With gyms and fitness studios shuttered across the nation, some people are turning to subscription services and apps to help get their daily workout routine fix. But guess what? You don’t have to spend money on equipment to get just as good a workout in your home as you did when you were in a fitness class. Household essentials all around you are just waiting to be swung like a kettlebell, lifted for some biceps curls, and ready to support you while you do your tricep dips. Stop stressing about where to find your next workout: It’s waiting for you inside your home.
1. Towels for yoga on fly
No yoga mat? No problem. Simply lay down a bath towel—or a bath sheet or beach towel, for some extra length—and you have the space to practice some yoga. (This usually works better if you’re lying your towel down on carpet, as opposed to a slippery hardwood or tile surface.)
You can also use a rolled up towel as a yoga strap to aid with stretching tight hamstrings, by hooking the midpoint around the sole of your foot and holding on the ends with each hand.
2. A simple staircase for a cardio boost
You don’t need specific gym equipment to get in a solid aerobic workout—structures around you work just as well. Behold, the humble staircase. Stairs are a great way to get your heart rate up, whether you live in a multistory building where you can time yourself running up and down or just have a few steps leading to your home that are ideal for step-ups.
But you don’t have to sprint up them to get the maximum benefit. You can incorporate more steps into your day just by replacing one elevator ride per day with the stairs, or by making multiple trips back and forth from your car after grocery shopping, or by taking a five-minute walking break from your home office.
3. A step stool for a tough glute workout
This little stool that helps you around the house is now about to help you tone your glutes. Step stools are ideal for, you guessed it, step-ups. Instead of purchasing an actual step platform like the ones used in aerobics and step classes, you can use your household version (though you may need to brace it against a wall to keep it from sliding forward).
If you want things to get a bit more intense, try doing some step-ups with added weights, or time yourself doing toe taps in 30-second intervals.
4. Fuzzy socks, paper plates, or hand towels to challenge your balance
While these three objects usually have no relationship to one another, each makes a great replacement for sliders. For those who are unfamiliar, sliders resemble small discs and are used to reduce friction under hand or foot, creating an unstable surface while you’re doing basic moves like lunges and planks. In return, your muscles work harder to maintain balance, and your core has to kick in even more to maintain overall stability. Sliders are torturous and wonderful all at the same time.
You don’t need to buy them, though: Pull on a pair of fuzzy socks, take out a couple of paper plates, or grab a couple small towels to place under your feet or your hands and get to work upping the ante on certain moves, such as mountain climbers, reverse lunges, and plank jacks. All you need is a non-carpeted floor (so your socks/plates/towels can slide around) and you’re sure to feel the burn during your next workout.
5. Wine bottles for light weights
Next time anyone makes a comment that you have too much wine, please inform them that it's not wine bottles they’re looking at, it’s gym equipment. While pouring yourself a hefty glass at the end of a long day is an ideal workout for some, you can get a little more bang for your buck when it comes to utilizing your bottles to their fullest potential. A standard wine bottle weighs a little over two-and-a-half pounds, making it fine to use as light hand weights for cardio and HIIT workouts that require a little extra load.
6. A kitchen chair as a makeshift barre
Never did I think that I would one day be writing about how my kitchen chair is one of my most utilized pieces of workout equipment. I’ve been taking a live Instagram ballet class with New York City Ballet principal dancer Tiler Peck a couple hours a week, and my kitchen chair doubles as a ballet barre, where I can tendu and plié to my heart’s content.
If you aren’t keen on ballet or barre workouts, you can also use your chair to do incline pushups, seat taps, or to perfect your squat form (chest up, butt back, tap the chair seat with your tush).
7. A laundry detergent bottle as a kettlebell
At-home gym equipment has (understandably) been selling out. One of the first items to fly off the shelves? Kettlebells. After all, they're easily one of the most versatile pieces of equipment at the gym. But you don’t need to have an actual kettlebell at home to reap the benefits of a kettlebell workout. May we present: your laundry detergent bottle. A (full) large 200-ounce jug weighs in at over 13 pounds. With one (or two!), you can do deadlifts, bent-over rows, and even some nice kettlebell swings (just don’t plan to do laundry the same day, as your detergent is going to get pretty frothy).
If you’re more of a laundry-pod person, don’t worry. Empty gallon milk or water jugs refilled with water and securely taped closed work just as well, and weigh in at over eight pounds each. Better yet, if you have any sand or kitty litter, fill that old jug up with that for more weight (12-plus pounds!) as an extra challenge.
8. A weighted blanket to make calisthenics harder
Usually lauded for its calming effects, your weighted blanket can take on a whole new role in quarantine. Ranging anywhere from 10 to 25 pounds, these babies are perfect for adding some extra weight to squats or pushups. Fold up your blanket and hold it with both hands or drape it over your shoulders while doing some deep squats or lunges across your living room—trust me, it will get your quads seriously fired up. To make pushups more of a challenge, balance the folded blanket on your back.
If you live in a house or apartment building with at least one flight of stairs, carrying the weighted blanket up and down can also help you build endurance during cardio. (Apartment dwellers: Just fully accept that you will forever be deemed “that crazy neighbor,” and you’ll be on your way to an intense aerobic workout.)
9. A cast iron skillet for toning your triceps
Great news: The secret to toning your triceps has been lurking in your kitchen cabinets this entire time. No, it’s not those chalky protein bars with the picture of a bodybuilder on them. It’s your cast iron skillet. On average, a standard 12-inch cast iron skillet weighs in at eight pounds. Before you whip up your next recipe, whip out a few sets of tricep extensions with one of these. As the old saying goes, “Abs are made in the kitchen.” Well guess what? Now your triceps are, too.
10. Your couch as an all-in-one gym
Yes, the ultimate symbol of relaxation and laziness can now help you in your workout. Couches sans their cushions can be a good stand-in for a workout bench, for exercises such as step-ups, supported bent-over rows, and tricep dips. I also like to use the cushions as equipment, as well. Whenever I’m practicing crow pose in yoga, I place a couch cushion or a bed pillow in front of my head—that way if I tip over and fall out of the pose, my head has a soft crash pad.
The couch cushions are also great to do core work, like bicycles, on top of, because the foam provides the same instability of an exercise or Bosu ball, to make those exercises even harder.
11. A mop or broom handle as a multipurpose prop
Confession time: Sweeping and then mopping my entire apartment makes me break out into a sweat, both thinking about it and physically doing it. But if you aren’t looking to kill two birds with one stone and want your Swiffer sweeper to be more of a workout companion, we’ve got you covered. To take crunches to the next level, lie on your back, knees up, while holding your mop or broom handle perpendicular above your torso. Repeat 10 times and then get back to me with how your abs are feeling.
These handles are also ideal for doing overhead squats when you want to focus on your form (keep that bar over your head the whole time!). Or get creative and turn a sturdy wooden one into a barbell by affixing a water- or sand-filled jug to each end—just be sure the jug handles are well-tied on there with strong twine before using your homemade weight for, say, bench presses or shoulder presses.
My personal favorite broom-handle exercise? Place it on the ground, set a 30-second timer, and see how many times you can jump side to side or front to back over it. Repeat until your family notices what you’re doing and asks you to stop working out and please continue to clean the kitchen.
12. A full backpack or full suitcase for heavier loads
While we can’t travel anywhere right now, we can still put our backpacks and suitcases to good use.
Wearing a heavy backpack filled with books or canned food during any workout session is similar to wearing a weighted vest, and makes whatever exercise you’re doing that much more difficult. Try it while going for a walk, or strap on your pack (chest and waist straps tightened) before busting out some pushups, plank walks, or bear crawls—you might start looking at your backpack with as much trepidation as when it was filled with homework!
If you’re looking for a workout that includes more heavy lifting, a carry-on suitcase filled with books is great for those who long for the weight racks at the gym. You can use it for deadlifts or squats while holding the handle with both hands, do bent-over rows with one hand, or do (actual) suitcase carries while walking or lunging. Or place it on the floor as an obstacle to jump over while doing squat jumps.
13. Basketball or soccer ball for (some) medicine-ball exercises
You don’t need one of those stability balls or Bosu balls to create a wobbly surface for balance work—basically any ball you played with as a kid will do, in a pinch.
While soccer balls, volleyballs, and basketballs are not as heavy as medicine balls, you can do similar exercises that you would do with a medicine ball, like Russian twists from side to side, burpees (holding the ball overhead and bringing it to the ground), or high-knee jogs while holding the ball in front of you, aiming to tap it with your kneecaps.
To make pushups harder, place one hand on a ball and one hand on the ground and alternate hands, or place both hands together on it for a triceps-heavy challenge.
All that I ask is that you please don’t try to do medicine-ball slams with a basketball on pavement... we all know that’s not going to turn out great.
14. Coffee table books or textbooks to add weight to certain moves
Let’s be real: When was the last time you flipped through those fancy art books that have been sitting out for far too long? Exactly. It’s time to put them to good use. These, as well as unused textbooks (or encyclopedias, if you’re really old-school), are great replacements for weights for certain exercises.
For example, you can hold a book overhead while doing lunges (waiter-carry style), squats, sit-ups, or burpees, or use one instead of that basketball for a heavier challenge in Russian twists.
15. Toilet paper… yes, really
If my grocery-store shelves are any indicator, everyone out there must have about 100 rolls of toilet paper stuffed under their bathroom sinks at the moment. For something that is basically being treated like gold right now, we might as well make the most out of it, am I right?
Even before these days of extreme toilet paper hoarding (TLC, please make that your next reality show), there were plenty of resources for working out using a few rolls. Exercises you may want to try include stacking full rolls three high at intervals on the floor to act as mini-hurdles to jump over; alternating passing a roll from hand to hand while in plank position for some tough core work; or using an entire 24-pack as a “weight” while squatting—the possibilities are truly endless. If toilet paper is good enough for this former Olympic gymnast to use in a pinch during a workout, it’s good enough for the rest of us (even just for a laugh).