As most all fitness has moved into the home, we have been researching a way to do the humble pull-up. Over the past year, tree limbs, low-hanging signs, utility poles, and the local kids’ jungle gym have gotten our attention. Let’s say that these are not optimal in terms of damage to the hands and becoming the local spectacle. The home indoor versions of the pull-up bar from the past were not so great either. They can come out of the door frames with rather dramatic results. Not good.
Chin-ups, pull-ups, kips — these are all great bodyweight exercises for the back, arms, abs, and grip. 74-year-old Joan MacDonald of Train With Joan told me on this SuperAge podcast that she is doing them weighted. But then, Joan is a gladiator. If you can’t do a bodyweight pull-up, you can use a stretchy band to help by attaching it to the bar then stepping in the loop so that you get a simple assisted pull-up. Pro tip: Make sure that at the bottom of the pull-up you are doing a full extension. This will stretch the biceps and help prevent tendonitis in the elbow.
But we still needed a proper bar. We reached out to our in-house expert for all things related to home fitness, Jonathan Cheung, and asked for his recommendation. If you want to know anything about simple home gym gear, Jonathan is your guy. He turned us on to the Ikon Fitness pull-up bar, which is the best one we have ever used.
“I think a pull-up is one of the best things you can do and, unsurprisingly, it’s a common test in military selection courses”
Hey, Jonathan. Thanks for the recommendation on the Ikon. It’s wonderful.
Glad you like it. I think a pull-up is one of the best things you can do and, unsurprisingly, it’s a common test in military selection courses. I’ve used chin-up bars literally for decades now. In the 90s I had the bars that you screwed at the center and the ends extended out and were held by friction inside the door frame.
They were like this one. Pretty basic. The downsides were they couldn’t handle much weight (always felt like an accident waiting to happen) and the width was limited to the inside width of the doorway.
Then the next evolution was a J-shaped bar that held in place using a cantilever system like this one.
It works fine. The downside being it was bulky, so it is more of a pain to store when you want to close the door.
That leaves the Ikon which, as you can see, has the advantages of being able to fold flat — you can hang it up like a coat in your wardrobe, or lie it under the bed, etc. That’s the main selling point to me. It’s the “better mousetrap” design of a cantilever bar. It’s also way more heavy-duty constructed than other bars. I don’t recall how long I’ve had mine. 3 years? More? Mine pretty much looks like new.
Note that, like other cantilever-type bars, it will place pressure on the doorframe and may mark the paintwork a bit, so you might want to slip some foam or something extra to protect the paint. I take mine down and put it away after each use. It takes seconds to fold it up and put it away. There are now a number of other brands selling pretty much the same product on Amazon, which could be worth looking into, as the Ikon can be difficult to find.
How are you using it?
I use it for pull-ups and the usual variants: hand width, underhand/overhand, etc, and, most importantly, I use it for doing ring dips. I use the wooden rings and competition straps from Rogue.
These are great exercises, especially if you don’t have access to doing bench presses; ring dips add another level because they are less stable. For chins and dips, when doing lower-rep days, I’ll also use a dipping belt (from Ironmind) and attach kettlebells for chins and dips.
Of course, it’s used for leg raises too.
“If I had to only pick one piece of home equipment, then it would be the chin bar”
Anything else you are using it for?
Other things, but less frequent: I sometimes use the rings for doing front levers. Sometimes I use the bar as an anchor for suspension training straps and to attach bands to for shoulder work. Bands can be used to help anyone who can’t manage a chin up on their own. And, very occasionally, I hook up yoga hammock for spine decompression. Anyway, if I had to only pick one piece of home equipment, then it would be the chin bar — followed by the rings.
How often are you using it?
Once a week at least, frequently more.
Can you do a single-arm pull-up?
Yeh, when I was in my twenties I could regularly do 5, maybe 7, because I read that a famous weightlifter, Precious McKenzie (great name!) could do them, and it was a cool party trick. Now I think there are people all over Instagram that can do single-arm pull-ups. Maybe I’ll revisit them — these days, though I’m concerned about tendonitis in the elbow.
Listen here to Jonathan talking about why we read, and the important books in his life today.