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Strength training is vital for women’s health, but the myths around lifting weights and getting bulky still prevail, so what do you do when they firmly believe that weights will make them bulky? Or perhaps you’re an outdoor trainer who doesn’t carry weights? Or, is a stack of dumbells or kettlebells just too expensive??

So this month I am arming you with just a few of the hundreds of little ways we can load our bodies, build bone and muscle, and lift weights – without actually lifting weights. The body benefits from variety, and lifting weights is no exception. The upshot is that a lot of these methods wont cost a cent – unlike the thousands of dollars a full weight rack will cost you!

As I have said before, women need to lift, lift heavy, and lift frequently.

Here are some strategies to do this in a versatile, creative, and cost effective way*!


Tyres are one of my favourite weights modalities, and I’ll through some videos in the comments to give you ideas on how to use them. Here’s why:

  • They’re free – literally walk in to any tyre place and go through their pile. You can get little ones from golf carts, all the way through to truck tyres. Just plan how you’re going to transport them in advance!
  • You can chuck them – they bounce
  • You can use them as an unstable step
  • You can use them as obstacles and cardio as well
  • You can play with different grips and carrying modes
  • You can leave them outside for years and they don’t degrade
  • There’s huge variety is size and weight for any ability


Tools like ropes and mallets are my favourites, but get creative. Generally tools are heavy – think shovels of dirt or sand and a wheelbarrow – and you might get some work done at the same time!

Here’s why I like tools:

  • They’re task oriented, your body is “doing a thing” which it understands better than “hip extension”
  • It exercises your brain too – you usually have to learn a new skill when using tools
  • Your grip is strengthened – which is a “thing” for longevity.

Tubs (Especially What’s under the Kitchen and Laundry Sink!)

So tubs are those plastic laundry buckets, or the buckets your husband mixes self levelling cement in. I also buy our cleaning products wholesale, so they’re often in 5-15kg buckets, but even a 400g can of beans, or 2L milk tub will work as weights as long as you extend your levers enough (ie. Your arms and legs!). The further away from your body, the heavier the weight will be…

The other advantage of tubs is that you can fill them with water. I often fill our empties with water and use them as weights – the water sloshes around which means your core is constantly compensating and adjusting, in a functional way, specific to what you need to wrangle a wiggly child! It also means you can HALF fill it – meaning you can lift what you’re comfortable with, or have uneven weights in two tubs the same size. The les water in the tub, the more sloshing, which makes it an even better core workout!


By toys I mean random stuff you find on the beach, in the bush, or literally in the kids toybox. They’re often awkward to hold and move about, which is actually quite fabulous for our bodies, as we build diversity in our capabilities through challenging different holds. Think logs, driftwood, rocks, stones, rocking horses, the physical toy box, the lego box, and door stops. Moving them from one place to another is strength training, whether you slide, push it, pull it, walk with it, or lift it (in the traditional sense) from one plane to another.

It’s heavy enough for you (for women) if you can only do it 10 times or less, for women, 6x or less is ideal (once you’ve had your pelvic floor checked) then come

Now, if you’ve been following me a while then you know where I stand on “sports specificity” and training to task… Backpacks and Shopping Bags are excellent, fit-for-purpose training tools that will help you live your life powerfully – obviously without actually owning a bar or dumbell. However, there’s a couple of other little nuances, you probably haven’t thought of, which may make you look twice at these weight training strategies, and perhaps even start bringing the green bags in to the gym for your sessions!


You can go HEAVY with a hiking pack… and I mean heavy. They’re designed for upwards of 40kg, and it’s not unheard of for me to have an additional 10-20kg in my hands at the same time. A backpack differs from a barbell, in that it is strapped to your hips – so the weight distribution is quite different, and when you’re training for a hike – more specific to the purpose!

Other ways a backpack is awesome:

  • It allows you more freedom of movement than a barbell, because you have your arms free and you’re not restricted to a cage. For this reason you can step, burpee, move sideways, and backwards in a way you can’t with traditional weights.
  • The weight can be made up of actual things you’d actually use in your hike, and the contents will move (or not) accordingly.
  • Your centre of gravity is higher wearing a backpack compared to carrying weights, which means your balance will be further challenged.
  • It’s often easier for the pelvic floor to have a backpack strapped tightly across your hips rather than a bar on your shoulders.
  • You can practise movements of everyday living with a backpack on, making your training more specific.
  • A backpack is often possible for someone for whom a barbell or dumbell is not possible for (say someone with a shoulder injury or a disability).

Shopping bags

Ironically, the same things that make shopping bags an awesome training tool are what makes carrying shopping bags suck!! However, I am absolutely sure that there is not one person listening to this who would make two trips to the car when they can do just one with all the bags hanging off them…

Shopping bags are great, beyond the fact that it is a training activity specific to a lifestyle activity. Some other ways they rock are:

  • Variety – you can carry different bags in different ways. For example, one off your shoulder and another in your hand.
  • Diversity – you can load them up with different objects, giving you different weight characteristics and different adaptions through your body. A 7kg shopping bags is a whole different experience for your muscles, bones, and body when it has water weight in it, compared to cans, compared to a 7kg dumbell! Don t believe me? Try it for yourself!
  • They develop grip strength – essential for longevity
  • They swing – awesome for balance training and reactive strength.
  • You can bring them to the park or beach empty, fill them with sand to train, then empty them again before coming home!

As always, I have some ideas on how to use these training tools in the comments! Feel free to add your own!


So bodyweight exercise is often limited to push ups, crunches, lunges, and air squats – but even within this very limited scope there’s a hundred and seven exercises waiting to see the light of day! Let’s take push ups for example – is the only way your shoulder moves in a push position?? What happens when:

  • You change your hand angle?
  • You change your hand placement?
  • You change your foot placement?
  • You move your hands, hips, feet, head during the movement?
  • You move through some kind of range during the movement?
  • You change the angle of your body to gravity (side on/handstands)?

The answer is: you get more muscles!

The same variations can apply to crunches, hovers, lunges, and squats.

However I also want to open your mind a bit to how “bodyweight” can be utilized using the environment around you – climbing trees, hanging from bars, if you can do chin ups then you can vary them the same way as above, fences, TRX and other gym tools, and so on and so on. You do not need weights – you just need a position that is difficulty enough for you/the client so that you can only get 6 reps out.

Babies and other bodies

So using babies as weights is sometimes controversial, which surprises me as it is often as “functional” as exercise comes! If you’re training a mum to lift, there is literally nothing closer to lifting a baby, than lifting a baby.

Having said that, I don’t mean you chuck them around or do anything dangerous or harmful to the child or mother. Oftentimes I am more conservative with my exercise prescription with the baby, because babies and toddlers will move while you’re exercising – this can increase the risk of falls, but no more than the risk is increased in her everyday life carrying children and babies. So if it comforts the child, and overloads the mum’s muscles and bones, then I am okay with it!

Now, perhaps I have you over the line with lifting babies, and perhaps you’re comfortable with overloading using a toddler or even a primary school aged child… but what about other bodies??? Piggy backing an adult is just as good for your bones and muscles as a farmers carry. Wrestling is probably better than any abdominal exercise you can dream up on your own… Don’t be afraid to use training partners as wheelbarrows, sleds, drag weights, or for simple up and down weights!

The upside of other bodies is that you’ll often trigger laughter and play at the same – supercharging the health benefits of your sessions!

So, whether you’re low on equipment availability or you’ve got a client who flat-out refuses to step foot in the weights room, many of these ideas will load their muscles and bone the same way, if not in a better way, than traditional weight training tools.

So the questions we want to answer today is when and why one would use “not weights” over traditional weights, or even other “not weights” gym tools such as fitball, trx, gliders, freeform boards, sandbells, etc

The only way I can answer that question is with another question – what are you training for?

There is nothing in the world like sports specificity for specific fitness. It is why swimmers practise swimming. It’s why runners practise running. It’s why lifters, lift and basketballers jump. Can you imagine a swimmer or runner training for their sport in the gym only? The gym stuff for them is supplementary – to give them something swimming or running alone can not.

The same logic applies to you and your clients. If your only purpose for training is muscle mass or bone density, then gym weights are perfect. However if your goal is hiking the Inca Trail, keeping up with your grandkids, or cleaning the house without becoming exhausted – then one of these other methods might be more specific and therefor better for you to use.

In addition, we can’t deny there’s still women out there who won’t lift out of fear of becoming bulky. These strategies will load their bones and get around the fear factor. There’s also trainers out there who are poor – these “weights” don’t cost a thing. These “weights” are also mostly weatherproof – for the outdoor trainer who wants to get creative.

So, it’s depends. But as always, I’d love to see your imagination at work, and your sessions full of purpose driven movements!

*Please make sure all your female clients have had a thorough pelvic floor assessment before throwing these ideas at them – build up in the usual way as they have a huge deep core load and won’t be appropriate4 for everyone.