Finding the equipment—or space—you need in a crowded gym can be tricky. And investing in traditional training tools for your house may be unrealistic. That’s understandable. But don’t worry: It’s totally possible to beat the crowds, get stronger, and maybe even save some money by exercising at home. You just have to know how to work with what you’ve got.
“It’s a big misconception that you need fancy equipment or clothes, or have to belong to a fancy gym to get in shape and be healthy,” says trainer Jacque Crockford, CSCS, a senior fitness expert for the American Council on Exercise. You just need to know how to repurpose everyday items to build strength, balance, and flexibility. Try incorporating the items below into your strength-training routine and then round out your workouts with at least 30-minutes of moderate-intensity cardio—like walking, running, or biking around your neighborhood—five days a week.
Exercise Equipment Swaps That Turn Your Home Into a Gym
If you need… Dumbbells
Use… Soup cans (or water bottles or books)
Why: If you want to target smaller muscles by performing a higher number of reps with lighter weights, then soup cans are ideal. They’re also good for improving your grip strength, says Crockford. “However, if you want to lift something heavier, use a container, like a water bottle, that you can fill with sand (or water) until it’s at the weight you want,” she adds. Simply sub in either item during any exercise you’d traditionally do with dumbbells. Bonus: To add resistance to lower body moves, like squats and lunges, try wearing a backpack filled with books.
Try it: 5-Minute Moves to Tone Your Entire Body
If you need a… Kettlebell
Use a… Milk jug (or paint can)
Why: “Both of these containers can be filled with sand or water, which—when combined with their handles—creates an uneven distribution of weight, making the experience of lifting one similar to that of a kettlebell,” says Crockford. “They’ll test your balance and stability more than something that you grip in the palm of your hand.” Start with some basics, like the Kettlebell Swing or Clean/Press, to see how the substitution feels and then go from there. Note: Be careful not to let the paint can slam against your wrist.
Try it: 5 Kettlebell Exercises
If you need a… Bench or plyometric box
Use a… Stable chair (or stairs)
Why: Either option will provide the elevation you need for exercises that require an incline, like triceps dips, calf raises, and push-ups, says Crockford. “Get creative with this one—you could do step-ups, box jumps, or create your own interval-based workout, alternating between strength moves and sprints up and down the stairs.”
Try it: 3 Moves to Pump Up Any Workout
If you need… Gliding discs
Use… Towels (or socks)
Why: When put under your hands and/or feet, towels or socks can help you slide on smooth, hard surfaces, making them the perfect substitution for gliding discs, says Crockford. By incorporating gliding motions into some of your favorite strength training moves—like lunges, planks and push-ups—you instantly add a cardio element to an otherwise static session, which will boost your heart rate and your calorie burn. It also makes it easier for you to work in multiple planes of motion, improving your balance, mobility, flexibility, and functional fitness in the process.
Try it: Harley Pasternak’s Calorie-Blasting Circuit
If you need a… Foam roller
Use a… Rolling pin (or frozen water bottle or tennis balls)
Why: Foam rollers are designed to help break up your fascia, the fibrous connective tissue between your muscles. When this tissue becomes knotted up you feel “tight,” and it becomes difficult for your muscles to do their jobs properly. Anything you can find, such as a rolling pin, water bottle, or tennis ball (the firmer, the better), that you can literally roll up and down over your tight spots will serve as a good substitute. Rolling those kinks out helps increase overall flexibility and mobility, and allows your body to recover faster from tough workouts. “I don’t really bake, but I love using my rolling pin as a massager for my calves,” says Crockford, laughing. “Frozen water bottles are also great for post-run, anti-inflammatory roll-outs.” Be sure to target your calves, feet, glutes, hip flexors, and IT bands. “You can also put two tennis balls in a sock and tie a knot in between (so it looks kind of like a peanut), which is great for rolling down the length of your spine, with one ball on either side of your spine,” she says.
Try it: 6 Foam Roller Moves
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.