DIY: Comprehensive guide to building a weightlifting platform
Starting a gym at home (garage, bedroom, barn, shed) can be a daunting task. Where to start… Almost too much information to sift through online. This article aims to provide a comprehensive source for that initial starting space, the area that will be the base for your home workouts.
Why can’t I lift from my garage or home floor? Well, you can, it just might not feel good, for you, your equipment, or the floor. Most home gym owners end up going with some type of bumper plates due to the noise and impact on the floor. Bumper plates can allow working out on straight concrete or a layer of 8mm - ¾” rubber mat, particularly if you don’t deadlift or drop weights. Thicker mat on concrete alone will likely increase plate bounce as there’s nothing to absorb the impact. Reverberation from the floor, even with the hardest bumpers (durometer 90+ is harder rubber – less bounce, most manufacturers of plates list this number for reference), will occur from the impact of weights on these surfaces. This vibration can break your grip, or even injure your wrist, but at a minimum it’s not very comfortable.
If you are new to weight training, don’t consider yourself very handy, or simply don’t feel the investment or potential damage mitigation is worth it, I get it. No point in building a platform if you’re going to abandon the home gym and go back to the commercial setting. But I would offer that making a platform gives you some “buy in” to the idea, sweat equity I believe it’s called. There is gratification in going through this process. It will increase enjoyability of the workouts because the flooring will feel and look better, be more stable, offer protection for floor/foundation/equipment, and can provide something to bolt your rack on instead of your concrete floor/foundation. Lifting can also now be quieter, so if you truly enjoy the feel of metal plates, this will be a mandatory step as I promise, you do not want to lift with metal plates on a concrete or straight rubber mat covered floor.
You can make a platform from the minimum size to fit a barbell, such as an 8x4 (good enough for deadlifts), or extend to the walls of a large area. The room done at Aftermath Iron resulted in a 12x12 platform; with essentially two separate platforms (an 8x12 and 4x12) being connected by the top layer. General rule: the larger the platform, the more expense and possibility of complications. This is because the main pieces of a platform; plywood and rubber mats; are heavy and awkwardly large. They are not usually “perfect” in their size from your local home improvement store. Sure, you can measure, sand and even cut them to be perfect, but this effort will not be noticeable by almost anyone other than you. One of the most challenging aspects of this process will be cutting the rubber mats to have a nice fit & finish. One of the reasons I made mine 12x12 was to avoid as many of these cuts as possible. It only required 1 cut along the 4-foot side of a 6’x4’ stall mat. For a more standard 8x8 platform, as a comparison, you will need to make four cuts: 2 along the 6-foot side and 2 along the 4-foot side. If you have a large space, I suggest keeping the mat cuts as a consideration. I could have just done the 12x8 and made two additional cuts but I figured having a 2 ¼ “ drop for only a 4x12 part of the floor would cause more trips and toe stubs than was worth it, and would look better if I just filled the room with the platform. Had my room been bigger, like 16x16+, I might have gone with just the 8’x12’ since there would have been more space to move around the platform.
You have your space and desired size for the platform (considerations such as electrical outlets, windows, what you’ll look at while lifting, height of room, proximity to bedrooms, heating/cooling etc..); for the purpose of instruction I am going to use 8x12 as the size of the platform; it will include all the steps for any size platform, which can be shortened or expanded as needed for the size you choose.
- Six 4’x8’ ¾” thick (listed as 23/32 at some places) plywood (birch is often chosen, ~$38/each). 1 piece will need to be cut in half, so you have two 4’x4’ pieces. The home improvement store you purchase from can usually do this for free.
- Side bar – particle board: this is about $13/board cheaper (so ~$80 cheaper in my build scenario). Primary negatives are expansion with moisture/humidity and typically less durable as plywood. In addition, since more prone to warping, you may not have a nicely flat platform which can slap against the ground when used and cause your loaded barbell to roll. At minimum, make sure you’re starting with flat pieces that are not warped, for the relatively small increase in money per board I would recommend the plywood for most.
- 1 4’x8’ piece of ¾” thick (23/32) oak, maple or spruce plywood (try and select this yourself; avoid voids, knots and any damage (check along edges as this is where many pieces scrape together causing chips). This is going to be on your top layer and will be a focal point of the platform and gym itself, so choose the best piece you can. A few extra minutes at the store to find a good one is worth it. ~$55
- Three ¾ “ thick 4’x6’ horse stall mats (~$45/each at Tractor Supply)
- Side bar – horse stall mats are primarily recommended due to cost, availability, and durability. They can, and often do, emit an odor for several months (less if you wash them down with soap & water or simple green then leave to dry in the sun several times). Another negative of horse stall mat is they are not always perfectly straight, so can leave small gaps when put together. If you need a perfect floor, can’t stand the smell (or just don’t want to deal with it), other options exist from companies like Rubber Flooring Inc. but expect to pay almost double after shipping. There will be more color choices from there as well. Recommendation: If your gym is in a garage, or more appropriately a barn/outdoor shed, horse stall mats, all day long. If your gym is in a basement, den, spare bedroom; particularly without good ventilation or window(s). I would take additional steps to clean and air out the horse stall mats outside or if the cost isn’t an issue, consider the higher end rubber mats or floor rolls for larger spaces.
Total: ~$420 before tax and any sales/discounts (*veterans get 10% off at Lowes/Home Depot).
A power drill will be needed. If you don’t have a plentiful amount of 1 ¼” wood construction screws, pick up a box of these also (~$6 for 100 #8 screws) and a utility knife or extra blades if you already have the knife. Additional items potentially needed: paint (for logo/stencil or to paint the entire nicer board if you wish), wood stain, polyurethane (for floors, satin is good), brush/roller, 100+ grit sandpaper (3M makes a sandpaper sponge that is amazing for this project), wood glue or double-sided floor/seam tape, gold/silver sharpie. A standard brush is fine for paint or stain; but a roller can make life easier, particularly for the poly.
Wood stain is an interesting science… you can lightly sand it after one coat and the poly will bring it back to life if you want a lighter stain that still shows the wood grains. The longer stain is left on and more coats are used, the darker and less grain will show through, particularly if you choose a darker color stain to begin with. I’ve seen black stained boards online, honestly, for the hassle of staining, I would suggest painting it black if that’s what you’re planning to do. A middle color stain, like early American or English chestnut is going to look best for most people’s tastes. But there are so many things you can do with wood, options are vast, so if you want to distress the wood, use wax to highlight the grains, add “wood affect” so it looks charred… summon your inner Martha Stewart and go for it, worst case scenario you have to sand the piece down to start over or spend another $55 for a fresh try. This nicer wood piece will be what most people first see when walking into your gym area and will draw attention to your rack. So, make it how you want, what’s going to motivate you when you step onto it. Your existing wall color/décor or what you plan on doing in this regard should be considered.
Some people ask or worry if the poly will make the platform slippery. I would suggest 2-3 coats, light initial coat seems to work best followed by 1-2 thicker coats. If you are lifting in shoes it will feel great, less slippery than a basketball court. If you want to lift barefoot, slippage is possible depending on your stance and how much you sweat. So, consider adding sand or anti-skid additive (fancy sand) to the poly coats. Just stir some poly in a bucket or large mason jar with the sand/additive, stir in-between refills on your roller/brush. It will feel like an anti-skid area at a pool. You can choose to only add this to the areas used for deadlifting, squatting, and dynamic lifts. But then you’re using two rollers; one with sand and one without, and this could just feel weird considering you won’t be able to really tell by looking where the smooth area starts and ends. Alternatively, you can try no sand and then add anti-slip tape or another poly coat with sand later, if you feel like your feet might slip during exercise. Most don’t add anything for grip on their board and report no problems, but this is a preference/worry item to consider.
Building the Platform
You’ve chosen and purchased all your materials and it’s building time.
You can begin with the nicer oak/maple board, as each coat will take time to dry so you can do these in-between working on the platform base. Usually if a piece is larger than 8’x4’ it is this one verse the cheaper plywood. It is an option to cut to proper size, but I would suggest adjusting the mats or planning on what will be slight overlap across all sides equally so the impact is minimal (if even noticeable at all) on one particular side. But measuring your pieces now, can allow you to plan for how they go together versus realizing your several inches off come time to place the last mat down on the 3rd layer.
Using finer grit sandpaper or sand sponge (100+ grit), sand until smooth to the touch, removing any rough spots, burrs, and loose pieces/splinters. Wipe down well and run your hand over it to feel for any additional areas to sand. If staining, apply first coat and have a clean rag ready to wipe off. Start at one corner and work around the entire piece, then go back to where you started to begin wiping off. Repeat if darker color is desired, but keep in mind the poly will adjust the color slightly also. If painting, one coat will likely be fine, unless you really don’t want to see any wood grain come through, then repeat with 2-3 additional coats. You can acquire a stencil (etsy and amazon are good sources for these, checkout StencilRev), mylar stencils works well for this project, and can be reusable if you want to add multiple logos to the board or elsewhere. Another option is simply purchasing vinyl stickers. Much more costly, particularly for larger ones and if you already have paint. But you will have pre-designed options with stickers and they’re easier to apply than painting a logo. If stenciling, less paint is better, particularly around the edges of the stencil. You want to just dab it with a nice paint brush, it is amazingly easy to push the paint under the stencil. There are various ways to create your own logo; cut it out of paper, use tape to layer different colors… these are beyond the scope of this article, but feel free to get as crafty as you would like since this wood piece is essentially artwork in your gym. Try and choose/order the stencil/design/vinyl sticker you want before you begin gathering all the locally sourced materials so you’re not waiting on a shipment or designing a logo while all this plywood sits around.
Once this nicer plywood is stained/painted/logoed/stickered etc… you can begin adding coats of polyurethane. Follow instructions on the type you choose, remember to add additive/sand if desired, and apply 2-3 coats within the timeframe provided.
Prepare the cheaper plywood pieces by using the same kind of sandpaper or sand sponge as used previously. Your goal here is just to remove loose pieces, burrs and then wipe down. This doesn’t need to be as detailed as the nicer plywood piece. If you live in an area with high humidity and heat, it will add some protection to coat poly on these pieces. This will also help if you sweat a lot or accidently dump that gallon jug of water all over your floor, as it will inevitably leak between the top layer onto the plywood. It’s an extra step if you have time and feel like you want the added protection. Keep in mind the polyurethane for floors usually only comes in gallon jugs (~$45), so you will likely have plenty leftover if you were only planning on using it for the main oak/maple piece.
This is also the time to paint or cover the edges that will be visible on the plywood pieces. Black duct/gorilla tape can be added when the platform is complete, but paint gives a little nicer appearance as the tape doesn’t always stick well to the edge of plywood. Let dry recommended timeframe. A metal frame can also be made and placed around the platform for added appearance and stability, but this will incur significant cost and time, as it will likely need to be custom made unless you make your platform exactly to the specifications of a pre-fabricated frame.
Place 3 plywood boards side by side to create an 8x12 layer (long sides touching, see below). Line these up as best as possible, the platform will only get heavier from here. Leave ½ to 1” away from any wall; this will allow you some room to adjust the 3rd layer as needed and provide an area for your fingers to move the 2nd and 3rd layers into position.
2nd layer will consist of two 8x4 pieces and the two 4x4s. Offsetting the longer boards and filling in with the two smaller ones. You can add wood glue on top of the first layer or double-sided tape. This isn’t a necessary step but can add to the overall stability of the platform and create a cushion in-between the boards so it isn’t wood on wood smacking together (even if only slightly, will be noticeable). My preference is wood glue, an 8oz bottle is relatively cheap and I think does a better job than the tape. It is also easier to move the boards to the desired final location with wet glue than it is tape. Start with one side so you can ensure it is lined up and straight. I’ve seen it recommended to place weight on the boards overnight to let the glue dry. You’re not relying on the glue to keep the boards together; the screws will do this. The glue keeps some cushion and adds a little extra strength to the bond, but it isn’t necessary. So, my preferred method is to add the glue then move the piece on top, adjust it to be where you want it, and then start setting up to drill in the screws. Don’t add so much glue it runs off the side, or put it too close to the edges, a couple offsetting figure eights is plenty.
Pre-drill holes, at least two per side and be mindful of where they are. You will most likely want the top layer to have screws on the corners, so avoid the first 6-12” from each corner so you have plenty of space for screws to be there on the 3rd layer. Do not fully drill these holes through both pieces, you’re just creating a starting point. Using firm, gentle pressure, and doing your best to keep the screw straight, put in screws every 1-2 feet. I’ve seen instructions recommending every 6 inches, I think you’ll find this to be overkill. But if you go about every foot and feel you need more, go for it. Try and get the screw heads to be flush or slightly below the board, that is preferable to being above the board as this can create space between the next board. You’ll find this is easiest if you keep a nice tempo on the way down. Avoid placing screws within a couple inches of the sides as well, this can cause the plywood to delaminate or crack.
With your first layers screwed together, it is time to place the nicer wood plywood piece and mats. Line up of the wood board to be in the middle, equal distance on both sides. It is likely slightly wider than 4 feet, as well as longer than 8 feet. The length is easiest to adjust; have a slight overhang on the back of the platform that will be against the wall. So, the visible front of the platform should have a nice, straight edge. Add glue, align and pre-drill holes for this piece. Be mindful of the screws underneath and if you are going to bolt a rack to it, don’t worry about placing screws I the area where those bolts will be.
Two 4’x6’ mats should fit nicely on each side, if there is overhang it shouldn’t be significant enough where one would slip from the edge. If it is, you can always cut the excess with a utility knife. I would only do this if it were bothersome. Lay glue where these mats will go and then use the same screws you’ve been using to hold into place. Be more careful with the mats than you were with the boards. If you go fast and don’t pay attention the screws will go right through the mat. By going slowly you should be able to end with a seamless flat edge from the screw and the mat. Some instructions direct to use washers, but this will require a different type of screw as the wood screws have countersinks to lock the pieces together. This countersink would create a gap between the washer and head so the screw would stick up. The washer acts as a countersink but is primarily so you don’t plow through the mat. If you can just be careful, you can use the same wood screws and they’ll hold the mat tightly to the platform.
Now you have two 2’x4’ spots left. You will need to cut the remaining rubber mat into three 2’x4’ pieces. You can use the gold sharpie and ruler to make a straight line after measuring (a straight edge or T-Square ruler, or a chalk reel can also be used if you have a preference). You can use a little water to assist the cutting process, WD-40 has also been recommended for this. I have found if you use fresh blades you really don’t have to use anything, but water/WD-40 may let you cut further with each blade before it needs replaced. As soon as you feel like the cuts are not smooth, you feel pulling or tearing in any way, replace the blade. Start with one long, straight cut from one edge to the other, then go back and do about 6-8” at a time until through the mat. This technique seems to work best to have a relatively smooth, straight edge. Add glue and screw these pieces down in place.
Now that the platform is completed, the only thing left to do other than admire it, is to bring your rack onto it, and decide whether you want to bolt it to the platform. Use lag screws that will not go through the bottom piece of the platform (3 – 3 1/2” will work for most applications but use your rack and thickness of the platform to determine what is needed). Using your drill, place pilot holes for the lag screws in the feet of the rack. You can use washers for this purpose in-between the screw and the rack.
I hope this covered enough to help you build your own high-quality weightlifting platform. For me, I didn’t know to consider many of the steps listed until I was in the middle of the project. Planning and being prepared will make this project go so much smoother and be that much more enjoyable, hopefully not wasting money and effort along the way! In the aftermath of what you’ve now accomplished, it’s time to enjoy those workouts, put in the work and realize success!
*Review regulations for the federation sanctioning your meet if the platform is to be used for competition. Most are between 8’x8’ - 13’x13’.