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ITS Tactical Editor-in-Chief’s note: This post was written by Brett & Kate McKay and originally ran on The Art of Manliness.
Art of Manliness Editor’s Note: In response to my call for suggestions for manly crafts (and in response to a couple of reader emails-by crafts I wasn’t referring to stuff like carpentry and blacksmithing, which are of course quite manly-but to specific DIY projects that men could take on), Tom Pehrson wrote me a great article about building your own fitness equipment. Tom lives in Alaska, reads AoM, and works out with fitness equipment he built himself. Now there’s a man.
There’s nothing manlier that working out in your garage. In fact, many men have relinquished their useless globo gym’s memberships and used that money to buy equipment for their own personal garage gyms. This saves time, and instead of paying some jerk’s expensive car payment, you keep the equipment.
Get a good weight set, a bench, and hopefully a squat rack, and you’re halfway there. There are several other components to the home gym that make it even more functional and can help you take your fitness to the next level. Below are 8 pieces of equipment that will increase your manly strength and save you money in the long term.
Nothing builds explosive strength like jumping on a plyo box. However, plyo boxes from most fitness distributors are extremely expensive. The good folks over at Crossfit (THE anti globo-gym entity) have published plans on how to make your own boxes. I’ve made two: one 18″ high and one for my son at 14″ high. You can add this as a finishing exercise into any circuit for a truly taxing lung and muscle burner.
Sandbags are an extremely versatile piece of equipment. You can do cleans, carries, snatches and strongman type loading with them. The best part is they cost next to nothing to make. All you need are an old duffel bag (preferably an army/navy rucksack), contractor’s bags, and some pea gravel. Double-bag the pea gravel in the contractor’s bags, and tape them up securely. Each smaller bag can be at the weight you think is prudent for loading.
I have one large Navy sea bag and I made 5 different 25 pound small sandbags that fit into the large Navy bag so I can alter the weight as I see fit.
Another great exercise is to take your sandbag and some additional 45 pound plates and load up your trusty wheelbarrow. Quickly walk 100′, make a quick turn and head back to the starting point. Who needs shrugs when you got this exercise?
If you’re a fan of the Olympic lifts (and who isn’t) you need a lifting platform. This is a handyman’s project and a little too complex to detail here. I got my plans from Ironmind Enterprises. You can see them here.
Pulling a sled is one of the best exercises for increasing work capacity and general physical preparedness. This piece of equipment will make good use of your welding skills. It requires a length of 1.25 square steel tubing (approx. 13″ long), an 18″x 24″ piece of steel, and a towing strap.
First, take the 18″x24″ piece of 1/4″ thick sheet metal and bend a 2″ lip bent to 45 degrees at one end. Next, drill a hole through the lip for the tow rope. Then, take the tubing and cut (3) .25″ pieces off. These will be the spacers that the weight plates will sit on. Weld the piece of 12.25″ long tubing into the center of the flat steel surface. Finish the piece by welding the spacers equidistant from the pole in a circle so that your weight will sit on them in a stable manner.
**This is a very manly sled, but if you don’t have a welder (or the skills) you can use the tow rope on a large tire and pull that around.
Kegs are another implement that we’ll use when doing strongman type exercises. You can clean and press, distance carry, or do loading exercises with them. (Side note: loading exercises require the athlete to take a heavy object and place them on a surface that is head height or higher. The atlas stone is probably the most popular of these types of events.).
Dave Lemanczyk has a fantastic site for all things kegs. Kegs are easy to make, but they have to be empty first. Basically, you remove the inner device and replace with liquid or sand to personal preference. Once you have it filled to your liking, you clamp a rubber clamp over the opening.
Giant Tractor Tires
Although you don’t construct anything, just having one of these around the house gives off an aura of manliness. Also, they’re usually F-R-E-E, but you’ll have to use your moving skills to transport it home. I got my tires from Les Schwab, but check any tire yard or heavy equipment shop and they’ll likely be more than happy to give you one. Both Even-esh and Elliot Hulse have their athletes flip tires on a regular basis.
The prime exercise is flipping these beasts, but you can also attach your tow rope to the lip and use it for pulling as well. Additional exercises include the farmer’s carry (stand inside the tire, lift, and walk a predetermined distance) and glute-ham sit-ups (sitting on the tire with your feet inside the hole, hook your toes inside the lip and lean back to parallel and up again).
Don’t let the easy design of this piece of equipment fool you. Work out with one of these and you’ll feel the abdominal equivalent of 100 crunches and 50 military presses. Take a 5 -7′ length of 2′ pvc pipe, fill it up to 2/3 with water, and cap the ends. You can do cleans & presses, overhead carries, drags or deadlifts with these for a very intense, short workout.
You can’t lift what you can’t grip
The guys over at Diesel Crew have fashioned a number of homemade grip tools.
I’ve made the thick grip wrist roller and my next project is the rotating pull- up bar. Luckily, Joe Hashey put together the definitive Diesel Crew Grip Strength document.
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- 2 x Punching Bags (1 for Ground and Pound/Wrestling/Grappling and 1 hung up over a wooden crossbar in the garage)
- 1 x Adjustable doorframe pull up bar (can also be used for sit-ups, push-ups and dips)
- 1 x Tire
- 1 x Skipping Rope
- A garage and a backyard with a nice surrounding garden (for sunny afternoons)
- A watch and a smartphone
- My own bodyweight
That's all you really need for an effective conditioning training, combined with some roadwork and sparring/rolling when the opportunity arises. I do plan to purchase a sledgehammer, sled and a heavy log in the future, but that's about all you need. You just have to improvise, adapt and overcome.
I ordered a USN Sea bag online and filled it with 80 lbs of rubber mulch. The whole thing cost me $40. A 45-60 min workout (trying to stay out of the anaerobic state) kicked my ass. You can truly do workouts with this type of equipment that you just can't with a barbell. Thanks for this post, it's hard but a good change of pace and really a great tool.
Some very important things missing, that ANY home gym should have is also a barbell and around 350lbs of plates to start. I would trade in a slosh pipe and lifting platform for that any day. The platform is not a must have but great to have, you can cut cost and just get a nice size rubber mat. Horse stall mats are cheap and great quality for using over a concrete floor.
As far as suspension training systems as Steve mentioned in the comments the Jungle Gym XT is better than the TRX in my opinion quality is great and a lot less expensive.
Tires are a great staple for a home and gym and are FREE, yes do not pay for them. Companies have to pay a recycle fee to get rid of them so they should never charge you, you are helping them out. I have all this stuff and more back in my garage gym state side and love it.
Another great cheap tool is take a stability ball and fill it with water (start lighter and add more as you increase your strength and skill set) Make sure you press all the air out of it before you plug it back up. I love the water blobs, great way to mix up your sandbag training.
Some very important things missing, that ANY home gym should have is also a barbell and around 350lbs of plates to start. I would trade in a slosh pipe and lifting platform for that any day. The platform is not a must have but great to have, you can cut cost and just get a nice size rubber mat. Horse stall mats are cheap and great quality for using over a concrete floor. As far as suspension training systems as Steve mentioned in the comments the Jungle Gym XT is better than the TRX in my opinion quality is great and a lot less expensive. Tires are a great staple for a home and gym and are FREE, yes do not pay for them. Companies have to pay a recycle fee to get rid of them so they should never charge you, you are helping them out. I have all this stuff and more back in my garage gym state side and love it. Another great cheap tool is take a stability ball and fill it with water (start lighter and add more as you increase your strength and skill set) Make sure you press all the air out of it before you plug it back up. I love the water blobs, great way to mix up your sandbag training.
If the line between workout and brutality is a little blurry for you ur, gonna love this one...I use an Olympic bar for the squats and a treadmill for the run, but the water filled PVC bar and enough distance to go 1/6 mile and back will work just as well....goes like this, 1/3 mile sprint, 150 squats with the water filled PVC pipe, 1/3 mile sprint (making the distance is more important than the time), 150 squats, last 1/3 mile sprint (yeah, if u can make it the entire last 1/3 mile sprinting my hats off to ya, again the distance is more important than the time although decreases in over time is the goal) Oh & BTW, during the squats, u CANNOT put the PVC bar down or sit....u can crouch down, do front squats, back squats, hold one armed, whatever makes ya happy, but no putting it down or sitting. Be warned, don't do this as your first leg exercise in weeks, months or ever....I work my legs out regularly and it still kills me for a few days afterwards...ENJOY!
ITS also wrote up a great article on a diy fast rope that you can use for climbing, sled pulls or battling ropes.
Grab a long handled sledge hammer too. Hitting that tire with a sledge is an incredible arm workout. From the over head swing to controlling the rebound it'll work you over like nobody's business!