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How to Build a Weightlifting Platform
Greg Everett

About 100 years ago, I posted an article about how to build a lifting platform on a slope. It was something I had to do at the time, so I figured I’d post some instructions while I was at it. Now years later, I’ve been asked more times than I can calculate how to build a platform—I’ve written out instructions in emails and website comments so many times I could have written this article a thousand times over.
 
First of all, platforms are and have been available to purchase for years from a number of equipment manufacturers. I have yet to see and use one that I would want in my own gym, especially for the exorbitant prices they go for. Building your own platform(s) is pretty easy and far less expensive, and, at least in my opinion, produces a better platform to lift on anyway.
 
How you build your platform will depend somewhat on where it’s being placed and what else is going on around it. For example, many CrossFit gyms prefer lifting platforms sunk flush into their rubber flooring to keep that space available for multiple uses. This is a good solution in these cases, but it’s not exactly a platform in the conventional sense of the word. The other option is an actual dedicated, raised platform.
 
 
Raised Platform
 
The raised, dedicated lifting platform is the ideal lifting surface if allowable in your gym. Its advantages are better force absorption for dropped weights, meaning less wear and tear on both the equipment and floor underneath, better noise reduction for your stupid neighbors, and it creates a clearly-defined lifting area for the athlete. The disadvantages are the greater cost of materials, time to build, and the fact that it disrupts floor space for other uses.
 
The traditional lifting platform is 8x8 feet. This is a convenient size because standard sheets of plywood and the like are 4x8 feet, and this is enough space for anything a weightlifter would need to do in training, even with a squat rack on one end of the platform. 
 
Build the base of the platform with two layers of inexpensive plywood—these sheets can be low-grade, as they won’t be seen or lifted on directly; they just need to create a base of support and absorption. Lay two 4x8 sheets side by side along the long edges, with the seam between the two running front to back. Then lay the other two sheets plywood on top perpendicularly (the seam between them running from side to side). Screw these sheets together along all edges and through the middle areas—you can’t use too many screws here. You can glue instead, or glue and screw, but I prefer not to because it prevents disassembly of the platform for moving or repair later. Lots of screws may be a pain to remove later, but you can remove them, and they’ll keep the sheets lying flat against each other.
 
Next, you need to place your top sheet to create the lifting surface. Many people use an unmodified 4x8 sheet of plywood or MDF here, which will work, but the plates on the bar will be just barely outside the edges. I prefer to trim this top sheet down to 3’6” to add a little more space for the bumpers to land on rubber. Cut if you’re going to, and lay this sheet in the middle of the platform—don’t attach it yet.
 
I like using ¾” MDF on the top—it’s far less expensive than plywood of the quality you need for this application, and it’s heavy and naturally flat, so there’s less of an issue of it bowing up in the middle. If you use plywood, you need a quality sheet with a perfectly flat, smooth surface on at least one side.
 
Now we need to add the rubber landing surfaces along each side of the lifting surface. You can buy this rubber from multiple sources—the best are as horse stall mats from ranch supply companies or as rolled rubber sheeting. Buying “fitness” matting is unnecessarily expensive. Buy rubber with a smooth, flat surface at least on one side—I can’t stand platforms with diamond plating patterns on the rubber. It makes the bar bounce unpredictably and hard to get set up in the exact position you want when lifting. Other rough surfaces are hard to clean and get disgusting in short order.
 
If you’ve trimmed your lifting sheet down to 3’6”, you’ll need to cut two pieces of rubber 27 inches x 8 feet. If you’re leaving the wood 4 feet wide, the rubber will need to be 2x8 feet. This is where additional expense and work comes into play—you can buy rubber in 4-foot widths, which can be cut in half to create your two 2-foot wide pieces if you go with a 4-foot wide lifting surface. If you opt to use a narrower lifting surface, you end up with a leftover piece of rubber 21 inches wide that you can’t use on the platform without having seams. Is it worth it to go narrower? I think so—you can use the extra rubber for other projects, or for on the floor between multiple platforms.
 
Once you have the rubber cut, lay it on the platform along the outside edges of your lifting surface. Get these three pieces aligned and snugged up tightly against each other, then screw the wooden top sheet down. Again, you can glue it if you don’t even plan on replacing it or moving the platform. Screw along the edges and countersink the screws.
 
Finally, screw the rubber down—I only screw the corners and a few spots on the outside edges. This is enough to keep it tightly in place, and you then have no screw heads where the bumpers will be dropping, so you won’t damage them.
 
If you need to increase sound-dampening, you can add a second layer of rubber (and an equally thick wooden layer under the top sheet to keep the lifting surface flat). This rubber can be underlayment, which is less expensive and more absorptive. Keep in mind that this will reduce the noise somewhat, but dropping heavy weights will be loud no matter what you do if the lifting surface is stable and hard as it should be.
 
 
Flush Platform
 
Building a flush platform is very simple, but depending on how you do it, it can be easy or a nightmare. Its advantages are its simplicity, lower cost and the ability to use the space in multiple ways mentioned above. Its disadvantages are limited force absorption and protection of the underlying floor, less noise reduction, and no clearly defined lifting area to keep lifters contained.
 
First, decide what dimensions you want for the actual wooden lifting area. Often these are somewhat smaller than a traditional platform—for example, 4x6 feet. Buy a sheet of wood that’s the same thickness as your rubber flooring. Remember, for this to work well and be safe, these layers have to be identical in height—you don’t want a raised edge that toes and heels can catch on.  If you’re using plywood, you’ll need to shell out good money for a quality sheet that has a smooth, consistent surface and won’t warp easily. MDF is another option, which is convenient because it’s heavy and naturally very flat, as well as considerably less expensive than quality plywood.
 
Cut the wood to the desired dimensions and lay it on the floor where you want to sink it. Once you have it perfectly positioned, trace its edges carefully with a pencil, or if you’re brave, you can score the rubber immediately with a utility knife. In the latter case, be careful and be sure that you’re scoring in immediate proximity of the edge.
 
Pull off the wood and finish cutting the rubber. I recommend trying to angle the cuts slightly inward/downward—that is, the bottom of the rubber should be cut very slightly wider than the top. This will allow the wood sheet to fit in tightly along the top edges but slide in all the way easily and not cause the rubber to bunch.
 
The wood should be affixed to the floor in some way to prevent its shifting. I have made a flush platform in one gym in which the wood was not attached to the floor and worked fine, but it was based on luck of a good piece of wood, perfectly flat, smooth floor, and very precise, tight cuts. I don’t recommend relying on this. You can use some construction adhesive in spots along the edges and through the middle to prevent the wood from bowing up in the center, or if you have the tools and the patience, you can use masonry screws into cement flooring; if you’re going to screw it down, make sure you countersink the screws adequately so the lifting surface is perfectly flat.
 
 
Finishing the Wood
 
I prefer leaving the lifting surface unfinished. As long as it’s kept clean—dusted and very lightly mopped regularly—it will be a solid, non-slippery surface, even with MDF. Varnished surfaces tend to be slippery, so why spend all that time and money and brain cells finishing your platform when it doesn’t work as well anyway? Some people mix very fine sand into the finish to create a slightly rough surface… again, a lot of additional work unnecessarily in my opinion.

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Greg Everett is the owner of Catalyst Athletics, head coach of the USA Weightlifting National Champion team Catalyst Athletics, author of the books Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches and Olympic Weightlifting for Sports, director/writer/producer/editor/everything of the documentary American Weightlifting, publisher of The Performance Menu journal, fifth-place finisher at the USAW National Championships, masters national champion, masters American Open champion, masters American record holder in the clean & jerk, and Olympic Trials coach. Follow him on Facebook here and and sign up for his free newsletter here.

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27 Comments
 

Chris G 2015-02-05
Greg,

Once again...awesome info!

Curious, how often do you end up replacing the MDF? We are in a relatively humid environment and non-AC facility. Keep going back and forth between just spending a bit extra for a hardwood ply for the lifting surface.
Greg Everett 2015-02-05
Chris -
We have the same MDF on our main 6 platforms that we've had since day 1 about 7 years ago. The edges are chipped, but the surface itself is totally fine. Plus with MDF, if you do have to replace it, it's dirt cheap, unlike good plywood.
Haven W 2015-03-16
Greg - I have 90% of my lifting platforms built. I trimmed the top sheet of MDF down 6" like you recommended and I screwed that down along the front edge and back edge. I'm assuming you didn't lay any screws along the side edges of the MDF where plates will be dropping. As for the rubber sides, did you find 8' long mats or did you cut a 6' mat and then cut a smaller 2' mat? I'm wondering what to do about the seam between the 6' piece and 2' piece. Thanks!
Greg Everett 2015-03-17
Haven -

I use 8' mats so there are no seams. If you use a 6' mat, put the seam toward the back of the platform and just screw the corners. It will be fine, it just won't look as nice.
Mark M 2015-04-07
Hi Greg,

How much width do you recommend having around the platform to avoid hitting things if/when the bar bounces a little bit sideways? I have a garage that's 5mx2.7m, if I put the platform running down the length of the garage a squat rack will go nicely at the end of it but I'm a bit concerned that I might hit the walls!
Thanks.
Greg Everett 2015-04-07
Mark -



Well, if you're a sketchy lifter, more room is better, but really you shouldn't need much or any space outside an 8' wide platform - always guide the bar down rather than just drop it from full height and it won't take strange bounces.
Sam 2015-04-23
Would using two layers of horse stall mats reduce the noise/vibration ie. 1 layer plywood + 2 layer stall mats ?
Greg Everett 2015-04-23
Sam -
2 layers of rubber will definitely dampen the noise and impact more - that's discussed in the last paragraph of the raised platform section.
Joe Kolarz 2015-05-22
I used MDF board for my top sheet, problem I have is if I catch some of the MDF board with a weight plate the board dents. Any suggestions ?
Greg Everett 2015-05-22
Joe -

Quit dropping the plates on the wood. It will dent and chip if it's plywood too, but the difference is that it's a lot less expensive to replace a sheet of MDF than good ply.
Joe Kolarz 2015-05-22
Thanks, guess I'll just have to be more careful
Would you suggest not doing dumbbells on the platform then ?
Greg Everett 2015-05-23
Joe -

No, I wouldn't do anything but weightlifting on them.
Robby 2015-06-12
Great article -- great information.

How "portable" does a raised platform end up being. Would you be hesitant to, say, lift it up and store it on its side against the wall each night? Would it come apart easily?

Thanks again.
Greg Everett 2015-06-12
Robby -

Not very portable. Very heavy, but also not rigid enough to easily lift and tilt. If you want to be able to do that, I would build a more rigid frame and expect to hate your life every time you wanted to raise and lower it. Rigging it with pulleys to a wall would be the easiest way to go.
Luke 2015-09-02
Do you have your platforms directly on the concrete or base flooring?
Directly on concrete floor.


Greg Everett
Darren 2015-10-03
Greg thanks for the info! I have hardwoods in the gym on the 2nd floor and was wondering if it would be a good idea to build a lifing platform so I don't screw up my new hardwood floors? The subfloor was built out of engineered web trusses on 16" centers with 1" x 5" pine subfloor, then 3/4" oak hardwood.

I am planning on installing a 3/8" rubber flooring over the entire floor then thinking about building an 8x8 plaform out of 3/4" or 1/2" plywood and then use 3/4" oak flooring that I have left over. What's your thoughts on this?

Thanks
Probably a good idea. Rubber over the hardwood first is key, then the more layers of wood on the platform you can do, the better.


Greg Everett
Dale 2016-01-18
What thickness of inexpensive plywood do you recommend for the base of the platform? Thanks.
The ones we have in the gym now are 1/2" thick.


Steve Pan
QWC 2016-04-13
Thanks for your excellent article. I read your comment that you typically use a 1/2" plywood base under your platforms. Is there any advantage to be gained from using thicker pieces of plywood for the base, for example 3/4" or 1" thick?
Sure. More protection of the surface under the platform and very slightly more sound deadening. But in my opinion, not enough of either to warrant the additional expense.

Greg Everett
Brian Johns 2016-06-06
Greg, where did you find 4x8x3/4" rubber mats? They are very elusive and when I do find a retailer they are textured... Could you point me in the right direction?

Thanks
Ranch supply store in northern CA - but I've looked a couple places recently and haven't found any, so they may be an obsolete size these days (I bought ours 8+ years ago).

Greg Everett
Brian Johns 2016-07-30
Greg,

A follow up... rubberflooringinc.com sells custom size rolls of 1/2" rubber mats, not cheap either, but very high quality
Veit 2016-08-26
Greg,
thanks for sharing the info.
I was wondering why not using MDF for the base layers too?
2 reasons: 1, MDF is very hard, whereas plywood is a bit softer. So for absorbing force for the protection of both the equipment and floor, ply is better. 2, MDF won't hold screws as well as ply, so an all-MDF platform will pull loose more easily with use.

Greg Everett
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