Easy DIY Gym: Stay Active with Common Household Items

You don't need a gym membership to enjoy strength training. Work up a sweat at home with items you may already have on hand.

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Living Room Gym Gettyimages 1294177821
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Bodyweight exercises are an obvious home workout choice; push-ups, sit-ups and jumping jacks don’t require any special equipment. Although these fitness staples are effective, they don’t yield the same kind of results as weightlifting. But how can you get the effects of strength training without access to a gym? With a little improvisation, it’s easy to make a DIY gym out of common household items. Here are a few ideas.

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Water Bottle Weights Gettyimages 1253237390
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Make Easy DIY Free Weights

You don’t need dumbbells to achieve the perfect bicep curl. DIY free weights are easy to make. If you have an empty gallon jug, fill it up with water and get lifting. Cat litter and laundry detergent will also do the trick. A gallon of water weighs just over eight pounds, and other pre-packaged items, such as this 20-pound container of Tidy Cats litter, will usually list their weights.

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Grocery Bag Workout Gettyimages 1294178778
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Use those Reusable Tote Bags

The free reusable bags that seem to come with every career fair or conference will finally come in handy. Fill them up with canned goods, water bottles, potatoes or books. Then sling one over each shoulder. You can squat, lunge and do calf raises while holding the bags this way. They’re one of the best tools for working out from home.

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Towel Exercise Bar Gettyimages 1294178091
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Use a Towel in Your DIY Gym

To get in some bilateral reps, use a towel to create a DIY barbell. This allows you to grip your weight with both hands. An old beach towel or dirty garage towel is preferable to fine embroidered linens.

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Package of a dozen water bottles
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No Handle? No Problem

When working out at a gym, you have access to all kinds of easy-to-hold items. However, lifting an unusually sized or shaped weight in your home gym will work on your coordination and grip strength more than kettlebells do. Opt for a large bag of dog food or a case of water bottles. Next time you pack for a move, the boxes won’t feel so awkward to carry.

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Woman perforing tricep dips on a couch
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Step-Up on a Sturdy Chair

Step-ups, tricep dips and other elevated exercises are typically performed with a special box or bench, but you don’t need fancy exercise equipment for these staple moves. You can perform the same motions with any stable platform. A sturdy chair or high step will do the trick. Or, if you’re feeling up to a bigger project, you could put together a multi-purpose box of your own with our small stool or large bench tutorials.

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Pull Up Bar
Teresa Odland

Build a Simple DIY Gym Staple

If you’re up for a little building project, this pull-up bar is a quick DIY. Gym rats will be happy to bang out a few reps between laundry loads, and it doubles as a clothes-drying line when not in use. Try underhand and overhand grips to work different muscle groups.

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Diy Exercise Pulley Gettyimages 500215515 (1)
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Set Up a Weighted Pulley System

A pulley system is most commonly installed to help hoist heavy items. It can also be used as a make-shift cable machine. Attach a five-gallon bucket to one end and some leftover pipe to another, and you have a DIY gym machine for your triceps and lats. Simply add or remove weight from the bucket as needed. Just be sure your pulley system can handle the amount of weight you want to add.

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Woman drawing an agility ladder with chalk
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Revive Hopscotch — With a Twist

In addition to being a fun children’s game, hopscotch can be a tiring high intensity interval training workout. You can go for the traditional sidewalk chalk shape or make a standard agility ladder out of rope, twine or masking or painter’s tape. The chalk-free options are better for indoor DIY gym setups.

Mikayla Borchert
Mikayla is an assistant editor for Family Handyman, specializing in indoor and outdoor gardening, organization and décor. She has one cat and holds a B.A. in English from the University of Minnesota. Outside of work, she likes running, skiing, hiking and tending her balcony garden.