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What can I do to get in shape and gain muscle if I don't have a Gym Membership?

June 5th, 2003

What can I do if I want to get in shape and gain muscle but I don’t have a gym membership?

Sarah N.
Boston, Mass.

This is a common situation for a lot of people. Gym memberships can
expensive and you usually need some means of transportation to get there. So if you are in a situation where at the present time you can’t afford a gym membership, you don’t have a way of getting there, you live too far away from a gym, or don’t “make” the time to get to the gym, here are some suggestions for you.

Keep these questions in mind. Do you need a treadmill to run? Do you need a stair-stepper to climb stairs? Do you need a stationary bike with a TV in front of you to cycle? Do you need a stretching room to stretch your muscles? Do you need a special machine to do pull-ups or sit-ups? Do you need dumbbells to curl weight? Do you need barbells or machines to move weight?

I grew up on a farm, where I had access to countless muscle-producing tools, although I didn’t realize until I became a bodybuilder. Now when I go back to the farm, I take the opportunity to shrug buckets full of dirt or water, jog outside in the fresh air, and do pull-ups from a tree limbs.

Here are some exercises you can do for different muscle groups outside of a gym. They can be done at home, at a park, or anywhere that you have access to some of these “tools.”

Cardio is something you can ALWAYS do for free and do anywhere. Running, jumping, walking, are things you can do in nearly every situation. Biking, swimming, and climbing stairs, are great cardio exercises that are also pretty easy to come by.

First of all if you want to warm-up, just go for a jog, climb some stairs, or even a bike ride. Stretch out your muscles and decide what you want to do in your workout.

Back—Pull-ups are a great exercise for the back. All you need is something to grab onto to pull yourself up, a sturdy pipe, a tree limb, or even a structure at the park. Variations can be included as well, close-grip, wide-grip, partial reps, etc. You can perform bent-over rows with buckets full of sand, dirt, gravel, or water. Use them like dumbbells. You can do deadlifts the same way. Find heavy objects that are not too awkward to pick up and perform your exercise. One-arm dumbbell rows can be done kneeling on a park bench using a heavy bucket, or other device with a handle on it.

Chest—Push-up variations are something that can be done easily, close, wide, one-arm, super-sets and drop-sets included as well. Dips aren’t too hard to come by outside of the gym either. Find a structure at home, at the park, on the farm, downtown, that you can grip and lower yourself, and push yourself back up. You can do flys with gallon jugs filled with water. Lie on a bench and perform the fly movement you would if you had dumbbells. Other objects can be substituted for the gallon jugs, whatever you can find that is heavy enough to get the job done.

Shoulders—Shrugs are one of the easiest things to do. Find heavy objects, my favorites are large buckets filled with something dense, and use them for shoulder shrugs. Lateral and front raises can be done with the gallon jug filled with water, or even buckets, just vary the weight. Shoulder presses can be done with a heavy piece of wood, heavy box, an old car tire, or anything of the sort, be creative.

Arms—Bicep curls with heavy buckets, wood, gallon jugs, pipes, or even random items like a vacuum, bicycle, wooden chair work just fine. You could even find a rope and tie a heavy object at the end and use it for biceps and many other muscle groups. Find objects to curl with one arm and two arms. Select a grip to perform concentration curls, hammer curls, and supinated bicep curls. Triceps kickbacks can be performed with the filled gallon jug, or even a heavy tool or wood or metal object. Overhead extensions can be done with the same items. Dips for triceps can be done as well. Just change your grip and position to take the stress off the chest and direct it to the back of the arms.

Abs—Hanging leg raises are probably the best exercise you can do for abs. Hang from a tree, steel bar, pipe, or wooden ledge and perform this exercise. Sit-ups on the floor, in the grass, or any other soft surface can easily be done anywhere. I have even done them on the side of the freeway on long road trips. There are countless variations of sit-ups so this is a muscle group that can really be targeted anywhere.

Legs—Free squats without weights can be done as well as with weight. Lift up an object and place it over your shoulders. Perform squats just like you would in the gym. In this case you won’t be able to go as heavy as you could in the gym, unless you build a devise to rack the weight on to allow you to walk under it to get started. Lunges can be done with the heavy object over your shoulders as well, or with weight in your hands. Buckets would probably be too tall and hit the ground when you lunge, but filled gallon or 2-gallon jugs would be fine. Supersets, and rest-pauses can be implemented to get a burn since the weight won’t be as heavy. Calf raises can be done on stairs, one or two legs at a time. You can add weight to this exercise by using your weighted bucket, gallon jug, or other object you find at home that has significant weight to it.

Keep in mind that these are just a few exercises that I came up with. You can also take these exercises and apply them with different strategies using drop-sets, supersets, rest-pauses, partial-reps, isolated movements, High Intensity Training, and other training principles. Use your creativity to find objects around the house, at your workplace, or in the park to build your physique and achieve your fitness goals. Remember that nutrition is more than half the battle, so refer to some of our nutrition pages for guidance for the most important part of the equation.

Good luck, invent some new exercises, and build your body, no matter where you live or what your situation is.

Big Rob