar. Pay attention to the weight ratings.
- Rackability – Definitely just made up another word (haters gon' hate). Not all trap bars are rackable. This is an important distinction to make if you want to do movements such as overhead pressing with your trap bar.
I personally own the Intek ModF Bar and I think it's one of the better trap bars on the market given it's open-ended design. You can read my review here. Since then, there has been an influx of open-ended bars including the Vulcan Ox Bar, Kabuki Trap Bar HD, Eleiko Oppen Deadlift Bar
#3: The Football/Swiss Bar
This style of bar is great for pressing movements as well as some arm gains with hammer curls and triceps extensions.
The bar can either have straight or angled handles, with several grip widths to vary your training. The bar became a popular option for football players because it was more suitable for their shoulders and also because the hand positioning closely mimics how the linemen hit the man in front of them at the line of scrimmage.
I own the Edge Fitness Systems Slim Football Bar, and it's a terrific choice.
There are several fabricators making quality football/swiss bars. Rogue makes the MG-2 and MG-3 bars, Titan makes a ridiculously affordable version of the Rogue MG-3, Elitefts makes the American Press Bar (and others), and Black Widow Training makes several including the slim football bar. There are certainly others out there, but these are all great options.
In my opinion, slim options are hard to beat given the width is shorter than traditional bars. For instance, the Edge Slim bar is 7″ compared to the more conventional 10″. This can play a significant role in getting more range of motion, and I generally find it more comfortable to use.
#4: Buffalo Bar
The Buffalo bar is uniquely constructed with a curved shaft. People who don't know about the bar are likely to think you're lifting so much weight that it's causing the bar to bend.
The bar was designed in an effort to reduce the amount of stress on the shoulders during squats and bench. Your hands will actually sit lower than on a straight bar, which creates a more optimal positioning for those with shoulder issues or poor flexibility.
A major benefit of this bar is that unlike other alternative bars such as the SSB, you can relieve shoulder stress while still applying the same technique and form that you would use with a straight bar.
One of the best options for this bar is the Kabuki Strength Duffalo Bar.
There are even cheaper options, but the three listed above are arguably the best of the bunch.
#5: Glute Ham Developer
The GHD is one of the best posterior chain developers you can buy.
It hits the hammies from the knee all the way to the hip because it works the musculature through simultaneous hip extension and knee flexion.
If you have lower back issues, the GHD can be an amazing tool because there is little shear force placed upon the structures in and around the lower back.
If you want to see your big lifts, especially your deadlift, go up, consider adding a GHD to your home gym.
In the words of one of the best powerlifters in the game, Pete Rubish,
“This exercise is hands down the best accessory movement for deadlifts in my opinion.”
As far as buying a GHD, there are several places to focus your search. I would first encourage you to check the used market for a quality commercial grade GHD. I own the Power Lift GHD, which is a 200 lb tank that many elite athletes use in their training. They don't pop up often, but keep your eyes peeled. Other manufacturers to look for include UCS, Legend, and Sorinex.
As for new, the Rogue Abram 2.0 is probably the most popular option for home gyms. Titan Fitness makes a very cost-friendly version of the Rogue Abram, and Vulcan Strength makes an excellent GHD with a front tilted fixed pad that creates a very comfortable feel.
Dumbbells give you a level of variety in your training that is unmatched by anything else. You can hit every major muscle group in a seemingly endless number of ways.
Unilateral work is easy, drop sets are a breeze, supersets are seamless, and hypertrophy gains will make your veins pop (not literally, that would suck).
In a home gym setting, space is typically a limiting factor. If this is the case for you, adjustable dumbbells are the perfect option. I personally prefer fixed dumbbells, but sometimes space doesn't allow for it. If you're interested in a fixed set, you can read my comprehensive buying guide of the Rep Fitness options, which are excellent.
There are two manufacturers that stand above the rest when it comes to adjustable dumbbells: Ironmaster and Powerblock.
The Ironmaster 5-75 lb system is the pick for you if you like the pro-style dumbbell feel. The dumbbells are built to last years and are constructed in such a way that you can actually drop the weights and not have to worry about parts and pieces breaking. The weights can range from 5-75 lbs, but you can purchase add-on kits up to 120 lbs and even 165 lbs. While they don't provide the fastest plate change system, they are certainly adequate in that regard. This adjustable system also comes with a nice stand that takes up a minimal amount of floor space.
The Powerblocks are the pick for you if you require fast weight changes. Their innovative systems makes it incredibly easy to adjust weights in the matter of seconds, which is perfect for supersets and drop sets. Powerblock sells several different systems, with a maximum weight of 125 lbs. Their unique handle design is not for everyone, as it does not replicate a traditional dumbbell in any way, shape, or form. These dumbbells are not meant to be dropped. Like the Ironmasters, they take up minimal floor space, but unlike the Ironmasters, you will need to shell out some extra coin for the stand.
Another option for space saving dumbbells is a loadable dumbbell set such as the Rogue DB-15 or Titan Loadable DBs. With these dumbbells, you add on traditional olympic plates with normal barbell collars. They are not quickly adjustable and some complain that they are a bit awkward to work with, particularly on pressing movements. These things are definitely built to last though. Feel free to throw these around with little concern. They are essentially mini barbells.
There is certainly no shortage of other accessory equipment on the market.
Bands, Chains, 45-degree hypers, reverse hypers, and adjustable boxes to name a few.
Powerlifting Gym Inspiration
At the beginning of the article I mentioned some stud lifters who have powerlifting gyms at home. let's take a more in-depth look at some of their spaces:
Cody is an all-around great guy who has helped a ton of people in the powerlifting community. Not only does he have a sweet powerlifting gym, but he's also a well-known lifting programmer. Give his GZCL method a look if you're searching for a great powerlifting program.
Brandon is another awesome dude who made a name for himself on YouTube and brought a lot of popularity to the sport of powerlifting. He has a sick powerlifting gym in his basement full of goodies.
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Today’s training: Back squats – 3×3 220kg/485lbs SSB Squats – 3×6 130kg/287lbs SSB Good Mornings – 3×8 60kg/132lbs Incline DB Rows – 3×8 38.5kg/85lbs Body is super sore from the other 2 days of training I’ve had since taking a week off for vacation, but it’s a good feeling. I’ve always hated good mornings so hoping using lighter weight and the SSB helps. Also pumped to bring back the incline DB rows which was a staple assistance movement when I was still going to a gym.
Brandon is an extremely accomplished powerlifter with a wealth of experience in the sport. He's the creator behind the Cube Method and he has world-class totals in several weight classes. His powerlifting gym includes some awesome gear, like a Sorinex power rack and Titex plates.
Garrett is an absolutely elite powerlifter. He has put up monster numbers and he trains at home in his own powerlifting gym. He also provides coaching to other lifters in their quest to set PRs.
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475/215x3x4 on pause squats. These felt a little off and are a good reminder that when programs feel tough pulling back on intensity a touch is a good call. Don’t be afraid to listen to your body but remember to use your head #balanceiskey – – – – – – – – – – – #Kizen #KizenTraining #Sheiko #SBD #usapl #usapowerlifting #BLESTCoaching #powerlifting #bodybuilding #weightlifting #crossfit #squats #squat #bench #benchpress #deadlift #sumo #strengthtraining #citadelnutrition #RogueFitness #perfectpracticemakesperfect #strength #getstrong #strong #fit #fitness #garagegym #blest #blessings
So, what now?
We've looked at a lot of equipment in this ultimate guide.
Before going gung ho on every type of equipment available, consider your current training level, your training goals, and your ever-so-important budget.
You don't need it all at once. You need the essentials to get you started, and from there you can add whatever you consider appropriate for you and your powerlifting gym.
If you haven't already, I'd encourage you to subscribe to the Garage Gym Lab Newsletter so that you can stay up to date on new content releases, current equipment deals, and free giveaways.
One last question before you go…
What is your favorite piece of powerlifting equipment?
The bar is loaded,