Gymnast Rings: A simple DIY project to elevate the home workout
Getting into fitness growing up in the USA usually meant one thing: gym membership. I would never have thought that using gymnast rings as equipment to get fit. As a teenager, I followed a very traditional path to fitness, getting certified in training for heavy weight lifting. This lead to great results in high school as a bigger frame really helped out playing ice hockey in school. However, that routine largely faded into oblivion with college and a career. Until a few years ago when I decided to get back on track with my health and fitness.
However, when I had this revelation, I was living in a 200 sq. ft. apartment in Hong Kong. Given the demand for workout space, the local gym membership exceeded $100/month. So what to do?
This is when I started getting into the world of at-home bodyweight exercises. With a few yoga mats and resistance bands, I spent a few years filling out space in my 2 tiny Hong Kong apartments looking to simply build some sort of frame. I will tell you, a hard workout in a 200-400 sq. ft. apartment is like working out in a sauna…
Fast forward to 2020, I had established a true workout habit again. You know its a habit when you workout even when your mind says, ‘No, it’s okay, you can skip today.’ But how to elevate the habit into real results? Well, I took the opportunity when we moved to a MUCH larger apartment in Copenhagen to build out a pull-up bar frame I could use to hang a set of gymnast rings.
Fuelled by an Ambitious Goal
When researching, it seemed that the gymnast rings, a tool I had never really even recognized as gym equipment, could serve as the best all-rounder piece of equipment for an apartment balcony to elevate my results.
Being very goal-driven, before even setting out to build the equipment, I sat down and thought about what I wanted to achieve. I read that gymnast rings require the firing of so many muscles simultaneously when compared to bar exercises, it would be a great exercise to track my goal of all-round physical fitness. So, I found that the first target for any gymnast is the ring muscle-up. So I opened up Notion and put in a key result under my Lead a Healthy Lifestyle objective for ‘Complete 2 ring muscle-ups’, due by the end of Q3.
With the goal in mind, I set out to build the tools needed to achieve it.
Blueprints were hard to find at first
Due to the nature of apartments, I really could not anchor anything to the walls or ceilings. This meant that the tower had to be free-standing. In my mind, I could visualize what it looked like, but my physics and engineering was a bit rusty from school so I needed to find a way to calculate the base size. After a few hours of searching, I stumbled across this article: https://www.simplifiedbuilding.com/projects/diy-free-standing-pull-up-bar where it actually had what I was picturing! What a blessing that it even came with dimensions!
original pull-up bar design
Building the Frame
One of the things I missed since leaving the USA was the space for DIY projects. Now that we live in over 3x the space we had in Hong Kong, I could finally start building again. This is how I built my frame, please feel free to use it as a guide for your own!
Step 1: Outline the space required
You will need about 1.7 sq. meters or 17.5 sq. feet. My mistake was that I was so excited to do my first ring-up, that I forgot to tell my fiance that there would be a big metal pull-up bar on our balcony. We have since made a compromise which I will highlight in the final step.
Step 2: Plan Materials
Here are the dimensions I created based on my height and weight where I felt I could aggressively through my weight around.
Metal Pipe 1” diameter (12 meters in total, or 40 feet)
Kee Klamps 1”
That simple! I wanted to use the simplest materials possible. Also, you will note that I simplified the design so that everything is 90-degree corners, unlike the blueprint. This is due to the shop only having T-Heads and 90-degree clamps. I think it makes the design easier actually.
Also, the 3 tools you will need to also have if you do not already, are:
Mechanic gloves (or any workshop gloves) for protection
1/4” Allen Key for tightening the Kee Klamps
Good Hand Saw, I bought this Irwin
Step 3: Order materials
Being American, I naturally assumed there was a Home Depot equivalent in every country. How ignorant I felt when I landed in Hong Kong. There, Home Depot equivalent is an 8 block street of half-century-old businesses with copper spilling out into the street where customers are limited to some secretive ‘DIY Club’.
When I got to Copenhagen, I was pleasantly relieved to see that there are not only Home Depot equivalents, but there are so many of them that I could see a competitive environment between them! For those reading this in Copenhagen: I found everything for this project at BilligVVS DIY. It was a great first DIY experience in Denmark!
Step 4: Assemble
Depending on the sizes your metal pipe comes in, you may have to cut the pipe in front of your apartment complex before it will fit up the elevator as I did. What a way to announce my move-in to the neighbours than to be on my hands and knees in the parking lot sawing a 6m metal pipe in half!
You want to cut to the above-mentioned sizes, this will be a workout in itself, but if you divide it up over 2-3 nights, it’s totally achievable.
The base is a 180cm x 90cm rectangle with a T-Head Klamp halfway down the sides. Two 220cm pipes reach upwards (get some help from a friend to help hold them up while assembling) with another 90cm joining them at the top. Rather than put angle supports for the vertical bars, I cut the pipe into 4x35cm pieces and made right angles to support. This keeps everything stable when you are up top.
Step 5: Strap in Your Rings
I typically like minimal investment before I truly know I will stick with something. Therefore, I just picked out some cheap plastic rings to start with. Let me forewarn you: the straps are more important than the rings! The straps that came with my rings only lasted 2 weeks before they started slipping. So I would advise upgrading your straps to ratchet straps or if you want to invest all-in, some real gymnast ring straps.
Unfortunately, the ratchet straps are really meant for construction, so the bright orange colour was hard to swallow…. leading to the final step.
Step 6: Beatify
While someone like me might see this whole contraption as a great conversation piece, you may find yourself having to explain the utility of the frame far outweighs its lack of beauty.
Therefore, you could follow us and buy some nice vine plants like ivy to curl around the frame or paint it a colour that blends better into its surroundings. Turning this great workout fixture into a frame for vegetation was the compromise I struck with my partner, and perhaps it will help your argument as well.
Route to Ring-Ups
Now comes the fun part, using it! I have been using my DIY gymnast rings for a month now and I can say my workouts are immensely more taxing than before. Within 2 weeks I saw how difficult my key result of 2 ring-ups would be. However, the decision to build the frame and build a workout routine around gymnast rings was the best idea in my mind and I hope that if you are looking to elevate your home-workouts and have a few square meters to spare, this story may inspire you to do the same!