In this post, I’ll share how I made my own custom DIY Fractional Plates or microplates for microloading. But before that, it is important to explain microloading and why you need fractional plates to get past plateaus in strength training.
Progressive overload is an amazing technique in strength training in that it enables you to get stronger by adding small amounts of weight increments to your lifts over time. However, you can’t just keep adding 5lbs or 10lbs every week or month to your lifts forever. If that was the case, everyone would be walking around bragging about their squat, bench press, and deadlift being over 1000lbs.
Eventually, adding weight to your exercises in the gym would become so hard that you’ll start hitting plateaus all over the place. In such a situation, a loser would find himself in frustration but a smart lifter would utilize techniques to overcome these plateaus.
There are so many things you can do to get past these annoying plateaus – some of which are:
- Deloading the weight to 80% of your current work weight and going back up
- Increasing the reps on your previous working weight to increase muscle memory and endurance
- Taking a 2 week to 1-month rest on the lift and working on a less intensive variation, in order to come back stronger
- Using tiny increments, aka micro-loading, to enable smoother gains in strength
One of the techniques commonly used to get past plateaus is called microloading. Microloading is extremely effective if you’re on a strength training program like Stronglifts 5×5. It works by using small fractional plates (0.25lb, 0.5lb, 0.75lb, 1lb, 1.25lb) to increment your lifts slowly and steadily. However, these fractional plates are expensive and not easy to find depending on where you live.
The problem is most gyms house 2.5lbs or 1.25kg plates as their smallest plate. This means your increment would have to be 5lbs at a minimum. While this is okay for squats and deadlifts, it might be too much for presses. For instance, a 5lb increment on a 100lb overhead press is 5% increase.
This wouldn’t be a problem for someone like Zydrunas Savickas (world’s strongest man) since 5lb on his 500lb press would only be a 1% increment. But for most mortal lifters like yourself, microloading is the way to go to reduce these percentages in lift increments.
As I mentioned, you’ll need fractional plates for microloading. You can easily buy these plates online if you have the money and don’t have the time to make them.
If you do decide to buy them, here are 4 recommended fractional plates on Amazon.
When I decided to start microloading, it came to me as a shocker how expensive these plates were. But again, if you have the spare money, go ahead and pick some up from Amazon.
Anyways, I decided to make them myself. Yes, DIY Fractional Plates!
Now there are probably so many possible ways you can make DIY Fractional plates. After all, all you have to do is find a way to compact weight in a small object that can be inserted onto the barbell!
One way is to use washers like these. Washers can be bought in hardware stores for around $2 a piece. Since a single washer weighs around 0.6lbs, you’ll need at least 4 of them to have a ~2.5lb increment, costing you around $8 total. The relevant-sized washer has a 2.25-inch diameter hole (enough to fit an Olympic barbell) so if you can get your hands on something like these, you’re good to go! No need to make DIY fractional plates from scratch.
Aside from washers, there are other workarounds you can use such as using chains, sand weights, etc. However, I could not easily find the right sized washer when I went in search to buy them, nor did I have any access to chains or something similar.
So I decided to use what I had at home and bought some stuff from the hardware store to make my own customized DIY Fractional plates. I made a pair of fractional plates weighing 1.25lb each, in order to give me a 2.5lb increment. This pair cost me only 2 hours and about $9 to make – which I don’t consider costly at all. Anyone can use this design and method to make their own DIY fractional plates.
Things you will need
Since we’re making weights here, the materials used should be high in density. Meaning, materials that are heavy but occupy less space or volume. I selected the following materials taking into account their density to ensure I don’t end up with big plates.
- Hollow Pipes
This will serve as the base ring of the plate. You can use unused pipes in your backyard and cut two small pieces out of them using a wood saw or similar cutting tool. Make sure that the hole of the pipe is at least 5cm so it can comfortably fit into the barbell. The height of these cut pipes is around 1.5 inches. If you have steel pipes at hand, use them instead of plastic ones so you’ll need less extra material to make it heavy.
- Steel Wire Rope
You’ll use steel wire rope as the meat of the fractional plate to really make it as heavy as it should be. It needs to be steel or metal so that it’s heavy enough to reach 1.25lb per plate. Steel wire ropes are easily available at hardware stores and you can get them for as cheap as 30 cents per foot. To make two pieces of 1.25lb plates, you’ll need around 18ft of steel wire rope. Cut this into two pieces of 9ft each.
- Electrical Tape
Electrical tape will be needed to bind the steel wire rope around the pipe and also to give it a finishing touch. I used electrical tape because it’s denser than most other tapes out there and it’s pretty cheap as well.
- Epoxy Adhesive
You’ll need an adhesive to stick the metal wire rope on the hollow pipe. For this purpose, get an epoxy which is appropriate for sticking metal and plastic together.
- Weighing Scale
Lastly, you’ll need a weighing scale to weigh your fractional plates accurately to make sure they really end up being exactly 1.25lb each. As you can see in the picture, the plastic pipe only weighs around 0.04kg which is negligible, so we’ll have to add a lot more weight to it.
Step-by-Step process | DIY Fractional Plates
Bind one edge of the steel wire rope onto the pipe using electrical tape. Then, apply epoxy adhesive to the surface of the pipe before rolling the steel wire rope over it. Be careful in dealing with the steel wire rope since its edges can be sharp. And make sure to mix the epoxy adhesive and hardener that comes with it properly before applying.
Wrap the steel wire around the pipe slowly and firmly. The epoxy you applied in step 1 will help keep the rope intact but you’ll still have to hold it tight or else it would just repel and rebound due to its high tensile strength.
As you wrap the steel wire rope, bind some portions of it to the pipe with electrical tape so it doesn’t repel. Also, cover the tip of the other end with electrical tape so its sharp edges won’t hurt you.
This step is optional. You can further tighten the rope and at the same time add some weight by binding it with easily foldable metal wire – the type used for laundry wires.
Now wrap the steel wire rope with generous amounts of electrical tape to really tighten and seal the wire rope to prevent it from loosening and coming off.
Definitely looking good now. Continue adding electrical tape and weigh the plate on the scale to check if the weight is exactly 1.25lb, if not, keep adding more tape until it reaches the desired weight. Finally, cut off the electrical tape from the inner portion of the hole (blue area) to make it smoother from the inside.
And there you have it! the finished product would look something like this. Not bad for DIY fractional plates, is it?
What’s the fun in living stronger alone? If you found this article useful, go ahead and share it with the people you care about.