Homemade Isometric Tool

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Below are instructions for 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 nothing 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.

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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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