Muscles of Iron

High Voltage Bodybuilding and Heavy Lifting

Growing a Workshop for Building Strength Equipment

December 1, 2015
A small workshop in the corner of a garage.

To build great strength equipment, a workshop need not be large or sophisticated. Shown here is my garage woodshop. It is simple and compact, but it gets the job done nicely. Photograph by Robert Drucker.

Almost nothing can make you more proud of your gym than adding a homemade piece of strength equipment to it. Whether you build a simple weight bench or a sophisticated power rack, pride and personal satisfaction will always be associated with your signature training apparatus. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, then you are really missing something big. Build your first piece of strength equipment and then you’ll see the light – brightly and clearly.

Building your own strength equipment not only helps you build bigger and stronger muscles, it stimulates your brain too. Yep, a little creative work in the wood shop will not only give you the tools you need to get bigger and stronger, doing so will push your creative juices into motion and keep your neurons in top working order. As an added bonus, building strength equipment in the shop is fun too.

Now, some of you may not have a workshop or even know how to use a simple hand saw. Not to worry. The fact is it is relatively easy to establish a good functional shop with limited equipment, and learning how to use basic tools is a task within the reach of any soul who is willing to practice and learn a bit.

Even if you have little money for tools and little available space for a shop, this scenario should not limit your ambitions. Sorry, but lack of time is not a good excuse either. As was stated some years ago in an issue of Mechanix Illustrated,

“Luckily it is just as feasible to establish a good functional shop in a small amount of space and with limited equipment as it is to do the job when you are able to use all the space you need, have all the money you want to equip it, and have all the time you need to set up it.”

The aforementioned quote is one of my favorite sayings ever, and I have committed it to memory. You may want to do the same. It applies not only to building a functional work shop, but to practically everything. A corollary of this quote is that being on a tight budget with limited resources forces you to think smarter and harder. And, when hard work is combined with hard thinking and a burning desire, the outcome almost always transcends what money can buy.

A small workshop in the corner of a garage.

Here’s a new workshop that I am growing in a corner of the family basement. It’s nice and simple, and it will soon be used to build a new wooden power rack. Photograph by Robert Drucker.

It is also a simple truth that good things grow from small beginnings. You don’t need to get a bunch of tools all at once to get started building your own strength equipment. Place a simple workbench in the corner of your garage, basement, outdoor shed, or living space. Then, obtain a few basic tools – a hammer, a drill, a hand saw, a steel rule, a few screw drivers – and you are ready to build something really special. If you don’t own a workbench and can’t afford to buy one, no problem; build a workbench for your first project. Your concoction doesn’t need to be sophisticated; something simple will get you going just fine.

In time, as you require special needs, you can add tools and power equipment to your workshop. You may also want to add utilities, such as additional electrical receptacles and improved lighting. But even if you are forced to work under rather barren conditions for a while, you are not really limited. I’ve built quite a few pieces of strength equipment over the years while working under a single 60-watt light bulb and with just a few hand tools.

In future posts and articles, I will provide readers of MOI more practical tips for growing a workshop and for building homemade strength equipment. In the meantime, be sure to check out the Home Gym – DIY Strength Equipment section in the Posts Library, accessible from the top menu.

Yours in strength,
Rob Drucker

Lifting Heavy Iron is My Madness

November 25, 2015

More so than any other form of physical training, heavy lifting was responsible for the remarkable development and athletic prowess achieved by John Davis, former World Champion and “World’s Strongest Man”.

These days it seems like more and more exercise enthusiasts are moving away from heavy weight training and pursuing non-apparatus methods of building muscle and health. The internet is going crazy with bodyweight training, and claims are abound that free-hand exercise is safer and more productive than pushing big iron plates.

Let me be clear that I too appreciate bodyweight training, and I have discussed the merits of such exercise many times on my blog. However, the bodyweight runaway that is sweeping the globe is doing little to part me with my barbells. Handling heaps of iron remains my favorite way to build strength, muscle, and power. Moving a loaded bar gets me excited, fills my head with passion , and makes me feel good. Simply said, lifting heavy iron is my madness and therapy for my soul. For me, nothing tops progressive barbell training for building both the mind and body. Nothing. That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it.

Again, please understand that I value many forms of non-apparatus training, and I often employ bodyweight exercises during my workouts. However, it’s time to set the record straight. There are a sickening number of self-declared “gurus” out there knocking weights with all their might. They tell you how lifting a heavy barbell will make you a physical wreck – ruined shoulders, destroyed knees, loss of athletic prowess, loss of energy, ad nauseam. I won’t waste my time dwelling on such stupid and misleading claims. Just consider that in nearly every case the weight-training knockers make a handsome living by promoting bodyweight training and selling books, videos, and courses based on their way-exaggerated claims. Many “bodyweight” guys even secretly hit the weights when nobody is looking. When progress then comes at a record pace, they attribute it all to whatever bodyweight method of training they are selling and profiting financially from. Enough about this topic already; I can’t stand to write about it any longer.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The Reeves Power Rack

November 23, 2015

Here’s another concept for a homemade power rack. I call this one the Reeves Power Rack, named after Steve Reeves, a former Mr. Universe and movie star. The original sketch for this power rack was made at the Chemical Engineering Laboratory at Youngstown State University while I was a student there. It was made using a Compaq Deskpro 386, a machine that the company’s chief executive once called “the most powerful personal computer in the world.” At the time of its release, around 30 years ago, this electronic device retailed for a whopping $6,000 to $8,000, depending upon hardware features. For my thesis project, I was granted special privileges to use this state-of-the-art machine to develop sophisticated computer programs for mathematical modeling, but obviously my mind was on other things from time to time.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The Reeves Power Rack offers a rugged design that is easy to build and light on the wallet. Drawing and design by Rob Drucker. All rights reserved.

The Muscle Builder

June 12, 2014

Here’s a couple more drawings from my Youngstown State University archive folder. Both illustrations are versions of “The Muscle Builder,” and I only wish I would have built a variant of this apparatus when I was younger. Anyway, anybody with a bit of imagination can find endless ways to build strength, muscle, and power with these machines, especially when add-ons are considered. Note, for example, the calf machine add-on depicted in the top illustration. With this set-up, you hold onto the barbell with your hands while you do calf raises. You end up with monster forearms, a powerful grip, a back of steel, and super-sized calves all in one shot. Super chin-up apparatus and back builder, too.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Drawing by Bob Drucker. All rights reserved.

Drawing by Bob Drucker. All rights reserved.

How Paul Anderson Was Outsmarted by a High School Student

June 5, 2014

Paul Anderson performing one of his “specialty” lifts.

I have but very little time for writing a post today, so I’m going to tell you a short story – one about how the “The World’s Strongest Man” was once verbally out-dueled by a high-school student.

First a little background….

Back in the 1950s when Paul Anderson was setting world records in weightlifting on a regular basis, the big fellow from Toccoa, Georgia became an outspoken advocate of the American free enterprise system. It was his belief that only through this political system do individuals in America have freedom to succeed. Anderson, however, became greatly alarmed when scientific polls, research studies, and surveys indicated that many Americans were losing faith in capitalism and the free enterprise system. The numbers from these studies, for instance, showed that over half of the college students in America believed that free market and big business were responsible for creating evil and hardship in their country.

With support for free enterprise in America declining, Anderson feared that liberty was at stake. It was his opinion that the freedom that he enjoyed — that all Americans enjoyed — could become seriously threatened if significant efforts were not made to educate the young people in the United States about the vital role that capitalism plays in the American way of life. Anderson especially sought to teach young Americans that it was only through the political doctrine that their country was founded on that they had the right to competitively market their services for profit with minimal restriction from the government.

To rally support for his cause, in the 1960s Anderson and some of his friends started a non-profit organization called Save American Free Enterprise (SAFE). Through SAFE, they worked diligently to teach the facts about capitalism and to enlighten ill-informed individuals about political significance behind free enterprise.

As part of his SAFE activities, Anderson regularly visited many schools and other institutions across the United States to promote the virtues of the free system. He once visited 11 different high schools and one junior high in Charlottesville, Virginia — all on the same day! Such was his commitment to teach the youth of America about the freedoms that they enjoy and which they should cherish and protect. Anderson was a big hit with the school kids, in part because of his titanic strength and popularity, but in bigger part because he knew how to relate to them and hold their attention.

Now the story….

One day Paul Anderson visited a school where he gave a lifting demonstration followed by a speech to a group of junior high and high school students. Needless to say, Paul left the students spellbound with his incredible strength. Paul’s speech, apparently, also managed to persuade the students.

After Anderson’s talk at the school, the students lined up to receive a photograph of the “World’s Strongest Man,” each one personally signed by the strongman himself. At one point, the huge weightlifter noticed that one of the boys was in line a second time, possibly a third. When the reappearing student finally made his way back to the signature desk, Paul placed his mighty grip on the boy’s shoulder, held him firmly, and loudly exclaimed, “What are you doing son?” The boy declared, “Oh, I believe what you said about free enterprise, Mr. Anderson.” “What do you mean,” asked the big fellow. The boy then verbally knocked-out the mighty giant with a most powerful declaration: “I’m selling your photographs,” the young one replied. With such a logical explanation, the only thing Anderson could do was sign another photograph for the ambitious boy and encourage him to go make a profit.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Building a Heavy-Duty Weight Bench in Eight Easy Steps

May 13, 2014

The sequence of photos below depict one of dozens of weight bench designs that have found their way into my storage cabinet. I call it the Murray bench. It is named after Jim Murray, a former editor of Strength & Health magazine. Glance through his book Weight Lifting and Progressive Resistance Exercise, and you’ll likely see in a couple of photos a wooden weight bench that resembles this one, albeit with a bit less elegance.

I don’t go into detail here with dimensions and building instructions; that’s for another day. This is just something to get the creative juices flowing and the concept across.

Yours in Strength and Health,
Rob Drucker


CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.


CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.


CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.


CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.


CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.


CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

STEP 7: Add rubber padding to the top of the bench.

CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

STEP 8: Finish up by adding a vinyl cover and securing it underneath with staples.

CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

Underside View of Bench

CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

Harry Paschall’s Power Training Apparatus

May 10, 2014

A recreation of the power rack built and used by Harry Paschall. CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

Back in the day when some muscle magazines were actually worth reading, Harry Paschall penned a wonderful article for Iron Man entitled, “A Simple Apparatus for Power Training.” In this feature, Paschall described a very basic safety rack that he once constructed in his attic. It cost him just a few bucks to build (circa 1940s), and construction of the apparatus required only minimal tools, effort, and carpentry skill. That’s a pretty darn good combination.

Shown above is a CAD drawing of a power-building apparatus that is very similar to the one that Paschall built. Note that the rack is not equipped with barbell uprights. Rather, the barbell is supported by the two safety bars prior to use. This forces the trainee to take the barbell from the LOW position upon the commencement of the lift. The advantage here, as explained by Paschall, is: “You actually lift the weight instead of ‘bouncing’ with it.” Yep, you gotta use brute strength to get the bar moving upwards, but that extra effort will go a long way towards building strength, muscle, and power.

A most important feature of Paschall’s apparatus is that it allows the lone strength athlete to train the heavy power lifts in complete safety. The importance of this cannot be understated. Every year, more than a handful of strength enthusiasts suffocate to death after getting pinned by their barbell while performing the bench press. So, please don’t take a chance; whenever you bench alone, ALWAYS use a safety rack, such as the one featured here. Doing so may save your life.

Although less serious, a number of floors get beat to hell the result of lifters getting pinned at the bottom position of the squat and having no choice but to drop the heavy weight behind them. I once had to do this while working out in an old rented room, and I can tell you that the outcome was not pretty.

By positioning the catch bars to the desired height, the Paschall apparatus also allows you to perform heavy partial lifts in complete safety. The use of heavy partials was one of the secret weapons of many old-time greats for building tremendous muscle and ligament strength. They would pile on the plates and do half, quarter, and/or lock-out movements in key compound exercises, such as the press, the squat, and the deadlift. John Grimek, for example, did press lockouts with over 800 pounds, and he gave this exercise much credit for helping him acquire world-class pushing strength.

As mentioned above, building the Paschall rack is relatively easy, and procuring the required materials won’t take but a small bite out of your wallet. The posts are cut to length from four-by-four timber so that the affixed end plates mate firmly to the floor and ceiling. Holes are drilled in the posts at desired positions, each 1 1/8 or 1 1/4-inch diameter. I recommend spacing these holes four inches apart. Posts are positioned relative to one another so that the safety bars align approximately 42 inches apart (for a seven foot barbell) and so that the barbell has about eight inches of play, needed for natural arc movement.

Wood screws should be used to secure the end plates to the posts, and each of the four end plates can be made from a 20-inch length of 2×8 lumber. The top end plates should be supported or braced firmly to the ceiling support structure with appropriate hardware, and the bottom end plates should be supported or braced appropriately to the floor. Finish things off by inserting two catch bars, each at the desired position. Paschall used very long one-inch bolts for the catch bars, and he secured these with nuts. However, the budget-minded individual may prefer to use schedule 40 3/4-inch nominal pipe, 24-inch length each, as depicted in the drawing above. Of course, if you decide to build your own Paschall power training apparatus, it is easy to tailor its construction to match your own training needs and gym requirements.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The Weight Plate Holder

May 2, 2014

A weight plate holder not only can improve the appearance of your home gym, this apparatus can also help you have more productive workouts. CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

Although often overlooked in the strength community, I consider the plate holder to be an essential tool for any weight gym. Owning one or two holders can go a long way to keeping your weights well organized, accessible, and off of the gym floor when you are finished with them. Sure, you can pile your iron all over your training area and forget the plate holder, but I have found that a well organized gym is more functional, more efficient, and more psychologically pleasing than a messy lifting facility. For these reasons, owning a quality plate-holding apparatus can help you have more productive and more enjoyable workouts, even though its effect is indirect.

The drawing above shows a typical standard weight plate holder, and its construct usually allows 300 to 500 pounds to be held safely. Note how the plates are positioned so that they can be gripped and removed from the rack without excessive back bend and with minimal effort. In contrast, lifting heavy plates off of the floor each time you want to load your barbell not only wastes valuable energy, doing so also can lead to back strain and in a bad way.

A new and quality standard weight plate holder can be bought for $50 to $75 (plus shipping costs, if ordered for delivery), although I would suspect that units for Olympic-style plates may hit your bank account a little harder.

I bought my plate holder at a second-hand sporting goods store for relatively little cash, and I suspect that you can do the same if you are willing to shop around. You can also search various online services and, perhaps, find a great plate holder for just a few bucks. Of course, if you can weld and work with metal, or have a friend who can, then this gives you even more good options.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Short Barbell Stands

April 27, 2014

No lifting gym is complete without a set of short barbell stands. Shown above is a rugged wooden design that can be built easily, quickly, and on a tight budget.

Many lifters own a set of barbell stands, but more often than not they are too tall for barbell curls, shrugs, seated presses, benches, and other exercises where the “lift off” is relatively low from the ground. The solution is to build custom stands that can hit a lower range. Featured in the drawing above is a pair of short stands that I built several years ago, and they have proven to be rugged, durable, and very useful. My stands offer five barbell height positions: 28, 31, 34, 37, and 40 inches – a perfect range for the exercises mentioned above, at least for the lifter of average height. Materials needed for their construction, mainly short sections of two-by-fours, two-by-sixes, and plywood, can be had at rock-bottom cost, or even found for free in a scrap pile. Assembly is also super easy, requiring only basic shop skills.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Blast from the Past Pulley Machine

April 23, 2014

Go into any gym today, and much of what you see can be traced back to the late Dr. Sargent. Illustration in the public domain.

Check out this dual pulley machine, designed by the famous Dr. Dudley Allen Sargent around 1880. Note that the weights are held in two boxes, each which is prevented from swaying sideways by guide rods, B. A Rubber pad is also placed under each weight box to soften the impact with the floor and keep things quiet. Now you ought to have a pretty good idea who invented the apparatus commonly referred today as the “lat machine”.

Unfortunately, it is very hard for me to type at the moment, so I’m going to cut this tidbit short. You see, I just finished up doing chins on my clamped-to-the-joist two-by-four (see post from April 13 below), and my arms are throbbing like crazy. Folks, this exercise really torches the fingers and forearms to the absolute limit. To perform it, do chin-ups as usual, except hold on to the top edge of a two-by-four by the tips of your fingers only; they are not curled into a circle as is done with a round bar. In my setup, you can’t curl your fingers around the board anyway because of the wide joist behind it. Super effective exercise.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker