By: Joyce Luke, SSC
Joyce shares how she made the durable, sharp looking platforms at her fantastic gym Luke’s Barbell Club. If you find yourself in Austin, TX be sure to drop in and get a training session in!
In 2008 I built weightlifting platforms in the corner of the box gym I was working in at that time. It was controversial. They didn’t like the noise of weight dropping or the idea of using chalk. But they allowed me to coach the strength lifts and the olympic lifts anyway and put up with it. I opened my own gym soon after. Ten years later those platforms are still there making money for the owners as the demand for proper lifting platforms went up.
For those of us who know how and why to use them, platforms are essential for any garage gym. When I opened my barbell club in 2010 I built platforms from scratch again. These were 6’x8′ platforms that could be used for squats, presses, deadlifts and the Olympic lifts. Squat stands could be moved on and off as needed. Having seen the platform set up in many weightlifting gyms, and observed what heavy use and time does to them, I wanted to make them better. Platforms are already built to take a beating. But over the years, mine were not only faded, grungy, and smudgy but also splintered on some edges and even stained with various body fluids- years of blood, sweat, and tears. Charming, but gross. I also had a power rack in which I installed horse stall mats for the center piece inside the rack instead of wood. This was not good. Over the years the horse stall mat became worn out with divets, dents, and grooves where people’s squat stance had been. The platform is a useful piece of equipment upon which real work is done. But it doesn’t have to look like hell. For my new Barbell Club, I wanted to keep the hard old school feel of the garage gym with built-up platforms to bolt my racks to, but add a clean and good looking finish. The platforms also had to be practical — a nice clean shine without being slippery. It had to be both easy to clean, and tough. So I focused on the finish. Here’s how I finished my lifting platforms.
Materials and procedures. My favorite design for building platforms is the one laid out by Matt Reynolds with Brett McCay here:
I used maple wood, a premium hard wood for the top center piece of the platform. It’s a little more expensive, but worth the durability and looks great.
Step 2 & 3
The stain and the seal. This is how I got the nice shiny but rugged non slippery surface. First I applied a wood stain. The Minwax natural wood stain really brightens up and brings out the grain in the wood. I applied it with a 4” brush which made the process a little faster. The stain is very oily so I let this sink in for two days. Then I applied one coat of Thompson’s Clear water seal. This took another day to dry.
Gloss it up. Twice. I applied 2 coats of clear polyurethane clear gloss, again using a 4” brush. I applied the first coat on thick and smooth. I let this sit for about 12 hours. This step may vary based on climate, but with the humidity here in Texas, this first coat was not completely dry. It wasn’t wet but just a little sticky1. I didn’t do any sanding between coats. I applied the second coat on thick too. Then I let this dry longer-about 2 days. Once completely dry to the touch and not sticky, I wiped it down with a clean dry cloth and it was good to go.
I do have some Clubhouse rules that apply to the platforms. For the most part I don’t allow street shoes on them. Lifting shoes only. Lifters should not be wearing their lifting shoes on the street bar hopping or hiking around town. The platforms can take a beating from dropping weights under control properly. This means using bumper plates and not throwing the weight down over head. Typically iron plates should be lowered down under control and not be dropped on the center wood. The outer rubber horse stall mat strips take the brunt of the drop. Another good idea is to resist the urge to spear the wood with the end of a barbell. This is usually done by standing the barbell on its end on the wood for no good reason other than you didn’t set up your rack ahead of time. This damage causes dents or chips from what I call unnecessary roughness, easily remedied by teaching respect for equipment, general gym etiquette and knowing what the hell you’re doing. Rogue has upgraded their benches over the years to include rubber feet which work very well on the platforms without sliding. If black marks occur they clean up nicely. I’m no expert in finishing wood, but this is what I did to have them work and look good. It did take about a week to complete all 5 platforms, but now it’s been over a year and they still look new.
1Editor’s note: Our theory is that when you apply the second poly coat before the first coat has fully dried, there are air bubbles (caused by the off gassing of the first coat) that get trapped beneath the second. These bubbles form a slightly rough or tacky surface which helps lifting shoes grip the platform more securely.