Archives For John Phung

My home gym is my sanctuary and home office. Right now, I am nearly satisfied with the layout and the exercise equipment that I have. I can do just about everything I need to get stronger.

But I'm always looking at stuff I want to get to improve my home gym to make it more functional (PHUNG-ctional). And even though I have the basic equipment to get big and strong, there's other equipment I'd like to try out in order to improve my lifts.

I already have a wish list of "stuff I want for my home gym" written down in my mind, but I thought maybe I should put it down on paper to clarify what items I'd like to obtain, and the reasons why they would be beneficial to my basement gym, it's utility, how it would affect my overall training, and any cons involved.

So, what I have done is written one of those popular "top 10" list post!

This list serves the purpose of keeping track of the stuff I want to buy for my home gym, and maybe help people who are reading this figure out what they could get to improve their home gym.


In no particular order:

1. Front Squat Harness *


I've been attaching a pair of straps to the barbell for front squats, because the clean grip position is extremely painful on my wrists and elbows.

Although this has been working, I think I could front squat more if I had a front squat harness.

As anyone who front squats know, if your torso isn't upright for the entire lift, there's a chance of the bar slipping off your shoulders. This has happened to me many, many times.

With a front squat harness, the pegs that hold the barbell in place could prevent the bar from rolling off and save my front squat if I happen to lean forward slightly.

Also, because the metal pegs keep the barbell in place, my elbows are not required to be kept up to create a shelf for the bar to sit. I could take advantage of this freedom and pull the elbow down and back while holding onto the bar or the pegs. This would allow me to contract the shit out of my lats to assist in the front squat, possibly pushing my numbers up higher.

With a normal front squat, it's difficult, and probably impossible to force the elbows up while at the same time contracting the lats. However, lats assist in core stability, and core stability is necessary to keep the torso upright. I have a hunch that I could front squat more if I contract my lats.

Here's an Eric Cressey quote that explains this further:

"…because the arms are elevated (flexed humeri), the lats are lengthened.  This is in contrast to the back squat, where the lats can be used to aggressively pull the bar down into the upper back and help create core stability.  I firmly believe the lack of lat involvement is what accounts for the significant differences in loads one can handle in the front squat as compared to the back squat".

The extra pegs on the harness can allow me to comfortably train another squat variation that I normally hate and never do: The Zercher Squat. Supposedly Zerchers have a carry over to deadlifts, but I don't know first hand because Zerchers and painful and I never do them (ironically I'm OK with the hook grip for deadlifts).

2. Spud Choker Wrist Wraps *



For bench pressing and overhead pressing, I like to have my wrists wrapped up to ensure that they remain rigid to prevent my hands from bending backwards. I've used a few wrists wraps since I began training seriously, starting with the GASP wrist wraps (too short, not much support), Shiek (not much support, wore out quickly), Titan Max RPM (OK support, velcro wearing out) and currently using the Titan Signature Gold wrist wraps.

When I first received my Titan Signature Gold wrist wraps, they were extremely stiff and didn't have much flexibility at all. Which was great because it provided a ton of wrist support.

After almost a year of using these, they're not as stiff, are more flexible. They still provide adequate wrist support, but it's not as rock hard and painful to put on as it used to be.

The problem with conventional wrist wraps is that it will wear out over time. The repeated stretching of the elastic and fastening and unfastening of the velcro will degrade with use.

Also, it takes a little time to wrap them before every set. I like to have the wrist wraps tight, so I can't leave them on in between sets or else I'll lose circulation in my hands and they'll fall off.

I have a pair of leather wrist straps that I can leave on during the entire training session, but it only offers support when the wrists are bent backwards to a certain point.

The Spud Choker wrist wraps looks like it has similar properties to the leather wrist straps (where I can wear it during the entire session), and be able to tighten it as much as I want in order provide support for my wrists at all angles.

Because it's essentially a cuff rather than a wrap, it looks easy to tighten and un-tighten.

These wraps aren't legal in powerlifting competitions, but I could use the Spud wrist wraps for training and save the tradition elastic wrist wraps for competition. This would prolong the life of my Titan Signature Gold wraps, while saving me time from wrapping and unwrapping my wrists during training.

Win-Win, if you ask me.

3. Thinner, Whipper Multi-Purpose Olympic Bar *

The bar that I own is the B&R Bar from Rogue Fitness (review here). It's a pretty stiff bar with very little flex given the amount of weight I lift. It's 29 mm thick, which is the maximum thickness for bars in many powerlifting federations.

The federation that I compete in uses a specialty deadlift bar, which is 27 mm thin. My less-than-gigantic hands benefits from hook gripping a thinner bar for the deadlift. Even though I can hook grip a 29 mm bar, a slightly thinner bar would be nice to use. I may even miss less reps due to grip being an issue.

Also, since I'm deadlifting more often, that means I need to take the bar out of the power rack whenever I pull. Having a separate bar outside the rack would be nice, and would shave off 5 seconds from my training sessions. Multiply that by the number of training sessions where I perform exercise outside of the power rack over the course of a lifetime, and that adds up to quite a few minutes I bet!

A deadlift bar is much thinner (27 mm) and longer (roughly 7 and a half feet long), which would be great for increasing my ego and deadlift numbers, but not so great for the wallet ($590). I'm not sure if this bar would be good for lifts other than the deadlift, such as a power clean or clean and press. Additionally, this type of bar is not legal in all powerlifting federations, so if I happen to compete in those federations, this bar would not be beneficial.

I've also looked at the prices for 28 mm bars like Rogue 28 mm Training Bar which costs $442.81 CDN, and others that costs around the $350+ but that's too much I'm willing to pay.

So, with this in mind, I'm really looking for a (hopefully) thinner, multi-purpose bar that's easy on the wallet to serve as a secondary, outside-the-rack bar for lifts such as the deadlift, along with the occasional power cleans, hang cleans, and clean and presses.

The bar that looks the most appealing and fits the above criteria is this:

CAP Barbell Cap OB-86B *


There's quite a few reviews on Amazon, forums and elsewhere online and it's well received, especially for a product made by CAP barbell. The general consensus seems to be that it's a solid, all purpose barbell that is priced surprisingly low. Had I known about this bar earlier, I may have purchased this instead of the B&R bar.

It's 28.5 mm thick, which is a tiny bit thinner than the 29 mm B&R bar. It's cheap (half the price of some other 28 mm and 28.5 mm bars) and it can ship for free from Amazon.

There's no center knurling, which is fine because I won't be using this to squat on a regular basis.

It has 120,000 psi tensile strength, supposedly being able to hold up to 1200 lb according to the manufacturer's description.

It has a lower tensile strength than the B&R bar (120,000 psi vs 205,000 psi), so I'm guessing it will be a whippier bar. May be good for deadlifting.

Reading the reviews on Amazon, it looks as though this guy is using the CAP bar:

With 215 Kg (~474 lb), there doesn't appear to be much flex to the bar.

The review also said that they purchased this at $135. With the current price at $170, I'll hold off until the price drops.

4. Incline Bench *


Here's the thing with the overhead press: Your body needs to be at an incline to press efficiently and effectively.


Plenty of anonymous Internet lifters have criticized my OHP form as being a "standing incline bench press" without providing any evidence of themselves performing this mythical "strict military press" with a respectable amount of weight. I'm talking limit or near limit lifts (1RM etc) with an RPE of 9.

But here's the thing: Leaning back is necessary for the OHP. It's covered in the strength training book for beginners, "Starting Strength" on page 90 (3rd edition).

Heavy weights tend to move in a straight line. As with many lifts including the overhead press, this straight line is the imaginary line above the mid foot. You want to press along this line as close as possible and minimize any moment arms that would make the lift inefficient (which equals to a lower weight to be pressed overhead, which then equals to less gainz).

If you were to stand straight and hold a barbell across your shoulders, you could maintain this position with an empty bar. But as you put on body weight+ on the bar, you'll have a tendency to lean back slightly because the loaded barbell is situated in front of your body (in front of the mid line). To keep it balanced, naturally people want to bring the load towards the mid line. This is just holding the barbell we're talking about, and there's already an inclination to incline.

There's an obstacle in the way when you're pressing overhead. That obstacle, is your face, namely your chin and nose. You could lift your chin up or pull your face back, but along with balance the bar, you'll lean backwards slightly so that the bar is closer to the imaginary line above the mid foot. This keeps the bar in balance, and moves the face out of the way of a more vertical bar path when pressing upwards.

During the initial drive out of the bottom and at the sticking point, the muscles of the trunk need to stabilize and remain rigid so that the shoulders and arms can do it's job and press the bar overhead. If you've done any overhead pressing that's taking your body to the limit (like a 1RM or repetition max attempts), you'll know (from experience) that sometimes the bar will stall and you end up pushing yourself away from the bar. Although not ideal, it happens. Sometimes you'll recover, and sometimes you won't. In any case, you'll need strong abs to maintain and recover this position, which is an incline.

So, in order to have an efficient, mostly vertical bar path for the overhead press, you're pretty much at an incline from the start of the OHP, and during the execution of the press before lockout (that is if you push your head through and straighten out your body so that the bar is directly above the scapula and midfoot).

It's going to look like this, more or less:


The so-called strict military press, when correctly performed (let's be "strict" in keeping the "strict" military press true to it's original form and not deviate from the original description here), with heels together, no torso movement from start to finish, with the bar needed to be pressed out and around the face before pulling back towards the top of the head and pressing up (i.e. a curved bar path, bigger moment arm) is not an efficient way to press heavy objects overhead.

Here's what it would look like:

press two[1]

Good luck pressing 300+ lb with an inefficient bar path, kids. (Note: I'm sure there's a monster-human hybrid out there who would be able to press like this for 300+ lb, but they're probably not at their limit, i.e. not 1RM and/or RPE @9).



Back to the incline bench.

After reading the training methods of old school lifters who used to clean and press back when it was a contested lift in the Olympics, a common accessory movement was the steep incline bench press.

Setting the bench to a high incline and performing an incline bench press would be a good accessory movement to the overhead press, mainly because the OHP is done with a slight incline to begin with. I could take the "standing and stabilizing my core" out of the equation and focus on pressing at similar angles.

I could even perform a seated shoulder press with the bench set at 90 degrees, but the bar path and body position during this lift would have less resemblance to the OHP (because the bar would have to be maneuverered around the face first before pressing upwards). Note: most seated shoulder presses I have seen are set with a slight incline. If the seat is at 90 degrees, usually the lifter would sit on the edge of the seat, creating an incline with their torso before shoulder pressing.

Although most incline benches can adjust to multiple angles, I'm really only interested in a high incline in order to improve my overhead press. I'm not really interested in "hitting my chest from multiple angles" for "maximum pec development" or anything like that, so it's utility is low for me.

I could use it as a chair to sit on though.

5. Tree Saver Straps *


From what I understand, a "tree saver strap" is a super strong strap with loops at the end. The intended use of this strap is to wrap it around a tree, and then attach some sort of cable to it in order for a vehicle (like a Jeep) to pull itself up using a device called a winch. Or something like that.

I'm assuming, because it's made of polyester, it's supposed to cause less damage to a tree than say...a chain. Hence the name "tree saver".

But I have no intention of using this to save trees.

My purpose is to save myself (from dying!) and save the bar from any scratches and dings from missed reps.

Essentially, it will be used as a suspension safety system inside my power rack.

Spud Inc sells suspension safety straps (which basically looks like tree saver straps attached to a chain), but I can't find this product in Canada. I've seen a few videos of equipped powerlifters squatting inside of a monorack using a set up that looks like a pair of tree saver straps attached to chains on either end of the barbell being used as barbell safeties.


With the straps in place, combined with my current chain safety set up, I can:

  • Perform rack pulls inside the rack without the bar slamming into the metal safety pins
  • Partial reps for squat, bench press, and deadlifts
  • Dead stop/Anderson squats/bench presses that's set slightly higher than the height of my safety pins
  • Use the straps as a 1st line of defense for saving my life during missed reps, while the existing metal safety pins would be the 2nd line of defense, in case the safety suspension system snaps somewhere. The bar would be landing on the polyester strap, and I'd bet this would cause less damage to the bar than a metal rod.

They're about $10 each (for a 2" thick, 6' long tree saver strap) and have a "break strength" of 20,000 lb. Pretty sure I won't be using even 10% of that weight in the near future.

Here’s a blog post about someone making safety straps in a power rack with similar parts.

UPDATE: Bought these straps, and have a DIY power rack safety suspension strap system set up.

6. Squat Handles *

I’ve temporarily quit performing low bar squats, mainly because of the elbow tendonitis I experience for a few days afterwards. Sometimes I even get shoulder pain that shoots down my arms, and for some reason saps my arm strength to 50%, making any pressing or pulling movements weak and painful.

I’m currently focused on front squats (with straps) and high bar squats. There’s less pressure on the shoulders, elbows and wrists with the high bar squat compared to the low bar squat, but there’s still a little bit of stress.

I’ve high bar squatted using hanging onto straps, which eliminates the stress, but it’s not as stable as grasping the bar with your hands.

Something along the lines of Dave Draper’s Top Squat device would allow me to high bar squat while holding onto a pair of handles. Here’s a demonstration of how it works:

Unfortunately, it’s no longer being sold on their website.

Another alternative is to construct some sort of handles that can attach to the bar, similar to what this guy did:


Or this guy:

Now, the issue with these squat handles is that it can only be used in a high bar squat (from what I understand).

I did come across someone making a pair of handles specifically for the low bar squat, which is great because it’s this particular squat variation where i get most of the shoulder/elbow/wrist pain from.

It’s looks pretty sweet, and it looks like it would work. It would be nice if the handles could rotate somehow (so the hands can be slightly angled based on the lifter’s preference).

UNFORTUNATELY, it doesn’t look like these are in production or being sold anywhere! Which really sucks, because I’m not the only person who experiences shoulder, elbow and wrist pain from low bar squatting. I’m sure people would probably buy the shit out of this product.



7. Mini Bands *


What I want to do is try out and progressively train are reverse band overhead presses. I already have full sized bands from Rogue Fitness, however they're awkward to set up and use for the overhead press. They're too long, and probably have too much tension. I've looped them around the top of my rack in many different configurations, but the tension is not consistent between both bands at either ends of the bar.

Mini bands are more likely the correct length and easier to set up for the purposes of overhead pressing, mainly because the bar starts and ends close to the top of my rack.

I could even use the mini bands for the bench press by attaching it to the bottom of the rack and to the bar. But I prefer reverse bands because I can figure out more accurately the weight at the top and bottom of the lift.

8. Deadlift Jacking Thingy *

Using axle stands as a deadlift jack works, but they wreck the knurling on the bar.

Lately, I’ve been rolling the innermost plate on top of a 2.5 lb plate. This works as well, but it chipped off a lot of paint from the 2.5 lb plate, leaving paint chips everywhere and an un-aesthetic looking Olympic plate.

I could get a mini deadlift jack with some sort of protective plastic, like the Rogue Mini Deadlift Bar Jack.


But a cheaper option would be this deadlift wedge from

Looks like it would be easy to use and doesn’t look as though it would damage anything. Also, it’s pretty cheap ($9.99, and $6.99 for shipping).

Alternatively, I could use roll the innermost plate on top of a rubber paver tile I have lying around. I’ll try this the next time I pull.

9. Treadmill For A DIY Treadmill Desk *


I should probably do some cardio, for fat loss/heart health/recovery/stuff like that. But the thing is, I don't want to spend extra time doing extra workouts throughout the week.

So, a solution I came up with in my head is to do some sort of cardio while I'm doing something else I'm currently doing in my existing daily routine.

My home office is located inside my home gym in the basement. I currently have my desk (which is an easily adjustable Ikea Jerker desk) set up as a standing desk, but I do a lot of sitting in a drafting chair. But, if I got a treadmill and set up a treadmill desk, I could walk (which is cardio) whenever I'm doing anything in front of my computer.

If I'm currently spending 5 hours per day sitting (hypothetically, I haven't actually measured this), and replace that with 5 hours of light walking, I'm going to guess it'll be better in the long run for my overall health. Probably could even get more gains (or loss) if I wear a weighted vest for this.

I've read a few articles about people's experiences with a treadmill desk, and they appear to be mostly positive. But I'll really have to try it out for myself to see if it works for me. The good thing is, people are always getting rid of their old treadmills on Kijiji/Craigslist, so it won't cost much to set up and test out a treadmill desk.

Here are some articles about using a treadmill desk:

And here are some tutorials I'll probably use to set up a DIY treadmill desk:


10. Pegboard To Hang Stuff *


I have a lot of exercise equipment lying all over the place in my home gym.

Some of them are hung on the pegs of my rack, others on nails on the wall, and a lot of stuff on the floor. It's very unorganized an not very aesthetic.

I've seen pictures and videos of other people's home gyms, and it looks like a peg board (a regular peg board that's often seen in garages to hang and organize tools, not the ones used for climbing) would be a good solution to organize stuff that can be easily hung up (like straps, skipping ropes, wraps, chains, etc).

This guy even used a peg board to hang bars.

Summary *

In my future blog posts and videos, you may see one, some, or all of the items above in my home gym.

I’ll try to be good this year. Santa, I hope you’re reading this.

Overhead Press (Dead Stop) *

  • 45 x 10
  • 100 x 5
  • 140 x 3
  • 190 x 2
  • 230 x 1
  • 285 x 0,0
    • Bar drifted backwards. Couldn't recover, lost balance. May try again later this week.
  • 260 x 2 * 2RM
    • +5 lb PR!
  • 240 x 4 * 4RM
    • Needed only 3 for a PR, but went for 4. Kinda tough.

Leaning Back And The Overhead Press *

This past week I managed to hit 9 OHP (dead stop) PRs.

To be fair, I only started training this variation (it's a variation for me since I normally press with a rebound) a little over a week ago (January 30, 2015). Just by starting off with conservative weights, getting better at the technique and training it frequently will result in a lot of quick progress.

At first, I couldn't even press 250 lb from a dead stop, but now my 1RM is sitting at 280 lb.

Pressing from a dead stop without a rebound was very humbling at first, but it was also very instructive and educational. It reinforced a few things I'm sure all very strong pressers know: a lay back (or leaning back) is necessary for the overhead press. If you look at the the video when I first tried the dead stop OHP, and compare it to the videos below, you'll see a change in technique. At first, I was standing too erect. While some would consider this "good form" and "strict form", it is really inefficient form, because the bar was not in a proper position to press up in a straight(er) line. Since then, I shifted my hips forward, tilted my torso back slightly to position the bar above the mid-foot before pressing.

By making this small adjustment (a "weird trick"), I've taken my dead stop 1RM from 250 lb to 280 lb within a week.

Working pretty well, if you ask me.

I have gotten a few comments recently about leaning back during the press. For some reason, people think that standing erect during the press is good form, and leaning back is bad form.

To copy-and-paste a response I had on (goddamn) REDDIT to a self proclaimed "beginner" with a 5RM of 115 lb at a height of 5'10" and probably malnourished weight of 185 lb who referred to my OHP as a standing incline press:

Leaning back is necessary to get the bar closer to the invisible line above the mid foot, making for an efficient press (since heavy weights like to move in a straight line). Also, it helps position the head out of the way for a more vertical press (instead of pressing around the face). Leaning back can be minimal with light weights (because it's so light it's easy to control even if the bar is in a poor position), but when you approach heavy loads closer to your 1RM, you will lean back before and during the press.

Here's another response to another comment on another thread (that has since been deleted) about leaning back: OHP 1RM is only 300 lb. I'm sure there are people here who consider this light and can press this weight with less leaning back, and have the bar curve around their head before pressing straight up, but this weight is my (current) limit for me, so I need to position my body so that I'm pressing up in as straight a line as possible. Almost all of my videos are pushing at some sort of limit (ie. some sort of PR attempt), so there's going to be a lean back in an attempt to produce a vertical bar path in the videos.

Leaning back is necessary for the OHP, especially with heavy weights/maxes/rep maxes. It's covered in the popular strength training book for beginners, "Starting Strength" (pp 90, 3rd edition).

Here's the text, for those who don't have the book:

12 Personal Records *

Overhead Press (Dead Stop): 250 x 1, 260 x 1 (1RM), 250 x 2 (2RM), 225 x 5 (5RM) *

Did 250 lb x 1 first, which was a 1RM (couldn't get it last week). Felt easy so went up to 260 lb. That felt OK still. I was thinking about pushing it up even more, but I'll save that for later on.

Dropped back down to 250 lb for a 2RM, then finished it off with a +25 lb 5RM PR from a few days ago. May have gotten another rep but my quads were cramping.

I think I'm starting to get the hang of this OHP with a dead stop.

Paused High Bar Squat: 475 lb x 4 (4RM) *

Wanted a 525 lb x 2 paused high bar squat first, but only got 1. I think my squat has been suffering from the winter blues lately.

Went for 5 reps with 475 lb, but only got 4. Still a PR.

Overhead Press (Dead Stop): 265 x 1, 275 x 1 (1RM) & 235 x 5 (5RM) *

265 lb x 1 is a +5 lb OHP 1RM from 2 days ago. Felt fast. Thought about going for 270 lb, but 275 lb looks better on the bar. 275 lb x 1 is a +10 lb OHP 1RM from a few minutes ago, and +15 lb 1RM from Monday. Not bad!

I think all that pizza I ate earlier this week is starting to show it's true power.

Finished off with 235 lb x 5 for a 5RM, which is a +10 lb PR from a couple of days ago #progressiveoverload #linearprogression #nevergiveuponnewbiegains

Overhead Press (Dead Stop): 280 x 1 (1RM) & 255 x 2 (2RM) *

Had to get some blood testing done this morning, and because blood was extracted from my body, my hit points (HP) is lower today.

Also saw a poster at the clinic that said not to lift anything heavy for 24 hours after a blood test. I complied. I was going to squat today, but changed it to another movement that uses lighter weight and kept the workout short (30 minutes).

Paused Front Squat (No Belt) 410 lb x 1 (1RM) & Dead Stop/Bottom-Up/Anderson Front Squat: 385 lb x 1 (1RM) *

410 lb x 1 paused, no belt was EZPZ.

Tried for a 420 lb beltless front squat 1RM after, but missed. Since the bar was on the safety pins, I figured why not try out the Dead Stop/Bottom-Up/Anderson Front Squat. Used a cross grip first for some reason. Couldn't get it with 410 lb. Lowered it to 385 lb and still couldn't stand up with it. Probably not accustomed to the cross grip, so I held onto the straps. Not bad! May have gotten 410 lb had I used straps.

Stuff You Should Check Out *

  1. Powerlifters Should Train More Like Bodybuilders by Greg Nuckols
    • More reasons to become a muscle sphere.

Paused Front Squat (No Belt) *

  • 140 x 8
  • 230 x 3
  • 320 x 2
  • 410 x 1 * PR!
    • +5 lb 1RM
    • Pretty easy. Exploded up, got that bar leaping off body feeling. Feels good.

Front Squat (No Belt) *

  • 420 x 0
    • Bar hit the safety pins. Threw me off mentally, physically and spiritually. Ah well next time.

Front Squat (Dead Stop) *

Also known as bottom-up front squat or Anderson front squat.

  • 410 x 0,0
    • Used the cross grip. Budged up a bit.
  • 385 x 0,1 * PR!
    • 1RM I guess. Tried cross grip at first, but I'm not comfortable with it. Used the straps the 2nd try, and got it. Not bad!

Blood test this morning. Instructed not to lift anything heavy for 24 hours. I was going to squat, but I'll do a lighter movement today instead.

Overhead Press (Dead Stop) *

  • 45 x 10
  • 100 x 5
  • 140 x 3
  • 190 x 2
  • 230 x 1
  • 280 x 1 * PR!
    • +5 lb 1RM
  • 255 x 2 * PR!
    • +5 lb 2RM
    • Felt a little difficult. Tried for a 3rd rep but no go.