Objects That Can Be Used as Dumbbells

Resistance or weight training will help you improve muscle tone and counteract the loss of muscle mass that accompanies aging. You don't have to invest a great deal of money in dumbbells to begin strength training. You can re-purpose ordinary items and even other exercise equipment to substitute for dumbbells at home, in the office or on the road. As always, ask your physician what exercise is appropriate and safe for you.

(Image: Richard Ellgen/Demand Media )

Canned Goods

Use canned goods from the pantry as a substitute for dumbbells. For example, hold a vegetable or soup can in each hand. Use them for biceps curls, triceps extensions or chest presses. Small cans are easier to hold. However, if you can grip them safely, graduate to larger cans when the exercise becomes too easy.

Plastic Bottles

Use water bottles or other similar-sized plastic bottles as dumbbells for your upper-body exercises. 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.


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.

Ankle Weights

Ankle weights can double 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 will be able to use them in any of your usual weight exercises. If you have the kind with removable weights, start with a light weight and increase it as you get stronger.

Exercise Bands

Elastic exercise bands or loops can substitute for dumbbells in giving you a complete upper and lower body workout. Use the band workout from ACE Fitness, or follow the instructions with your bands. Exercise bands come in varying strengths of resistance, similar to different weight dumbbells. Perfect for travel, they are lightweight and easy to pack even in a carry-on bag.


If you're a beginner, seek help from a fitness expert to learn the safe and proper methods of working with weights. Although many exercisers do two or three sets of each exercise at a workout, a single set of 12 repetitions is usually effective. Aim for two 20-minute weight sessions per week, in addition to a moderate program of aerobics. Wait at least 24 hours after a weight session before working the same muscles again.


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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