While it's neat to have the expensive equipment, it's not a deal breaker if you want to lift weights but don't want to invest the cash. You can use various household items to take the place of 1-, 2- and 3-pound dumbbells or even more. Keep in mind that if you want to keep improving, you need to gradually up the weight for the best results. Repeated dynamic exercises using lighter weights will improve muscle strength and tone without dramatically increasing the size of your muscles. Always consult your health-care provider before starting an exercise program.
It's essential to know how much you are lifting, so you can gradually increase the weight. When using household items, simply convert a container's liquid capacity to pounds with a simple calculation. One ounce of water is equal to 0.0625 pounds, so 32 ounces is equal to 2 pounds. A standard 1-liter bottle of soda weighs 2.2 pounds. If you want a weight that is exactly 2 pounds, pour 32 ounces of water into an empty liter bottle.
Half-gallon plastic milk jugs make perfect dumbbells, because the weight can easily be adjusted by adding or pouring out the contents, and because most jugs have a nifty handle. A half-full, half-gallon milk jug holds 2.086 pounds, making it a perfect 2-pound dumbbell. You can easily up the weight by adding more water. If you don't want the sloshing, fill a dry jug with 2 pounds of sand or beans using a kitchen funnel. And how cool is that that you recycled an item that would normally have wound up in a landfill?
Dumbbells Disguised as Produce
While you may not want to lift a 2-pound bag of potatoes, apples or oranges over your head, this same bag of produce can easily be used as a free weight for a front raise, single or bent arm row, a lateral raise and more; just make sure the bag is securely closed. Because muscle strengthening involves gradually increasing your work load, simply add a few more pieces of fruit to up the weight.
Leave the Cans in the Cupboard
While a can may make a decent weight, holding it over your head, could cause some serious injury if you accidentally drop it. Look for household items with secure caps, easy-to-hold handles and no sharp, dull or metal edges, such as laundry detergent and nontoxic cleaning supplies. A half- or 1-quart plastic container with a secure lid and a sturdy handle also makes an excellent dumbbell or free weight when filled with prepackaged and preweighed flour, sugar, grains or beans. No one ever died from a head full of rice.
Based in Atlanta, Valerie Liles has been writing about landscape and garden design since 1980. As a registered respiratory therapist, she also has experience in family health, nutrition and pediatric and adult asthma managment. Liles holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University and a Master of Science in technical communication from the University of Colorado.