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No strength training equipment? No problem!

By Jackie Miller | April 07, 2020, 1:19 p.m. (ET)

workout on the couch

When 2020 started, the race season looked bright. A fresh start and a new season to chase those PRs. A time to meet with friends for swimming, biking and running on the weekends. Hitting the gym for a good lifting session wasn’t given a second thought.

Now, here we are, just over three months into the year and we are experiencing things we never could have imagined. Working from home. Home schooling our kids. Social distancing. Stores limiting the number of people they allow in at once. FACE MASKS! The inability to find everyday household items, that we took for granted before.

However, because we are athletes, we know how to keep moving forward and how to always find the positive in any situation handed to us. I always tell my athletes, those races that we consider “failures,” the ones we didn’t get the results we were planning on, the races that just flat out, “sucked,” sometimes turn out to be the very BEST races.

Those sucky races are the ones that we learn the most from. The ones we walk away from learning how strong we are to have kept moving forward to the finish line. The ones we learned a little more about our mental fortitude. The ones that we walked away from, a little more educated about the things we will and will not do at future races. 

What we are experiencing right now, is kind of like that “bad race.”

We are learning so many things. How strong we are. How much our training partners and friends mean to us. We are learning gratitude and appreciation for the simple things, such as meeting a friend for a bike ride ... or not worrying if you are using four squares or a whole handful of toilet paper when you go to the bathroom!

We are going to come out stronger on the other side. We will. Once we finally get to race, it is going to be one heck of a party for all of us! 

In the meantime, we are all trying to find new things to do at home to keep our training in check. If you weren’t one of the lucky ones to have gotten to your local Wal-Mart or Target to stock up on home exercise equipment before the pandemic started, I am here to give you some ideas for everyday household items you can use for strength training!

If you don’t already have these items at home, they most certainly can be picked up at your local grocery store! (If they are in stock, that is!)

Large jugs of laundry detergent

  • Squats, lunges, squat to press, shoulder press, step ups, Bulgarians, back Row, chest fly/press

Bucket filled with books, bricks, etc. 

  • Squats, lunges, “Kettlebell” swings, wood choppers, step ups

Backpack filled with books or bricks

  • Squats, lunges, step ups to a coffee table or bench, Bulgarians

Large duffle bag filled with clothing, books, bricks

  • Front squats, overhead squats, chest press, squat to press

Step stool

  • Step ups, Bulgarians, Tricep dips, glute bridge/raise

Coffee table/flat bench

  • Chest press/fly, bent over back fly, back row, step ups, box jumps, glute bridge/raise (single or doubles,) decline pushups

Bag of sand, soil, kitty litter

  • Squats, Lunges, Squat to Press, Chest Press 

Large Bags of Rice

  • Bicep Curls, Triceps Kickbacks, Shoulder Press, Shoulder Raise, Shoulder Upright Rows, Rotator Cuff Rotation, Get on all fours, and place behind the knee for fire hydrants/leg raise

Large Cans of Soup

  • Bicep Curls, Triceps Kickbacks, Shoulder and Rotator Cuff exercises

Laundry Basket Filled with Clothes

  • Squat down/ pick ups


  • Squat holds, “Plank Wall Walk” (plank position with feet on the wall, then walk your feet up the wall, then down the wall.)

Basketball, Soccer Ball, Playground Ball

  • Oblique rotations, chest throws (lay on your back on the floor and down toss the ball up and catch it), uneven pushups, triceps pushups

Paper Plates

  • Lateral lunge slides, ab rollout/slides, swimmer circles(lay on stomach, place each hand on a paper plate and make large circles in one direction, then the next direction), mountain climber slides (place one foot on each paper plate, bring feet in one at a time in mountain climber form), opposite knee to elbow (on all fours, slide right foot to left elbow, etc.)

Long Rope

  • Swing it over a sturdy tree branch. Tie a knot in both ends of rope to do things such as chest press, back rows, etc. Tie a loop in either end, and use if for suspended lunges, knee tucks, pikes, etc. Think TRX suspension trainers!

Bicycle Pump

  • Triceps Press

Couch Cushions

  • Makeshift balance cushio — think BOSU ball! 

Jackie Miller has been a USA Triathlon Certified Coach for the past 13 years and has coached with QT2 Systems since 2012. She served on the USA Triathlon Board for five years, which included teaching continuing education courses in the Florida Region. In addition to coaching, Jackie has taught group fitness and personal training since 2005. She is a former school teacher and Registered Nurse. She lives in Sarasota, Florida, with her husband and three college and high school aged children. 

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.