It’s not easy staying motivated these days. As Mondays blend into Wednesdays, the weeks feel both surprisingly fast and excruciatingly long. For those who enjoyed an active fitness routine pre-pandemic, finding the same energy at home can sometimes feel impossible.
This is especially true when you don’t have access to the same gear that’s at your gym or workout studio. So, you decide to buy some. But then — wait a minute — the online wait is six weeks?! And shipping is how much?
Finding dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells and boxing bags is tricky right now but there is good news. Rather than putting your name on a waiting list or skipping another sweat sesh, you can order these not-so-high-in-demand products instead.
Here, fitness professionals recommend the best MacGyver-like swaps for common workout essentials. Though it may feel a little strange, these hacks will provide the resistance, weight and durability you need to meet your goals — or at the very least stay moving indoors.
Dumbbells, also known as handweights, are a versatile must-have for every home gym. Whether you use them to build tone in your arms or to make lunges and squats even harder, they are an effective way to upgrade your workouts. But when you can’t find 5-pound, 10-pound or any-pound sets online? These options will do the trick.
Because they can last for months, canned goods are a common purchase during emergencies. So chances are high you have black beans, chickpeas, canned tomatoes and all sorts of other veggies hanging out in your pantry. Lauren Jenai, the co-founder of CrossFit and the founder of Manifest, suggests pulling these out to work up a sweat. Everything from bicep curls and lateral raises to tricep extensions are easy to pull off while holding cans.
“Although you may not have the same variety in weights as with a set of dumbbells, the larger girth of the cans can help with developing better grip strength,” Jenai says. “But more importantly, the cans allow you to practice proper technique, range of motion and continued muscle development.”
Try this: Market Pantry Black Beans ($.59, target.com)
When you set up the scene for your home workouts, what do you grab? A towel, a yoga mat and a water bottle, right? Rather than sipping out of it, CorePower Yoga’s Midwest-area leader, Jay Burckhardt, suggests putting that bottle to good use. In fact, he says every 16 ounces is about one pound of weight. So, choose your weight goal and shop accordingly.
Try this: Healthy Human 21-Ounce Water Bottle Curve ($24.99; amazon.com)
Reusable grocery bags
Since some grocery stores, like Whole Foods, have prohibited bringing reusable bags inside, your stash may be collecting dust. So it’s time to whip them out and use them in a different way, according to nutritionist Amanda Edell. She suggests loading them up with whatever you have at home — cans, books, you name it — and holding one in each hand. Just make sure to use a scale so they’re the same weight.
Try this: Baggu Standard Reusable Shopping Bag ($12; amazon.com)
Kettlebells workouts are one of those exercises that once you learn it, you love it. Whether you swing them, use them to perform a deadlift or find two smaller ones for arm workouts, they can be a fun way to elevate your fitness level. If you can’t find this uniquely shaped fitness necessity online though, these creative alternatives can provide the same workout.
Cast iron pots and pans
Every home chef knows the importance of having a cast iron pot or pan. They can take great recipes and make them mouthwatering — and according to Jenai, they can also serve as a kettlebell substitute. “Like the kettlebell, a pot or pan will provide an appropriate weight distribution and ability to rotate the object in your hands,” she explains.
Before you start swinging, lifting or rotating, she suggests getting a good grip and ensuring your stance is proper to keep your muscles safe — and working!
Try this: Lodge 12” Cast Iron Skillet ($22.99; target.com)
Remember commuting? Packing up your laptop, notebooks, perhaps a book, your lunch and so on? It might not have felt like it since it was simply part of your routine, but carrying around extra weight is a workout in itself. When you can’t find a kettlebell, Lauren McAlister, the fitness expert for Mindbody, suggests loading up a backpack with books, cans, whatever you want. Then, zip it up — and get to work.
“Grab the handle at the top to complete kettlebell swings — or in this case backpack swings — weighted deadlifts or weighted squat presses,” she continues. “You can also add a bit of extra weight to other bodyweight movements like squats, lunges and pushups by wearing your filled backpack.”
Try this: JanSport Superbreak Backpack ($25.93; amazon.com)
Laundry detergent jug
You may be doing more laundry than ever since you’re home 24/7, but that doesn’t mean you need to recycle your laundry detergent jug right away. In fact, group fitness instructor Melissa Bonner suggests filling it up with water once you’re finished and using it as a makeshift kettlebell. It works well because the handle is sturdy, and you can adjust the weight simply by pouring water out. Bonner just recommends sealing the lid with duct tape to be extra safe from spills.
Try this: All Liquid Laundry Detergent ($14.99; amazon.com)
Resistance band replacements
Commonly used in barre classes or as part of a strength-training routine, resistance bands might not seem like much, but they pack a punch. Many fans have scooped them up online, making them tough to secure, so these at-home solutions will mimic much of the same sweat.
Many people use bungee cords for outdoor recreational use. Think securing a kayak on the top of your car, holding a mountain bike in place and so on. But Heather Gunn Rivera, a trainer at the Grassroots Fitness Project, suggests using these as an alternative for resistance bands.
“You can use bungee cords much the same way you would use a mobility band,” she says. “There are tons of shoulder and hip mobility options that take advantage of the nonlinear resistance elastic band training provides.”
Try this: HD 36 in. Standard Bungee Cord ($1.47; homedepot.com)
Your annual trip to the shore may have been canceled this season, but you can still use your beach towel in your workout. As recommended by strength and performance specialist at Strata Integrated Wellness Spa, Tracy Iverson, a long towel closed in a door provides a resistance band-like workout. And if you don’t have space near a door? You don’t need it.
“Roll the towel up, place it between your knees in a seated position to work the adductor muscles,” she says. “Wrap a towel around your knees, holding onto the towel, move your legs away from each other to work the abductor muscles.”
Try this: Linum Home Textiles Sea Breeze Pestemal Beach Towel (starting at $25.99; bedbathandbeyond.com)
Do you have a pair of leggings that definitely have had their heyday… and then some? We all have a few we should probably donate, but now, Bonner says they can be used in a different way. Because they are stretchy, they will provide the tug-o-war and resistance you need to perform bicep curls, upright rows and so on.
“To work that lower body with your homemade bands, simply tie them around your legs,” she recommends.
Try this: CRZ Yoga Women’s Naked Feeling High Waist Tight Yoga Pants 25” (starting at $24; amazon.com)
Boxing bag replacements
When you need to relieve stress, there’s something detoxing — and gratifying — about punching a bag. Unfortunately, your go-to studio is closed and finding a boxing bag online is a tall order. And even if you can find one, scoping out the space in your home to hang it is another story. Instead, try these tricks of the trade.
If all of this time sleeping in the same bed and not traveling has proven you definitely need a new mattress, don’t throw your old one out, just yet. As fitness expert and author ShaNay Norvell explains, a twin-sized mattress or futon pad serves as a great punching bag. “Place it firmly in an upright position, and be sure to secure it for safety,” she recommends. “Reduce the intensity of your first few punches to ensure safety for your wrists.”
Try this: Wayfair Sleep 8” Medium Gel Memory Foam Mattress ($112.99, originally $172; wayfair.com)
Do you miss packing a bag, boarding a plane and going on an adventure? Though you can’t take it anywhere but your home, you can work up a sweat and fill your carry-on to the top with this boxing bag hack. Certified personal trainer, author and TV host Eraldo Maglara recommends stowing away clothes and towels inside a carry-on bag.
Then, hang it up outside on a tree or on your patio… and get started. Wearing leather gloves is also recommended — especially for a beginner — to soften the impact of your hands on the surface, he adds.
Try this: Rockland Fashion Softside Upright Luggage Set ($38.99; amazon.com)
For strength-training, a barbell can’t be beat. You can add as much or as little weight as desired, and you can use the bar itself, too. But if your home doesn’t have much space for this heavy-duty piece of equipment, or you can’t find one online, you can try these alternatives instead.
Jenai says while barbells are ideal for bench presses, squats and deadlifts, all those moves can also be done with large sandbags.
“Your grips may need to change some, but lifting, pressing, and squatting sandbags can provide you the same strength and fitness development you are looking for from heavier weightlifting,” she adds.
Try this: Abccanopy Super Heavy Duty Sandbag ($15.95; amazon.com)
Broom and water jugs
This one may require a little more DIY, but it can easily be completed in less than ten minutes. All you need is a broom handle and two buckets. As recommended by International Sports Sciences Association-certified master trainer and founder of Pancakes and Pushups Sloane Davis, taping buckets filled with water or rice on either side of a broom handle creates a barbell solution.
Try this: Collapsible Bucket Green - Centurion ($12.99; target.com)
Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed price at the time of publication.