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Homemade Isometric Tool

Below are instructions to an isometric device that can be used for several exercises.  Those familiar with Never Gymless or Infinite Intensity have seen other homemade isometric tools (along with research regarding isometrics).  I built the tool below after writing these books.  I am therefore adding this entry to the Post Purchase FAQ located within the forum.  I will continue to expand this FAQ with regular updates.

Before discussing this particular tool, it’s worth noting that I do not own stock in Home Depot.  I have nothing to gain from anyone building anything.  I realize that this tool may look a bit odd, particularly to those who are not familiar with isometrics.

I’ve made regular use of isometric training for several years however, and continue to reap excellent strength gains.  Clearly, this tool is not the end all to isometric training, as there are countless other options.  It is just one possible addition.  It’s also worth noting that isometric training is not intended to replace your routine.  It isn’t a replacement, but rather a useful addition to a  well rounded program.  I personally work with various forms of isometrics 3 or 4 days per week, and have been doing so for a long time (ie. years).  I regularly vary exercises and methods, but do remain consistent with at least some form of isometric training (ex. static dynamic protocol, targeting sticking points, targeting multiple joint angles for a given exercise, static bodyweight exercises such as bridging, etc.).

Building The Tool

As for the specifics, I was fortunate to have the lumber and chain already, so only needed to purchase a few quick-links to finish it off.  The complete parts list is provided below:

  • 2′ x 4′ piece of 3/4″ plywood
  • 6′ of 4″ x 4″ wood
  • Three pieces of chain
  • Three eye bolts
  • Two handles
  • Long deck screws
  • Several Quick-link connectors

The instructions for building are self explanatory.  I cut the 4″ x 4″ into two foot lengths.  The middle piece will be used for one arm exercises.  I then placed a 4″ x 4″ on each side of the center piece.  I didn’t follow any precise measurements here.  I built the tool based on the foot position that I would need.  I stood on the plywood and marked off the appropriate width based on the stance that felt most comfortable.  I did however ensure that I had enough room for cement blocks (which will be explained later in this entry).  I set the 4″ x 4″ pieces with liquid nails, and then secured them with long deck screws (after the liquid nails had cured).

Each 4″ x 4″ has its own eye hook secured in the middle.  Chain is connected to the eye hooks with a quick-link connector.  I always make a point to use the strongest connectors that I can find.  The eye hooks are rated at 350 pounds each.  The chain and connectors are rated much higher.

Handles

I had an extra pair of playground ring handles available so used them as handles for this tool.  Each handle has two quick-link connectors.  The connector on the far right is similar to the carabiners used by climbers.  I purchased these connectors at a local hardware store.  They allow for quick adjustments.

I was fortunate to have the playground rings, but there are also homemade options available for handles.  In the past, I’ve made handles by running chain through a small piece of reinforced PVC hose.  I then connect the chain with a small quick-link to close the handle.

Visual Reference Points

Below, you can see how I have spray painted every 5th chain link.   This is particularly useful when performing exercises with two chains.  You don’t need to count out chain links on each side to ensure equal lengths.  The painted chain serves as a quick visual reference.

Exercise Options

Below are a few exercise examples (certainly not a definitive list).  As you’ll see, you can perform single arm exercises with the center 4″ x 4″ or you can perform two arm exercises by using the outer connections.  You can quickly adjust the angle of each exercise by moving up or down the chain with your quick-link.  I always make a point to target multiple joint angles.

It’s also worth nothing that this tool could be easily stored indoors.  In the pictures below, it was 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the gym, hence my need to bundle up.

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By standing on cement blocks, I can target a much lower point in the exercise.

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I can also attach my handles directly to the eye hooks, rather than first connecting to the chain.  Below, I stand on blocks and attach directly to the eye hooks, which puts me right at the bottom of the exercise.

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Several upright pulls can also be performed with this tool.  Below is one example.

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And here is another with the handles turned inward.

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Unilateral work is also available.  I can simulate an upright row as seen below.  I can then make quick adjustments to chain length to target different angles in the exercise.  Strong chain allows for a maximal effort at every joint angle.  It may look strange, but there is nothing strange about pulling with a max effort.

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Overhead pressing is also ideal with this device.  I use the outer chains for pressing exercises.  Isometric pressing has certainly helped my overhead pressing ability (with weights).  The chain allows me to put forth a maximal effort at every angle of the exercise.  I often climb the chain with this exercise, meaning that I’ll move up one link at a time.

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Two hand options are also available.

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As you can see, countless conventional exercises can also be targeted with this simple device.

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Spring Loaded Options

One modification that can be made to this tool is the addition of a tension coil spring.  You can attach such a coil to your handle to add a small amount of “give” to the apparatus.  A coil spring can be added to any of the movements seen above.   You may wish to crimp the ends closed however to prevent the coil from coming undone.  If this isn’t possible, pay attention to your connections to ensure that your handle doesn’t come flying off of the coil.

The coil seen below is rated for 350 pounds.

As you can see, a hard pull to the handle only generates a small stretch in the coil.

The coil certainly adds a dynamic feel to this tool.   As for options, you can hold the extended position, or you can perform reps by pulling, and then releasing (continuing to alternate in this fashion).

Summary

Years ago, I found isometrics convenient when I had limited access to equipment.  Yet even with all of the equipment that I own now, I still find isometrics to be extremely useful.  I also find isometrics to be particularly useful as a parent to young children.  I can put forth a maximal effort without making any noise.  It may not sound like much, but when you have an infant who is sleeping, it’s nice to able to train close by without waking them out.

Old School References

For those interested in some old school references to isometric training, click any of the images below:

Please note that image of Bruce Lee (directly above) links to a book preview through Google Books.  This link may not be available to certain viewers outside the US.  The book title is The Art of Expressing The Human Body which was compiled by John Little.

More DIY Tools

For more homemade equipment ideas, please click the image below:

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36 comments

36 Comments so far

  1. Paul February 24th, 2009 12:42 am

    Thanks for the great idea Ross, after midterms I will construct myself one of these.

  2. Yavor Marichkov February 24th, 2009 10:33 am

    Ross, thanks for recommending the book about Bruce Lee. I just got it and I’m psyched.

    -Yavor

  3. Donnell Boucher February 25th, 2009 12:41 am

    Ross, awesome tool, and easy to build. Great book recommendations as well..Thanks for your work.

    DB

  4. JN February 26th, 2009 4:27 am

    thats cool.
    Bruce Lee made something similar to that

  5. JN February 26th, 2009 4:28 am

    sorry missed the last photo. I recomand The Art of Expressing The Human Body its an intresting read.

  6. Adramein L. February 27th, 2009 3:29 pm

    Where did you purchase the srping coil and how much does it cost? this is a great tool to use and i cant wait to add it to my home gym.

  7. Administrator February 27th, 2009 6:26 pm

    Adramein, it was several years ago that I bought the coil. If I remember correctly, I believe I bought it from Sears Hardware. They are only a few dollars.

    Ross

  8. Bob Patterson February 28th, 2009 1:11 am

    Ross-

    I LOVE it!

    I’ve long since given up the gym for my garage. I can do everything I need to stay fit through light weights, resistance bands, body weight exercises, and good ol’ calisthenics.

    My equipment consists of a cheapo Wal-Mart weight bench, 150 lbs of weights, a sit up bench, bands, and a free standing bag for punching and kicking.

    However, you are the master of it and this has to be one of my favorite “build-it-yourself” posts ever!

    ~BCP

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  10. jesse crouch March 4th, 2009 12:44 am

    Cool tool. It always amazes me how much isametric exercise is neglected from modern training. I’ve seen more of it lately, but I think it’s still losing out to regular weight lifting (not that it can’t be done with weights).

    I think one of the biggest problems athletes encounter, myself included, is measurement. It’s difficult to know how much more pressure to use when there’s nothing to actively measure during the exercise such as time or weight. With static contraction against body weight or added weight it’s certainly measurable, but not when you push against an immovable object.

  11. Josh Leeger March 19th, 2009 5:55 pm

    Ross, this is awesome.

    Another way to do iso’s easily, and without any construction, is to use a 15-20 ft. length of rope. Stand on the rope with both feet, grab it, and pull/push from whichever angle/direction you want. It charges your grip strength up a lot more too!

    Josh

  12. [...] Weight Training, weightlifting, workout by jleeger Based on a recommendation from Ross Enamait on his blog, I bought and read the book “Bruce Lee: The Art of Expressing the Human Body,” by John [...]

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  14. Diy Tools Expert January 22nd, 2010 5:31 am

    The first thing I will do at this Week end;purchase your books. My waist is increasing day by day , Gym is much far away and I can’t go there due to busy schedule. Your suggestions and such hand made tools will keep me fit while staying at flat. Will visit your blog again, impressive………

  15. Eddie January 24th, 2010 5:45 am

    I really like the idea of building your own exercise equipment. In fact I want to learn how to weld to build my bench and maybe a Smith Machine. I will use springs, schock absorbers, and or a combination of pulleys for resistance.What would be great – would be to add some pressure gauge or electronic meter to motivate yourself. Imagine being able to see the amount of force executed in every repetition!!Thanks Ross, all the information you share is worth it’s weight!I believe that as Americans we should all enjoy a better life -practice sports and eat more healthy.
    thanks Eddie

  16. farley June 25th, 2010 10:43 am

    never done isometrics but after seeing this article im going ti implement it into my personnal training programme im in the u.k i do all my training in my garage,i do mma conditioning and lots of bag drills. feel the burn.
    Sean.

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  18. Weightlifting Workout | Lose That Beer Belly! October 23rd, 2010 8:46 am

    [...] Isometric exercises with a homemade tool plus some old school references. [...]

  19. Dan October 28th, 2010 3:37 pm

    Hey Ross, I believe there’s a little spelling mistake in one of your sentences, which might make people misunderstand what you’re trying to say. (no offense)

    It’s the text marked in yellow “It’s also worth nothing that this tool could be easily stored indoors.” I believe you mean “It’s also worth noting” :)

    Best regards, Dan.

  20. Administrator October 28th, 2010 3:39 pm

    Ha! Good call Dan!

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  22. RossTraining.com Blog May 1st, 2011 9:25 am

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  29. ranz February 21st, 2012 10:08 pm

    Ross, I posted this in the forum in case…but what if I used a wider strip of wood for the base platform on your older isometric tool model (the one with the 2X4 and the dowel) for stable footing..would that work alright? Reason I ask is because I need something very portable.
    Thanks!

  30. admin February 22nd, 2012 4:17 am

    You could possibly use a 2×10, or perhaps attach a few 2x4s to reach the desired width

  31. Tyciol March 6th, 2012 6:56 am

    Looks like fun, I always love your home depo guides.

  32. randy March 12th, 2012 11:25 am

    i have just built one of these and i am gonna see how it goes. i will do isometrics with my normal weight training workout. my goal is to gain strength while keeping my weight low i am interested in speed and explosiveness for athletics and one of the best way to do that is by increasing my strength to weight ratio and i am hoping this will help.

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  34. Isometric tool | Firstchoiceloc May 21st, 2012 7:25 am

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  35. Wingo February 24th, 2014 7:07 pm

    it is a great tool. In fact I have the one with the 3 4 by’s…I am going to make one with a single 4 by only and smaller floor. It will utilize the spring. It will be portable (more easily) and that spring along with unilateral work is the thing to do. he spring pulling back adds a better dimension to the pull.Mightkeep several strengths of the springs also. On the 3 boarder I have bands. One light and one medium, one on each end. Unilateral is the way I work , when I do.

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