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Building and Using a Roller Board

September 28, 2004 (updated) - By Mike Muha

Getting the most out of your training, particularly when you have minimum time to train, requires one thing: specificity. The more specific the training, the higher the training benefit. Besides never going outside without your ski poles - ski walking/running, rollerskiing - you need to think about specificity in strength training as well.

The rollerboard is a great way to add specificity. Building one is relatively easy - even for those of us who are all thumbs. Let's start by talking about how I use my board, then we'll go into the different ways to build one.

Using the rollerboard.

My board is adjustable - I increase or decrease the slope very easily. Increasing the slope makes the workout harder; decreasing it makes it easier. I have six different settings on my board.

My workout follows an easy pattern: 3 sets of 1 minute each, with a 3 minute rest in between. I average about two sets a week, usually immediately after I get home from an easier aerobic workout. That's a whole 9 minutes of goodness - surely you can fit that in your schedule...

As you begin, try setting the slope of the rollerboard so you can complete all three sets - you'll have to experiment. As your arms and shoulders get acclimated, increase the slope on one or more of the sets. Or add an additional set.

Some variations include:

  • Changing the slope of the rollerboard by set or by workout.
  • Changing the frequency you use the rollerboard (once, twice, three times a week)
  • Changing the speed you use to pull yourself up the rollerboard (fast, medium, slow)
  • Some combination. For example, I'll do a fast set on an easy slope, a slow set on a steep slope, then another fast set on an easy slope.

In between sets, I'll do some bicep curls using free weights or some standing rows - usually a set of 20.

Making a rollerboard.

The rollerboard is divided into four units: The board, the trolley, the vertical supports, and the rope pulls. The board is simply two 10 foot 2x4s connected by two short 2x4s to form a long rectangle, then covered with a 5/8" thick piece of plywood. Screw on two lengths of 1x2 to act as guides for the trolley (see picture at right). Use general purpose drywall screws to glue the whole thing together.

My board is 10 foot by 10.5 inches. My board is narrower than other published boards. Marty Hall's board, for example, is 15" wide. But I have a fairly narrow build and wanted lots of room for my arms. I could chop off a foot of length with no ill effect. I've also used a 1x4 running up the center of the board instead of two 1x2s only the edge. The important thing to note is there is no one right set of dimensions. Several alternative constructions are shown below: 

The trolley is simply an extra piece of 5/8" plywood, about 30" long, and as wide as the rollerboard (in my case 10.5"). On the underside are two 1x2 strips running along near the outside edge. A fixed caster is screwed on in each corner, set so they run next to the guides. Some people put padding on top of the trolley; someday I may get around to it.

The picture at the left shows the underside of my trolley. I bought my casters at Home Depot - silver with black rubber wheels. The biggest issue I have is with the wheels jamming against the guides - not so much of a problem when poling, but tends to slow down the return of the trolley at smaller slope angles. Part of the problem may be that my 1x2 guides are too soft. Harder wood may make a difference. 

I've actually had better success using a set of rollers used to move refrigerators - a two sets of wheels at opposite ends of an expandable metal frame. 

A suggestion I haven't tried from the Ski Post: "You can get a very smooth ride by using skate-board wheel assemblies on the sled board with the resistance bolt on the wheel trucks tightened down to minimize rocking."

Vertical supports are created by parallel mounting two 2x4's vertically up a wall. Space the 2x4's so the center of each is in line with the end of the 2x4's used for the rollerboard (see picture at left). In my case, one vertical is screwed into a stud, the other is secured using drywall anchors. The verticals go all the way to the floor, so the weight is supported by the floor rather than the wall. (In the past, I've also built a portable vertical stand by screwing on horizontal legs along the floor, then attaching 1x4 cross braces from legs to the middle of the vertical boards.)

Up the center of each vertical are heavy screw eyes. In the end of the rollerboard are two heavy hooks (see picture). My screws eyes are spaced abut every 3 inches, starting at 20" inches above the floor. Adjusting the slope of the rollerboard is as simple as moving the rollerboard up or down to the next set of screw eyes. Don't put your screw eyes closer than about 3" apart - it gets too hard to move the rollerboard up and down.

The rope pulls are simply tied to screw eyes attached to either side of the rollerboard (see picture above). Because my rollerboard is in the garage, and the garage floor can get wet, I used quick attach clips so I can detach my rope pulls when I stow the board along the wall.

I used a Bowline Knot for the "ski pole strap" (picture at right). A bowline is not supposed to slip. I could probably go to a store somewhere and buy jump rope handles instead, but I just haven't gotten around to it.

Olympian Hugh Pritchard wrote after I posted the original version of this article to suggest these excellent options for the ski pole grip: 

To make a more normal ski-pole grip (probably more comfortable than ropes), you can: 
  • Tie a loop of climbing tape onto the end of the rope (simplest and very effective). 
  • Do the same, and feed through a pair of chopped-off pole handles.
  • Get a pair of chopped-off pole handles with loop straps (e.g. Exel, as opposed to an un-joined length of tape like Swix), and tie the free loop into the rope. You will need to think of a way to stop the straps pulling through and tightening on the hands. 
  • Use some of those old Swix 'power-grips', which I have seen on a roller-board - quite comfortable for an otherwise hand-shredding session.

Last thoughts

My rollerboard used to be in the basement - and I hardly every used it. Jill took over the basement for a quilting room and the rollerboard moved to the garage. I now use it all the time. I think this is because I immediately see it as I get ready to drive into the garage after a rollerski or running session and I can't ignore it. I've used it between 400 and 900 F so far; let's see how happy I am when it gets below freezing...