If your go-to gym equipment is currently inaccessible, you don't need to abandon your strength-training routine. And you don't have to invest a lot of money to equip your at-home gym either. You can re-purpose ordinary items and even other exercise equipment to use as dumbbell substitutes.
That's great news for all us newly minted homebodies, because strength training helps build muscle and make everyday tasks (think: carrying groceries, lifting kids, etc.) easier. It also counteracts the loss of muscle mass that comes with getting older. So if you find yourself without a set of weights, try one of these creative options.
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1. Canned Goods
Use canned soup, peas or beans from the pantry as a dumbbell alternative. Hold one in each hand and use them for biceps curls, triceps extensions or chest presses.
Smaller cans are easier to hold, but if you can grip them safely, graduate to larger cans when the exercise becomes too easy. Still too easy? Fill a bag with several cans and hold them as you squat, lunge and deadlift.
2. Filled Water Bottles
Use water bottles or other similar-sized plastic bottles as dumbbells for your upper-body workouts. Use unopened, new water bottles or refill empty bottles with sand or water. If you refill bottles, use the type that has a secure screw-on lid for safety's sake.
The hourglass-shaped bottles are easier to grip, especially for smaller hands. Or opt for a gallon of water (or repurposed milk jug) and use the handle to make things easier.
Thick, heavy books make a good substitute for dumbbells at home, in the office or anywhere you can find them. If you wish to exercise both arms at the same time, find books of approximately equal weight.
If you have only one book or can't find two similar ones, exercise one arm at a time. Use a large book, such as an unabridged dictionary, as a single, heavy weight. And as with the canned goods, you can also fill a bag with books or do exercises like push-ups and Bulgarian split squats on a stack of books.
4. Ankle Weights
Go old school and use your ankle weights as a substitute for dumbbells. Make them easier to grip and less floppy by fastening them in a loop. Once you've looped them, you'll be able to use them in any of your usual weighted exercises — even upper body ones. If you have the kind with removable weights, start with a light weight and increase it as you get stronger.
5. Resistance Bands
Elastic exercise bands or loops can substitute for dumbbells in giving you a complete upper- and lower-body workout, according to the American Council on Exercise. Resistance bands come in varying strengths, similar to different dumbbell weight. Perfect for travel, they're lightweight and easy to pack even in a carry-on bag.
6. Laundry Detergent
Grab an extra-big bottle of laundry detergent next time you're stocking up on essentials to do overhead presses, lateral raises or single-leg deadlifts. Similar to other items on this list, you may have to work one side at a time or you can hold a single bottle at your chest for exercises like goblet squats.
7. Bags of Produce
If you've been buying in bulk and have bags of oranges, apples or onions, you can use them in some of your favorite weighted exercises. Try them in a kettlebell swing.
While the above items are probably in your home right now, there are a few other, less common options that you're less likely to have (but who knows!).
- Paint cans
- Bags of sand, rocks or concrete mix
- Cinder blocks
- Filled suitcase
- Buckets of water (or sand)
- Although many exercisers do two or three sets of each exercise at a workout, a single set of 12 reps is enough to help you build strength.
- Put safety first. Take special care when lifting heavy weights, such as large books or large bottles filled with sand.
- Wear proper exercise clothing, including shoes.
- Don't attempt to lift huge cans or other heavy items you cannot grip safely.
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