DIY Suspension Straps

Suspension training is a great way to spice up calisthenics. By adding a level of instability to familiar movements like pushups and rows, you can further engage and challenge the muscles that stabilize the joints involved in those movements.

Rows on Suspension Straps

Rows on Suspension Straps

In this post I’ll show you how to build a set of suspension straps at a price far below the commercial offerings. To start with, you’ll need three cinch straps, a foot of 1” PVC pipe, a pair of scissors, a lighter, a carabiner and a quick link for chain. Cinch straps are a little different than ratchet straps, but they’re in the same location at the hardware store.

Just a quick note on safety here: look for straps and hardware with weight ratings. These ratings will let you know if the materials you plan to use will be strong enough. Remember that you’ll be suspended on this stuff, so don’t sacrifice safety to save a couple dollars. Get materials to build gear you can trust!

Cut the PVC pipe in half. Boom: handles! While we’re cutting stuff up, cut the buckle off one of the cinch straps, and use the lighter to make sure the end doesn’t fray.

Suspension Strap Anchor Loops

Suspension Strap Anchor Loops

Remember that overhand loop knot from the lat pull down? Make one big loop with the buckle-less cinch strap and tie a tie an overhand loop knot at the end. Starting from the knot-end, continue to tie overhand knots at intervals of 6 inches until you reach the opposite end. Put the quick link in this last loop. This strap becomes the “trunk” of the suspension strap and the loops are essentially adjustable anchor loops. The quick link is where the other two straps will connect. The carabiner gets used to connect the anchor loops when you loop the strap around your rack, pull up bar, tree branch, playground equipment, etc.

Quick Link

Quick Link

Back to the other two straps: Feed one end of one strap through a PVC handle, through the quick link, and then through the buckle to create a loop. Repeat for the other side. We could stop here, but we’re on a roll!

Go set the straps up and get them adjusted for typical working length. Chances are you have a bunch of extra strap on the two handle loops. Cut off 24-36” from each strap. Use the lighter to de-fray all the cut ends. Now put one of the cut-off straps through the handle and tie a square knot to make a loop. Repeat on the other side for a pair of foot cradles.

Suspension Strap Handles

Suspension Strap Handles

Congratulations on creating your very own suspension straps! As always, share your experience in the comments or over on the Facebook page!

Push Ups on Suspension Straps

Push Ups on Suspension Straps

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DIY Lat Pull Down

Lat Pull Downs are a common accessory movement in many training programs. For those who are unable to do pull ups or chin ups, the lat pull down is the best way to build up to pull ups and chin ups. The same equipment is required for triceps press downs, which are another common accessory exercise.

DIY Lat Pull Down

DIY Lat Pull Down

You’ll need the following materials, all of which are easy to locate at any hardware store:

-2 pieces of ¾” black pipe, 18” long

-2 ¾” floor flanges

-2 pieces of ¾” black pipe 6” long

-2 ¾” 45 degree elbows

-Tie down/Ratchet strap in the color of your choice, preferably 12’ length

-2 Carabiners (suitable for loading/lifting/climbing)

-1 Quick Chain Link

-1 U-Bolt 5/16” by 2” by 4 1/2” with washer and nuts

-2 5/16” nuts and washers

You will also need the following tools:

-Drill with 3/8” bit suitable for drilling metal (not a masonry or wood bit)

-C-Clamp

-Wrench

-Scissors

-Lighter

We’ll begin by building the loading pin. Screw one of the floor flanges to one of the 18” pieces of pipe. Using a C-Clamp, secure the other floor flange to a suitable surface, and drill out two of the opposing bolt holes using the 3/8” drill bit. Be sure to use appropriate eye, ear and hand safety equipment.

Drilling the Floor Flange

Drilling the Floor Flange

Thread a nut onto either side of the U-bolt, about an inch into the threads. Put the washer that came with the u-bolt on. Now put the u-bolt through the floor flange, and add the remaining washers and nuts. Tighten the nuts securely.

U-Bolt Flange Assembly

U-Bolt Flange Assembly

You may now thread the u-bolt/floor flange assembly onto the 18” pipe. Congratulations, you are now the proud owner of a loading pin. There are many additional uses for loading pins, but we’ll save that for another post. On to the pull down strap!

Loading Pin

Loading Pin

Open one of the ratchet straps, and set the ratchet/buckle portion aside. On the strap portion, carefully pry open the hook, just enough to slip the strap off the hook. Put one of the carabiners in place of the hook you just removed. Put the loading pin in place under your rack, connect the carabiner and strap to the loading pin, and drape the other end of the strap over the chin up bar on your rack. Tie an overhand loop knot with the strap that hangs over the chin up bar. The knot should be within a couple inches of the bar when the strap is pulled tight. Put the chain quick link in the loop you just created. Leaving a little strap to spare (approximately 4-6”), cut off the rest of the strap. Use a lighter to carefully melt/weld the edges to prevent fraying.

Overhand Knot

Overhand Loop Knot

Now we need a handle for the pull and press downs. Thread the two 45 degree elbows onto the remaining 18” piece of black pipe so they are hand-tight. Thread the 6” pieces of pipe into the other ends of the elbows, again hand-tight. Now adjust the joints so that all of the pieces are in-line with each other.

Handle

Handle with Lark’s Head Knot

To attach the handle to the strap, you’ll need the remaining piece (24-36”) of strap. Tie an overhand loop knot in both ends, then tie a Lark’s Head knot around the handle such that both overhand loops come through at the top. Use a carabiner to connect the two overhand loops to each other, and ultimately to the chain quick link on the long strap.

Triceps Press Down

Triceps Press Down

Give it a shot, and let me know how it works in the comments or over on the Facebook page!

Power Rack Safety Straps

Warning! What I am going to describe below is only what I have done myself. It is not a recommendation that you should do the same. In fact, most of the pieces I use below specifically include warnings that the pieces should not be used to hold weight overhead, be used for athletics, or used to support body weight. Anything you choose to copy from the following is done at your own risk.

Lifting safely by yourself has been a popular topic lately. This was brought to my attention quite directly under the weight of a 400 lbs squat attempt a couple weeks ago. It was further reinforced by a 70’s Big post and a video that has been making its way through social media recently:

While I typically pride myself on taking appropriate safety measures, the squat attempt a couple weeks ago revealed a flaw in my setup. When I missed the attempt, the bar dropped on my safety straps and bent open the quick links, catastrophically. While I frequently record my lifting attempts, unfortunately I did not record this one, and so I only have a picture of the aftermath. The good news is that the pin & pipe safety system survived with hardly a scratch.

broken saety straps

Failed Safety Straps due to…

broken link

Broken Quick Links

The pin & pipe safety system is likely the strongest, but when the barbell comes into contact with it, a couple things happen. First, the bar comes to an abrupt stop and/or bounces, particularly if one side hits before the other. This can be quite jarring. Second, when that impact occurs, if it is of sufficient force, it will mar the knurling on the barbell. I paid a decent price for my bar, and I’d like to keep it in the best shape I can.

I prefer straps because they take up slack more smoothly on a squat that goes a little deeper than planned, and because they do not mar the knurling on the barbell. I still believe my original strap system is safe and effective, with the exception of using master links in place of the quick links. The quick links were used in the mistaken belief that they were rated for enough loading force, and because they would allow for a fast transition from the bench position (lower) to the squat position (higher). This design is incredibly cost-effective, especially when compared to the commercially-available alternatives that start around $165.

original safety strap

The Original Safety Strap

The original strap system could have been corrected by simply replacing the quick links with threaded master links, but it still had one fundamental flaw for my garage gym: it was the wrong color. So, I set out to make a reasonably-priced strap system that would out-perform the first system, preferably in orange.

Here’s what I came up with. I started with four axle straps ($4 each, rated at 3,300 lbs). I used 3/8” clevises ($4 each, rated at 2,000 lbs) to connect to a master link ($2.50 each, rated at 1,980 lbs). The master link connects to one loop of a tree saver strap ($24 each or orange, as low as $14.50 each for yellow, rated at 20,000 lbs). The other end of the strap connects to 5/16” Grade 30 chain ($15 for 7 feet, rated at 1,900 lbs) using another 3/8” clevis.

safety straps labels

Safety Straps with Labels

Since a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, that means my entire system is rated for 1,900 lbs per side, as limited by the chain. I don’t know about you, but it’ll be a while before I squat 3,800 lbs! And the price isn’t too bad at $110, total. If I was willing to settle for yellow straps, I could have knocked the price down to $90.

 

Strap Adjusted for Rack Pulls, Squats and Bench Press

Strap Adjusted for Rack Pulls, Squats and Bench Press

I replaced all of the clevis cotter pins with hair pin clips for easier adjustment. And because I’m crafty like that, I added paracord lanyards to the clevis that will adjust the strap position for rack pulls, bench pressing or squatting. The lanyards make the clips easier to see and easier to remove.

hair pin clip lanyard

Hair Pin Clip with Lanyard

In closing, I prefer straps as the primary safety method, but I recommend setting the pin or pin & pipe safeties as a redundant back-up, just in case. In the end, can you really put a price on the life or limb you risk in the gym?

DIY PVC Weight Plate Storage Rack

After the basic Elements, the single most-used accessory in my gym is the plate rack. Four days a week, the plates come out of the rack, get loaded on the bar, and get returned to the rack; sometimes multiple times in a single session.

PVC Plate Rack

PVC Plate Rack

I’d seen a few examples of DIY plate racks online, and decided I liked PVC the best. PVC is one of the most versatile and easy to work with materials, and it’s widely available at very low prices.

The design is quite simple, but requires a lot of cutting. I used a hand saw the first time I built a set of plate racks, and a miter saw the second time. Obviously the miter saw is faster, but I want you to know that it can be done with just hand tools. Remember to use all of the appropriate protective gear.

I used ¾” Schedule 40 PVC pipe and fittings. When I first built the plate racks, I was fairly certain I’d end up with broken pieces of PVC, or at least cracks over time. I’ve been using these racks for nearly two years, and there are still no cracks or breaks.

PVC Plate Rack Version 1

PVC Plate Rack Version 1

There are only two basic components in the plate rack: ends and dividers. The ends, two per plate rack, should be 8 ½” pieces of pipe with an elbow (90 degree fitting) on each side. On both sides, like book-ends, and in between each plate will be a divider. Each divider should be two 5 ¾” pieces of pipe with an elbow in between, and a Tee on each end. The ends join the dividers at the Tees, and each divider joins the next at the Tees. Each of those connections is performed by cutting a joint of pipe to mate with the Tees (for the dividers) and the elbows (for the ends).

Ends and Dividers

End and Dividers

The first time I built the PVC Plate Racks, I only added space where the wider plates would go. In my case, that meant the 25 lbs and 45 lbs bumper plates. All of the others were left loose, as the gap between two Tees is 1 ¾”, which is wider than my 10 lbs bumper and all of my iron plates. There was a bit of wiggle room, but no real drawback to leaving the looser spacing.

The second time around, I cut the Tees down to make a tighter fit. I did this mainly for cosmetic reasons, but I find it to be a little nicer when retrieving the iron plates. Less wiggle room correlates with a reduced risk of pinching my fingers when retrieving or replacing the plates.

If you decide to go with the tighter fit, measure the thickness of the plate, then compare that to the 1 ¾” gap of two joining Tees. To maximize the strength of the joint, I removed equal amounts of material from both Tees, rather than simply cutting the extra material from one Tee and leaving the other alone. The bumper plates required a bit of test-fitting and adjusting, while the iron plates were fairly direct.

As an added touch, I primed and painted my racks to match the rest of the gear in my gym. Be sure to select primer and paint that’s intended for use on plastics.

Take a minute to count up how many plates you need to store, and factor that out into the appropriate length of PVC pipe and the correct number of elbows and Tees. Head out to your local hardware store and get to work!

I’d love to see how these turn out for you, so post pictures to the comments, or email them to be posted on the Facebook page.