No Barbells? You Can Do These Lifts in a Pinch

No barbells? There are still ways to get a good workout in

No barbells? There are still ways to get a good workout in. | Michael Regan/Getty Images

We’ve all found ourselves in a rather barren gym. You know the feeling — you’re traveling, or maybe just trying out a new fitness center, and the place is devoid of any and all heavy workout equipment. You want barbells; they have dumbbells. You need a squat rack; they have yoga mats.

It’s a drag, but you can still make do.

For those who want to get a serious workout in, there are still a number of ways you can get the reps and sets in, even without access to barbells. Dumbbells can be your new best friend, and even a handful of bodyweight exercises and machines can help you get the job done. Of course, nothing’s really going to substitute a squat rack or bench press, but there are exercises that will do in a pinch.

So, if you find yourself in a situation in which your exercise options are limited, fear not. Here is a short list of six lifts you can do, assuming you have access to dumbbells, that should keep you going until you can get back to the racks and barbells.

1. Dumbbell bench press

It doesn’t get much more simple than this. If you don’t have access to barbells or a bench press, simply swapping the barbell for dumbbells and finding a standard gym bench (or coffee table, whatever) will suffice. This will allow you to do some dumbbell presses, which is essentially an identical exercise as the standard bench press. Of course, there are some limitations — the most obvious of which is the amount of weight you’ll be able to put up. If that’s an issue, just go for more reps, and repeat until failure to get a good burn going.

Thanks to Testosterone Nation for the how-to.

2. Close-grip push-ups

Another exercise that will help target your arms and chest are push-ups — close-grip push-ups, to be precise. These will really target your triceps — an area that can be tricky to get to without barbells or cables. The exercise itself is fairly simple — it’s merely a modification of the traditional push-up with a repositioning of your hands. Check out the video above for a tutorial.

Hat tip to Perfect Fitness for the video walkthrough.

3. One-arm dumbbell deadlift

The deadlift is a hard exercise to find a substitute for, but there are options. One of the best, especially if you have dumbbells handy, is the one-armed dumbbell deadlift. The video above shows how easy this lift is — it’s similar to a dumbbell squat, but what you’ll want to do is try and replicate the deadlift motion. A lot of people actually do this lift with a barbell, but it can also be done with a dumbbell. If you have access to additional equipment, like bands, those can be used to add extra resistance.

Credit to Jeff Fields for showing us how to pull it off.

4. Reverse lunge

In addition to your deadlift alternatives, you’re going to want to make sure you really target the muscles that you are used to hitting with your squats. For your glutes and quads, the reverse lunge makes an excellent alternative to the squat — or even an auxiliary lift in addition to it. But, since we’re rolling without squat racks and barbells, the reverse lunge is going to become your new best friend. And, like many other lifts on this list, they’re pretty easy to do. Use whatever weight you can find — though dumbbells are probably going to be the easiest thing to handle. For a refresher, there’s a tutorial above.

Thanks to Scott Herman Fitness for the video above.

5. Dumbbell overhead press

Again, with the dumbbells. An overhead press can be done with either a barbell or a couple of dumbbells, so make use of the dumbbells and put up some weight. This is an excellent lift to help strengthen your back, chest, and arms, and it can be done in a variety of ways, including seated on a bench. Find what works for you, and don’t let your lack of a barbell hold you back.

Credit to 3V Health and Fitness for the tutorial.

6. Dumbbell squat

We briefly mentioned this lift previously, but it definitely deserves its own entry. The dumbbell squat is probably the best alternative to the traditional squat — particularly when you lack access to a bar and rack. Of course, you won’t be able to lift all that much weight, so you’ll want to aim for reps and sets. It’s an easy lift to master, but the video above will give you a quick refresher if need be.

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