Building a Backyard Pull-up Bar

Editors note: This is a guest post by my brother Danny Kavadlo.

There are many paths you can take when putting together a home gym. Throughout my life, I’ve owned free weights, benches, push-up bars, and a pull-up bar mounted in a doorframe. However, as we progress in fitness and life, our goals change and so do our needs. Like our bodies, our minds and creative forces need to be challenged (it just feels good to make something). So when the itch to create a home gym struck again, it was a no-brainer: a backyard pull-up bar was the only way to go.

Why Build A Backyard Pull-Up Bar?

The way I train, a door-frame or stand up (power-tower) design would not meet my needs, which include plyometrics and aggressive kipping. I needed something that could withstand hundreds of pounds of explosive force.

The basic design is a bar supported by two posts dug deep in the ground; it needs to be SOLID. The plan was to leave 8’ of pole above ground and 4’ below. I wound up going about 6” deeper for extra stability. But even within that simple layout, there are a lot of choices to make.

Wood Posts Vs. Metal Posts
If you are working with wood posts, I’d recommend going no smaller than 6×6. A 2×4 is not going to cut it. Be sure to use “treated” wood (it’s the one at Home Depot with the green tint.) It’s worth the extra money to have something that will stand the test of time. Be aware that you’ll have to purchase circular metal flanges to affix the bar to the wood. These flanges range from $8-$20 depending on the style.

Wood is cost efficient, solid and looks great, but I looked forward to practicing the human flag on my bar, so my posts had to be metal. Generally plumbers’ galvanized 2” pipe is about $7 per foot. However, you can’t get anything larger than 8’ at a hardware store (even giants like Home Depot or Lowes). To make a 12’ post, you’d have to buy 20’ directly from a supplier, pay for each cut and buy 90 degree fittings (also about $8-$20) to attach each post to the bar itself. Instead, I contacted a local gate manufacturer to build the initial design (two 12’ iron posts welded to a 4’ bar up top, plus another 4’ bar 3 ½’ from the bottom—this lower bar gets buried for stability) for $180.

Another factor influencing stability is the amount of concrete used in the foundations. Most websites I consulted expressed remorse about not using enough cement. I decided to avoid that problem by using 600 lbs. per post. Remember, I said AGGRESSIVE KIPPING!

The Bar
A standard pull-up bar is 1”-1 ½” in diameter and 2-3’ in length. To get the most out of mine, I did 2” diameters and 4’ across. The 2” grip makes for a harder workout and is excellent for building grip strength.

Be aware that raw metal bars are open on the ends so you’ll need to seal them. I filled mine with cement and painted over them, but you can use nylon or rubber stoppers.


Additional Considerations

Aside from the posts and bars, if you’re making a backyard pull-up bar you’ll need the following:

- Post Hole Diggers
- Shovel
- Cement (I used twenty-five 80 lb. bags)
- Something to mix it in (You don’t need a wheel barrow. I got a huge planter for $18. Next year I’ll grow fresh herbs in it.)
- Leveler
- Six 2×4’s and some screws (for building a frame)
- Oil-based enamel paint (or lacquer for wood posts)

Building Your Bar
Make sure you have plenty of space. My posts were affixed 4’ apart so I set the holes 4’ apart. If you are using wood posts, I recommend building the 1st post completely and then measuring the 2nd one from it to ensure accuracy.

My holes were about 12” diameter at the bottom and about 18” on top. I also dug a trough about 18” deep from one post to the other, which when filled with cement, surrounded the bar at the bottom of the frame. Even with post-hole diggers, digging 4 ½’ holes is extremely challenging, which made for a great workout!

Each post has to go in perfectly straight. The bar connecting them must be level, and needs to remain so until the concrete sets. The best way to ensure this is to build a wooden frame out of 2×4’s around the structure before you put the concrete in. Take your time! This step is important and will require a lot of trial-and-error.

Once the structure is level, straight and properly framed in wood, fill the holes with concrete. When the concrete dries, remove the frame and you’ve got your pull-up bar!

Almost…

A New Life
Even with four and a half feet in the ground and a ton of cement, explosive muscle-ups caused my backyard pull-up bar to vibrate. It was just a tiny bit, but that wasn’t part of the dream. Changes had to be made. The bars needed diagonal support against one another. Vertical and horizontal were not enough.

I decided that in making it more stable, I’d change the whole shape and make it better! I had a smaller post/bar combo fabricated and set it up 4’ behind my initial bar (This one was 10’ high; I buried just shy of 4’ of it). It had to be parallel to the first structure, as well as level with the ground. Once it was in, I used four 7’ diagonal cross beams to mount the two structures together and two 4’ horizontal crossbeams for extra support. I purchased used scaffold clamps (“cheezeboros” in the production world) for $10 each to secure them. Finally, when the concrete dried and the smoke cleared…THIS BABY WASN’T GOING ANYWHERE!

The best part of this new design was that it wasn’t limited to pull-ups, muscle-ups, and flags. It could accommodate Australian pull-ups, dips and an unlimited variety of grips. My backyard pull-up bar had exceeded my expectations!

In this world, things don’t always go as planned. But when we move forward and roll with the changes, we may find ourselves grateful for the unexpected. That’s part of what makes life beautiful. I’m proud to say I have Brooklyn’s finest home gym – and proud to have made it with my own two hands!

Watch the video below for more:

If you want to see more footage from Danny’s backyard, check out Backyard Pull-up Bar Part Two and Backyard Pull-up Bar III.

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  • Jr_silva10

    Al what do you recommended to increase the repetitions? the 50 pull-up challenge or the twenty pull up challenge?

    Thanks Al, keep the good work ;)

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks – the 50 pull-up challenge is a great way to improve your total reps! http://www.alkavadlo.com/2009/11/the-50-pull-up-challenge/

    The 20 pull-up challenge is a good way to test your reps.
    http://www.alkavadlo.com/2010/01/al-takes-the-20-pull-up-challenge/

  • http://dragonmamma-dragoncave.blogspot.com/ Dragonmamma

    I’m a lowly renter, so it’s not something I would do, but I’m quite envious!

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    I rent too, Dragonmamma. Luckily Tompkins Square Park is practically in my backyard!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_IGIG5ELKSFKBSD2MF75HIEJQJY Griselda Garibay

    Sweet man! Thanks for the info. I want to make something like this in my backyard. Oh that gives me an idea to do parallel bars also man. Sweet! Thanks!

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    You’re welcome, Griselda. The nice thing about building something like this is you get lots of exercise in the process!

  • http://voyagerfitness.com Zach Snyder

    The 50 pull-up challenge is harder than it looks! Although the 7 sets (3×10 & 4×5) it took for me to complete the challenge didn’t take much longer than 10-15 mins, after I was done, I felt as though I had worked back and biceps for an hour. Good stuff Al!

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Right on, Zach! If you keep working on it, I bet you’ll get it faster and in fewer sets in a couple more weeks.

  • Lance

    Hi Al and Danny
    Nice home made bars. Curious though, why not use elite rings (gymnastic rings) instaed of bars? as you can attach them to almost anything and do the same exercises?

    I am also wondering if it’s better to learn the muscle up on a bar rather than rings.
    Cheers

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks, Lance. Rings and bars are not interchangeable though. For example, you can’t do a human flag on rings.

    Besides, a ring setup needs to hang off something. We could always hang rings from the bar if we wanted to train on them. It’s actually a good idea!

    As for how to learn the muscle-up, both are great methods. I wouldn’t say one is better than the other. It’s like asking if it’s better to learn a clean and press on a barbell or kettlebell. Both are great, but they have subtle differences.

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  • D33NxFTW

    This is beautiful! I’m looking to do something like this in my backyard, would you have anything suggestions to keep it stable for kipping if I had to go with wood?

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks! Having two pull-up bars connected by crossbeams like this should make it very stable, regardless of if you use metal or wood.

  • Anonymous

    That is an outstanding pull up bar! Inspiring!

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks!

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  • newbie

    Hi Al, would you ever consider building one of these for a reader (at a price) who is just starting out and wanted a similar set-up? I have been reading your site for a few weeks and want to get started.

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    I’m open to the possibility. Shoot me an e-mail via the contact page (the link is in the top right corner of the blog).

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    I’m open to the possibility. Shoot me an e-mail via the contact page (the link is in the top right corner of the blog).

  • Nbahoopsstar

    hi al, if your gna use wood posts how are you gna have a solid 4 foot post on top…. do u screw another wood post on top or wat?

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Not sure I understand the question, but I think what you’re suggesting would work okay.

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  • JT

    VERY nice!!, definitely making me one of these!!

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Go for it!  I’d love to see a photo when you are finished!

  • Anonymous

    I think that this is a very good way for me to get ready for the marines. I would also like to know if you guys have any other equipment or ways of getting any stronger.

    Thanks

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Hey Tim – Pull-ups are a great way to prepare for the Marines.  As for other ways to get stronger, just take a look around my blog.  Most of my videos and articles deal with that very subject.

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  • Gabokite

    I can’t thank you enough, I just made this weekend my first human flag and much sooner than I thought and all because of your advices, exercises and videos. ;-)

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Congrats!  Keep training hard!

  • http://www.facebook.com/rhys.sherring Rhys Sherring

    How about the possibility of creating an adjustable height home pull up bar? Would it be a bit of a head ache?

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  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    It would certainly be more involved than this project was, but it doesn’t seem undoable.

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  • Jon F

    Hey Al.
    You are an inspiration to me. Sometimes I think I am too old for getting back into shape. I am interested in building a pull up bar out of the PVC pipe instead of galvanized steel. Do you think that may work? (providing that it is additionally supported.)

  • http://www.AlKavadlo.com/ Al Kavadlo

    Thanks for the message, Jon! As for using PVC to build a pull-up bar, I just don’t think it would be sturdy enough.