The Pulley System: The Best Thing That Happened to Calisthenics

The Pulley System: The Best Thing That Happened to CalisthenicsIt is the 100th post here on Rough Strength, so I decided to make it special. Not long time ago I managed to set up a pulley system at home destroying neither the walls, nor the ceiling (more on this later), and I am truly amazed with the results of my experimentation with it. I will go further and state that the pulley system invention is possibly the best thing that happened to heavy calisthenics. If you strive to learn advanced skills like Planche or One-Arm Chin-Up, then this can be your lucky ticket.

Why Is the Pulley System So Awesome?

First of all, why should you bother? Actually, you shouldn’t. You can learn any advanced bodyweight skill with no gadgets. However, your learning process will be as challenging as possible. You will hit all the possible plateaus, and your brains will leak out through your nostrils as a result of constant solution searching (I’m exaggerating here a little bit). Adding weight is a viable option for making training progress smoother, but it doesn’t come even close to the gradualness delivered by the pulley system. Just imagine performing a legitimate One-Arm Chin-Up right now. The pulley system makes it a reality.

Furthermore, I believe that it is much more beneficial to learn the actual skill than to move from one exercise to another because you learn the proper movement pattern right from the start.

[NOTE: you should understand that any advanced skill has its prerequisites. When I talk about the One-Arm Chin-Up above, I assume that you can do either at least 5 second controlled negative, or a Weighted Chin-Up with at least 1/2 of your bodyweight. You can try it earlier, but at your own risk; elbow tendinitis is easy to obtain and impossible to get rid off, so use caution.

If you can’t do the 5-second One-Arm Chin-Up Negative yet, then you can always try Pulley-Assisted OACU Negative]

How to Set Up the Pulley System?

Setting up the pulley system is easy and tricky at the same time. Basically, there are two ways you can do it:

– With one pulley;

– With two pulleys.

The first one is easier to set up and much more mobile. However, it all comes with the expense of certain inconvenience and inability to perform floor pulley-assisted exercises (for example, Planche and One-Arm Push-Up).

The second one is ultra-versatile, but a little bit tricky to set up.

Let’s take a closer look at both of them.

The One-Pulley System

Firstly, the one-pulley system is suitable only for bar exercises, and by “bar” I mean a place to hang from, not that New-Orleans-style hole where you drink to blackout. The obvious exercises of choice are the One-Arm Chin-Up and the Front Lever.

To set up such a system, you will need:

– a place to hang from (obviously);

– a pulley and a rope for attachment;

– a cable of appropriate length;

– a carbine and some sort of a belt (I use the Simplest Weight Belt for this);

– a strong hook for weights (optional).

Your next steps should be the following:

1. Attach the pulley with a rope to the bar (I used a cable for attachment).

2. Push the cable through the pulley.

The One-Pulley System

3. Make a loop on one end of the cable and attach the carbine with the belt to it.

The Simplest Weight Belt

4. Attach the weight to the other side of the cable. You can use a hook, or you can just double-knot the weight.

The Pulley System Weight Attachment

Everything is ready and the system is set up.

The Two-Pulley System

For this system you will need a couple of additional things:

– a second pulley with an attachment rope;

– two ropes for managing the width between the pulleys.

Everything is quite similar. You need to do the following:

1. Attach two pulleys to the bar with ropes.

2. Push the cable through both pulleys.

The Two-Pulley System

3. Make a loop on one end of the cable and attach the carbine with the belt to it.

4. Attach the weight to the other side of the cable. You can use a hook, or you can just double-knot the weight. 5. Tie each pulley to the side of the bar. This will prevent them from moving to each other under the resistance. Everything is ready.

My Pulley System

My pulley system is somewhat even simpler and more astute. Here is the story.

After moving to my current apartment, I had neither a place to hang the rings, nor a pull-up bar at home. I didn’t want to buy one of those “door frame pull-up bars” because they tend to be unreliable (just search YouTube for “door pull up bar fail”). Additionally, the majority of them allow only up to 100 kg, and I am 85 kg. In case I would like to do some Weighted Chin-Ups, I wouldn’t be able to add more than 15 kg, which is ridiculous. Furthermore, I can’t drill the walls and the ceiling because this apartment is not mine and it is strictly banned here. And of course, Pull-Ups on the door were not an option because you just cannot do the one-armer properly this way.

It took me some  time and serious thinking to come up with the solution, but I still managed to nail it. It turned out that the height of the room’s door and the wall closet near it are pretty much the same.

So I bought a pipe despite all the advice to saw one down in the street (it is Ukraine, baby!). I picked the pipe that is 40 cm in diameter to give my hands some additional grip challenge. Then I just put it between the door and closet. The pull-up bar is ready.

After discovering the pulley system, I tried to attach it, and you can see the result. Here is the Pulley-Assisted Planche:

The trick with my system was to prevent two pulleys from sliding to each other. Here is how I managed to solve it:

1. I took a strong rope and pushed it through the first pulley attachment;

2. Then back to the side of the pipe;

3. Through the pipe;

4. Through the second pulley attachment;

5. Back through the pipe;

6. And again through the first pulley attachment.

Then I made a double-knot and scotch-taped both attachments for added security. This is how it looks:

The Two-Pulley System Side Attachment

Tips and Tricks

1. I found it almost impossible to wear a belt after it is attached to the system. Therefore, I take it off the system first, then wear it, and attach it back after that.

2. If you look at the kettlebell picture above, you will notice that it is standing on a stool. In exercises like the One-Arm Chin-Up you need to elevate the resistance to prevent it from banging the floor when you reach the top position. Of course, you need to move the chair away before performing the actual set.

3. The belt should always be approximately under your center of mass. In the majority of exercises it is somewhere near your hips.

4. If you are using the one-pulley system for the One-Arm Chin-Up, you need to grab the bar with the arm that is closer to the system to get the proper alignment.

How to Program Pulley-Assisted Exercises?

The pulley-assisted exercises should be programmed just as any other drills. The pulley system is not a magic tool that will allow you to skip the proper programming. You still need to find that sweet spot between training volume, intensity, and frequency.

I had a lot of success with this particular approach in past and present. It WILL work for the pulley-assisted exercises.

How Did I Find Out about the Pulley System?

Finally, the pulley system is not my invention. It was out there for a long time. For some reason, I was able to implement it in my training only recently. The person who I learned about it from is Jack Arnow. I was exposed to the system for the first time by this article.

Closing Thoughts

Of course, the pulley system is not for everybody. I believe that 99% of people will find it too uncomfortable and rough. Still nothing beats the ability to perform high-level skills and to decrease the assistance as gradually as you want. For me it is well-worth the inconvenience. Do not be a pussy and reap the HUGE benefits. Thanks for reading.

Play rough!

Alex Zinchenko

Every time you don’t like and share this article, you upset a kitten somewhere.

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16 thoughts on “The Pulley System: The Best Thing That Happened to Calisthenics

    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      Hey, man. Not really. I was already implementing the pulley system at that time. There were two persons who made me try it: my student and good friend Valentin Stubinger and legendary Jack Arnow (with whom we had a couple of GREAT skype conversations on the topic).

      – Alex

      Reply
      1. Mariano

        Hello Alex very good site you can use similar pulley system for the rings it called dream machine, thanks for the tips and googluck from Argentina

        Reply
        1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

          Yep. However, as far as I know, the dream machine works using your own bodyweight as assistance. The pulley system uses external weight to make your body lighter. Anyway, thanks for the addition, Mariano.

          – Alex

          Reply
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  3. Kronos

    ooooor , you can just a use resistance band which also a good option when you are constantly on the road

    Reply
  4. Carlos Ramos

    What brand of pullies do you recommend? I’m having a terrible time finding ones that will work.

    Reply
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  6. Aaroncax

    Hey alex thank you for the post!
    Why the one pulley system would not allow to do floor exercises?

    Reply

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