Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
Leaving Website

You are now leaving and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

7 Substitutes for Professional Fitness Equipment

No weights or kettlebells at home? Jugs of water and cans of paint can work

10-Minute Total-Body Workout With Bryant Johnson

Toilet paper isn't the only item people started hoarding as the coronavirus pandemic began. As gyms across the country started to shutter, fitness fanatics rushed to buy weights and cardio machines so they could continue their workouts at home. Ecommerce sales of fitness equipment jumped 55 percent in a five-day period ending March 15 compared to sales earlier in the month, according to data from Adobe Analytics.

Somer Meyers, a physical therapist with SPEAR Physical Therapy in Brooklyn, New York, says many patients she is currently seeing via telehealth have complained about gym equipment being out of stock both at stores and online. “It's really forced me to get creative with household items,” she says. While standard gym equipment such as dumbbells, kettlebells and treadmills has been in high demand, she says other items such as Hula-Hoops, jump ropes and mini trampolines remain available, as well as aerobic steps, ankle weights and TRX suspension trainers. You can also get creative on a jungle gym if you have one in your backyard or at a nearby park, she adds.

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership— $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine. Find out how much you could save in a year with a membership. Learn more.

Join Now

When your home becomes your gym, Meyers stresses it is important to clear your workout space of clutter, and if you're starting a new exercise routine, she recommends first getting your doctor's clearance. Here, she and other experts share tips on how to get imaginative when the exercise equipment you need is sold out or too pricey.

Dumbbells and weight plates: “Soup cans usually weigh 1 to 11/2 pounds, a gallon of milk is around 8 pounds, and laundry detergent can range from 5 to 20 pounds,” says Cliff Edberg, director of strategic growth initiatives for training at Life Time, a fitness company headquartered in Chanhassen, Minnesota.

Dani Johnson, a physical therapist with the Mayo Clinic's Healthy Living Program in Rochester, Minnesota, suggests household items including bottles of water, jars of peanut butter or even books. It will be easier to grip heavier objects if they have a handle, so choose items such as jugs of milk versus a carton, she says.

Meyers notes that many people are shopping in bulk right now, creating possibilities for those looking to lift heavier items. “I have a bag of cat litter that weighs 40 pounds,” she says. “Pet food, large bags of beans or rice, and other bulk items can double as weights for squats, lunges or a farmer's carry.” She notes that filling a backpack with books or canned foods can replicate the intensity of lifting with a barbell.

Kettlebells: Having a good handle is key for whatever substitute you use, says Johnson. She suggests filling a purse with kitchen staples or household objects, such as bags of flour or sugar, or rolled-up socks or rolls of toilet paper if you need something lighter for exercises like lateral raises. For something heavier, opt for jugs of milk or water.

Edberg says a one-gallon paint can could also work, though you might need to cushion the handle with a towel or padding.

Stability ball: Meyers suggests using a basketball or soccer ball underneath your forearms as a replacement if you want to up-level your plank pose.

See more Health & Wellness offers >

Resistance bands: Use suspenders for rows, says Meyers. A rope or towel won't have as much give but could still work. “Be sure to anchor the object around something very sturdy and take care that it is secure before you suspend your body weight,” she cautions.

Balance or stability pads: “Stand on one leg on a pillow or couch cushion if you want a balance challenge,” says Meyers. “To be safe, do this near a wall or sturdy chair. Up the intensity by closing one or both eyes."

Foam roller: “A rolling pin works well on quads, glutes and hamstrings,” says Johnson. “A tennis or lacrosse ball can work out knots in the upper back and neck."

Glide discs: Glide discs, or sliders, are two-sided, frisbee-shaped discs used to slide across floors and challenge stabilizing muscles. Edberg says paper plates, Tupperware lids and paint-can lids make good substitutes. Meyers suggests dish towels or pillowcases.

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?