The words “Do It Yourself” might bring to mind images of crocheted scarves and hand-embroidered mittens, but turns out the DIY community also has a harder edge. Fitness aficionados across the country are figuring out how to make their own gym equipment, saving money and boosting self-sufficiency in the process. Here, we’ve rounded up 21 DIY fitness projects designed to give you the tools to strength train, do some cardio, and stretch it all out in the comfort of your own home. Though some of these projects might be a little intimidating (concrete and power tools, anyone?), many of them are accessible to even the novice do-it-yourselfer. Happy making!
Strength Training Equipment
1. Pull-up Bar
Pull-ups work a variety of muscle groups in the arms and back, which explains why they’re a classic complement to strength training routines. To make a homemade pull up bar, just fit some pipes together and hang the contraption over a suitable load-bearing I-beam. (Emphasis on load-bearing! Make sure the bar is suitably secure and supported before you start pulling.) Struggling to get your pull-up? Check out our three-week plan for building the necessary strength to heave-ho on the bar.
Kettlebells’ unique shapes make them a great way to improve strength, cardio, endurance, and flexibility Oxygen cost of kettlebell swings. Farrar, R.E., Mayhew, J.L., Koch, A.J. Health and Exercise Sciences Department, Human Performance Laboratory, Truman State University, Kirksville, Missouri. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2010 Apr;24(4):1034-6 Kettlebell training for musculoskeletal and cardiovascular health: a randomized controlled trial. Jay, K., Frisch, D., Hansen, K., et al. National Research Centre for the Working Environment, Copenhagen, Denmark. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment, and Health, 2011 May;37(3);196-203 . They’re a great resource for workouts—but they can also be pretty pricey, especially when buying ‘bells with different weights. The bargain solution? Tim Ferriss’ simple “T bar” construction. For approximately $10 at a hardware or home improvement store, it’s possible to make an alternate kettlebell that allows for changeable weights (it’s like 10 kettlebells in one!) and easily disassembles for travel and storage. For those desiring a tool that more closely resembles traditional kettlebells’ shape (and who are comfortable with welding), look no further than these instructions for building a rounder kettlebell made from concrete.
3. Farmers’ Walk Bars
Named (we can only presume) after the image of a farmer carrying loaded buckets to the cows’ feed trough, the farmer’s walk is an exercise beloved by strength athletes around the world. The move looks simple enough: Athletes hold heavy objects in each hand and walk until they’re exhausted. But the move is deceptively difficult and a great way to improve core strength Comparison of different strongman events: Trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine motion, load, and stiffness. McGill, SM, McDermott, A., and Fenwick, CM. Department of Kinesiology, University of Waterloo, Canada. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2009 Jul;23(4):1148-61 . With some pipe, screws, and recycled or store-bought wood, it’s possible to build two giant farmer’s walk bars bound to make you the talk of the neighborhood.
4. Bulgarian Training Bag
Originally developed for wrestlers, Bulgarian training bags are used around the world to target the legs, arms, back, and core. Think of them as the softer, more malleable cousin of kettlebells. Commercial bags cost a pretty penny—they can run upwards of $250. Instead, try this cheaper solution: Simply fill an old truck or tractor tire’s inner tube with wood pellets or rubber mulch, tie up the tube securely, and voila! It’s time to start swinging, squatting, and curling your way to better fitness.
Sandbags are another great way to enhance strength and endurance exercises. They’re used similarly to kettlebells, only their insides (i.e. the sand) shift around during movements, adding an extra challenge. Making a sandbag requires delightfully cheap resources: Just pick up some contractor trash bags, duct tape, filler (such as sand), rope or zip ties, and a canvas laundry bag (surplus military laundry bags also work well), and you’re halfway to having your very own sandbag to toss, swing, and slam around.
6. Water Ball
Similar to a sandbag but way harder to maneuver, water balls are the crazy cousin hanging out in the corner of the strength-training party. They’re also very easy to make: Simply purchase an exercise ball (make sure it’s marked “anti-burst”—unless you want to be soaked in more than sweat), fill it up with water (leave some air so the water has room to slosh around), and voila: For about $10 and 30 minutes of time investment, you’ve got one heck of a training tool.
7. Light Hand Weights
Not everyone is ready for farmer’s walking with 100-pound tree trunks in each hand. Start smaller (and put leftover water bottles to good use!) with homemade light hand weights. Use them in classic dumbbell moves for a budget-friendly hand weight workout. If the small bottles eventually stop being a challenge, simply fill up bigger bottles (like milk jugs) with water, rocks, or sand, and keep on lifting!
8. Medicine Ball
A popular addition to core work, medicine balls can be used in a variety of exercises that challenge the whole body and have been shown to improve muscle power and performance Effect of twelve weeks of medicine ball training on high school baseball players. Szymanksi, D.J., Szymanski, J.M., Bradford, T.J. et al. Department of Health and Exercise Science, Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, Louisiana. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2007 Aug;21(3):894-901 Validity and reliability of a medicine ball explosive power test. Stockbrugger, B.A., Haennel, R.G. Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, University of Regina, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2001 Nov;15(4):431-8 . Make your own with an old basketball, drill or awl, and some sand.
9. Incline Bench
Love it or dread it, the incline bench is a classic tool for a variety of core work. But commercial versions can also chisel away at people’s wallets, lending appeal to the DIY version. Another perk of making your own incline bench: It’s self-adjustable, so it can be tailored to different moves and levels of fitness. Plus, it looks darn impressive in a basement or workout space.
10. Suspension Straps
As the TRX training system has gained popularity for its minimalist approach to resistance training, so has the use of suspension (or “blast”) straps—and their price has risen with their recognition. But for about $15 at a hardware store and very little time investment, it’s possible to make your own suspension straps. Hang them over a door jam, a sturdy tree branch, or Smith machine, and get suspended!
11. Battling Ropes
This one is bound to delight the neighbors. Instead of using old garden hoses to, say, water the garden, turn them into battle ropes. If new to this multi-functional exercise, start out with empty hoses. As you advance, fill the hoses with sand (don’t forget to plug up both ends) for a more challenging full-body workout.
Parallettes can help develop coordination, agility, and balance (even their name sounds graceful). Follow these detailed instructions to make your own using PVC pipes, electrical tape, and a little glue. Now what? Check out the list of crossfit-approved exercises below the assembly instructions.
13. Rowing Machine
This one seems almost too good to be true. For around $70 plus some 10-pound weights, it’s possible to build your own rowing machine (holy mackerel!). It’s about time somebody came up with a more budget-friendly version, because rowing is a comprehensive, low-impact workout that strengthens most major muscle groups while improving cardiovascular fitness Development of FES-rowing machine. Miyawaki k., KIwami T., Obinata G., et al. Annual International Conference of IEEE Medicine and Biology Society. 2007;2007:2768-71 .
14. Treadmill Laptop Shelf
Sometimes working out is easier when there’s something around to distract you, whether it’s an exercise buddy, a TV—or your laptop. While it’s maybe not the best idea to surf the web while biking or running (accident waiting to happen?), we know people get busy and sometimes need to multi-task. Build your own laptop shelf for a stationary cardio machine with some cheap supplies from a hardware store (and a little customization for the size of your laptop and the type of handlebars on the machine).
15. Slam-able Medicine Ball
Okay, so we already know that medicine balls are a great strength-training tool. But turns out they can become a cardio powerhouse just by picking them up and slamming them down on the ground over and over again. Of course, such a workout requires an exceedingly durable ball. With a little hard work (and a drill), the toughest basketball around becomes a tool for one of the most cathartic workouts ever.
This is probably one of the easiest projects on this list. It also sounds like a great workout, though we can’t vouch for the safety or science behind it (the shovelglove has not yet made its way into mainstream gyms). The instructions are simple: Take a sledgehammer and wrap it in an old sweater. Now you have a shovelglove (really, that’s it!). To use this newfangled workout tool, its creator recommends people perform the motions of shoveling, butter churning, and wood chopping (around 50 each) for 15 minutes every weekday.
This one’s not so much about “making it from scratch” as it is about repurposing gym equipment for new uses. Those who own a rebounder (basically a mini trampoline that’s gained popularity as a workout tool), can quickly transform it into a workout buddy by placing it on its side (with something sturdy behind it for support) and whipping a ball at it over and over again, catching the ball on the (you guessed it) rebound. This guy uses a bowling ball, but personally we’d choose something a bit softer.
Yoga and Rejuvenation Equipment
18. Yoga Bag
The practice of yoga has been linked to improved flexibility, reduced anxiety and pain, and lowered blood pressure Does yoga therapy reduce blood pressure in patients with hypertension?: an integrative review. Okonta, N.R., Medical Center of Central Georgia, Macon, and Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA. Holistic Nursing Practice, 2012 May-Jun;26(3):137-41 A comprehensive yoga programs improves pain, anxiety and depression in chronic low back pain patients more than exercise: an RCT. Tekur, P., Nagarathna, R., Chametcha, S., et al. Division of Yoga & Life Sciences, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Research Foundation (SVYASA), Bengaluru, India. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 2012 Jun;20(3):107-18 . But sometimes the prospect of schlepping a mat from work to class and back home again can be a bit of a deterrent. Enter the yoga bag: a convenient way to take the “awkward” out of toting a yoga mat. This yoga bag “recipe” also provides a convenient solution to the question of what to do with blue jeans that are past their prime.
19. Yoga or Pilates Mat
Pilates is similar to yoga in that it combines low-impact flexibility and core-strengthening moves through body weight exercises. Both practices make great complements to any fitness routine, and luckily making a homemade mat couldn’t be simpler. Simply buy a roll of no-slip kitchen shelf liner (look for one that’s at least 5 feet long and 1 inch thick), unwrap, and get toning. It may not be the fanciest mat out there (though it’s possible to beautify it a little bit), but it’ll do the trick.
20. Yoga Blocks
Yoga props are a great way to avoid yoga injuries, and perhaps none is as versatile as the block. It’s great for supporting the body in poses that are just slightly out of reach and preventing over-straining. To make your own, simple use a saw to cut a piece of wood to the dimensions of 3 by 5.5 by 9 inches. Use sandpaper to soften the edges (and prevent future splinters), then strike a pose.
21. Foam Roller
Foam rolling is gaining popularity thanks to its serious benefits, which include muscle tension relief, increased range of motion, and injury prevention A comparison of the pressure exerted on soft tissue by 2 myofascial rollers. Curran, P.F., Fiore, R.D., Crisco, J.J. Department of Orthopaedics, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University/Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, RI 02903, USA. Journal of Sports Rehabilitation. 2008 Nov;17(4):432-42 . It can be difficult to replicate the sturdiness of commercial rollers, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. With the help of a cheap yoga mat, some PVC pipe, and (of course) duct tape, these instructions will have you ready to roll like a pro in no time.
Illustrations by Bob Al-Greene
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