I've been making myself a very basic exercise routing that consists of biking and push-ups, sometimes running. I know it's very little but keep in mind I'm trying to gain weight but gain arm strength and muscles.

The question is pretty straightforward. How can I improvise some weights for lifting without purchasing expensive materials or going to the gym? Keep in mind that there's a reason I can't go to the gym or buying expensive materials, and I think the reason is pretty fair.

I should also probably mention I can lift about 7-9 kilograms in one hand.

2 Answers 2


Do you have a pull-up bar or access to one (ie. in a park or a playground; you can hang off most things)? If not, you can invest in one of those doorframe pull-up bars - they cost about 20-30 dollars usually, which is not prohibitively expensive. If you do decide to head out to a playground, look for a place where you can do dips (you'll need two parallel bars at shoulder width and hip-height, approximately).

The reason I suggest these is that you need to do these "hard", compound exercises if you want to gain muscle; push-ups will only get you so far (and that's not very far indeed). It is also relatively easy to progressively load them further if required - you can use a backpack and fill it with weight. These two exercises will work most of your upper-body and require minimal equipment. If you are concerned your abs aren't getting worked out, you can also invest in an ab-wheel, which costs about 10-20 bucks usually and is also a very good tool.

For bodyweight exercises in general, the way to make the exercise more challenging is to decrease the leverage you have - eg. for pushups you can raise your legs on something, which'll stress your shoulders some more (and in general, you'll be lifting a higher weight) or you can try to push your arms more forward (ie. don't keep them bellow your shoulders but further up towards - or even beyond - your head), this will work your abs and lower back muscles more and is harder.

Still, to answer your actual question, if you are determined to "make" your own weights, the best solution is probably bags filled with sand. Take some of those small bags which you use to pack stuff in the fridge, fill them with eg. 1 kg of sand (don't forget to double or triple wrap them, they can break and sand everywhere is not comfortable). You can then put as many as you need in a backpack or a bigger bag/container and easily calibrate the weight you need. Note that it's actually non-trivial to figure out how to add weight to bodyweight exercises (and doing something intended for dumbbells with homemade weights, you'll outgrow fairly quickly). If at all possible, I would try to assure access to at least a pull-up bar and exercise with it.

  • 1
    BTW, a sports bag filled with sand is good for some crazy interval training: just put it on your shoulder and run up a hill as fast as possible, then jog/walk back down, and repeat. Don't do this if unprepared, though, it can be pretty brutal.
    – VPeric
    Feb 1, 2012 at 9:42
  • Thanks for the answer. I have that sort of bar in my yard, that reaches aprox to the top of my head. Is that good?
    – Bugster
    Feb 1, 2012 at 18:58
  • @ThePlan As long as you can hang off it without your legs touching the ground (bend your knees), it's good enough. Ideally, the bar will be just a bit higher than you so you can stretch completely when hanging, but it's not really important.
    – VPeric
    Feb 2, 2012 at 8:51

A few suggestions:

  • Look into prison workouts; basically, workouts which can be done without any equipment at all. This includes exercises like burpees, planks, chest lifts, all sorts of wanky situps & pushups, and others.

  • Get a big sack of rice (flour also works, but its a lot messier) and haul it around. If you put straps on it you can treat it like a poor man's kettlebell.

  • As @vperic said, invest in a chin-up bar. Consider also other inexpensive equipment, like a roller wheel, a jump rope, resistance bands, etc. Learn how to use them well.

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