The Best Home Items To Use When You Don’t Have Workout Equipment, According to Fitness Experts

published Apr 1, 2020
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Fitness brands and gyms have made their classes available online (many for free!), which is allowing people around the globe to stay active at home. But if your usual workout routine involves fitness equipment, you might be without what you need—and that’s where these easy home item swaps come in. 

From dumbbells to resistance bands and even a workout bench, there are plenty of expert-approved substitutes you might already have that could transform into fitness equipment. There’s always the option of buying new workout gear, but if you don’t have the room or funds for it—or quite frankly, you’re not sure you’ll use again once you start going back to a physical gym—these everyday objects that aren’t typically used for fitness might be the way to go. 

We asked Dale Santiago, fitness trainer at Rumble Boxing, and Kymberly Nolden, a certified personal trainer, to give us their professional advice for at-home substitutions.

Credit: shutterstock/ORION PRODUCTION

Lighter weights (10 pounds and under)

For a quick solution, you can use pantry items and cleaning products as substitutes for dumbbells. But when it truly comes down to it, as long as you have canned goods and a reusable bag, you can create whatever weight you desire. “Cans usually run in the 1-pound range, they’re not going to be super heavy,” Nolden told Apartment Therapy. “What you can do is put cans in a bag and use a shopping bag, tote bag, or a plastic bag that you’re trying to reuse.” 

You can use a backpack, too, which is easy to grip and can be used for various weights. “One of my things that I’ve been doing for a lot of my workouts is I fill a backpack,” Nolden says. “Backpacks are great because they have handles so you can use it one-handed, you can use it two-handed, you can put it on on your back like you would normally wear it, or even on the front so it’s like a weighted vest.”

Beyond the cans, Santiago broke down what items to grab for weight increments of 1, 2, 5, 8, and 10 pounds.

1 lb: A 16 oz water bottle (filled), 1 shoe (preferably a sneaker), 1 can of beans or soup, or 3 medium bananas, if you’ve got them. 

2 lbs: 1 can of diced tomatoes, 1 pineapple, or 1 quart-sized recyclable milk/water carton (filled with water). Also, you can put 2 cans in a bag. 

5 lbs: 1 standard bag of flour, 1 2-liter bottle of soda (filled with water), or 2 quart-sized recyclable milk/water cartons (filled with water) in a bag. 

8lbs: 1 gallon milk/water jug (filled with water).

10 lbs: 1 large container of laundry detergent.

Credit: shutterstock/Ben Harding

Heavier weights (Over 10 pounds)

When it comes to heavier weights, Santiago also suggests filling a backpack with books and playing a bit of a guessing game as to what the desired weight would feel like on your back. 

Nolden also suggests looking at the furniture you have in your space to use for deadlifts. “If you have a little bench or something, you could easily deadlift with that by picking up one end of it. I’ve been deadlifting a corner of my bed! Or if you have a lighter couch, you could easily deadlift your couch.” 

15 lbs: 1 gallon of paint. 

20 lbs: This is where that backpack tip truly comes in handy. Fill up a regular sized backpack with books, then make an guess as to what 20 pounds feels like on your back. Also, Santiago says that a spare tire works, if you happen to have one. 

Deadlifting: Using furniture around your home can do the job when it comes to deadlifts. Nolden says, “If you have a little bench or something, you could easily deadlift with that by picking up one end of it. I’ve been deadlifting a corner of my bed! If you have a lighter couch, you could easily deadlift your couch, too.”

Resistance bands

For similar mobility and resistance to a workout band, Nolden recommends using nylon tights or leggings that you might have lying around the house—preferably an old pair that you don’t mind stretching out.

“The whole point of a resistance band is for it to be wrapped around your knees,” Nolden says. “To figure how tight or loose to tie it, stand with your feet hip or shoulder distance apart and—depending on the move you’re going to do—tie it tight in that position.”

Santiago also suggests a bungee cord, suspenders, or a bicycle tire tube, if you have any of those.


When it comes to recreating the functionality of a kettlebell, both Nolden and Santiago agree that the backpack filled with books or cans is the way to go. The straps of the backpack allow you to swing it between your legs or up to your wrists, just like you would with a kettlebell.

Santiago also suggests using a pillowcase and filling it up with similar objects, then tying it at the top. “Hold excess fabric about 6 inches from the knot of while letting the weight of the pillowcase drop to the ground and start swinging the pillow case like you would swing a kettlebell.”

Credit: shutterstock/N Azlin Sha

Small pilates ball 

For those who like to use a small workout ball during sweat sessions, Nolden says she uses a circular pillow that provides a similar result. Or, if you don’t have a pillow that works, roll up a towel and use that instead.

Credit: Shutterstock/Microgen


Nolden says that the alternative to sliders depend on whether you have rug or hardwood floors. “If you have a hardwood floor, then you can use either a towel or paper plate. If you have carpet, I would just suggest finding some really fuzzy socks.”

Credit: fizkes

Workout mat 

You can easily create a workout mat with different linens, blankets, and towels that you have around the house. The way you layer it, though, depends on your floor and how much cushion your body needs.

“Even if you do have a mat, if your mat is super thin, I’ll have people either put a towel or a blanket underneath. That way you have the grip of the mat,” Nolden says. “I find that rougher towels work better for something like a mat because there’s a slightly more grip to them than softer towels.”

And if using extra towels or blankets isn’t an option, Santiago suggests using carpeted floors, if possible.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

Exercise bench 

Look around and see what larger furniture you have in your home. If you have a couch, Nolden says you can hack it to become like a roll-up bench. All you have to do is lay flat on the ground and hook your feet underneath your couch, which will hold them in place and allow for moves like Russian twists or roll-ups.

Also, if you happen to have an ottoman, you can easily create a flat, decline, or incline bench. “You can sit your butt down but lean back on the ottoman, then that puts you in a position very similar to an incline bench press,” Nolden says. “Then you can find yourself in an actual bridge where you’re lying on your back on the floor with your hips up, and that would be your decline bench.”

Santiago adds that you can also use a chair for various exercises. It provides an incline or decline for moves such as pushups, glute raises, and hip bridges.