Retractable Pullup Bar

Retractable Pullup Bar

retractible pullup bar

Here is how you can make a strong pullup bar that easily retracts into the ceiling when not in use!  For those in small homes who cant dedicate an entire room to a home gym, this retractible pullup bar is perfect.

In our small house, space is at a premium and we don’t have anyplace we can dedicate to a gym. My “gym” serves triple duty as my home office, guest room, and gym. A sturdy pullup bar is an essential part of any gym but they are pretty ugly so I wanted mine to retract when we had company or when the room was in use as a guest room.

If you are not the handyman type, I suggest just getting a doorway mount pullup bar
or hiring a contractor
 to do this but its pretty straight forward three step process:

  1. reinforce ceiling
  2. drill rod retract holes
  3. attach pullup bar

If you have any doubt about being able to do this safely then dont attempt this project!  To do this you need access to the attic above the room so this wont work if you are on the bottom floor of a multiple story building.

What you need


  • hammer
  • handsaw
  • electric drill
  • gloves and safety glasses
  • hacksaw

From hardware store

  • 12″ 3/8″ drill bit
  • Ceiling joist (covered later)
  • Two 3/8″ threaded rods, 3′ long
  • Four 3/8″ washers and nuts
  • 6′ section of 1.5″ steel fence top rail or electrical conduit
  • One pound of 16p nails

Step 1: Reinforcing the Ceiling

sistered ceiling joist

The ceiling is not made to support your weight so the first thing you need to do is reinforce the ceiling joist where you will be hanging the pullup bar thru a process called “sistering”, more on sistering in a moment. Its tempting to skip sistering and just drill a hole and hang your pullup bar but don’t do it. Ceilings are not made to hold this kind of load and you wont be a popular guy if you collapse your ceiling. Speaking of which, in the attic, if you slip off the joists and put weight on the sheetrock, your foot will bust the ceiling – be careful.  The reinforcement process, also called sistering, is not as difficult as it sounds.  First step is to go up in your attic and have a look around to decide which ceiling joist you want to hang the pullup bar from.  An ideal candidate wont have any wires on or thru it and wont have any obstacles in the way.   Sistering is when you take an existing structural member and make it stronger by attaching another joist to it to help carry the load.  The sistered joist has to run from wall to wall to do any good.  Just sistering a little chunk in the middle where the pullup bar attaches will do no good at all.  The bigger the room is, the bigger the ceiling joists will be.  In most stick-built homes made in America in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, 2×6 ceiling rafters are commonly used.  Now that you have identified the ceiling joist where you want to attach your pullup bar, lets sister it:

  1. move all insulation away from one side of the existing ceiling joist the entire span of the joist
  2. measure the length of the existing ceiling joist
  3. cut the sistered joist, its OK to make it 1/2″ smaller.  Its optimal to nail the sistered joist into the headers at both walls but in situations like this, its rarely possible. If you can nail into the headers then make the sistered ceiling joist the same length as the existing ceiling joist.
  4. Nail the sistered joist in place.  With a 2×6, two 16d nails every 16″ is good.  More nails is not necessarily better as you will split the wood and drastically reduce its strength.  Since attics are usually *very* tight, uncomfortable spaces it helps a lot to pre-drill nail holes for the sistered joist and put the nails in place before taking it up in the attic, that way, you can drive the nails home one handed.


Step 2: Drilling the rod holes

This is easy but you need to take your time.  You will need a 12″ long 3/8″ drill bit and a drill, a cordless is a lot easier so you dont need to drag an extension cord up into the attic.  The holes must be drilled from the attic side downward to get the placement right.  Here is how to do it:

  1. Go into the room and measure where along the ceiling joist you want to put the pullup bar
  2. Transfer that measurement to the ceiling joist
  3. Now drill the first hole, make sure that the hole is perpendicular to the wall in both directions or you will be very sorry
  4. Now drill the second hole, I recommend a distance of 5′ between the rod holes.  Many people are tempted to put them too close together but this limits the types of pullups you can do.  The bar retracts anyway so make it big!
  5. Last step is to put the nuts and washers on the threaded rods and drop them thru the ceiling.


Step 3: attaching the pullup bar

  1. Measure carefully the distance between the bottoms of the threaded rods, not at the ceiling.
  2. Cut off the electrical conduit 6″ longer than the above measurement allowing a 3″ overhang on each end.
  3. Mark the conduit with the hole positions
  4. Now drill 1/2″ holes (thats not a typo) thru your 1.5″ electrical conduit.  The oversize holes are necessary to make it easy to slip the bar on and off.


retractible pullup bar

You are now done!  If you find the threaded rods dont slide up and down easily, you might need to ream the hole out more with the 12″ drill bit.