Thursday, April 28, 2011

Saw Horse Safety Stands

You don't always have to make everything from scratch. By combining DIY with store bought products you can make custom items in nearly no time. Today, I'll show you how to use saw horses to effectively turn your Squat Stands into a power rack. For about $50 you not only add many lifts to your home gym repertoire, you also make everything completely safe, with no need for a spotter.

Cost: approx. $50
Project Time: Shopping Time + a few minutes (if you make additions.)
Difficulty: You have to be able to get to a store and purchase items. To make the "additions" you need to be able to cut wood. (2x4s and the like).

Tools Needed:
  • Drill (only for "additions")
  • Saw (only for "additions")

Materials Needed:
  • Saw horses
  • Various wooden studs (2x4, 1x4, 4x4) - optional

Give your squat stands the functionality of a power rack.

The bulk of this project is as simple as it gets. We're going to use store bought saw horses. You certainly could make saw horses if you prefer. I opted to simply buy them for several reasons which you'll gather as you read the project.

The saw horses that I chose are pretty standard and available at most hardware stores. I went with metal ones that fold up. The fact that they fold us is one selling point. They are extremely portable. The particular ones I bought are "Task Force" brand. They are yellow, in case you're color blind and can't tell from the picture. But then if you are color blind I don't know why telling you they are yellow would help you in any way.

These are rated for 1200 lbs. each. Since there is no danger of me ever squatting or bench pressing anywhere near this, I think they will do the job just fine. I have been using them for six months now with no issues whatsoever. Logic would assume that the rating of 1200 lbs. is for their fully collapsed position. They are adjustable and you can make them much taller. I don't ever do this. I keep them in their lowest position.

Also worth noting is that their 1200 lb. rating is going to be a static load figure. Dropping a loaded barbell obviously makes the force it will impart much greater than the sum of the plates on the bar. But there is no reason to ever drop your bar, especially not from anything more than an inch or so; unless of course you pass out, but if that happens you're clearly doing it wrong.

This lowest position of these saw horses works perfectly for Bench Press for me at the current moment. Obviously that will vary from person to person. When I press with my chest puffed up from a big breath of air and back slightly arched, the saw horses are not in the way at all. When I relax and exhale, the saw horses are then tall enough to take the bar off my hands so I can breathe and roll it down to get out from under it. I suck at Bench Press so I can't imagine lifting alone without these. I have failed reps too many times to count. Having safety stands are crucial when training alone.

For squats, the saw horses alone are not quite tall enough for me. To remedy this, I cut a 2 x 4 the length of the top of the saw horse. With the 2x4 making the stands higher they are the perfect height for me. If I were to go "ass to grass" on my squat the stands will take the bar off my back. I squat to just below parallel normally. So when I do this, the stands do not interferre. But if I fail a rep I can simply sit back down ATG to put the bar onto the stands. This I have also done many times.

A simple allen wrench makes a great securing pin for any height additions you add.
Of course, simply putting wood on top of the saw horses might not be so stable. This is another big selling point of the saw horses I bought. They have pre-drilled holes on each end. I mimicked this on my 2x4s so they also have two holes in them, one on each end. Now you could put a bolt and nut through these and bolt them down, but then it would take some time to switch between my preffered squat setup and my bench press setup (which doesn't use any wood on the saw horse.) So instead I simply used allen wrenches. I can use these like a "pin" that will hold the wood attachments in place when lifting. But they can quickly be slid up and out when I need to make a change.

By putting the saw horses up against the squat/bench stands as shown below, you effectively turn your squat stands into a power rack. Now you can lift alone in complete safety and not worry about failing or holding back or not training to failure. Even the psychological benefit alone is huge. Knowing that you're safe and that you can fail safely will allow you to push beyond your comfort zone and go for that last rep or two, even if you might not make them.

Some guys bench alone with no spotter and no safety stands. My brain cannot compute the reason why.

You can use all kinds of various wooden blocks to increase the height of your saw horses. 1 x 4 , 2 x 4, or 4 x 4. The reason why I do this and add these "accessories" rather than simply adjusting the saw horses higher is because it can take quite a bit of time to adjust the horses up. Wooden saw horses don't adjust at all, but are strong. Plastic ones do adjust, but I wouldn't use plastic for this purpose. Metal ones also usually adjust and they're strong but adjusting them typically means taking out several bolts. Taking off a block of wood, secured by an allen wrench "pin" takes less than a second.

You could also use these to emulate things that normally require a power rack, such as "Rack Pulls" and Shrugs. And as you'll see in a future project, I've even made Dip attachments for these so I can do dips without needing a dedicated or wall mounted stand alone dip station. Should the mood strike you, you could also put a barbell over these stands and get under it and do things such as Inverted Rows.

These particular saw horses were $20 each, $40 for the pair. A few more bucks for the allen wrenches and 2 x 4s if you need them, gives us a total of around $50 after tax. Add this to the $50 Squat/Bench Stands and now you've made the equivalent of a Power Rack for $100. The cheapest new power rack I've seen ends up being over $300 when all is said and done. You can get them much cheaper used IF you can find them, which can be a big "if" depending on where you live.

By simply adding a few sawhorses you can take your 5 gallon bucket squat stands to the next level. You can Squat, Bench Press, Overhead Press, Front Squat, Shrug, Rack Pull, Inverted Row, and much more. All safely by yourself. Just like you had a power rack. But you can also fold it all up and push it into a corner or closet if you need the space. And many prefer the squat stands over a power rack because of the feeling of openness and freedom, though this is largely psychological as most power racks have plenty of room to do your lift.



  1. Hi, good idea, will save me a lot of money so i do not have to buy a power rack. what height do you have them for bench press and what height are they for squatting.

  2. The "ideal" or "perfect" height that you need to set the sawhorses is an individual thing. I could give you the ideal numbers for me but that doesn't mean they are right for you.

    The perfect placement for squat would be about 1 inch lower than the bar at the bottom of your normal squat. This way, you don't hit the sawhorses at the bottom of the squat but if you do fail the lift you can simply drop down an inch deeper than usual and put the bar on the sawhorses. Then you don't have to dump the bar over your head or fall backwards. I squat just below parallel so 1 inch lower than that is perfect for me. That ends up being like 28" from the floor for me.

    For bench press you need the sawhorses to be high enough so that you can fit your chest between the bench and the bar when the bar is resting on the sawhorses. If you relax your back and exhale, the bar needs to be completely off your chest. Otherwise the sawhorses may as well not even be there since you're still being crushed by the bar. In addition to that, the sawhorses need to be low enough so that with arched back (however much you like to do it) and a big breath of air your chest is "puffed up" enough to be higher than the sawhorses so that when you do reps you touch your chest without hitting the sawhorses at the bottom position. For me, this ends up being about 26 maybe 26 and 1/4 inches from the floor.

    Again you'll have to test it out for yourself to see what is right for you. Adjustable sawhorses are good in order to get close to where you need to be (mine adjust in 3" increments). To make finer adjustments use lengths of wood pinned or bolted to the top of the sawhorses.

  3. this is now 30 bucks at home depot, pushing the price to 60, I bought a pair... still good for what they can do :).

  4. I have thought about doing this forever, finally picked up a pair last night. Wish I wouldn't have waited so long to do it.

  5. Hi, good idea, will save me a lot of money so i do not have to buy a power rack. what height do you have them for bench press and what height are they for squatting.

  6. Today, I'll show you how to use saw horses to effectively turn your Squat Stands into a power rack. For about $50 you not only add many lifts to ...

  7. This post is a godsend for a mom of a 14 year old, who only recently noticed he had no way to bail on his bench press. I will be purchasing saw horses immediately. THANK YOU FOR SHARING!

  8. It was really insightful.
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