Monday, February 11, 2013

RollBar for Finger and Forearm Training

OK, I mentioned that I would explain how to make a RollBar. You're probably thinking "What in the world is a RollBar?" The RollBar is my version of a commercial-type training device. While the bar can be used as a pull-up/chin-up bar, that's not its primarily purpose. The main purpose of the RollBar is to provide another way to train finger, hand and arm muscles through a range of motion from an open hand position to a positive jug position. This is done by grasping the bar like you are going to do a pull-up but then gradually letting your body weight unroll your fingers until you are about to lose your grip and roll off the bar, then roll back up to a full grip. By rolling back and forth, rolling and unrolling your fingers, you can create an incredible forearm pump! It can provide complementary exercises to those done on your Gstring Climbing Grips or hangboard.

It's may be difficult to do this under full body weight (at least for me). However, by resting my heels on the floor in front of me I can control the amount of weight on my arms. Probably a better way to reduce body weight would be to use a pulley reduction system and weights which would allow you more precision and control in reducing the weight. This would require an additional 2 pulleys ( Since I use the RollBar more for endurance training for forearms and fingers than for power, I try to maximize repetitions. This means doing it with significantly less than full body weight. I repeat the unroll - rollup cycle as many times as possible with my heels resting on the ground in front of me. After doing as many times as possible, I rest, "rinse" and repeat for a total of 3 cycles. This creates an incredible pump in my forearms similar to climbing a longer route. 

The commercial product (Lapis Rollybar) that sparked the idea for the RollBar had sealed ball bearings inside a resin bar which rotated on an axle. No doubt it's really 'slick' and heavy duty, but at $150+ I can do without the glitz and smoothness as long as it's still functional. 

Besides being cheap, the system I comes with another major advantage - it's easy to insert different diameter bars. While I haven't done it yet, I plan to also make 2" and 4" diameter bars to add variety. Depending upon materials what materials you use and how many of them you already have, the RollBar could easily be made for under $20.

Materials needed:

  • 2 sleeve bearing pulleys. You can also use ball bearing pulleys which provide less friction and make it really smooth, but are quite expensive if you have to go out and buy them.  I used two sleeve bearing pulleys that I had lying around which are often used in climbing/rescue work. If you need to go out and buys pulleys, a cheaper alternative would be the hardware store variety of pulley with sleeve bearings like this. However, they generally aren't as smooth running:
  • 6mm accessory cord for making the "belt" and pulley hanging loops. Length varies (see below). 
  • 1" PVC pipe - 24"-30" long (I weigh 135lbs - if you weigh over 150lbs, you may want to change the PVC to a steel pipe or tubing. The exact length needed will vary depending upon where you plan on grabbing it - inside the cord belt, or outside and what the distance is between the cord belts.
  • 3/8" "S" hooks or 2 additional small loops of 6mm accessory cord depending upon whether you'll be hanging the pulleys from a bolt or doorway pull-up bar like this: 
  • PVC tubing caps (to give a finished look but functionally unnecessary)
  • Several sheets of 220-320 grit sandpaper and contact cement (to provide a friction surface so that it's harder to slip off of bar). 
  1. Cut tube to length.
  2. Make two equal sized "pulley belts" from the 6mm accessory cord using a using a water knot or double fisherman's knot. Determine the diameter of "pulley belt" by how low you want the bar to hang below the anchors (lower if you want heels on floor in front of you to take weight off, higher if you want to free hang, and if you plan using a variety or larger diameter bars. A good general size to start with is approximately 5-6" diameter if you plan on using different diameter bars but want it mounted as high as possible. If you're only going to use the 1" bar then it's possible to reduce the diameter even more to 4". If you want your feet on floor in front of you, you may want to increase the diameter to 10"-12" (approximate size shown above).
  3. Spray or brush contact cement on the bar. After a few minutes roll the bar on the paper backing on the sandpaper like a rolling pin. After it's applied, trim off the excess at the seam with a metal straight edge and utility knife. Only apply the sandpaper where your hands will go on the bar. I coated the entire bar with sandpaper (except for the ends where the caps slid on) however I think it would roll smoother if the cord belts rolled on the bare PVC pipe.
  4. Assemble the pieces and hang. See the photos.
  • It would be easy to create a 2", 3" and/or 4" RollBar using PVC with the pulleys. The 4" would give a work out that was more like that obtained on slopers.
  • Reversing the hands (chin-up position, palms facing you) and doing the same exercise could work the complementary muscles to help keep everything in balance. This would also help work some of the muscles used in underclings.
If you perform the finger roll-unroll with your feet on the floor out in front of you, make sure to have some padding underneath you in case your fingers roll off the bar when your pumped. A bouldering pad works great.

Well that's it for this installment. Let me know if you have questions, modifications or additions. In the near future I hope to share some new tips and exercises using the Gstrings which haven't made it onto the website yet.


  1. So simple yet so effective! I spent forever trying to come up with a cheaper version of this yet this never came to me, thanks so much !

  2. Hi there, this looks like a great system!
    How has it been working for you? Have you noticed any positive gains?

    New Zealand

  3. Hi there, this looks like a great system!
    How has it been working for you? Have you noticed any positive gains?

    New Zealand