Dumbbells and barbells will never go out of style, but some of the most effective workout tools aren’t found in the gym. “Unsuspecting everyday items can challenge your muscles in new ways, maximizing your strength and enhancing your performance,” says David Jack, creator of Men’s Health 60-Day Transformation and owner of Activ8 Lab in Phoenix, Arizona. “Fitness equipment is everywhere. You just need to know where to look.”
Keep reading for a list of trainer’s favorite objects that can moonlight as fitness equipment—and the best ways you can incorporate them into your own routine.
1. SLOSH PIPE
This piece of equipment is a PVC pipe partly filled with water and capped on each end. It’s ungainly, but that’s the whole point.
“Since its contents are always sloshing around, your core muscles—and the many small stabilizing muscles throughout the rest of your body—have to constantly steady as it shifts,” says Jen Sinkler, a level 2 Russian Kettlebell Certified instructor, and creator of Lift Weights Faster. In fact, it’s so challenging that world-renowned strength coach Dan John referred to the slosh pipe as the “core workout from hell.”
Best Exercise: Overhead Squat
Using a wide grip that’s about twice shoulder-width apart, start with the slosh pipe resting behind your neck. Set you feet a hip-width apart and extend the pipe overhead until your arms are straight. Push your hips back and slowly lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Keep the slosh pipe extended overhead the entire time. Don’t let it fall forward. Pause, and then stand up. Perform 3 sets of 5 reps.
2. BROOM STICK
Your broom can be used for more than cleaning up Cheerio spills and sweeping out your garage. It can also improve your strength.
“A dowel—or the handle of a mop, broom, or rake—is a great tool for enhancing hip mobility,” says Jack. Unfortunately, when you sit for long periods of time throughout the day, your hips get tight, putting you at risk for injury, decreasing your range of motion, and preventing maximal recruitment of your muscles. Increasing your hip mobility with a dowel will allow you to perform big muscle-building staples—like the deadlift, and squat—properly.
Best Exercise: Lateral Step Over
Stand with your feet together. Grab a dowel in your right hand so it’s parallel to the floor and next to your right thigh. Keeping your right leg straight, lift it up and over the dowel. You should now be straddling the dowel with your legs straight. Next, pass the dowel to your left hand. Keeping your left leg straight, lift it up and over the dowel so your feet are now together and the dowel is next to your left thigh. Pause, and then reverse the movement, beginning with your left leg this time. Perform 10 reps in each direction.
The last time you sweat all over your pillow was probably during sex. “But you can use a pillow to perform quick, explosive movements that are similar to those you would perform with a medball—like chops and slams—without worrying about damaging the floor or the wall,” says BJ Gaddour, C.S.C.S., creator of Bodyweight Cardio BurnersDVD.
Sure, your pillow isn’t heavy. But it has a large, solid surface area, which creates wind resistance and increases the challenge of each move. Plus, it’s light weight allows you to perform a lot of fast-paced reps to ramp up your heart rate.
Best Exercise: Chop
Grab a pillow by the corners at the narrow end. Stand with your feet just beyond shoulder-width apart, and hold the pillow over your right shoulder with your arms straight. Bend your knees and forcefully rotate your torso left as you swing the pillow down and across your body. When your hands go past your left leg, pause. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat the movement again. Perform 15 reps on each side, and then rest 30 seconds. That’s 1 set. Do 3.
For a grueling cardio and strength workout, grab a heavy rope. “A big rope is more unwieldy than a rigid barbell or dumbbell, so it engages more stabilizing muscles to control it with each rep,” says Dan John, a strength coach in Salt Lake City, Utah, and author of Intervention. The extra effort makes your upper-body muscles burn and sends your heart rate through the roof, no matter what exercise you’re doing.
Best Exercise: Jump rope
Stand in front of the rope, holding the ends of it in your hands. Swing the rope overhead and jump over it as it reaches your feet. The rope doesn’t have to be huge, just slightly bigger than a standard jump rope. Jump for 30 seconds. That’s 1 set. Do 3.
Unless you’re practicing your pitching, you may not think of the softball as a workout implement. But Sam Stauffer, expert coach for Men’s Health Thrive, uses it as a foam roller.
Foam rolling helps to break up knotted muscle tissue. That’s important because tight spots can cause pain and stiffness that may sabotage your form and stop your muscles from functioning correctly, explains Stauffer. The softball’s size and shape allows you to massage muscles that are hard to hit with a traditional cylindrical foam roller. It’s also not as painful as a smaller, harder ball like a lacrosse ball or golf ball.
Best Exercise: Glute roll
Sit on the floor with your knees bent. Cross your left ankle over your right thigh so your legs form a triangle shape. Place the softball under your bottom of the outside of your left glute muscle. Shift your weight onto the ball to place pressure on the piriformis—a small muscle tucked deep inside your glute. Move your body over the ball so it rolls underneath the muscle. When it hits a pressure point, pause for 10 breaths, and then continue rolling. Switch sides after one to two minutes.