Resistance training will help you improve muscle tone and make everyday tasks easier; it also counteracts 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 use as dumbbell substitutes at home, in the office or on the road. As always, ask your physician what exercise is appropriate and safe for you.
Read more: How to Get Started With Weightlifting
Dumbbell Alternatives in the Cupboard
Use canned goods from the pantry as a dumbbell alternative. 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.
A Good Use for Plastic
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 for Some Exercises
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 Cuff 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.
Resistance Is Futile
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. 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.
Tips to Consider
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 enough to help you build strength. Aim for two full-body strength training sessions per week, in addition to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobics or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Wait at least 48 hours after a weight session before working the same muscles again.
Keep It Safe
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. The best alternatives to weights sometimes won't fit into a small hand.
- ACE Fitness: Whole-Body Exercise Band Workout
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 1. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- Harvard Health: Want to Live Longer and Better? Do Strength Training
- "Fitness" magazine: Strength Training for Beginners; Sarah Richards; December 2006