ANDREW TRACEY: The Van Rig

We've introduced Andrew Tracey before, when he was challenging himself to be CrossFit competition ready via car parks. 

We're entering a new journey with Andrew and his DIY ethos, having fitted a brand new rig onto the side of his work van. He has been training this way long before Bulldog Gear stepped in with an improved design.

We've asked him to give us an insight into this way of life and the future with his new and improved rig...

“Start with what you have, do what you can.” That was my mantra when I decided to get back into ‘shape’ after a short hiatus from training, brought about by moving out of the fitness industry for what was intended to be a short career break.

I’d moved into the events industry at the ground level. It’s a line of work that isn’t quite up to scratch with modern terms like ‘health and safety’ and ‘working week’, where 90 plus hour weeks are not uncommon, not returning home for weeks on end is a given and you’re far more likely to work 5-9 than you are 9-5.

Gyms were not open before I started work in the morning, and most would be long closed after I’d finished. That’s if I could find one near me at all, traipsing across the country. I just gave up on the idea of training, really. I’d gone from working in some of the best health clubs in the world with a lot of free time, to this - training just wasn’t on the cards.

No one particular thing pushed me to start working out again, no epiphany, no ‘catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror and not liking what I saw’ moment. I think I was just getting annoyed at listening to myself tell people how I ‘used’ to work out, and the subsequent pity party I’d throw myself lamenting how it’s just ‘not possible in this job.’

I still loved training, I still programmed for anyone who needed some guidance, I still fully intended to jump back into the fitness industry after the Olympics, so I decided to stop paying lip service and just do ‘something’, I had the advantage of years or experience in training and writing programs for people of all backgrounds, it was time to put it to use.

I started performing basic but taxing bodyweight circuits, built around hypertrophy principles, I also started carrying a kettlebell, back then I’d lug a 28kg bell across London to meet for pick ups, this allowed me to load my lower body with at least some resistance. The biggest change came when I started my own business, I was already well back into the swing of things, but with a pick up truck or van at my disposal I could start accruing so more basic kit to keep progressing, a barbell, bumpers, bands, some dumbbells.

I realised pretty soon that stripping the kit list back to bear bones leaves you nowhere to hide, the workouts were short, sharp, brutal... but effective- effective enough to get the attention of Men’s Fitness, landing me a front cover and years worth of double page features, detailing the type of training I performed, all without stepping foot in a gym.

This was the birth of #YouAreNotYourGymMembership.

Pretty early on I’d identified two glaring ‘limiting factors’:

  1. Training with a barbell in a car park means it *has* to come from the floor for every lift, which is fine, it’s just another challenge, but as a non crossfitter/ Olympic lifter, making a clean my limiting factor seemed a bit nonsensical.
  2. More pressingly though, if I didn’t have access to something to do pull-ups on, my exercise selection nearly HALVED, no pull-ups, no rows, no rope climbs, no ring work.

Many a night was spent aimlessly driving around strange towns looking for a football pitch with unoccupied goal posts or empty parks. It was fun, but I was trying to run a business, work 16 plus hours everyday, manage a few other ventures and occasionally sleep, so this was not really conducive to the type of time savvy training I was trying to embody.

This was a problem I needed to solve.

I came up with the idea for and subsequently  retrofitted the prototype for the ‘van rig’ a few years back from the box section of an extremely cheap squat rack/ pull-up bar, on site, on my break time using the same tools I would to build a super structure; it was crude, rickety and looked as cobbled together as it was... but I didn’t have to leave the hotel car park to do pull-ups now and I could squat and press out of a rack. Game changer.

When Bulldog Gear first raised the idea of creating a custom made, commercial quality rig based on the rudimentary design I was using, I leapt at the opportunity. You only have to look at the omnipresence or Bulldog in the functional fitness and strength community to get a gauge of the the quality of the brand and the craftsmanship that goes into their work. No more comprising, no more bodge jobs and in car park repairs to keep training up, a rock solid, commercial grade, rolling gym. Win.

After working with the team, who came up with some incredible improvements to my original concept, the rig was good to go, incredibly sturdy and now featuring a rope climb attachment that’s pushing 4 metres, the rig feels as industrial to training off of as it looks. Being manufactured from Bulldog’s modular system, it also means I have the ability to easily add more to the arsenal, in the form of dip bars, landmine attachments even extra pull-up bars to enable multiple trainees to use the rack concurrently. This level of ‘plug and play’ expansion essentially makes my exercise selection infinite, which in turn removes a lot of compromises and substitutions that would crop up in my own programming.

I have always and will always maintain, that there isn’t a program in the world you can’t replicate to some degree with two kettlebells and a set of gymnastics rings, but having the van rig improves my ability to do this by ten fold.

The rig has already seen commercial action, as we used it as the flagship piece when we transformed a car park in London’s infamous Brick Lane into a functional fitness playground, creating a ‘You Are Not Your Gym Membership’ experience for over twenty members of the press and fitness industry influencers to celebrate the launch of performance sportswear brand 2XU’s new collection, something that would not have been possible without the backing and build quality provided by Bulldog. We utilised the rig for rope climbs, muscle ups, pull-ups and ring rows, all simultaneously, proving its worth as a portable, multifunctional, multi user weapon for car park training.

Moving forward, the rig will allow me to train unencumbered and without compromise as I push to become the most well rounded version of myself, training for various functional fitness competitions and other endeavours, without chasing my tail around searching for 24 hour gyms or rugby pitches. It’s a far cry from lugging a kettlebell around on the central line, but it’s roots are the same, there’s a solution to everything, if you’re willing to put in the work.

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