No Gym? No Problem. Five Ways to Get Creative with Home Fitness

What’s the difference between a 40-pound dumbbell, a 40-pound kettlebell, and a 40-pound bag of fertilizer? Better yet: What’s the difference between a 40-pound sandbag used for unstable-load training and, you know, a 40-pound bag of sand.

Answer: Not as much as you think.

Here’s the thing with weight training: Yes, dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells make for ideal training loads (which is why they’re gym standards). But when it comes down to it, resistance is resistance. And resistance doesn’t need to be a dumbbell, barbell, or kettlebell. 

Think about it. Sure, you break a sweat when you hit the gym. But there’s a good chance you also broke a sweat that time you helped a friend lift his refrigerator. That doesn’t mean you need to lift a refrigerator every morning, but it is a good reminder that plenty of things around the house can serve as “weights.”

Don’t have access to a gym? Try using these household items in your training (or picking them up at the grocery store). 

Gallon Water Jugs

Meet the dumbbells that can help you hydrate post-workout. A gallon of water actually weighs in around 8 pounds, so if you have 3 or 4 of them, you wind up with 24 to 32 pounds. If you’re curling with clean technique, that’s a solid and useful amount of weight. 

Now, obviously, you can’t grasp the handles of multiple gallon water jugs, but here’s a hack for that: Wrap a towel around the handles and use that. Yes, this will change how you grip things, but here’s the upside: It’s going to challenge your grip strength more. And when it comes to curls, it’s also adding a new element to the equation: You get to focus on how you’re rotating your wrists. 

Don’t have water? Gallons of milk or orange juice work well. Or grab an empty gallon container and fill it at your tap. 

Five-Gallon Water Jugs

Same idea here, except this lets you handle a larger load. A five-gallon water jug weighs in at a bit more than 40 pounds. It’s also large and ungainly, which makes it that much more challenging to lift. Two, 40-pound gallon water jugs are a perfect load for leg moves, like lunges, split squats, and Romanian deadlifts. 

Backpacks and Luggage

A backpack is meant to be picked up anyway, isn’t it, thanks to two super-handy straps. So, fill it up with anything around the house (old books, soup cans, etc.) and use it for rows or overhead presses. Another sweet thing about a backpack: you can put it on and essentially use it as a weighted vest to deliver an extra challenge to bodyweight moves. 

Larger luggage bags work just as well. Grab your biggest rolling bag and fill it with liters or gallons of water: That’s perfect for front and Zercher squats, or Romanian deadlifts. 

Your Kitchen Table

No, don’t lift it. But get under it, grab its ends, and you have a place where you can do bodyweight rows. (Another option for this: A sturdy broomstick slung over two chairs.) Those rows are of huge importance because it’s easy to simply “do pushups” in your home workouts and think you’re getting your fitness. And yes, pushups are great, but they’re also training your pushing muscles and creating an imbalance with your pulling muscles. So, find ways to do rows; now you have one.

Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.

Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.

Fitness Director for Men’s Health Magazine and CSCS trainer -

Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., is the fitness director of Men's Health and a certified trainer with more than 10 years of training experience. He's logged training time with NFL and track athletes, and his current training regimen includes weight training, HIIT conditioning, and yoga. Before joining Men's Health in 2017, he served as a sports and tech columnist for the New York Daily News.