You don’t have to own a gym’s worth of dumbbells to add weight to your home workouts. While nothing works as well as real-deal fitness equipment, there are plenty of items around your house that can work in a pinch.
When it comes to lighter weights for arm-toning work like bicep curls, tricep kickbacks, or shadow boxing, head to your kitchen first: those canned goods could come in handy.
Standard-size cans of soup or vegetables are about 1 pound each. A bottle of wine is about three pounds. A one-gallon jug of water weighs approximately nine pounds. Bags of dried goods—like beans, flour, or rice—are sold by weight, and their weights should be printed on the bag.
Keep in mind that kitchen goods were not designed for lifting, so exercise caution when incorporating non-traditional weights into a workout. For example, if you’re shadow-boxing using glass jars or bottles as weights, you run the risk of your “weight” slipping out of your hand and breaking. Can or bags are safer options.
For lifting something that weighs more than ten pounds, think about using a sturdy tote bag or backpack to load up your “weights.”
If you’re venturing down the reusable tote path, and you want a tote for each hand, find two similarly-sized bags in your stash. Before you begin, make sure that there are no holes in the bottom, and that the handles are securely sewed on the bag. Don’t use a paper or plastic grocery bag. Most canvas and nylon totes were not designed to hold more than 20 pounds, so try to stay within that range.
For weights exceeding 20 pounds, consider using a backpack, duffel bag, or even a suitcase. Again, you may need to modify the types of exercises you’re doing with homemade weights. You can do an overhead press with a suitcase full of books, but it won’t be a good substitute for a kettlebell if you want to do kettlebell swings.
What goes inside? It’s up to you! Cans, bags of rice, and books can all work. To check the weight of a bag before you start your workout, use your bathroom scale. If your scale doesn’t register lower weights, you can weigh yourself normally, and then weigh yourself while holding your bag(s). Subtract your bodyweight from your weight with the bag to determine the bag weight.
Do your usual workouts include a medicine ball for crunches or off-set pushups? A slam ball? A wall ball? While it won’t offer the same weight, a basketball, soccer ball, or volleyball can be a good substitute.
When it comes to wall balls and slam balls, part of the benefit of the exercise is training your body to respond to an object as part of a dynamic movement. A weighted ball can make the exercise more challenging, but it’s not critical. If you choose to use a sports ball to substitute a wall ball or slam ball, remember that the bounce or rebound will be different. Start by throwing the ball slowly and gently so you can learn how the ball responds in the exercise as you don’t want to incur a surprise injury.
For all you Pilates fans, there are a few simple home substitutes for the Pilates Reformer or Megaformer. If you have a smooth wood or linoleum floor in your home, you may be able to do basic Pilates lunges and core work just with a plain pair of socks or even towels. Another solution that works for Pilates at home, even with carpet? Paper plates. You may not get the full functionality of the Reformer, but you’ll still feel the burn with these home finds. If you have a TRX Suspension Trainer—sorry, but there’s no substitute for that one!—you can do many of the same slow lunges and pull movements that you love from Pilates.
In an ideal world, you would always have the right equipment for the right exercise. In reality, we all have to improvise at times. Be honest: who among us hasn’t considered—or tried—doing squats with the dog at this point? If you want the real thing, you can shop TRX Functional Training Tools to build out your home gym. If you need to improvise, be creative with the items you have at home—and be gentle with Fido if he’s your substitute weight.
Regardless of what tools you use, you can join us every day for TRX LIVE. All you'll need is a TRX Suspension Trainer and whatever tool you cook up. Next week’s workouts feature the Suspension Trainer, medicine balls, and kettlebells, so start searching and get ready to sweat.