So, you have dumbbells and, if you’ve come from our previous article, you’ve got eight different exercises to get a full-body workout. It’s a great start, and you think you might be seeing some gains, getting stronger and more confident. Maybe you’ve just gotten into a routine or started making laps around your local park. All your efforts are working.
This is the perfect time to up the ante.
To add just a little bit of flavour and spice to your daily workout and try different variations and new exercises that will challenge you in different ways. Of course, you might be thinking of a bench or power rack or heavier weights, but there are other ways to replicate equipment without needing to spend more money.
Self-made equipment is a great way to customise and trial equipment before spending the big bucks. Not to mention park initiatives that allow access to equipment – if rudimentary – near trails and other natural environments.
Please note: check the integrity and quality of the items you use. Use reduced weights and do not try this alone. In exploring the pros of self-made equipment, we will also explain the cons and limitations to ensure that you remain safe.
Here are some ways that you can up the ante at home without needing new equipment:
- Boxes Stepladders or tables
- Bench Cushioned chair
- Snap-locks Heavy-duty clamps
- Pull-up bars Monkey rings or tree branches
- Bumper plates Tyres or cement (or both)
- Kettlebells Sandbags
A Plyometric Box (or plyo box) is essentially just a box with three different heights, made of either wood, or wood and foam (for softer landing). These boxes are named after “plyometrics”, which is a type of training that uses explosive speed and force – ergo, jumping – to build strength. The most common exercises are box jumps, step-ups or dips.
Naturally, depending on what you are using the box for, you have a few different options. Step-ups can be done holding free weights (and bumper plates as seen in the picture) and are quite simple. You can try doing them on a stepladder, a chair or table, depending on height and what you want to achieve – usually around 15 to 20cm high.
The limitations of simple stepladders or tables is with box jumps. As a key jump and explosive training exercises, they are quite popular and used most often with pylo boxes. However, they need stability and balance, and are usually much higher. We would not recommend performing a box jump on anything other than pylo box or a reinforced box. Instead, head outdoors to your local park. You can consider concrete blocks to both jump over and jump onto.
Benches come in many forms: flat benches, incline benches, adjustable benches, and even just standard furniture. They’re most useful for correcting your form and providing a support and backup when a large range of exercises. Many exercises come with bench variants to the point that nearly all of them have it. It is a key part of any workout routine.
We wouldn’t recommend trying to make your own adjustable bench. With all home-made items, there is a sacrifice in quality and comfort, but the steel supports and safety of an industrial version is paramount to any exercise. Being able to change the angle and height adds an extra layer of instability which can be dangerous with heavier weights. However, there are many ways to create simpler versions of benches including a flat, incline or upright bench.
Benches are generally around 40 to 45cm high and around 30cm wide. If you can plant your feet on the floor securely, that’s a great start. Lengthwise, 130cm is standard, but this does change depending on adjustable or non-adjustable types. You should aim to keep the edge of your bench just over your head.
Flat benches can be used for all manner of exercises. From hip thrusts to lying triceps extensions, presses to single-arm rows, they are super versatile. If unable to get your hands on one at home, depending on the exercise, you can use anything from a coffee table to a flat couch or bed. You should also keep in mind space requirements if using a bar and/or free weights like dumbbells.
Meanwhile, incline benches are a little harder to replicate. The key exercise here is a press and its variations (going straight up, targeting different muscles compared to upright bench versions or standing versions). Using a plank of wood and leveraging it against the floor and something higher (like a couch or chair) can recreate the same effect. You can also collect pillows and blankets, rest your back against it and move forward. Ensure that its stable before adding weights. Swap positions if attempting a decline variation.
Finally, an upright bench alternative, while not perfect for form, can be anything from a straight-backed wooden chair to a stool next to a pole or wall. Upright exercise variations also include presses but are also useful for skull-crushers and even curls. They’re just really good for correcting form overall, as you need to think about it less.
Snap-locks are, as you would expect, locks that snap onto bars. Sometimes called collars or lock jaws, they can be made of metal or plastic and are mostly just meant to keep the plates on the bar. Some use springs and others use rubber clamps to make this happen. They really don’t need to be fancy. But they do need to be there, simply for safety. While our bundles will automatically come with snap-locks, if you’re looking for a home alternative, then you don’t need to look any further than your toolbox: a good ole clamp.
It's not particularly innovative, but it doesn’t need to be. For small plates, from 5kg to 15kg, simple small clamps would be fine. However, as you start adding more and more, we would recommend going commercial. Furthermore, you should also keep in mind the size of the barbell, as well as a rubber casing to protect the metal.
Olympic barbell sleeves have a diameter of 28mm while standard bars have diameters of 25mm. Of course, other bars can range from 32mm to 25mm overall, so be sure to check your specifications.
Pull-up bars are a classic for arm and core exercises. From pull-ups, chin-ups, muscle-ups, L-sits, knee raises and even, for the hardcore Hollywood actors, the upside-down sit-ups. They’re effective for building muscle using your own body weight, and automatically come with most squat racks and power racks. However, assuming you either lack space or want to get the same results without getting these hugely expensive items, there are plenty of other ways of going about it.
For one, you can head to the park and make use of the bars there. Whether it’s meant to be for gym purposes, goal posts or simply for play in a playground, don’t underestimate how much you can do with them.
For another, you can also go natural and leverage a bar between two large tree trunks. It’s not nearly as safe as monkey bars or other industrial alternatives, but it will tighten your grip and add tension to remain stable, as the bar will likely move.
There is also the option of “door gyms”. These are multi-grip bars made to leverage your door frame and can hold up to around 100kg of weight. They’re relatively inexpensive – at the expense of safety. Trust me. I have personal experience in falling off one. Not my go-to, if anything.
Some things not to try are curtain hangers, doors, or pipes. Pull-ups can get dangerous very quickly if you overestimate the bar or yourself, so if you intend to make pull-ups and its variations a constant in your workout, we recommend finding a more permanent solution.
Bumper plates are a staple at any gym. They can be used as large colourful free weights and added together to make world records. Plates generally will come in 5kg, 10kg, 15kg, 20kg and 25kg. You will have to double up on 25kg plates to keep adding weight. This is to balance out weight distribution and maintain the bar’s integrity. Plates can also differ in thickness: the Rug and Rig Fitness 5kg bumper plate is 24mm and the 25kg is 97mm. Meanwhile, other brands may decide to keep all plates the same thickness. Ergo, the 5kg bumper plate and 25kg bumper plate are 97mm each.
Another thing to watch out for is if your bar is Olympic or standard. Scroll back up to the snap-lock section for the specifications. Bars can come in many materials, sizes and shapes, so it’s important to know which one yours is – even if you have used certain gear for a long time. Your ability to customise and add to your home-gym will depend on how well you know your equipment.
When thinking to add weight to your bumper plate, there’s a lot to consider. This includes durability, size, weight and weight distribution. A common substitute is cement, wherein people design and create their own weights through cement. This would have a hole through the middle, allowing for a bar, and could come in square or circular blocks, depending on what you have on hand.
However, for your average beginner, this is probably not a viable solution. Instead, tyres are a more accessible solution. On average, tyres can weight from 2.5kg (lawn mower tyres) to 450kg (large tractor tyres). A standard passenger vehicle tyre sits just over 10kg but can vary. Please note that these weights are just for the rubber, and not for the rim. The rim is usually lighter than the tyre rubber.
Note, you don’t necessarily have to use tyres as bumper plates. You can also consider adding tyre flips to your workouts – not to mention using tyres as free weights, or as a stabiliser.
Kettlebells are essentially just handles with weight. Made traditionally of iron, they can go up to almost 100kg. Naturally, you would need to be quite experienced to handle that. In getting to exercise, you’d expect to use 6kg to 20kg, depending on the exercise performed and your ability – weights far more manageable to create from home.
Kettlebells only really have two or three unique exercises that can only be performed with them. Kettlebell variants might target different areas of the body, but they aren’t nearly as effective in terms of both value and muscle growth. However, compared to building your own dumbbells, they’re certainly much easier to create from home.
Since you essentially only need two main things – weight and a handle – there are a few different ways to go about it. You can throw sand into a plastic bag and get exercising from there. For reference, sandbags used for creating sandbag walls against floods will usually weigh anywhere from 15 to 20kg, so you can customise how much you are looking to throw in your kettlebell swings and squats. If sand isn’t easily accessible, you can also try other small but heavy household objects but do be careful not to crush fragile things through sheer force!
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