Build a Homemade Gym

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Photo of the homemade inversion gym equipment.
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Diagram of the homemade wooden gym equipment.
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Photo of the homemade sit-up bench gym equipment.

Don’t let the joys of the season go to waist–instead build a homemade gym. Now you can indulge (in holiday goodies) and not bulge (in all the obvious places). (See the homemade gym photos and gym diagram in the image gallery.)

Build a Homemade Gym

A year ago last summer, MOTHER’s pages featured an
eight-piece home fitness center made almost exclusively of
dimensional lumber (see MOTHER EARTH NEWS issues 87, page 112, and issue 88, page
98). Designed and used regularly by competition bodybuilder
Carlos DeJesus, the wooden gym helped its creator win a few
national championships . . . all for an investment of less
than $200!

Now, equipment like Carlos’s would be ideal for
those people who plan to undertake a complete fitness
program . . . but the additional investment in plates,
bars, and other accessories might be prohibitive to
individuals who simply want to maintain physical tone and
hold off the assault of extra pounds. Consequently,
MOTHER’s research staff developed two inexpensive pieces of
equipment that are flexible enough to be used with the
wooden fitness center or, on their own, as a means of
keeping (or attaining) a trim waistline. Like the DeJesus
designs, they’re straightforward and can be built with
common hand tools . . . so what are you waiting for?

Homemade Sit-Up Bench

Our first fitness tool is an inclined platform, complete
with a padded foot bar, which allows you to do anatomically
correct sit-ups. The bar guarantees that your knees will be
in the recommended bent position, while the incline lets
gravity be a little harder on you to assure a worthwhile

Start by locating one 16 inch and two 60 inch lengths of
1 inch thinwall conduit, commonly known as electrical metallic
tubing (EMT). If you buy it from a contractor’s scrap pile,
perhaps you’ll be able to borrow a conduit bender that’ll
allow you to make the necessary 50 degree and 70 degree arcs in
the tubes that form the legs. (Ideally, the completed bends
should be separated by 24 inches of straight tube, and the foot
of the bench should be 17 inches, and the head 12 inches, off the

After the arcs are formed, use 1/4 inch by 2 inch carriage
bolts to fasten the 11-1/4 inch by 20 inch platform to the unbent
portions of the two pieces of conduit so that about 4 inches of
board hangs over the end. The longer legs should be together and parallel and the shorter ones about 9-1/2 inch apart
at the top and splayed slightly outward at the bottom. (If
you feel you need a wider stance, allow for it when you
bend the conduit.) Tie the two leg sections together with
1/4 inch by 2-1/2 inch bolts placed through the adjoining members.

Finally, fasten the 16 inch length of conduit halfway up the
parallel legs, using two more 2-1/2 inch bolts, and pad the
exposed metal with appropriately sized lengths of
polyethylene pipe insulation. (You’ll probably have to use
contact cement to hold the split jackets in place.) Finish
up by pushing furniture tips onto all the exposed conduit
ends and, if you wish, gluing a section of scrap carpet to
the upper surface of the platform.

Homemade Inversion Machine

Some consider it a costly novelty, and others wouldn’t
consider stretching without it . . . but we’ll have to
admit that short stints on this “back stretcher” seem to
have a decided unkinking effect on tension-tired torsos and
work-stressed sacroiliacs. What’s more, this inversion
machine provides the positioning for some hearty work on
the waist, stomach, and lower back.

The chrome-and-foam
versions offered in numerous mail-order catalogs can be
fairly pricey . . . but this wooden whoops-a-daisy costs
only about $30 to build and does the same job. When you
select the lumber for this project, be sure to choose
pieces that are straight and nearly knot-free. Likewise,
don’t skimp on the fastening hardware. Use the screw sizes
recommended, countersink the heads, and double-lock all
joints by using a good yellow furniture glue.

Note that the
33-1/2 inch 2 by 6 across the top of the legs is held in place
with eyebolts dropped into one of three sets of sockets
spaced 3-1/2 inches apart. This board, and the 2 by 4 adjacent to
it, are equipped with rubberhose bumpers for the head of
the back platform; the user’s weight distribution will
determine where the stop board is placed, or whether it’s
used at all.

The cradle and platform assembly deserves
especially careful fitting. Be certain the butted joints
are sound and free of splits, and don’t use any shelf
bracket smaller than the one indicated. To maintain the
proper balance, attach the cradle so its upper edge is
35-1/4 inches from the top end of the platform, and center the
floor flanges exactly 2-1/2 inches from the rounded edge of the
cradle arms.

The ankle straps are simply 34 inch lengths of
nylon seat belt material secured to the foot platform
beneath two 16-gauge metal plates, which are large enough
to allow the panhead fastening screws to secure the straps
without actually passing through the belt webbing. Velcro
hook-and-loop tape strips firmly stitched to the ends of
the belts lock each strap’s tails together. (The belts pass
under the insteps, and the tails cross in front of the
ankles and join at the back . . . hence the mating Velcro
must be sewn to opposite faces of each strap.)

Once the
cradle’s installed in the framework (capped 1/2 inch pipe
nipples passed through 7/8 inch holes in the frame uprights
make inexpensive and sturdy pivot pins), you can assemble
and place the counterweights. Each unit is simply an
11-1/8 inch section of 3 inch thinwall polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
pipe filled with sand and plugged at the ends. With the
central rod, nuts, and mounting brackets installed, each
unit should weigh just about five pounds. The brackets hook
around the edges of the back platform, and the wing nuts
tighten or release these simple clamps.

Using the inversion
machine requires some degree of experimentation, but the
procedure is essentially the same for everyone. The idea is
to strap your ankles in place, then have a friend slide the
counterweights along the board until the platform is nearly
balanced in a horizontal position when your hands are on
your chest. At this point, he or she can secure the weights
in position, and you should be able to control your rate of
inversion by raising your hands and arms above your head
accordingly . . . and, of course, return to an upright
stance by moving them toward your feet.

Common sense would
dictate that-especially at first-you should stay suspended
only for a minute or so to let your body “unwind” . . . and
that you consult a book on using inversion machines before
attempting more advanced exercises, Furthermore, if you
have high blood pressure or any reservations about the
effects of being upturned, consult your physician before
jumping “head over heels” into this project.