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Getting Creative With Training - Doing More with Less

Stew smith

When Lack of Equipment and Facilities
Require Creative Ideas 

Whether you are on travel, the gym or pool is closed, or just want some inexpensive ideas to build your home gym as versatile as possible, there are many ways to make your exercises match up with your programming needs.  Often training programs will require weights, pullup / dips bars, back packs, and a place to swim depending on your goals. Here are some ideas for you when equipment is minimal, facilities and closed, but you still want to lift heavy, do pullups, or swim.  

Calisthenics - The good news here is typically all you need is a place to do them, however, some calisthenics require pullup bars or dip bars to do. You can build your own, buy your own, or make sure your run or bike cardio passes a playground with monkey bars or you may strike gold and find a track with pullup bars and dips bars to use. Here are some easy options to add to your home gym and use the pullup bar system as an exercise multiplier platform - add these fun accessories to the pullup bar:

- The TRX is nearly a full gym in a box and can add exercises like chest press, bicep curls, killer core movements, and hundreds of more options. If you do not feel like buying one, build your own with some tubular nylon straps. I have even used a swing set at a playground in place of my TRX as the suspension training system uses the pendulum concept to movements. Placing your feet in the swing set and  you can do suspended planks or atomic pushups. You can stand and hold the swing, lean back and do rows or bicep curls.  The more you lean the harder this exercise becomes. 

- Rubber Bands - These can help you with assisted pullups and dips if you struggle with them but also create resistance on your arms, legs, hips, and core as well. 

- The Pulley System is a fun addition to add weight to pulldowns and tricep pushdowns or extensions and many other movements as well depends how you set up the pulley system. 


Heavier Options - Moving from calisthenics to a heavier option of similar movements is not that difficult either.  My simply adding a back pack or weight vest, you can turn any calisthenics exercise into a weighted version.  Add a sandbag, a tire, a log, a chain and you are starting to create many heavy options to simulate bench press, squats, lunges, and dead lifts without a barbell. 

- Add a barbell - IF you can add a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells, these can go a long way to adding more variety to your training. You can do squats, dead lifts, Romanian dead lifts (hip hinges), presses, swings, and much much more with hand held weights that combined with a weight vest or back pack can really be a barbell replacement for the big three (squats, dead lift, bench press).

Check out these Home Gym Exercise Reviews from

Add a Weight Vest - Weight vest, plate carrier, or back packs can add weight to any movement and challenge the strongest people.

Check out these homemade versions of "weights" and even a homemade squat rack IF you have a sturdy pullup bar available:

Here is all you need: (plus a sturdy place to hang them)

- 2 x 4 ft pieces of chain (1/4" Type 304, Stainless Steel Chain)
- 2 x oval carabiners (304 Stainless Steel Carabiner Oval Screwlock Quick Link Lock Ring)
- 2 x 3/8" Clevis Slip Hooks


NOTE:  Depending on the pullup bar width, you may have to adjust the weight as we did in the picture, but if the pullup bars with a foot less wide the weight would fit perfect in between the structure (*until we added more weight). 

The Sand Baby 

We call these sand babies, because you have to take care of them and not drop them.  We make these with a $5 bag of play sand and some duct tape. Here is how you do it.

Take about 10 lbs. of sand out of a small hole in the top of the 50 lbs. sand bag. Now you have a 40lb sand bag that needs some compacting and securing.  Roll the top where the small hole is around itself and start duct taping it.  You may go through two rolls of duct tape until it is solid. In the end it should look like this:

These sand-babies are great for Push Presses, Chest Carry Lunges, Chest Carry Situps, Shoulder carry squats, and runs too. In fact, we use these to simulate log pt.  Check out the Sand Baby Murph Workout!!

5 Gallon Bucket / WaterJugs


These are classic military grade water jugs and standard hardware 5 gallon buckets that carry over 40 lbs of water or sand in them.  You can do all kind of carries and lifts with these devices.  Just add hills, stairs, and the farmerwalk exercise with two of these in your hands will work the lungs, legs, and grip strength. 

Pool Closed? - Find A Small Pool or a Dock with the Swim Bungee

I used the swim bungee in a back yard pool and it inexpensively turns a 20ft pool into an endless pool where I could swim for 30 minutes non-stop and not touch a wall constantly to turn around. You can also use it on a lake with a dock if you are not comfortable swimming across the lake for long distances. However, if you are comfortable with open water swimming, that is another option we did during pool closures as well.  I would not swim alone or without fins in open water personally - just for safety concerns.  Seriously, check out the swim bungee: 

More Swimming Replacement Options:  

Work Swim Muscles:  Work pulling motion with the arms overhead and pushing motion with arms below the shoulders.  Exercises like pullups, pulldowns, rows, and help with the pull and tricep extensions, dips, and tricep kickbacks can help with the push of the strokes.  Mix in some leg work too with side steps with bands around your knees to work hips / glutes, floor exercises with leg lifts to work hips and inner thighs for breaststroke / frog kicks. 

But you cannot neglect core work - Lots of hip work with flutterkicks on your back and on your stomach (swimmers) will help with freestyle kicks as well as scissor kicks.  Spend large amounts of time in the plank, side planks and unbalanced plank positions (lift arm off floor / lift leg off floor).  Add in the TRX or ab wheel for more full body extensions (TRX rollout / ab wheel rollouts), rotational movements, and more.  Find some dry land swim team training videos to get more ideas from as well on Youtube. 

If you have the means - consider a Vasa-Trainer. 

Some Specifics Exercises with Creative Solutions:


Squats - Wear a weight vest, back pack, and/or sandbag for increased weight when doing squats.  OR do more repetitions of just your body weight for a cycle until the gyms open again. 

Dead Lift - Flip a tire or grab some heavy weights (sandbags, KBs, DBs, weight vest) and work the hip hinge movement of the dead lift picking up the weighted object off the floor for reps. 

Bench Press - We use a foldable painters bench made by Gorilla Ladders and lifted dumbbells until we purchased a barbell.  But you can also do weight vest pushups, elevated pushups with a back pack to make pushups more like the bench press.  Or you can buy an actual bench press if you do not need to fold it up to store or for travel / other uses as well. 



Other Options and Programming With Minimal Equipment

One of my latest creations is called the Calisthenics and Cardio - No Equipment Needed Guide For Body Weight Exercisers and maybe a good option for people of all fitness levels to stay home or get outside and train. These other programs also offer minimal equipment (calisthenics) though some will have swimming that needs to be replaced. 


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