Can't find dumbbells? Exercise with these household objects instead

Gallon of water: check. Wine bottles: check. What more do you need?

Amanda Capritto
5 min read

You can do all sorts of exercises, such as kettlebell swings (pictured here), with a water jug and other home objects.

Amanda Capritto/CNET

If you're having trouble finding workout equipment in stores and online, you're not alone. With gyms still shut down across the US, people have been buying home exercise equipment faster than companies can make it. If you haven't been able to buy what you need for your workouts, fear not. You actually already have dumbbells, kettlebells, weight vests and medicine balls at home -- well, makeshift ones anyway.  

If your workouts need some pizzazz or you've just gotten too darn strong for regular bodyweight squats, look to your pantry, your garage and that closet in the spare room you haven't entered since 2010.

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What you'll need


The "gym equipment" I used for these exercises.

Amanda Capritto/CNET

I used common household objects for these exercises -- these are all items you probably have at home, too. If you don't have one of these, substitute with something similar in size and weight. 

  • Two containers of bulk-size sauce (or two items of equal weight, such as two soup cans or two bags of sugar). These should be easy to grip. 
  • A paint can (doesn't have to be completely full). 
  • Two unopened bottles of wine -- or liquor. Your choice. 
  • A full gallon of water. 
  • A backpack full of books or other heavy items.
  • A soccer ball or something similar in size and weight. 

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Upper body exercises

Upper body is the toughest muscle group to target at home. Bodyweight leg exercises are basically endless, but it's hard to think past push-ups for your upper body. And we must find ways to get an arm pump -- it's almost tank top season, you know.

BBQ sauce shoulder press

My family buys bulk-size everything, including condiments, so I used two big barbecue sauce containers to mimic the dumbbell shoulder press. You can use any sauce you please, or if you're not a sauce person, try half-gallons of milk or cans of soup. Just don't leave the milk out for too long.

Most importantly, make sure your items are equal in weight -- you probably wouldn't use a 15-pound dumbbell and a 10-pound dumbbell at the same time at the gym. 

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Water jug bicep curls

Here we go with the arm pump: Even though you're socially distancing and you can't show off your guns in person, you can definitely flash them at your next virtual happy hour. To get in your bicep curls, simply use a full gallon of water or something else with a handle. 

Paint can rows

Many people unintentionally neglect their upper back when working out at home with no equipment. For one, there's the whole "out of sight, out of mind" thing -- but it's also virtually impossible to target those muscles without some sort of weights or cables. 

A paint can solves that problem: With an easy-to-grip handle, you can perform bent-over rows to target your latissimus dorsi (aka your lats, or your "pull-up muscles"), your rhomboids (middle-upper back) and your scapular muscles on the back sides of your shoulders. 

Wine bottle shoulder circuit

Use wine bottles to work out, and afterward, pop one open. It's a win-win in my book. If wine bottles are too light for you, you can use a small but heavy object that you can safely grip, such as stones, bricks or a frying pan. The options are endless.

This shoulder circuit includes three moves: lateral raises, front raises and the reverse fly. Perform three sets of 10 of each movement in succession for a real shoulder burn. 

Lateral raises: Raise until you feel a bit of a squeeze in your shoulders.  

Front raises: Try to raise your arms to face level or higher.   

The reverse fly. Squeeze your muscles in the top position to get the most out of this exercise. 

Lower body exercises

It's usually easier to think of lower body exercises for at-home workouts, because you can move your legs in all sorts of configurations that burn: squats, step-ups, lunges, jump squats, high knees -- the list goes on. If you want to add a bit of weight, though, you can spice up the basics with household objects.

Backpack lunges

Stuff a backpack with books or any other heavy objects, such as full water bottles or cans of soup. Then, perform lunges as normal. Just be sure to keep your chest up high -- don't let the weight ruin your form

Water jug squats

Goblet squats are a tougher version of air squats where you hold a weight, usually a kettlebell, at chest level. Your trusty gallon jug of water comes in handy again: Hold it in place of a kettlebell to add some weight to your squats.

Full body exercises

Not a fan of separating workouts by muscle group? Toss these full-body moves into your routine to work your legs, core, arms and shoulders all at the same time.  

Backpack squat and press

This move seems simple -- it's just a squat into a shoulder press -- but it's notoriously difficult. A few rounds of 10 reps will have you huffing and puffing. I used a backpack full of books here, but feel free to use any object you can grip with both hands. 

Water jug kettlebell swings

The kettlebell swing is one of my all-time favorite exercises. As a trainer, I love that it elicits both a cardiovascular and strength response and targets all of the major muscle groups: It's great when you're short on time but still want a tough workout. 

I'm using one hand in this demo, because the water jug was easier to hold that way, but you can definitely use both hands. You can also opt to swing the jug completely overhead, rather than to face level. 

Core exercises

Beach season might be on hold as the coronavirus situation unfolds, but that doesn't mean you should neglect your core: Keeping your core strong can help with posture and prevent back injuries, so it's important to work your abs year-round.

I used a soccer ball for these core exercises, but feel free to use any other sort of ball, or another object you can hold with both hands. A book or water jug would work here, too. 

Soccer ball sit-ups

Sit-ups sometimes get brushed off in favor of tougher ab exercises such as planks and v-ups. But I believe that when performed correctly, sit-ups can have a strong place in any workout routine -- especially when you incorporate an overhead press for an added challenge. 

Soccer ball Russian twists

Work your obliques with Russian twists. You can keep your feet in contact with the ground, or elevate them for more of a challenge. Try three sets of 30 reps with a 30-second rest in between sets. 

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.