Should you make your own Strongman equipment?
I’ve seen several articles and posts about different DIY strongman implement projects on sites like Starting Strongman and various Facebook groups. While some of implements I’ve seen are really fantastic and inspiring to me, others I’ve also seen make me cringe a little. Given the popularity of DIY gym questions it is obvious that people want to know if they should save some money by making their own equipment or if buying something new would be better. The answer is it depends on you, I know that answer sounds like a cop out but hear me out first. As a fabricator and gym owner I wanted to share a few thoughts and considerations you should think about before you dust off your welding hood and go buy some tube steel. The first step is always to take stock and do an assessment, think through where are you and where do you want to go. In this case it would be what you want to make and what do you need to make it. From there the path becomes much simpler. Your skillset, access to materials, what you will be using the equipment for, and the piece of equipment itself will be what determines if it would be a better move to build or to buy.
A thought to keep in the back of your mind is that with increased popularity of Strongman and CrossFit a lot of the standard implements are readily available at fair prices if you look a little. Rogue and Elitefts have great economic Yokes and Farmers handles that are well made and you can find decent logs all over the internet. Now that things have changed we have options and don’t need to be as handy but if you are interested it can be very rewarding.
I recall listening to a podcast which featured a young woman who told the story of how she wanted to save some money by building her own “sled” (I’ll not use the trademarked name of push/pull sled that everyone knows). She did not have great access to the tools she needed and was not a proficient welder but went for it anyway, ultimately the end product which cost her nearly as much as the factory made piece fell apart shortly after she started using it. This story illustrates that building it yourself is not always the cheaper/better route. If you don’t have the skillset or know a very kind friend who does you are better off buying the equipment. As you do your research, see how much the steel will cost, if you need any special tools, and factor in the value of your time. Keeping these things in mind will help you stay on track. If you operate under the assumption that making it yourself all said and done will probably end up costing you almost the same that it would cost to buy then you will probably be more right than wrong. The real advantage you have though is that you can make what you want, to suit your needs and can probably upgrade your piece of equipment for a few extra hours of time. If you have an in that can give you access to scrap materials you can end up saving a lot of money but you need to know it’s worth it and do the math. Just don’t skimp on quality and risk an injury just because you can save a few bucks.
Another important factor to think about is what the equipment will be used for. Will this be for the crew training out of your garage? Is this for a gym you opened up? Is it for competitions you will be promoting? Without having an engineer sign off on the design or structural capacity you could be opening yourself up to some risk as the manufacturer that you may not want. Ultimately you should think through and determine what your liability is on the equipment you make, if you are comfortable with that level of liability and if you can be sued if something fails catastrophically? If you want a piece that really only you and a couple of training partners will use your risk is probably very low, I would certainly hope that if your friend got hurt using an implement you made, he wouldn’t take you to court. If you are using it in a public gym then your liability increases, I know a lot of Strongmen who bring their personal equipment to the commercial gym they train at out of convenience. There are more users, more wear and tear, and more opportunities for things to go wrong. The same goes for promoting a contest. These are questions that you should think through and that only you can answer as the level of risk you are comfortable with is exactly that, the level of risk YOU are comfortable with. I would do you all a disservice not to mention an aspect that I haven’t seen addressed in a DIY article before.
Finally keep in mind what the implement is going to be used for. Are you training for a high level competition where fractions of a second matter? What is your specific use for the implement? Do you need the best money can buy? Brian Shaw is well known for buying exact replicas of the equipment he will be using in a particular contest. He’s poured countless thousands of dollars into his home gym so he can train for very specific world level competitions. It pays for him to be as prepared as possible with the exact same implement he will have on game day. Not only is he using incredible weights so the pieces need to be overbuilt, but the margins are so tight at the world class level it’s much better for him to be as specific as he can in his training. Most of us don’t need that kind of specificity when it comes to our implements because most of us aren’t competing for the top spot in the sport. You will be able to get as good a training effect from a similar implement as you would from the exact implement you would be using in a competition. If you want a competition ready Yoke then you should probably be a pretty skilled fabricator or buy one for a few hundred dollars. Just keep the use of the implement in mind before you start making your decisions.
It may sound like I am pretty negative towards DIY strongman projects but that’s not the case, I just want to help you think through the different aspects of you project that you might not be aware of. I’ve done a lot of fabrication and made several implements for myself and I have a few really cool projects I’m working on now that I’m excited about. In fact the purpose of this article is to be the first of a series of write-ups on the projects I’ve done and am in the process of doing. Before I start talking about different dimensions I think it’s important to lay the groundwork, you should be aware of what you might be getting yourself into. If you choose to make something then I wish you all the best and hope to be of some help to you, but like I said before it would be a disservice of me not to tell you as much information I can to help you make the best decision for yourself. I really do enjoy fabrication, it’s really fulfilling to make something from scratch and put a piece of yourself into your training equipment and I hope the same for you as well.