In this guide, we will break down how to make a DIY pulley system for home gym owners.
One of the few downsides of switching over to a home gym is that cable machines can be very expensive, both in terms of cost and space. Functional trainers, even those designed for home gyms, can easily go over what people have budgeted for their entire setup.
Now, there are many DIY pulley systems out there, but most are either so complicated or expensive, that they aren’t worth the time are money. You would really just be better off getting one of the best functional trainers at that point.
Thankfully, there exists a cheaper and better way to build your cable pulley system at home.
How To Build DIY Pulley System
Building this cable pulley system is very simple, you will just need to get some cheap materials and follow some basic steps:
Materials You Will Need
All of these materials can be found on Amazon for a good price:
Carabiners: The carabiners will be used to attach your pulley system to whatever structure you have at your disposal. What I and most people will be using is their squat rack, but you could also use any sort of frame structure that you have.
Pulleys: Most of the other DIY pulley system tutorials I have seen have suggested using metal pulleys with small wheels. Sure, they may be cheaper but they are noisier, not as smooth, and will wear away on your cable faster. Instead, what I suggest getting are these quality gym pulleys. They are silky smooth, silent, and durable. I have personally used these for months in my home gym and have had no issues.
Cables: Technically, you could just get some steel wire cables and loop the ends before cutting off the excess wire with some wire cutters. If you are handy then go ahead, but I instead strongly recommend getting a gym cable pulley that has a sheath. Unlike the steel wire that will wear away over time, the sheath offers protection and makes the pulley system smoother and quieter. It also comes standard with attachment loops removing the hassle of having to do it yourself. These cables are rated for 300 lbs and are very affordable.
Soft Loop Tie-Down Straps: Since many squat racks or whatever you are using do not have carabiner attachment points, you will need something to create one. The best option I have seen is the soft tie-down straps. They are very cheap, strong, and will protect your squat rack from any metal-on-metal contact. Considering these are usually used for vehicles, they should have no problem holding down this pulley system.
Loading Pin: I have suggested this one since it is on Amazon, has an Olympic sleeve, and is cheap. But you can really get one anywhere for a fairly good price. Most gym equipment manufacturers make some type of loading pin. Just stay away from the loadable strap options. They do work but are not nearly as convenient or smooth.
Building Your DIY Cable Machine
How To Make DIY Pulley System
Total Time: 15 minutes
Attach your tie-down straps:
You can either wrap the straps around your rack or thread the strap through your rack’s holes if it has any on the top portion. Attach two straps at opposite ends of the rack.
Hook your carabiners:
Next, you are going to want to secure your carabiners and pulleys to your straps. Ensure that there is no metal-on-metal contact and that your straps are secure.
Thread your cable:
Thread your cable through both of your pulleys. There should be extra cable on both sides.
Attach your pin
On the side opposite of where you will be lifting, attach your loading pin and load your weight.
Attach your attachment:
Next, hook up your attachment of choice on the empty cable and start lifting with your homemade cable pulley machine.
How Do I Reverse The Direction On The Cable Pulley System?
You’ll obviously want the resistance to come from below or to the side for exercises like bicep curls or low rows. To do this, just adjust the position of your pulleys to the lower frame of your rack and follow the steps that we outlined above.
Tips For Building Your Own Cable Pulley System
Buy cables of different lengths: You may find that different exercises will require different cable lengths for getting that full range of motion. Since the cables are cheap, it could make sense to get different cables
Use your safety bars for support: For exercises like lat pull downs, having something to hold down your legs can help a lot. I like to use my safety straps by position my bench under it. You can really use any safety attachment though.
Play around with pulley position: I have personally used my garage gym pulley system for all sorts of exercises like leg curls, preacher curls, and face pulls. Just play around with how you position the pulleys on your rack and you can really make most exercises work.
If you add in an extra loading pin and have the option to face your spotter arms outward, you have lots of options. You can even do a cable crossover if you set it up correctly.
You can technically only use one pulley but this makes it harder to do certain exercises as the loading pin will get in your way. But if you only have a squat stand and not a power rack, you can attach the pulley system to the pull up bar or top upright.
Choose your wire carefully: The wire will most likely be what wears the most on your cable pulley system. You will see many systems you galvanized wire, wire rope, or nylon rope but these all have the tendency to wear over time. It is best to just a wire with a sheath on it.
DIY Pulley System Alternatives
Personally, we think the option we outlined above is the best option, It is very affordable and requires little to no technical skills or work. However, there are some other ideas and purchasable options you may consider as well:
Steel Wire Option
This options is not and bad and very similar to ours. However, it is a bit harder to move around so it makes it hard to adjust where the resistance is coming from.
You also have to make the attachment points on the ends of the steel wire yourself. This is not that bad, you just have to create wire loop and cut off any excess from the wire loop sticking out.
Home Gym Pulley System Packages
If you go on Amazon, you will find plenty of products labeled as home gym pulley system or something similar. Most of these work but are drastically overpriced and just not that durable.
You are much better off just buying each of the components individually to save money and so that you can choose the options that are best for your own home gym.
If you really want to take the next step up, just go ahead and make the investment into a functional trainer. Thanks to how popular these have become, prices have dropped to the point where you cannot get one for a somewhat affordable price.
At the end of the day, convenience and versatility are what you are paying for. I would argue that there is really no other piece of gym equipment that is as versatile.
Power Rack Functional Trainer Combos
Another popular option emerging for home gym owners is power rack add-ons that are essentially just functional trainers. REP is at the forefront of this innovation, but other companies are making strides as well.
Personally, if I had the budget and was starting my home gym fresh today, I would look into one of these. Just the amount of space and versatility you get make it a very appealing option.
Best Attachments For DIY Pulley System
The main benefit of all cable machines is the number of attachments that you can hook on to target different parts of your body.
Lat Pull Down Bar Set
These neutral/angled grip lat pull-down bars were originally designed by Magnum but have since been copied by various other companies that sell them cheaper.
The main benefit to these is that the more neutral grip eliminates a lot of the elbow and wrist pain you get with a straight bar.
While these are marketed as lat pull-down bars, you can really use them for nearly anything. I have a set in my gym that I use for lat pull-downs, rows, curls, and more.
Most people tend to focus on the upper body with cable pulleys, but you can actually work both your upper and lower body with a good pulley system and some ankle straps.
I like using these best for leg extensions and curls, but I have seen some people use them for glute kickbacks as well.
The last thing I recommend is a generic attachment bundle for your home gym pulley system. I like these bundles because even though they are not of the highest quality, they are good enough for a home gym setting and give you a ton of versatility.
Most of these bundles will contain a tricep rope, single handle, double-d handle, straight, and more.
Top Cable Exercises To Do
The constant tension and adjustability of cables mean that you can effectively train any muscle in your body. Here are some of our favorite functional trainer exercises to do on our home gym pulley system:
The best way to set these up is to have your safety arms face outward and then attach your pulleys there. Or you could also just do one arm at a time.
I love these for overall chest development, you tend to get a really good squeeze in the inner chest.
Triceps Rope Pushdowns
This is perhaps the most common cable exercise you will see, and for good reason. These work your triceps great and allow you to get a really good stretch.
If you really want to isolate your muscle, you could also fully extend the rope and do one arm at a time.
These are a great exercise to do for overall longevity. Most people press with their shoulders over and over again without strengthening the joint as a whole to prevent injuries.
Face pulls help strengthen your shoulder joint and rotator cuff as well as building some great rear delts.
Lat pulldowns are essential to back exercises that you can do with almost any attachment. Use a wider grip if you want to work more of your lats.
Or use a closer grip if you want to work more of your upper back along with your biceps and lats.
Building your own DIY pulley system is a great way to gain access to cables again in your home gym.
The materials are very affordable and the building process itself is very easy to do in just a few minutes.
So if you are not ready to invest a functional trainer just yet, a good DIY cable machine within your garage gym can get the job done for years to come.
Are DIY pulley systems safe?
Yes, DIY pulley gym systems are perfectly safe. The equipment we are using here is rated to handle way more weight than what we will be using. The only thing you have to really be aware of is where the loading pin may land if there are other people in your gym.
Do I need cables in my home gym?
No, a barbell and squat rack will be enough to get some great workouts. However, lots of people miss the constant tension and versatility they get from cables in a commercial gym.