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Dumbbells Are Shockingly Scarce Right Now — Here’s What to Lift Instead

Get a little creative, and you’ll find surprising substitutes all over the house.


If you’ve shopped for weights online lately, you may have noticed a distinct shortage. As the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent quarantine shut down gyms across the country, interest in home fitness skyrocketed, and people started snapping up resistance training equipment like it’s toilet paper. Now, what is still out there is often extortion priced.

But before you go spending $800 on a pair of Bowflex adjustable dumbbells, consider the fact that just as there are loads of kettlebell alternatives around your house, there are lots of items that can double as dumbbells, too. What follows are the best suggestions we’ve procured from fitness experts, Instagram influencers and other exercise enthusiasts.

As we continue to ride this unprecedented situation out, may it comfort you to know this list starts and ends with booze.

Wine Bottle

“For light weights, use canned goods, sauces or water bottles,” says personal trainer Ashley Rademacher, who runs the lifestyle blog Swift. “If you need a heavier weight, try using a wine bottle.” For the record, a full wine bottle weighs around three pounds, but the awkward shape adds to the challenge, and you can always upgrade to a whole case for curls. 

Punto Final Malbec: $13+

Water Bottle

“I have been substituting dumbbells with water bottles filled with water, stones or sand for different weights,” says Rob Jackson of Minimal FiT, who has been training his UK clients over video chat. “Smaller half-liter bottles are great for weighted sit-ups, lat raises and shoulder presses. Larger five-liter bottles can be used for squat presses, squats, lunges and more.”

3 Gallon Water Bottle: $15

Reusable Grocery Bags

“Fill your reusable grocery bags with canned food or books,” says certified trainer and instructor Pam Sherman, creator of the healthy mind and body site The Perfect Balance. “You can do curls, shoulder press, one-arm rows… really any exercise.”

Earthwise Insulated Grocery Bag: $12/2

Arizona Iced Tea Gallon

“I’m not a fitness trainer or pro, just a guy that likes to work out,” says Michael Zucconi, an account manager at Bam Communications, whose honesty and forthcoming ingenuity we applaud. “A gallon of Arizona Iced Tea weighs almost ten pounds, and what’s great is that it has a handle that is easy to hold and use as a dumbbell! You can change your grip for multi-purpose weight.”  

Arizona Iced Tea Gallon: $3

Detergent Jugs

“For overhead lifts, you need your weighted container to be sealed so that nothing will fall out or spill,” notes Jim Frith, founder of TopFitPros and End the Yo-Yo; the EAMAYW® System. “Laundry detergent bottles are a good example. Having two containers of the same size is especially valuable, because then you can do exercises that would require two dumbbells.”

Arm & Hammer Detergent, 75 Loads: $8


“One can use a loaded backpack to replace dumbbell rows,” says Robert Herbst, a world champion powerlifter and personal trainer. “With the advantage that it may swing so you will get some stabilizing work.”

Eastsport Mesh Backpack: $6


We learned this fitness hack from coach, pullup expert and three-time American Ninja Warror Angela Gargano. She created a seven-move pan workout that will challenge you more than you could ever imagine. If you don’t break a sweat (unlikely), you can always switch to cast-iron.

T-fal 10.25-inch Non-stick Fry Pan: $15

Six-Pack of Beer

“In terms of household items that can substitute for weights, I like the common six pack,” says Andrew Lee, a Road Runners Club of America certified running coach. “The handle allows you to use it as a weight.” Lee has even posted a video demonstrating a step-up and overhead press with one… and can you think of a better reward after a tough workout?

Ballast Point Sculpin IPA: $17

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