by Robert Maxwell
If you’re serious about getting strong, there’s no getting around the fact that you should be picking up a barbell regularly. Barbell training is the best way of gaining strength, and no amount of excuses for skipping the gym will change that. If you’re someone who desires strength but refuses to train with weights regularly, I won’t waste words trying to convince you you’re wrong. Lack of results will do that. This post isn’t for the unmotivated. It’s for those into strength and familiar with resistance training, who, like all of us, occasionally find themselves without access to a gym. How should you keep up your training in this situation, especially if you’re accustomed to lifting heavy? All is not lost. Using everyday objects along with your own bodyweight, you can get a pretty decent training session in without any barbells, dumbbells, or weight plates. Here are 7 exercises you can do with stuff that’s probably lying around your home or hotel when a weight set isn’t.
You don’t have to use a suitcase, but if you’re traveling it might be the handiest heavy object around, as long as it’s full. Get on your hands and knees, then have a friend slide the suitcase onto your back, keeping it horizontal so it won’t fall off. Getting the suitcase in position yourself is really hard. Then get yourself into the pushup position. Do the pushups in a slow, controlled way so the suitcase doesn’t move around. You can add more or less weight to the suitcase depending on your strength and desired rep range. Make sure you stretch first, and warm up with some regular bodyweight pushups before loading on the heavy suitcase.
Once again, a suitcase is a handy object for training your biceps if you don’t have a barbell or dumbbells nearby. A loaded suitcase can be fairly heavy, which is exactly what you want if you’re strong. It also has a handle, which makes lifting it much more convenient and less awkward. Fill your case with enough stuff that curling it for 10 reps or so gives you a good pump. Keep the form strict and slow, making your biceps work as hard as possible. You’ll only be able to do one arm at a time, so make sure you hit both arms equally, even if one is weaker.
Stair Incline Pushups
Similar to regular pushups, these are a great substitute for incline bench press, a variation of regular bench designed to strengthen your chest and shoulders equally. Set up this exercise by placing your hands on the second or third stair from the bottom. Do the pushups as normal, going as deep as you can and making sure your back remains straight throughout the movement. You can also balance a suitcase or another heavy object on your back, though keeping it on will be harder since you body is on an incline.
It’s not usually too hard to find a big, heavy book. Encyclopedias, illustrated hardcover guidebooks, or even a big city phonebook will do. The idea is to find something fairly heavy, yet small enough to conveniently hold on your chest for added-weight crunches. If you do resistance training regularly, bodyweight crunches probably aren’t enough to hit your abdominals fully. That’s where adding weight can help. Your abs and spinal erectors don’t care if that weight is a couple 10 pound plates, or a heavy book or two.
Chair Lateral Raises
Most trainees, even exceptionally strong ones, can’t handle a huge amount of weight when doing lateral raises. Since this movement isolates the relatively small deltoid muscles, loading up super heavy dumbbells usually means either reaching failure early or finishing the set with poor form. Since fairly light weights are all most guys need to do challenging sets of lateral raises, chairs are a perfect dumbbell substitute. Find a pair of dining room chairs that you can comfortably grab from the top. Position yourself between them, with the backs of the chairs facing in towards your body, opposite each other. Raise both chairs in a smooth, controlled motion, making sure they don’t start swinging out of control.
Bent-over rows are yet another movement for which suitcases make an excellent barbell substitute. Most cases have a handle on both the top and side, and it’s the side handle you’ll be using for this exercise. Once again, fill the case until it’s heavy enough to challenge your lats. Do the bent-over rows one arm at a time, keeping your form smooth and controlled. Try to hold the case for a second at the top of the movement with your lats contracted. This will increase tension on the muscle, giving you more bang for your workout buck.
As I’ve written many times before, the barbell back squat is the king of exercises. Chances are if you’re used to heavy squats, switching to bodyweight when you’re away from the gym won’t cut it. That’s where having another person around can help. A particularly patient and accommodating person that isn’t light as a feather. When you find this person, have them climb on your back, piggyback style, and start squatting. Accidents are a definite possibility here, so make sure you don’t lose your balance and drop your human barbell. If you think this might happen, cover the area in pillows before you start.