Is it starting to feel as if your muscles are outgrowing your weight routine? When the coronavirus pandemic hit, consumers scrambled to buy more than just disinfectant and paper products. Fitness staples for home gyms such as dumbbells — especially heavier ones — were a popular purchase, too.

If you’ve been browsing the web for free weights, chances are you’ve noticed that they’ve become pricey due to high demand. But don’t let online scarcity and price hikes derail your fitness goals or prevent you from progressing to the next level of strength building. Instead, try the following alternative muscle-molding methods to maximize your efforts.

Rev up your reps

A common concern with weight training is knowing when to graduate to the next level of heaviness, or how to keep muscles guessing. If you’ve been performing the same exercises each day since lockdowns started in March, it’s time to switch it up.

One easy, effective way to power up your pump, without paying premium prices for new equipment, is to perform more reps with each set. By doing this, you work your muscle to fatigue. The goal with this technique is for the last two reps to feel incredibly challenging without compromising proper form. Because you’ll be doing more reps than normal, lighter weights are ideal for avoiding over-stressing your joints.

During your next workout, set your stopwatch for 60 seconds, and see how many reps you can complete. Aim for two sets in total. And as always, maintain proper form to prevent injury.

Another simple solution to ramp up your reps is slowing your speed during the lowering phase of an exercise. This causes the muscle to work harder with the extra resistance from gravity. For example, when performing a biceps curl, pull the weight up at normal speed then move at half speed as you gradually lower your arm. When doing this method, stick with a set number of repetitions rather than setting a stopwatch.

Buff up your body weight work

Although free weights help boost muscle definition, they aren’t the only show in town. Working with your body weight can seem simple at first, but when you consider the control and power required to safely move through your day as you bend, lift, push, pull, and twist, it makes sense to amp up the muscles responsible for these daily tasks.

If you’ve been practicing popular body weight exercises such as squats, lunges, planks, and push-ups, take them to the next level with a resistance band set that provides several weight options. If possible, purchase one system that’s a loop and one that has handles. These can easily be purchased online for less than $30, or less at such discount retailers as Marshalls or T.J. Maxx. Try these resistance band-based exercises:

Squats

  • Squat 1: Position a loop band above your knees and keep it in place as you perform your desired number of squats. Keep your stance hip-width apart throughout the movement to ensure that your muscles are consistently working against resistance.
Resistance band squat
Courtesy of Ashley Greenblatt
Resistance band squat
  • Squat 2: With a longer band, stand at the center holding a handle in each hand at shoulder height. Hinge back at your hips to squat down, then simultaneously push through your heels to stand and extend your arms and the band up overhead.
Resistance band squat press
Courtesy of Ashley Greenblatt
Resistance band squat press

Planks

  • Using a longer band, position it behind your shoulder blades and hold each end with your hands. Be sure that the band is flush and firm against your back. Hold your plank for 30 seconds. As this becomes easy, increase the duration of your hold. And remember to keep good form with your spine straight, shoulders stacked over wrists, and neck neutral.
Resistance band plank
Courtesy of Ashley Greenblatt
Resistance band plank

Biceps curls

  • Start by standing on the middle of the resistance band with feet hip-width apart. Grab a handle in each hand and raise your forearms up toward your shoulders, then slowly return to the starting position with arms extended.
Resistance band biceps curl
Courtesy of Ashley Greenblatt
Resistance band biceps curl

Use household items

If you put on your gym goggles and glance around your home, you’ll quickly notice some household items that can double as dumbbells. A gallon of water, which weighs eight or nine pounds, or a bag of sugar weighing in at about five pounds, works well for exercises such as squats. Canned goods are ideal for exercises such as front or lateral arm raises. Getting creative with your workout helps save money and ward off the boredom that comes with the same monotonous circuit.

It’s important to note that if you plan on using home goods when exercising, proper form is still a must. Free weights are designed with a grip that helps safely balance resistance. When using things such as a jug of water, the handle is either puny or nonexistent. By holding heavy weights improperly, you run the risk of injuring sensitive spots such as your wrists, lower back, or knees. Be mindful when moving to prevent these easily avoidable problems.

Don’t let expensive exercise equipment weigh you down. You already have all you need to stay strong and fit.

Ashley Blake Greenblatt is a certified personal trainer and wellness coach in South Jersey. To learn more about her virtual training program, go to ashleyblakefitness.com.