Don’t want to spring for kettlebells? Here are some household items you can use instead, along with the potential benefits and drawbacks of each.
1. Weighted backpacks
Kettlebells are super convenient for loaded carries, and so are weighted backpacks! You can load them with books, bricks, water bottles. Rucking with a heavy pack is great exercise.
One benefit the backpack has over the kettlebell is that it doesn’t require you to hold the weight in your hands while walking.
This allows you to cover much greater distances without the grip being the limiting factor. Plus, you don’t look as weird walking down a crowded street.
Weighted planks could also work, but the contents shifting around might be a little fussy to set up.
Outside of the obvious use case, one can also squat and lunge while bear-hugging the backpack.
I wouldn’t recommend pressing the bag overhead. Zippers are weak and you don’t want the contents of the bag to fall onto your head.
The same goes for swinging the backpack around. You don’t want your stuff to go flying out and crashing into someone or something.
Kettlebell-ception: if you happen to have kettlebells, you can combine them with weighted backpacks!
Because of the density, I recommend shifting the weight distribution to the top of the pack. Otherwise, the straps will drag on your shoulders and won’t be very comfortable.
I achieve this by filling the bottom half of the bag with clothes first.
Then I wrap the kettlebell in a clothing item to pad it, and set it at the top of the bag before zipping up.
(During the hard lockdown of 2020, I stayed with my family on a small wine farm. Rucking up and down the mountains and vineyards with my kettlebell loaded pack was my favourite exercise!)
2. Milk cartons
Milk cartons can be filled with water and used to perform basic exercises. Carries, curls, presses, lateral raises, rows, split squats and single leg deadlifts are all viable options.
You can adjust the weight by adding or removing water.
Because of the liquid, the weight will be somewhat unstable. This is not a bad thing as your body will be forced to work harder to stabilize.
Because the weight isn’t too heavy here, this is both manageable and in your favor.
Milk cartons, along with weighted backpacks, are probably the most versatile items on this list.
A tea kettle could potentially replace the function of a kettlebell for kettlebell swings.
Filling it with water would be a bad idea, but a sealed bag of sand, beans or lentils could serve as additional load.
4. Jerry cans
You can get a fair amount of water into a jerry can – close to 20 liters worth!
Similar to the milk carton, the water will slosh around and be unstable. This will force the muscles to do more work.
Depending on how much you fill it with, you are looking at a similar set of movement options. Carries, curls, presses, lateral raises, rows, split squats and single leg deadlifts are all safe bets.
5. Luggage bags
You can load these up real heavy!
If you aren’t too fussed about scuffing the exterior, one possible use for luggage bags could be to tie a length of rope to it. You can then use a carpeted or grassy area to drag or pull the bag towards you.
6. Paint buckets
Paint buckets are another tool that can be used for exercise. One option here is to fill the cans with concrete and wait for them to set. Now they have some additional weight.
A toolbox can be loaded up with heavy metal implements for carrying and lifting. Things to watch out for here: make sure the toolbox is locked so that it can’t slide open, and beware of sharp edges.
One risk here is that the shifting tools could potentially get chipped or damaged. Hammers and screwdrivers are a better choice than chisels and coping saws, for instance.
Benefits of using kettlebell alternatives
You save money
If you already have these items lying around the house, you don’t have to pony up for any equipment!
You can change the weight easier
All of the suggestions above can be adjusted in weight by adding or removing contents.
Drawbacks of using kettlebell alternatives
It can be more dangerous
The build quality of the implements you use is important. Some examples of potential hazards:
- The straps or zippers on a cheap backpack could rip loose.
- The lids on the milk cartons or jerry cans could come loose and water can spill. This is probably more annoying than dangerous in most cases, but there could be a slipping or electrical hazard.
- The kettle handle could break, sending your kettle flying!
- The unwieldy size of a heavily loaded luggage back could get dropped on your foot.
- The handle of the paint bucket could break.
- The toolbox can have sharp edges, and dangerous tools could fall out while you exercise.
The main issue you are going to have with all the above items is that for some people, the weight just isn’t heavy enough to cause a training effect.
Home gym equipment like kettlebells exist because they solve a problem that isn’t easily solved by household items.
The above items can be a great jump-off point, but once you’ve progressed past a very beginner stage you’re going to be forced to seek out heavier implements in order to continue making progress.
I’ve been in the fitness and strength training industry for nearly a decade. In that time, I’ve gained 30 pounds of muscle, written hundreds of articles, and reviewed dozens of fitness supplements. As for my educational background, I’m a currently studying for my Active IQ Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training.