If you want to build muscle and lose fat, you’ll have to exercise with heavy resistance. But it isn’t always easy to get to the gym. So, what’s a good dumbbell substitute at home? We look at some home barbell alternatives and list the eight options we think are best.
Dumbbells vs Barbells
First things first. If you’re looking for a home dumbbell alternative, you might first consider dropping the dumbbell concept and searching for a single heavy object instead.
Nearly any strength training exercise worth doing with two hands is better done with both hands.
Performing a bicep curl, for example, with one weight in each hand, triggers neural inhibition. Your body knows it’s about to lift a heavy object without the balanced support of both hands, preventing full muscle engagement. Do the same bicep curl with a barbell, and more muscle fibers are recruited, allowing you to lift a heavier load.1
Functionally, lifting heavy objects with both hands makes more sense. In the real world, you simply wouldn’t move a boulder with just one arm.
What to Consider
If you’re looking for the best home substitutes for dumbbells, a single heavy object will do. The best home barbell alternatives aren’t just heavy; they have the following properties:
Even weight distribution
If you’re strength training at home, you’ll want to select a heavy object that evenly distributes the weight throughout. Sure, you can pick up a wheelbarrow or a chair, but you’ll find it awkward (meaning unsafe) as the weight will shift depending on where you grab the object and how you balance it between both hands.
You might have access to heavy objects with uneven or slippery surfaces that prevent you from getting a good grip. For some exercises, this may not matter. You can hug nearly anything to your chest and safely perform a squat. For other movements, you’ll want to ensure that the object won’t slip from your hands.
Safe to drop
This brings us to one more consideration, is your home barbell alternative safe to drop? Consider what may happen if you lose your grip or fail to complete a lift. Not only is your safety at stake, but you might not want to drop that full can of paint on your living room floor.
The 8 Best Home Barbell Alternatives
Here’s what made our list of the best home dumbbell alternatives. And yes, they’re listed here in order from better to best.
- Plastic 1-Gallon Jug
Perhaps the most common home dumbbell substitute is the regular old plastic milk jug. Fill it with water, and you’ll have approximately 9 pounds of weight to play with. Fill it with sand, and you might get 12 pounds.
- Case of Beer
A case of 24 beer, soda, or water bottles weighs between 36-42 pounds. This, of course, is if the bottles are glass. So, be sure the case is secure, and so is your grip. A 24-pack of cans may be safer to lift but will weigh in at just 10 pounds.
- Paint Cans
Paint cans are often the heaviest object most people have lying around the house. A typical metal can of paint might weigh anywhere from 6-12 pounds. A 5-gallon bucket, on the other hand, can be as heavy as 40-60 pounds.
- Sand Bags
A typical sandbag used for construction weighs between 30-40 pounds. You might also have access to a 30-40 pound bag of dog food. You can hold large objects such as these or load them on your shoulders for squats, but they may be difficult to grab for curls, deadlifts, or a bent-over row.
- Large Landscape Rocks
A rock the size of a basketball typically weighs in at 40 pounds. Go bigger, and your rock will be heavier. Beware of rough edges and, of course, what you might find underneath.
- Metal Chains
Weight lifting chains are made from a variety of materials and come in different lengths. Most weigh between 10-50 pounds each. Chains can be a space-saving alternative to barbells, although there’s little you can do with a chain on its own.
- Resistance Bands
Resistance bands are similar to chains, but as a stand-alone barbell alternative, they offer more workout options. You can anchor resistance bands to the floor, wall, door, or your own body for various strengthening exercises.
The strongest bands can offer up to 600 pounds of resistance, but to use them safely, you’ll need a resistance band strength training system such as the X3 home gym.
- Home Gym Systems
There are home gym systems based on good old-fashioned free weights, cable-based resistance, digital weights, and elastic bands. But the best among them is the X3 bar system. This at-home barbell-based system lets you strength train like a professional athlete without the need to store a full rack of free weights.
The stabilizing ground plate and familiar barbell allow you to use the world’s strongest resistance bands without compromising your grip, stance, or wrist and ankle joints.
X3 bar allows you to perform the same muscle-building lifts you would do at the gym but with even greater impact. By training with variable resistance, you have access to up to seven times more strength than when training with weights alone.2
Plus, the X3 bar system is far less messy than lifting garden rocks, and will let you break into that 24-pack, versus saving it for your workout.
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