When I found out that my gym would be shutting down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was pretty crushed. I know many of you were too. Physical activity is an important coping mechanism for stress for many of us, and almost no matter who you are right now these are some STRESSFUL times. Whether you’re an essential worker, working from home while looking after the kids, or have been laid off from work we’re all facing some sort of big huge mess.
I’m incredibly fortunate to have both space and equipment in my house, and if I’m being really honest it was only a minor inconvenience to adjust my schedule to work out at home vs using the gym at the hospital where I work. But when I polled my Instagram followers to find out who else had a mini YMCA in their basement I was very surprised at how few had any equipment at all. Unfortunately for anyone who was a little late to the game on purchasing home workout equipment a few weeks ago, stores shelves are completely bare. Not a yoga mat or resistance band in sight! If you can find equipment online it might seem like you’re finally in luck, but since weights are ya know, heavy, you can wind up paying a LOT of extra money for shipping. This just might not be the most budget-friendly option at the moment, especially when our financial futures can be so uncertain.
Now, body weight workouts are fantastic and you will never hear me say a bad word about how much you can do using the equipment that Mother Nature gave ya, but with this shutdown looking like it is going to last months vs just a few weeks, we’re going to wind up facing the same barriers that we might encounter with any Uber-repetitive workout plan. We just get plain bored of it! So I’m here to help. Let’s expand our horizons, get creative and put together some homemade weights using things you might (hopefully!) already have around the house.
So, what do you need to DIY some weights? For lighter options (say 1-3lbs) you probably already have some things lying around that you can put to good use. If you need things on the heavier side, I’ve got some ideas for you too!
1-3lb hand weights: Medium-sized canned goods weigh about 1lb (like the size of a can of fruit). A 500ml bottle of water also weighs about 1lb. A 1L bottle of water weighs 2.2lbs. These little guys are perfect for beginners who want to add a little something to their upper body exercises.
Water is a great tool for making your own homemade weights! Just fill up any sized jug with water (think things like plastic milk jugs that have handles) and you’re good to go. 1 litre of water weighs 1kg, which is 2.2lbs so a 2 litre milk jug filled with water would weigh 4.4lbs, and a 4L milk jug filled with water would weigh 8.8lbs) Just be sure to secure the top with duct tape or something so you don’t accidentally take your shower before the workout is done!
What if You Need Something A Little Heavier? While water is a great tool for making your own weights, unfortunately you’ll need a pretty bulky sized container to get anything heavier than about 10lbs. So we need to think about density. Sand or rocks work great for this. You might have either of these items around your house or yard, or if not in some areas hardware stores are still open for curb side pickup. Just fill your water bottle or milk jug with sand or rocks instead of water and voila! You’ve got something with a little more oomph. Dry sand weighs 3.4lbs per litre, so a 2L milk jug filled with dry sand weighs 6.7lbs, and a 4L milk jug would weigh 13.5lbs. The weight of your rocks would depend on how many you can fit in your container, if you don’t have a scale at home to check, you can compare it by feel to something else that you know the weight of (like that same bottle filled with plain water). But it’s ok to not be too nit picky about the exact weights you’ve created, this is about doing the best we can with what we’ve got!
If you want to take things a step further, get your sand wet! Wet sand is a little heavier than dry, so a 1L container filled with wet sand would be 4.5lbs, a 2L container would weigh 9lbs, and a 4L container would weigh 18lbs. If you’re using rocks, fill the bottle with water to fill in all the little remaining spaces between them to pack as much weight in there as possible. Doing a set of deadlifts or squats with 2- 4L milk jugs filled with wet sand is pretty good for a DIY home workout!
Another thing most of us have around the house is paint cans. The ones with handles are between 3.3 and 3.6L. A full can of paint weights around 10lbs. These are great because they have handles on them already as well. For comfort you can wrap a little tape around the wire handle. Be sure the lid is secure before swinging them around!
What if that still isn’t enough? If you’re a pretty seasoned lifter you may still not get that same gym burn with your DIY weights. If you aren’t able to create something heavier, just make it feel heavier by playing around with your pace, reps, and program design.
1. Slow down the pace. Rather than quickly pushing through the set, cut your pace in half (or more if you usually rush a bit). On a bicep curl for example, make both the up and down motion (the concentric and eccentric phase of the exercise) take 4 seconds each. You can also play around with the isometric phase of your exercises; for example hold your squat for a breath or two before pushing back up to a standing position. Trust me, this will get you the burn you’ve been looking for!
2. Do supersets of the same muscle group. Normally I design my supersets to be opposing muscle groups (such as a push and a pull motion or pairing up an upper body with a lower body exercise) but if you want to get more burn with less weight, complete supersets of the same muscle group to hit muscle fatigue a little sooner. For example do some body weight push-ups then go straight into a set of chest presses (using your own homemade weights of course)
3. Play with Plyometrics. Plyometrics are explosive movements. Like jump squats or clapping push ups. If you’re finding the body weight version of an exercise to be too easy, adding an explosive element to the movement is a great way to ramp things up. If you’re a newbie though, wait until you’ve really mastered a movement and are injury-free before incorporating any Plyometrics into your routines.
4. Invest in multi-functional equipment that won’t take up a lot of space! One of my favorite tools for at-home workouts is my TRX. a TRX is a suspension training system that allows you to use your body weight in different ways to re-create your favorite gym exercises. It simply attaches over any doorframe, or if you do have a dedicated workout space you can also purchase attachments for a wall or ceiling. I’ve had mine for over 10 years and it’s still great condition! You can check them out and pick up one for yourself here using my link:
A final word: Remember, these are some crazy times. Never in our lifetime has anything like this ever happened to this extent. You might find that exercise is an absolute must to keep you feeling semi-normal, and it may be the only thing that’s allowing you to get some sleep at night with all the stress you’re facing. Alternatively, if your life is just way too hectic right now to even think about sticking with your regular gym routine, that’s ok too! Just be sure to carve out some time for you to get in some form of self-care. It might be movement, it might not be. We need to look after both our bodies and our minds right now, so however that might look for you at the moment is ok! Do what you need to do to make it through. Exercise isn’t going anywhere and it will still be there when all of this is over.
About the Author: Stephanie Hnatiuk is a Registered Dietitian and Personal Trainer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She believes good health doesn’t need to be complicated, and that you don’t need to be afraid have your cake and eat it too.