Category Archives: Gym Equipment

Tips to build a bigger deadlift

Deadlifting is one of the core powerlifting movements. It requires strong upper and lower body strength and is a great way to build a strong back. Many new lifters start out with concentrating on their bench press, but deadlifting is and always will be a staple for any serious powerlifter, strongman or bodybuilder. Here are some tips to improve yours.

Know when to use wrist straps

Wrist straps help with your grip, and there is some debate about their usefulness. I wrote about my experience with them here.  For an average person try training with and without them. Make sure to  use an alternated grip when not using straps. In my personal opinion If you are training for powerlifting you should rarely use them. Bodybuilders can definitely get away with using wrist straps more and strongmen competitors can also find them useful to train for events that are modified like car deadlifts which allow straps in the event.

Example of using wrist straps to train for a strongman event
Example of using wrist straps to train for a strongman event

Try a sumo deadlift
To do a sumo deadlift you extend your legs out so your feet are spread far out towards the ends of the bar. You then reach down to a much narrower grip then a conventional deadlift. The execution is much the same, with a deep seated motion, keeping your head up and driving the weight to waist level.

Chalk up

Get some chalk on those hands. You won’t be pushing yourself to the max unless you can maintain your grip. And you don’t want to have your grip fail because of something as simple as sweaty hands. Check with your local gym and see if they allow chalk. If not, they sometimes allow a substitute.

Use chains

Chains are not just great for bench pressing; they are perfect for other heavy compound movements like the deadlift. You will have to adjust them accordingly but attaching a set of chains to the ends of the bar is a great way to train through some sticking points and lockout with some truly massive weight.

Lift off blocks

Similar to benching off a block placed on your chest, pulling the bar off of elevated blocks is not done to avoid the deep portion of the lift. It is done to fully maximize your strength and target specific points in your movement.  If you watch lifters failing deadlifts they often have a sticking point at some stage of the lift. Adjusting your blocks to work through those points can really help develop a big deadlift.

Example of my training with blocks

Record yourself

We used to record ourselves doing our lifts all the time. Today’s smartphones are capable of excellent quality video. This is not just to have a video to document your lifting; it really helps analyze your form. Try it from different angles and note if you are sitting deep enough into the lift or having any issues that you might not even notice you are doing.



Should you use wrist straps when lifting weights?

Wrist straps are thick pieces of material that wrap around a lifters wrist and strap a tail section to the bar of the weight being lifting. This done right snugs the bar into the hand and greatly reduces the effort that the lifters grip plays in the lift.

The use of wrist straps has been a largely debated subject over the years. The argument for them is that they allow the lifter to push more reps and more weight to a muscle group then what the lifters grip would normally allow. The counter argument is that you should build your grip strength to a point that you do not need to use straps at all and using them only serves to limit ones grip strength potential.

My personal experience with wrist straps has to do with my back. My back has always been my strongest muscle group and this has sometimes made training those muscles in the group difficult. At one time nothing short of 200lb dumbbells would suffice in doing heavy dumbbell rows. But nothing I could do would ever make my grip handle reps with 200lbs for that exercise. So I used wrist straps to compensate and get a proper back set done. However as time went on I found myself using straps more and more, including in lifts where they were not necessary, I started using them for comfort and here is where you should be cautious.

As I began to get into strongman and later powerlifting, I found my grip was lacking. I decided I needed to start focusing on developing my grip with strength exercises specific for gaining grip strength and I eventually became less reliant on straps as time went on. However in certain lifts, such as those 200lb dumbbell rows, I still needed them to fully push myself in that exercise and for certain strongman events such as the car deadlift. I am a believer in that if you want to develop a lift better, than do that lift. So in that regard if you are training to be able to lift a car with straps, train with straps, if you are training to deadlift in a powerlifting event that obviously does not allow them, then train without.


In my experience straps can play a part in any training routine but you have to be very careful not to start to use them as a crutch. There are situation such where you simply cannot maintain your grip to properly push another muscle group to its max. An example to this would be say barbell shrugs for targeting your trapezius muscles. This can (depending on your conditioning) involve a large amount of weight, maybe even more than you can deadlift and to really target that muscle, removing the grip element may be a good idea. Likewise if you are training for an event that allows straps then utilizing them in your training is also not a terrible idea. However, one must not fall into the trap of using straps when not necessary out of comfort. This is especially the case if one is involved in a sport such as powerlifting or strongman where grip becomes a significant factor in performance. If you must use straps more than you should, make sure to put in some grip training now and then. And really ask yourself on each lift you use them on if you truly feel they are needed.

Put some variety into your next arm workout

I don’t train my arms nearly as much as I used to. Back in my early training I had arm day in my routine. It was a day of set after set of curls, dips, skull crushers, hammer curls, you name it. Today I look at my arm workouts as secondary work to my main bench, squat or deadlift days. Once every week or two  3 sets for my biceps, and 3 for my triceps is all I do and I find it more than enough. That said training arms is fun, and just because I no longer agree with doing endless sets for working the  arms doesn’t mean I don’t believe in putting some serious intensity into the training. One of the biggest problems I have found is finding ways to change things up. Here are a couple of ways I found to make arm days extra challenging and fun. While keeping the workout short

Super set biceps and triceps.

Most people who train regularly know about super-setting. This just involves combining two exercises into one long set. This can be done with the same muscle group, like super setting back rows with chin ups for your back. Or separate muscles like for you biceps and triceps.

The thing I find about doing this for the arms is that you get an unbelievable “pump” that happens. The idea is to keep the blood pumping into the same area, in this case your arms. Something not achieved with say doing supersets with your quads and delts and blood going to both your legs and shoulders. Give it a try, and be creative on the exercises. Try combining skull crushers with hammer curls. Or preacher curls with pressdowns. One of my favorite is to load a EZ bar up, do a set of basic bicep curls, then immediately clean the weight over my head and do some behind the neck triceps extensions.  Vary this by one day starting with biceps and the next triceps.

21 curls

21 curls were always one of my favorite.  If you have not heard of these here is how they work. Take a weight that is a about 70-80% of what you would normally use for a 10-12 rep set. Bring the weight up to your shoulders as the starting positions as if you have just finished a curl movement. Now lower the weight in the eccentric (downward motion) but stop as your arms reach 90 degrees. Bring the weight back up to the starting position and repeat for 7 reps. This is just like doing curls but you are only doing the top half movement.  When you reach 7 reps lower the weight all the way down and repeat 7 reps but this time doing the same thing with the bottom half of the movement.  This means you are extending your arms fully and curling the weight up only to a 90 degree bend the in elbow.

At this point you may have found the first 7 reps easy but by the end of these 7 you will feel a little bit like you just lit a fire on your biceps. Now after you finish those 7 comes the fun part, finish with 7 full motion reps nice and controlled just as you would normally do a bicep curl. You should only need 3 sets of this to have your biceps pumped and screaming.  Again try some variations, my favorite is this with a EZ bar, but try hammer curls with a rope and cable, or for a real challenge and stretch,  dumbbells on a slight incline. I also sometimes like preacher curls with this method.

Build Your Own Gym

There is something really nice about getting out of bed, walking 20 feet out the door, putting on some music and picking up your own personal iron. Don’t get me wrong I love going to the local gym, the variety, and energy is hard to match. But for many people, there own personal gym is the way to go. I had always wanted my own gym equipment, so I started collecting. while it can be expensive, sometimes it is easier that you think. Here are a few examples.
Inexpensive Gym accessories and ideas
A few things you might want to add to your gym that will not break your wallet

clamp chain_col bench
Chains are a fundamental training tool for most Powerlifters as well as many other strength athletes. The idea is that as the chains are raised off the floor, the lifts become harder as each link is raised into the air. Here I have several chains cut into 4ft lengths. I bought them at a local hardware store for about $1.20 a foot. I used specialized collars made specifically to attach chains I bought online for around $20. I have used chains to add for my bench press, deadlifts, squats and even used them as makeshift dumbbells for side lateral raises or tricep extensions to add variety.

Something else that is relatively inexpensive are workout bands. By doubling them up, you can receive a nice light workout on something such as a side delt exercise. Running around $20-$30 they are a relatively inexpensive addition to you gym, and will provide you with an alternative to dumbbells on a light day if you don’t have cables and are great for warmups.
Finally I like to use hardware clamps for the ends of my barbells. These ran me less than $3 each, which is less than collars for most Olympic barbells, and these seem to secure the plates much better.
Building or acquiring a strongman gym
Strongman equipment has gained popularity in recent years as people become more interested in functional strength as opposed to simply larger biceps. The great thing about strongman gear is that it uses odd, and sometimes everyday items for strength. Some of these items are easily attainable
Strongman Log

Metal Stronman Log
One of my Steel strongman logs

The Strongman log is the staple for pressing in strongman, but many trainers are finding with its inverted grip and width, it is easier on the wrists and shoulders, and when used correctly can be safer to use than a standard barbell.
If you can get someone to build you one, make sure they are good welders, but the principle is the same with any log. They are
• Handles are commonly 24” apart
• Holes are typically 8”x8”
• The logs are normally 3′-6′ long
• Width is normally 9-14” with 12 being standard

But building a metal log can be a bit pricey especially if you have no knowledge of welding, and to buy one can be even more pricey (some on the net go for 4-$600) However for those of you like me, who are not a welder, a log can also be carved out of wood. (Just a note that wood may take time to dry and that a log that seems too heavy will lighten as times goes on)

My wood Strongman log I carved which fits standard plates.


Most strongmen have a tire or several of different sizes. Even gyms are beginning to utilize them at this time, although they use lighter variants then strongman typically use. Tires are relatively easy to obtain, although you will need a pickup truck to transport it. The best place to find a tire is any tire yard or heavy equipment facility. When large tires are worn, companies have to pay money to recycle them. So often they will give them to you very cheap or for free. We would normally see how many times we could flip a tire in 60 seconds.

850lb Tire we flipped up and down the back roads.

Farmers Walk

Farmers implements can be made of welded tanks, metal pipe, railroad ties, you name it. They are not that expensive to buy for basic plate loaded ones, so check around. For beginners though, grab yourself a few water jugs for office water coolers. Fill them with sand or pebbles, and do your walks with them. Try about 50ft and back to start. They are fairly cheap. If you want to build your own from wood, pipe handles, or whatever, just make sure they are solid, do not take chances when building strongman equipment

Strongman Axle

cc axle_big

Because an axel is thick, it utilizes a lot of grip work to do those movements. Axles are great for building strong hands and forearms, but do not over use as they can cause hand injuries. Axles are normal 1.5 to 2 inches thick, but can be thicker or thinner depending on what you want. Some places sell axles with Olympic ends for plates. The cheapest way to get an axel is just to use pipe that fits Olympic plates, then attach collars. The problem with hollow pipe is that for advanced lifters who utilize very heavy weights you may bend or break the pipe. Use your own judgement.

Bench Boards

Simple board setup I made from 2x8s

Exactly as it appears, Powerlifters use boards placed on the chest during bench press to help train lockouts or sticking points. It can be anywhere from one board to 5. Easy to make, insure you have 2 spotters, one for the bar and one to hold the board secure. Make sure the boards are securely nailed or screwed together.
Items such as Kegs, Stones, Sandbags, can all be used for carries, Loading or pressing exercises. River stones are free and the simplest item for those who do not have access to a stone mold.