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The words “do it yourself” might bring to mind images of your parents boldly pretending to know which end of the screwdriver does the thing.
The DIY movement has also captured the imagination and ingenuity of the fitness community. It’s no surprise, really — imagine a whole gym devoid of other people’s sweat and naked strangers. Bet that’s got you doing an extra crunch or two in celebration.
Exercise aficionados are making their own gym equipment, saving money, and boosting self-sufficiency.
Making the equipment might also serve as a workout in itself, meaning the DIY equipment can have an impact before it’s even assembled.
Let’s chat about how to get those tools out and work those abs.
We’ve rounded up 21 DIY fitness projects designed to help you strength train, do some cardio, and stretch out in the comfort of your 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!
1. Pull-up bar
Pull-ups work several muscle groups in your arms and back. This explains why they’re a classic complement to strength training routines. Pull up to the party, we outchea.
Ready to make your homemade pull-up bar? Just fit some pipes together and hang the contraption over a suitable load-bearing I-beam.
(Emphasis on “load-bearing”! Take extra steps to make sure the bar is sufficiently secure and supported before you start pulling. A pull-up is better for you than a fall-down-face-first.)
Pull-ups are no piece of cake. If you want to push yourself to become a monster puller-upper, check out our 3-week plan for building the strength to heave-ho on the bar.
There’s a whole world of bonus points in these here pipes — hey, it’s-a me, Mario!
Kettlebells’ unique shapes make them a great way to improve strength,
They’re a great resource for workouts. However, kettlebells can be fairly pricey. This is especially true when buying bells with different weights.
And, short of swinging an actual kettle or bell around the room, which would be impossibly noisy, messy, and impractical, we have some budget options for you.
Tim Ferriss’ simple “T bar” construction is awesome. For about $10 at a hardware store, you can make this alternative kettlebell. It allows for changeable weights — so it’s like 10 kettlebells in one! Plus, it’s easy to disassemble for travel and storage.
If you’re looking for kettlebells with a more traditional shape, try these rounder kettlebells. Constructed of concrete and rebar, they’re inexpensive and simple enough to make.
However, they’re an option only for people with either welding skills or super-melty laser vision.
(Sorry — thought we’d try it again to see if it became funny. Turns out, it’s even less so the second time. Reps do not work on puns. Anyway, next…)
3. Farmer’s walk bars
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 might be second only to bench-pressing a cow in terms of improving core strength.
With some pipe, screws, and recycled or store-bought wood, it’s possible to build two hulking farmer’s walk bars for less than $100. Or you can give this cheaper, even easier handles-only version a go.
The other alternative is to rear some livestock yourself. I wouldn’t suggest this as a handy or cost-effective option. But it does get you around more cows if you like to hang out with those.
4. Bulgarian training bag
Though Bulgarian training bags were originally developed for wrestlers, people around the world use them to target their legs, arms, back, and core. Think of them as squishy kettlebells.
Commercial Bulgarian bags can cost a pretty penny — prices can run upwards of $115.
Instead, try this less expensive solution: Simply fill an old truck or tractor tire’s inner tube with wood pellets or rubber mulch and tie up the tube securely.
It’s time to start swinging, squatting, and curling your way to better fitness, Bulgaria-style.
Sandbags are another great way to enhance strength and endurance exercises.
They work the same muscles as traditional weights and kettlebells do, but their insides (the sand) shift around during movements, like heavy, sandy bowels. This adds an extra challenge to your workout.
Making a sandbag requires a delightfully cheap bunch of raw materials:
- sturdy plastic bags, such as heavy-duty trash bags or resealable food storage bags, depending on the sizes you want to make
- duct tape
- filler (such as sand) (Did we mention sandbags contain sand?) (Because they do.)
- rope or zip ties
- bubble wrap
- a canvas duffle bag — surplus military laundry bags also work well
At this point, you’re halfway to having your very own sandbag to toss, swing, and slam around.
Mr. Sandman, curl me a biceps…
6. Water ball
Water balls are similar to sandbags but way harder to maneuver. Imagine trying to juggle water. They’re the eccentric cousin hanging out in the corner of the strength training party, asking anyone who will listen whether they believe reality is a simulation.
They’re also very easy to make:
- Buy an exercise ball. Make sure it’s marked “anti-burst” — unless you want to be soaked in more than sweat. (It would be water. Water balls contain water.) (We are so good at information.)
- Fill it with water. (Leave some air so the water has room to slosh around.) (Water balls still contain water.)
Done! For an investment of about $10 and 30 minutes, you’ve got one heck of a training tool. Water simple solution!
7. Hand weights
Not everyone is ready for farmer’s walking with 100-pound tree trunks in each hand. (Also, not everyone has the money or space for a weight set… or a farm.)
With homemade hand weights, you can start small and work your way up to heavier weights without dropping money on fancyboi options. Heavy objects are heavy objects, after all — they don’t have to cost an arm and a leg.
Good news: The sandbags are back (and this time, they still contain sand). Start with light hand weights.
Use them in classic dumbbell moves for a budget-friendly hand weight workout. If the small bottles stop being a challenge, fill up bigger bottles (like milk jugs) with water, rocks, or sand and keep on lifting!
8. Medicine ball
Medicine balls are a popular addition to core workouts. These versatile weights can play their part in a variety of big-results exercises, including those that improve arm and ab strength.
They also make great projectile weapons, although we can’t formally recommend them in this regard.
Who knew such a simple device could challenge your whole body and improve muscle power and performance?
Make your own with an old basketball, a drill or awl, and some sand. Yes, it’s that quick, easy, and cheap.
9. Incline bench
Love it or dread it, the incline bench is a classic tool for many core exercises. But commercial versions can chisel away at your wallet as well as your abs. Some people might find themselves more inclined (🤦♀️) toward the DIY version.
This video guide shows you how to throw together a sturdy, comfortable exercise bench out of 2-by-4 pieces of wood, kaizen foam, and marine fabric.
For those of us who aren’t quite so handy, here’s a very basic alternative you can try. (Judging by the abs at the top of the site, this guy has had success with his bench!)
And if you really don’t have the DIY chops to make a bench, you could just… do sit-ups on the floor. 🤷 We know it’s not the same, but we’re not the ones refusing to make a bench.
10. Suspension straps
The TRX training system has gained popularity for its minimalist approach to resistance training. With this, people have started using suspension (or “blast”) straps a lot more often.
You know that thing you really, really want that everyone else likes? The TRX has also gone up in price.
Thankfully, for about $15 at a hardware store and a few minutes of your time, it’s possible to make your own suspension straps. Take that, TRX marketing team!
Hang your straps — securely — over a door jamb, a sturdy tree branch, or anything else that can comfortably hold your weight.
Then get suspended!
11. Battle ropes
You can also take some decommissioned hoses off your local fire department’s hands — these make for awesome ropes too. You’re also welcome to request a go on the slidey pole. It will add nothing to your DIY gym, but it is gratifying.
If you’re new to this multifunctional exercise, start with empty hoses. As you advance and want a more challenging full-body workout, fill the hoses with sand or water. (Don’t forget to plug up both ends, or you’ll be battling whoever lives on the other side of your fence as well as the ropes themselves.)
Parallettes look like a couple of towel bars placed side by side on the floor — uncomplicated but useful. Training with them can help you develop coordination, agility, and balance. Even their name sounds like a French dessert. Graceful or what?
Follow these detailed instructions to make your own using materials like PVC pipes, electrical tape, glue, and pure determination.
Check out this list of CrossFit-approved exercises to get the most out of your cobbled-together parallette creation.
13. Rowing machine
This one seems almost too good to be true. For around $100, plus some bungee cords, you can build your own rowing machine.
It’s about time somebody came up with a more budget-friendly version, because rowing is a comprehensive low-impact workout. Rowing strengthens most major muscle groups while improving cardiovascular fitness.
The other option is taking a plank of wood out to sea. Cheap? Sure. A great workout? Probably. Too many sharks? More than likely. Stick to the DIY option.
However, the rowing machine looks extremely involved to build. This might be one for more advanced DIY folks. If you’re seated on a structure, you should probably make sure it can support you. There’s nothing like a butt splinter to put you off rowing for life.
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, a motivational cat poster, or your laptop.
While it’s maybe not the best idea to play Untitled Goose Game while biking or running, we know people get busy and sometimes need to multitask.
Build your own tech holder for a stationary cardio machine with some cheap items from a hardware store. If you need something freestanding to rest your laptop or tablet on, how about this tall, skinny table?
For an even lower-effort option, this treadmill shelf looks like something even the least handy person could assemble. It seems there’s a way to play games about vengeful geese on just about every kind of exercise machine.
15. Slammable medicine ball
Remember the bit above about the whole “throwing medicine balls at people” thing? This is where we actually get to recommend it — except at the floor, not at people.
We already know medicine balls are a great strength training tool. But it turns out they can also support your transformation into a cardio powerhouse — all you have to do is repeatedly pick them up and slam them down on the ground.
Of course, such a routine requires an exceedingly durable ball. With a little effort (and a few readily available supplies), the common basketball becomes a tool for one of the most cathartic workouts ever.
You might not be able to shoot a three-pointer, but it’s nearly impossible to miss the floor.
This one’s not so much about “making it from scratch” as repurposing gym equipment for new uses.
A rebounder is a mini trampoline that has enjoyed popularity as an exercise tool. Anyone who owns a rebounder can quickly transform it into a workout buddy.
All you do is prop the rebounder on its side (at an angle and with something sturdy behind it for support), chuck a ball at it, and catch the ball on the (you guessed it) rebound. Repeat over and over.
This guy uses a bowling ball, but personally we’d choose something a bit softer.
You could also just throw a basketball at a wall. But is it the same as throwing a bowling ball at a tiny trampoline? Obviously not.
These are pretty smart machines that give you an ever-revolving mini set of steps upon which you can crunch those glutes.
Even the small ones can be pretty pricey (upwards of $400 😱), so DIY options would be most welcome. But these are pretty intricate mechanical contraptions, and we can’t all be Willy Wonka.
Fear not: Help is at hand (or feet). You know the things you use to sneak to your room after a late night? Those might help. No, not night vision goggles.
The stair-climber was inside you this whole time. Whodathunkit? Set yourself a target time and pace up and down the stairs for the duration.
18. Yoga bag
People have practiced yoga for thousands of years to improve flexibility, reduce anxiety and pain, and lower blood pressure.
Sometimes, however, 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 awkwardness out of toting your mat around. This yoga bag project is brilliantly easy and resourceful.
Also, it provides an eco-friendly solution to the question of what to do with your old jeans.
While the word “sliders” brings to mind tiny, tiny burgers, they can also play an important role in your exercise routine.
Sliders are little circular discs that you can use to strengthen your core and glutes. Placing them under your hands and feet can allow you to slide through different crunches and motions, smooth as orange juice with no pulp.
This may be the most complex DIY equipment tip of the whole shebang, so brace yourselves.
Drumroll, please… 🥁
Use paper plates instead. Sorted.
20. Yoga blocks
Yoga props are a great way to avoid injuries, and the yoga block is certainly among the most versatile aids available. It’s great for supporting your body in poses that are just slightly out of reach and for preventing over-straining.
When Happy Baby pose is about to transform into Toddler Throwing a Tantrum pose, you might want a bit of physical support to bring the relaxation element back to yoga sessions.
To make your own, cut a piece of wood to 3 by 5.5 by 9 inches. Use sandpaper to soften the edges and prevent splinters.
Now go strike your favorite pose and align your chakras — safely.
21. Foam roller
Foam rolling is gaining popularity thanks to its serious benefits, including muscle tension relief
Creating your own home gym — or at least some of the stuff to equip one — is within your reach!
You can make equipment to serve all your fitness routines. It just takes a little time, money, and craftiness. You can easily stay on budget and take pride in being a maker while nurturing your personal American Ninja Warrior aspirations.
Remember that these items are going to take quite a pounding, especially if they have to bear the weight of a human body. If you’re unsure about the structural integrity of one of your contraptions, do not use it and speak to someone that knows a bit more about DIY.
Illustrations by Bob Al-Greene