First, a warning:
Don’t try this at home! If you do, I am not responsible for any injuries you may incur, blah blah blah.
OK, now that that’s out of the way, I’m going to show you how I set up a DIY power rack safety suspension strap system to catch the bar in case of a failed rep.
In my power rack, there are metal sabre style safety pins that insert in the holes through the front and toward the back. Here’s what it looks like:
They have saved my life many, many times. They allow me to bench press heavy alone without a human spotter, and safely receive the barbell whenever I miss a rep for the bench press and the squat.
They’re more reliable and stronger than multiple human spotters, capable of supporting 1000 lb (according to the manual that’s written in Engrish).
However, the constant metal-on-metal impact of the Olympic bar and the metal safety pins left dents on the pins itself, and wore away some of the knurling on the bar.
I’ve though about purchasing Spud Inc suspension straps, but I haven’t found this item available in Canada.
However, I’ve seen many videos and pictures of powerlifters squatting in the mono-rack with what appears to be some sort of heavy duty strap looped to the top of the rack in order to save a missed lift.
Something like this:
So, out of curiosity and paranoia, I’ve decided to put together my own!
Here are the materials I used:
Normally used for hauling motorcyles (or something like that), they’re basically really strong webbing with loops on the ends.
It looks as though this might be good for a weightlifting strap.
Also, it can probably be used as a means of attaching single arm cable handles onto a chin up bar, for joint-friendly chin ups and pull ups.
The other alternative was to use axle straps, which are thicker, stronger, and have a metal ring on either ends of the strap.
But the soft ties were cheap (<$5 per pair), and so far it’s doing the job.
These are cheap and attaches the chain and other items onto stuff. A bit of a pain in the ass to open and close, since you need to unscrew and res-crew all the time #firstworldproblems
I’m using the Black Diamond Oval carabiner which came with the Rogue Cannonball grips. They’re about $7 when purchased separately.
It has a “Closed Gate Strength” of 18 kN (4046 lbf). So errr…I’m going to assuming this is pretty strong.
5/16” thick chain from Homedepot. The label says: Safe workload - 1,900 lb.
Tree Saver Strap
2” wide and 6’ long strap made of polyester with a break strength of 10,000 lb.
For some reason, the straps I’ve found online are mostly yellow in color. I have seen others that are neon green, orange, and blue, but yellow is the most common (and in my case, the cheapest). I would have liked it if it were blue to match my rack, but safety and price is more important to me than strap aesthetics.
The Weakest Link
As they say, a chain is only as strong as the weakest link, and with my DIY safety strap setup, the weakest link is probably the soft ties.
It’s only 1” wide with a working load limit of 830 lb. And I’m not sure if this is for one of the straps, or two!
Eventually, I might double up on these soft ties since they’re cheap anyways, or upgrade to axle straps which are typically wider and stronger.
If you plan on setting up a DIY safety strap system for your home gym, and you’re super paranoid, you could go balls to the walls and get:
- thick chain
- wider tree saver straps
- axle straps instead of soft ties
Notes On Stretchiness
Spud Inc suspension straps is made of nylon of resembles a recovery strap more than a tow strap or tree saver strap.
From my extensive researching, I’ve found out that generally nylon webbing stretches 20-30% while polyester stretches 5-15% under a 2500 lb load. There’s no way I’m going to test that out to find out for certain, but it’s probably safe to say that polyester webbing (like the stuff in the tree saver strap I’m using) is going to be stiffer than the Spud Inc suspension straps or nylon polyester straps.
I’m not 100% certain about what the soft ties are made of, but based on descriptions of other brands, it’s probably nylon.
I think the stretchy properties of the nylon Spud Inc suspension straps would be helpful if the bar was suddenly dropped from a high distance to better absorb the impact and prevent any chances of the bar bending, but I could be wrong.
I’m sure the metal chains I have won’t stretch with any loads I’m using.
The Set Up
Here’s how this is all set up:
The soft ties (4) loop around the top of the rack.
To prevent these straps from sliding towards each other, it is “blocked” by the chin up bar (front) and a pair of band pegs (back).
A pair of carabiners are connected to the 2 soft ties in front, while a pair of “quick link chains” are connected to the 2 soft ties in the back. I used quick links because they were cheap, but you could use another pair of carabiners, or something else.
The tree saver strap is connected to the front, while the chain is connected to the back.
The tree saver strap connects to the chain via another pair of quick links:
Now, when set up to the right height for the squat, there’s a lot of left over chain that hangs loose. I just connect this to the carabiner to make it nice and tidy.
Adjusting The Straps
To adjust the height of the strap, I would simply connect the quick link onto a different part of the chain.
If I wanted to use the chain to suspend the barbell, I would connect the chain on the appropriate link to get the height that I want:
Preventing The Strap From Getting Sandwiched In Between The Bar & J-Hooks
At first when I tried squatting, the strap always got sandwiched in between the bar and j-hooks after the set. That’s because the straps and chains are aligned (more or less) with the j-hooks.
What I did was attached some of the excess chain that was dangling onto the carabiner that the tree saver strap was on . This pushed the tree saver strap to the side (towards the middle of the rack), so when re-racking the bar, the strap is automatically pushed out of the way of the j-hooks.
Failed 420 lb Front Squat
The safety strap set up was able to accept 420 lb no problem.
The drop was only a few inches.
Failed 520 lb Low Bar Squat
Loaded the bar up with 600 lb, followed by 620 lb.
Static Hold: 830 lb
- 7 x ~45 lb = 630 lb
- 2 x ~35 lb = 70 lb
- 2 x ~25 lb = 50 lb
- 2 x 10 lb = 20 lb
- 2 x 5 lb = 10 lb
- 2 x 2.5 lb = 5 lb
785 lb in plates, and with a 45 lb bar: 830 lb.
Bar was visibly bent with most of the plates I have, and nothing snapped.
All the straps were pulled tight.
The Good Thing About A Strap Safety System
The 2” wide tree saver straps are more bar friendly and won’t mark or damage the knurling of the bar compared to the metal safety pins.
Adjusting the height of the straps is a little less annoying than adjusting the safety pins. With my rack, the metal safety pins slides through the front towards the back. The metal-on-metal screeching noise is not something I enjoy.
Some Problems With A Strap Safety System
The main problem with using straps as a safety system is that the lowest position of the strap will be in the middle of where the two points connect to the top of the rack.
If I do not position myself so that the bottom position of the lift is aligned with the bottom position of the straps, then the bar will end up touching the strap on the descent.
As mentioned earlier, safety straps (that I have seen used in powerlifting) are typically used when squatting in the mono-lift. With a mono-lift, you don’t need to walk out the bar when you squat, and it’s easier to align the bottom position of your squat with the bottom position of the straps.
If I am bench pressing, then I would need to adjust the position of the straps since the bottom-most point of the bench press is closer to the front of the rack compared to the squat (where it’s more in the middle). Reverse grip bench presses touches lower on the body than the regular grip bench press, and adjustments may be needed.
To be honest, I don’t like using the strap safety system for bench presses. The safety pins are already set at a perfect height so that if I fail, I can just deflate my chest and the bar will rest on the pins. With the straps, if it’s positioned even a tiny bit higher than the safety pins, the bar will hit the straps at the bottom of the bench press which can be distracting. Also, when I miss a rep, in order for me to get out from under the bar, I just roll the bar towards my feet.
When the bar is supported by the straps after a missed rep, I cannot roll the bar forward and sit up. I could push the bar towards my feet and try to sit up, but since the bar is supported on straps dangling from the top of the power rack, it would just swing back in my direct. I don’t think this would be a good idea with 400+ lb on the bar.
There are a few other applications with this DIY safety suspension set up.
Using only the chain connected to the soft ties, the bar can be suspended by the chains making it an easy way to perform overhead presses inside the rack without having to walk the bar out, or having to hear the metal-on-metal screeching when adjusting the sabre-style safety pins.
The bar will always move to middle of the chain, eliminating the need to re-adjust the position of the bar when pressing from the safety pins.
The chains can easily be adjusted for overhead lockouts and partial reps as well.
This safety strap system will be continually tested as I train, and I’ll probably made some modifications to it over time as I see fit.
For squats, I’ll keep the existing metal safety pins in place, just in case. The straps would act as a first line of defense for a falling barbell, while the safety pins would be the backup. Also, there’s less work that way.
Again, if you want to try this out, do it at your own risk. It’s probably a good idea to have some secondary safety measures in case some piece of the safety strap system fails.
If you die somehow after setting up your own power rack safety suspension strap system, don’t come complaining to me in ghost form about how some cheap, made-in-China product broke and didn’t live up to the specifications listed on the packaging.