A weighted vest adds a little extra weight to your body, which can get your heart rate up quicker, better engage your muscles, make you work harder, and generally maximize your workout. An easy at-home swap is a filled backpack worn on your back or on your front. “You can keep this on during your regular workouts as long as there is no pain or discomfort,” says elite trainer Jen Selter. “If you have stairs in your house or apartment building, I would also recommend using the backpack to work out the glutes and quads on the stairs. That way you’re also getting in a bit of cardio, as well.” Filling suggestions: water bottles or books.
If you’ve got a couple bags of dry rice or beans on hand, they make a great alternative to lighter weight dumbbells. Another alternative is filled water bottles, says celebrity trainer Phil Catudal. “Instead of one second up one second down—which are in line with regular tempo reps—try three seconds on each part of the movement, making each rep much slower and concentrated,” he advises. This makes up for the lighter weight and creates more impact per movement. Cans work as dumbbell replacements, too, but can sometimes feel a bit bulky or awkward during certain moves.
Tied pantyhose provide just enough flexibility to create a bit of a tension during certain movements. For example, you can place the loop just above your knees while doing hip thrusts, or you can hold either end of the loop straight out in front of you and tug outward during high knees or butt kicks.
For a lighter-weight medicine ball, pretty much any large sport ball you have on hand will fit the bill, including a volleyball, soccer ball, or basketball. “These aren’t going to be the heaviest, but will still get the job done whether you’re working out your abs, legs, arms, or simply focusing on balance,” says Selter.
In cases where you need a bit more weight, a hefty jug of laundry detergent can save the day. “You can use it for movements like Russian twists or overhead sit ups,” says Lauren McAlister, a fitness expert for Mindbody and co-owner of McAlister Training. “Another idea is to use it in a side-plank to work both your core and shoulders at the same time. To do this, set the jug to one side of your body, reach through with the opposite arm and pull it across to the other side. Just make sure the lid is on tight.” A jug of laundry detergent also makes a good kettlebell swap.
“If you are looking to do barbell curls, a bench press, overhead extensions, or any other barbell exercise including dead lifts and squats, use a big, heavy bag of pet food or grains and complete your reps,” says Catudal. “Make sure you try to evenly distribute the weight. If it’s stubbornly lopsided, switch sides halfway through your reps.”
Fitness gliders are flat plastic discs often used to help engage the core during floor exercises. “I personally like to use gliders on the floor for my leg and ab workouts. If you don’t have access to them, paper or plastic plates are a great household alternative,” says Selter.
Your couch can be a real treasure during all sorts of workouts. One of Catudal’s favorite ways to utilize the couch is for pistol (single leg) squats or sit-squats. “If you feel like you need some leg burn, try doing sit-squats and pistol squats (single leg) onto and off of your couch,” he says. “Touching the cushion each time forces you to go low enough to get a full repetition and provides padding in case you fall.” Your couch can also come in handy for tricep dips, incline/decline pushups, and incline/decline running planks.