You Don't Need Dumbbells to Lift Weights — Use These Everyday Items as Alternatives

Working out with resistance bands dumbbell alternative.
POPSUGAR Photography | Jason Innes
POPSUGAR Photography | Jason Innes
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If you're traveling, away from the gym, or just prefer working out from home, you're probably familiar with the struggle to get in a good workout with no weights and minimal equipment in general. Unless you're chilling with a garage or basement home gym, many of us (I raise my hand slowly) barely even have room for dumbbells, let alone a treadmill or a Peloton bike. And look, I love bodyweight workouts as much as the next person, but at some point you really start to crave a good weightlifting session.

You can, in fact, do resistance training without actual weights — you just have to get a little creative about it. POPSUGAR asked for at-home weightlifting tips from Joe Bach, ACE-certified personal trainer and founder and CEO of the fitness brand Bach, whose trainers often make house calls on clients for home workouts. His adaptations for classic weightlifting moves are perfect for when you don't have any actual weights to lift, whether you're traveling or working out in your own living room.

Dumbbell Substitutions

If you have no equipment at all (no resistance bands, sliders, etc.), try substituting everyday items for traditional dumbbell moves. This can be whatever heavy, easy-to-hold items you have available, like cans or bags of food or jugs of water or milk. Here are a few ways to plug in these alternatives in common free-weight moves:

  • Bicep curls: Curl cans of food, jugs of milk, or a big bag of dog food.
  • Weighted squats or lunges: Hold a bag of laundry, a five-gallon water jug (filled according to your strength), or a full reusable grocery bag to add weight to your squat.
  • Overhead presses: Do overhead shoulder presses by holding on firmly to two cans of food or a couple of jugs of milk or bottles of water (filled according to your strength).
  • Triceps kickbacks: Grab a couple of cans of food or filled water bottles, which feel almost the same as weights when you're doing triceps kickbacks.
  • Bulgarian split squats: Hold your water bottles or cans of food in two hands and place your back foot on a coffee table or low chair to work your glutes with this move.

Resistance Bands

Have a set of looped resistance bands, or bands with handles? They're not required for a good home workout, but they do open up a range of possibilities and are a lot easier to store and pack than free weights. Try this three-pack of mini bands ($15) or this long resistance cord ($22) to start.

Bach recommended a couple of exercises you can complete at home with a resistance band, and here are five bonus resistance-band moves you can also add to your routine. If you have looped resistance bands (also called booty bands), try these booty-band workouts.

  • Shoulder presses or bicep curls: Stand and step on the end of a resistance band with one foot. Hold the other end in one hand, bring it to your shoulder to do a bicep curl, or press it upward for an overhead press shoulder exercise.
  • Chest presses or back rows: Wrap your resistance band around a full water bottle. Set the water bottle outside a door and shut the door so that it holds the water bottle in place. Use that anchor to do chest presses or rows for your back muscles.

Slider Exercises

Disc sliders are another cheap at-home workout investment, like this two-pack of sliding discs ($13), though you can also replace them with towels or soft socks on a hardwood floor, or paper plates on a carpet. This small, lightweight piece of equipment helps you improve balance, strength, and control. Bach recommended reverse lunges and mountain climbers, and if you're feeling creative, here's a 15-minute legs and core slider workout to try.

Substituting your weights and working out at home isn't any more dangerous than working out at the gym, Bach said, but you should still be aware of your space and its limitations as well as your own. "Be careful of slippery surfaces, and make sure you're nourished so you don't fall and hit your head on something," Bach said. "There may be no one else around, like in a gym, if you pass out or feel ill."

Beyond that, go for it. "Crank up the music, turn off the TV, get off your phone, and set a timer. Get that workout done in 20 or 25 minutes," Bach told POPSUGAR. "That's the best part about a home workout: the convenience and saving time."